September 19, 2017



Carol writes:  Yellowstone National Park was established in 1872 as our first national park. Situated in a dramatic volcanic backdrop like something from another world, the park is located primarily in Wyoming but also extends into parts of Montana and Idaho. There is nothing commonplace in Yellowstone’s untamed landscape where there are over 300 active geysers that are still heated by a giant magma chamber that last erupted 640,000 years ago and covered approximately half of the continental United States with ash fall.

In addition to geothermal features, Yellowstone is the habitat for an increasingly scarce population of large predator and prey mammals, such as 

 grizzly bear,


and our country’s largest free-roaming bison herd.

Our gourmet campground in West Yellowstone was conveniently located just outside the entry to the park.  We were happy to be joined for the first 4 days of our 2-week stay by Mississippi pals Mike and Mary, friends of ours from back in the days of our early married life when we lived in Slidell, Louisiana.  I must give a huge round of thanks to Mike, who shot several of the photos in this blog due to a fatal malfunction by Al's camera.

Blessed with sunny skies on the first day, we were all quite enthused as we headed out to the magical land of Norris Geyser Basin for a hike around Yellowstone’s hottest and most dynamic geyser basin.

Ribbons of color formed by microorganisms growing in waters of varying temperatures and pH streamed  throughout a primordial landscape.

Fondly, we remembered that Yellowstone was one of the stops we made in 1989 while our family of four was on a year of travel after Al retired from the Navy.  For some reason, tiny little Vixen Geyser in Norris Geyser Basin was a family favorite back then, as related in Al’s blog from exactly 28 years ago today  

Family Journal Entry from September 19, 1989:

“We were all treated to a special performance from the Vixen Geyser.  It is a small geyser about 10 feet from the trail and as soon as we walked up to it, the little girl showed us her stuff.  Vixen gave us a 4-5 minute show with spouts of water about 25 feet high and then sucked all the water back down her vent.”

It was with a touch of sentimentality that we observed that Little Vixen was still firing away!

The next day it was on to the Old Faithful geyser basin 

for one of the Yellowstone “big shows.”  I guess you could say we were a bit excited about our first bison sighting along the road, 

and what else the day would bring,

as we spotted a Yellowstone shout-out to Mary beside the road.

After Mike and Al did a little strategizing and coordinating known geyser eruption times,

Old Faithful went off precisely as predicted.

We were fortunate to witness an even grander eruption than Old Faithful at Grand Geyser.

Grand’s eruption was a big hit with the crowd, as it seemed higher and more dramatic than Old Faithful’s and certainly lasted much longer.

Despite not being in the business of dramatic eruptions, Solitary Geyser gifted the four of us with our own private moment of reflection on the fortunate opportunity of being together amidst the marvels of Yellowstone.

A hike in the Old Faithful geyser basin displayed an array of colorful thermal features…

and another bison sighting.

On the ride back to camp, we delighted in our first Yellowstone elk sighting along the Madison River.  Strange we haven’t heard any bugling from the bull elks yet, for it is the mating season…

The next day we traveled further into the park to see the most popularly photographed Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.  

For the hardy, there were excellent short hikes along boardwalks with lots of steps and several hundred feet of elevation change to viewpoints of the Lower Falls

and the Upper Falls, where each couple took turns getting their vanity shot.

Mike's photo of an extraordinary rainbow effect looking down the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone with its honey-colored walls left little doubt why this area was named Yellowstone.

For our last day with Mike and Mary in Yellowstone, Mike proposed a couple of hikes for an off-the-road experience that a majority of park visitors are unable to undertake due to time constraints.  We were very thankful for the opportunity to see the “back side” of Yellowstone, for that is where the quiet spirit of the land revealed itself in all its splendor.

The ride to our trailhead went through spectacular Hayden Valley, the best area of the park for viewing large-animal wildlife.  Sure enough, in the grand vista of Hayden Valley in what was once an ancient lakebed, we spotted a sizable bison herd grazing on the yellow grasses of late summer.

all the while thankful for cameras with great zoom features…

For the first hike of the day, Mary headed out at a brisk pace to Storm Point along Yellowstone Lake to a place where there were few other hikers, leaving us all alone to soak up the beauty and serenity of the shoreline of this amazing lake.

The second hike to Riddle Lake was likewise quite deserted, thus providing us a golden opportunity to enjoy the silence of a mostly lodgepole pine forest interspersed with wet grassy meadows.

As we were resting lakeside preparing for the hike back, a brief fly-by and a honk from a resident trumpeter swan struck each of us as positively spiritual.

