Monday, July 22, 2013

Montana Meanderings - South (Part A)

So, yesterday we finally escaped from Gillette WY late in the afternoon and drove as far as Billings MT arriving at the KOA there just before 10 p.m.  We enjoyed Wyoming, but it's time to see another state!

Saturday, July 13th and time to go exploring.  We had come past the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument last night and wanted to see it - especially after so recently re-learning some of the history about General Custer at Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park in Bismarck, ND.  So we drove the car back down the road about 30 miles to just past Hardin MT.

Here's a brief history:  On June 25, 1876 about 7,000 Lakota, Cheyenne and Arapaho (1,500-2,000 warriors) camped here on the Greasy Grass River (Little Bighorn).

I think this may be a view of the Indian's camp way down
the hill.  The river is not visible from here.
Sitting Bull was leading them in their refusal to move to the reservation in Dakota Territory.  General Custer, and his 7th Cavalry of about 600 soldiers, was 14 miles away in the Wolf Mountains.  He sent one group of 175 soldiers under Major Reno to cross the river and strike the Indian camp.  Meanwhile Custer and his 200+ soldiers veered to the northwest. Under heavy opposition, Reno retreated across the Little Bighorn River, chased by Crazy Horse and up to 600 warriors. Another 200 soldiers under Capt. Benteen eventually joined Reno on the ridge above the river where they made a desperate stand through the next afternoon.

Believe this is where Reno's soldiers retreated back across the river.
At the end of the two days, more than 260 soldiers were dead, including General Custer and every one one of his commanders.  No more than 100 Indians were killed. 

Memorial of U.S. Army dead

A large memorial is engraved with the names of the Army officers and soldiers.  The soldiers are still buried here, around the memorial, in a mass grave, but the officers' remains were moved in 1877 to various other cemeteries.  General Custer is buried at West Point. 

The Visitor Center, located in the general vicinity of Custer's
Battlefield, is among the trees down the hill and the markers in
the foreground indicate locations where soldiers fell during the battle.

Sitting Bull was killed by Indian police on the Standing Rock Reservation in South Dakota in 1890.  The National Park Service erected red granite markers in 1999 at various burial sites as memorials to the Indians who died here.

A closer view of the Visitor Center

On Sunday, July 14th, we went to see Pictograph Cave State Park, located five miles south of Billings.  You are possibly wondering: "what is the difference between a pictograph and a petroglyph?"  Pictographs are painted on rock and petroglyphs are carved, scratched or pecked into the rock.  At this small state park, we learned about heart lines, thunderbirds, bear power and shield-bearing warriors!  The Pictograph, Middle and Ghost cave complex was home to generations of prehistoric hunters and were the site of Montana's first professional archaeological studies and excavations beginning in 1937.  Over 30,000 artifacts have been identified from this area.
Approaching the caves from the Visitor Center parking lot.

A closer view of one of the caves.

Dwarf or Bush Sunflower, I think...
Below are three examples of the pictographs we saw in these caves.  Each photograph on the left is original and the following (centered) photograph is with a special filter to accentuate the rock art.

We enjoyed this state park and the beautiful day!

On Monday, July 15th, we hooked up and headed out at about 8:45 a.m. and aimed for West Yellowstone.  We pulled into Lionshead Mountain RV Park a few miles west of town at 3:00 p.m. and got set up.  Nice views here!

Tuesday, July 16th: Time to go explore Yellowstone National Park!  We haven't been to this national treasure - the world's first national park - since June of 1973 which was the park's 101st anniversary.  And, now - 40 years later - we're back.  Oh - and guess what?  I lied: we didn't see enough of Wyoming yet!

The entrance to the Transportation Museum
The old Union Pacific depot
We started the day at the Transportation Museum in West Yellowstone.  This beautiful old stone building - actually the Union Pacific Railroad depot - was the jumping off point for stagecoach tours of Yellowstone up until 1916. 

Inside we saw "Old Snaggletooth", the infamous grizzly killed by poachers in 1970 and learned about the 1959 Hebgen Lake earthquake which killed 26 campers and dammed the Madison River.

Then we headed on into the park, waiting patiently at the Madison River bridge while waiting for traffic to move a bit... 

Fountain Paint Pot

We stopped at Lower Geyser Basin where the Fountain Paint Pot is located.

One of the geysers here, "Red Spouter", was "born" when the 1959 earthquake occurred 25 miles away.
"Red Spouter"

People don't always stay on the walkways, but they risk their lives!

The harebell is one of my favorite wildflowers.

On down the road, we discovered that there were even bigger crowds waiting to see "Old Faithful", the most famous geyser of them all!  Yellowstone has more geysers than anywhere else in the world and people come from all over to see them.  This entire area is a collapsed volcanic caldera created about 640,000 years ago (the first big eruptions were 2- and 1.3-million years ago).  The fact that all of the geysers, hot springs, fumaroles and mudpots here in Yellowstone are the result of a whole lot of magma under the surface is not very reassuring when you think about it!  Even heading west of the small town of West Yellowstone on our way back to the RV park, we could see steam rising above the surrounding forests.  Made me a little nervous!
Crowds waiting to see "Old Faithful" erupt
The eruption!

On the way home we stopped at Midway Geyser Basin and checked out the falls flowing in to the Firehole River.  We saw elk a couple of times today and even spotted a bison wandering through the woods.