Having had a glimpse into the soul of Yellowstone at its geysers and thermal pools, we were thankful for the camaraderie of exploring along with friends.  So far, we had been blessed with fair skies and warm breezes, but we still had another week and a half in Yellowstone by ourselves—with a weather forecast that was turning positively wintery.  However, having last visited a frozen Yellowstone 

Upper Falls of the Yellowstone, January 2010

for a snowmobile adventure during the heart of winter in January 2010,

Snowmobile Trip to Yellowstone, January 2010

we knew we were about to have another memorable experience viewing Yellowstone’s untamed landscape through the winter lens of our camera.  How would that work out this time in a home on wheels?

September 16, 2017


Carol writes:  The next three weeks of our on-the-road adventure were some of the most anticipated in all of 2017.  We planned a week in Grand Teton National Park followed by two weeks in Yellowstone.  Together Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park comprise the so-called Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE), in the northwest corner of Wyoming.  This outstanding gem of the Creator’s artistry has drawn  visitors from all over the world, and it wasn’t at all unusual to hear two or three different languages being spoken at once anywhere in the park.

As soon as we had nestled into our cozy little campsite at Coulter Bay, we decided to take our customary “look around” our new temporary home. 

As we headed back to camp, we were very surprised to have our first bear sighting!  A big black bear was chomping on some tasty bushes and was quite unconcerned with the handful of humans who were quietly enjoying him from a distance.  Way at the end of my comfort zone, I freaked for a nanosecond, then soon felt better while talking to an elderly couple who had fled to their car.  It was understood that their back seat would be mine if the bear made any moves…

There were dozens of horrendous forest fires raging west of us in Oregon and Montana, and it was only a matter of time before the smoke would drift east… so the next day the first order of business was to immerse ourselves in the beauty and majesty of those lovely Tetons while the skies were blue and visibility was good.   

An interesting factoid that usually puts a smile on the faces of visitors is that the Tetons were named by French fur trappers, lonely and no doubt solitary men who called these mountains Les Trois Tetons, meaning the three breasts.

The Teton Mountains form the western border of Jackson Hole, a 40-mile-long valley encircled by mountains, with no foothills to obstruct the view.  We packed a picnic lunch for our exploration of Jackson Hole, and when no convenient picnic tables could be found, we improvised for what turned out to be the most perfect lunch spot I could imagine.  And we had it all to ourselves…

Some of the most photogenic scenes in Jackson Hole were the places where early settlers made a go at life.  And so it was at an early Mormon settlement that still had a handful of buildings that have survived:

a log cabin,

a more unusual stucco house,

and a much photographed barn… all in an unimaginably beautiful setting at the foot of the Tetons.

For the Episcopals, it was the Chapel of the Transfiguration,

with a positively spiritual view through the window over the altar.

None other than Ansel Adams, one of the most famous black and white landscape photographers of the American West, chose the Tetons as subject matter for some of his works.

There was the Ansel Adams version from a viewpoint along the Snake River—

Ansel Adams Photograph
and our much less talented creation of the same view with our camera, showing much taller trees, (with the addition of a “noir” filter available in Mac Photos).

Our Version of Ansel Adams
The idea of turning Jackson Hole, with its towering Teton Range to the west, into a national park was not without controversy.  Heated debate between local ranchers and wilderness preservationists raged for half a century.  In 1923, a meeting at Maude Nobel’s cabin

Maude Nobel Cabin
marked the beginning of a hint of compromise between the two sides, but it wasn’t until 1950 when Grand Teton National Park with its present boundaries was created.

In addition to the majestic views and abundant wildlife, Grant Teton National Park has preserved some of the human stories that are so much a part of the history.  One such remarkable couple named Olaus and Mardy Murie lived in a cabin 

Murie Cabin
at the foot of the Tetons. 

Olaus and Mardy Murie
Olaus and Mardy met and married in Alaska and dedicated much of their life together to protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, in addition to passionately supporting Teton wilderness issues after moving to Wyoming in 1927.  Olaus was nicknamed the “Father of Modern Elk Management;” Mardy was affectionately dubbed the “Grandmother of the Conservation Movement.”  

The couple was well known to musician John Denver, who wrote a special song just for them.  As part of an hourlong talk on the porch of the Murie cabin, the docent opened up the living room of the simple Murie cabin and played a live recording of the John Denver song dedicated to Olaus and Mardy.  Any couple that wished was invited to dance in the main room of the cabin.  That was an invitation we couldn’t resist.  What a sweet experience waltzing to a John Denver song in the cabin where Olaus and Mardy loved to dance…  

That sure was a wonderfully uplifting week in Grand Teton National Park.  During our visit, more than one ranger was heard boasting that most visitors come to this unique part of Wyoming because of Yellowstone, but it is the Tetons that brings them back.  I believe we have succumbed to the magic of the Tetons…

The grand lift of the Tetons is… a primal gesture of the Earth beneath a greater sky.”  Ansel Adams