Firehole River

Firehole River

The next day, Wednesday, July 17th, we decided to take the north loop through the park.  We took Hwy. 20 in to the park, headed north at Norris and did the loop clockwise through Mammoth Hot Springs, Tower-Roosevelt and Canyon Village before returning to Norris.

We stopped at various places including Gibbon Falls, Artists Paintpots, lunch at Obsidian Cliff picnic area.  We drove through Mammoth Hot Springs, and stopped to see the Petrified Tree before continuing on home.  Here are some photos from today (hopefully you won't be too bored with the wildflower pictures - they were everywhere and just beautiful!):
Fringed Gentian
Dwarf or Bush Sunflower

Saw this awesome rig at the Gibbon Falls parking lot!
Gibbon Falls

Artists Paintpots

Alpine Avens

White or Richardson's Geranium

Obsidian rock
Wyoming or Narrowleaf Paintbrush

Sheepeater Cliff

Mammoth Hot Springs area
Interesting outfit for a national park...

Undine or Wraith Falls

Petrified Tree

Stagecoach tours

Interesting rock formations

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

Thursday, July 18th: time for a trip in the car.  There were several things in Cody WY that we wanted to see, so that morning we drove through the park on Hwy. 20 through Norris and Canyon Village and then out the east entrance to Cody.  On the way through the park, we stopped at the Mud Volcano area where we most liked Dragon's Mouth Spring!
This big guy was right beside a parking area!

Mud Volcano area

Dragon's Breath Spring

More of the Mud Volcano area
One of the primary advantages of being the one who
prepares the blog posts is that you can skip right over
photographs of yourself!   But, John did a pretty good
job on this one, so here I am! 
After arriving in Cody, we went first to the Buffalo Bill Historical Center for at least two hours.  This is a must-see museum if you are ever in the area.  It was established in 1917 and includes five different "museums" and a research library.  John was very impressed with the Cody Firearms Museum section - apparently they must have had nearly every gun ever made!
The rotunda area was impressive - wish this showed the size better!

National Geographic's "Greatest Photographs of the American
West" exhibit was amazing!

One example.  I could have spent all day here....

This silver saddle was pretty impressive, too.

Detail on the saddle

A cook wagon.
Later that afternoon we headed downtown to the famous Irma Hotel to watch the Cody Gunfighters show.  Lots of people there but it was fun entertainment!

Here's just a portion of the large crowd.

The madame was quite dramatic!

After checking into a hotel and finding something to eat, we spent the evening at the world-famous Cody Rodeo.

I cringe every time I see something like this!

The kids' participation was really fun to watch!

We enjoyed the Buffalo Bill Historical Center so much that on Friday, July 19th, we returned there for a couple of hours before driving back to West Yellowstone.  It helped that the admission price included two days!  This time we checked out the Draper Museum of Natural History and the Plains Indian Museum.

This beaded wool blanket is Lakota (Sioux) from about 1900.
This painted elk hide by Codsiogo, a Shosone, was done
sometime between 1885 and the early 1900's.

On our way back through Yellowstone, we turned south on Hwy. 89 at Lake Village and circled around the northwest part of Yellowstone Lake, stopping for lunch by the lake shore. 

Then we stopped at Midway Geyser Basin where we were very impressed with the Grand Prismatic Spring - such amazing colors!  The following eight photographs have not been post-processed except for some cropping.  I wanted you to see what the colors here REALLY did look like!

Excelsior Geyser

Excelsior Geyser did not erupt from 1890 until September 14, 1985
when it erupted for 47 hours and then became dormant again.
Sure glad it didn't come back to life while we were there!
This and the following five photographs are of Grand Prismatic Spring.

Below is an example of folks who apparently have reading comprehension problems (there are "Danger - Stay on Boardwalks" signs everywhere!):

Then a final stop at Firehole Falls...
...where people were swimming and enjoying the cool water on a hot day!


Well, it's Saturday, July 20th, and we're ready for a change...maybe somewhere without the huge crowds...  We decided to go on a hike to Grebe Lake and try some fly fishing (no need for a Wyoming fishing license in the national park).

We started at the trailhead which was just a few miles west of Canyon Junction.  Even had some bear spray along just in case!  It was pretty warm today and we were carrying our chest waders and wading boots in addition to lunch, first aid kit, etc. so we were more than glad to finally get to the lake after 3.1 miles and unload our daypacks.

We didn't catch any fish but sure had a good time!   Not too long before we were ready to pack it up and head back, we noticed someone headed our way from the north side of the lake.  Pretty soon here came a young dad with a couple of small girls (maybe 6 and 8 years old).  He was asking if there was a campsite just around the corner (we didn't know but thought there was according to the map).  We, however, were absolutely fascinated by the fact that the smallest girl was barefoot!  They had hiked over 6 miles.  Pretty soon here came mom with a baby in the backpack.  Turns out that it was a family from Hawaii (the 6 year old went barefoot on the lava rock all the time) and teacher Dad was on a sabbatical while the family spent a year touring the mainland - including a sailing trip down the east coast later in the year.  Wow!
John at Grebe Lake

Heading back to the parking lot through the 1988 burn area

Sure glad we didn't meet this big guy on the trail...

Sunday, July 21st and we want to go hiking again - just not such a long one this time.  Fairy Falls is only five miles round trip.  Gee, a whole mile shorter than yesterday!

The trail took us just above Grand Prismatic Spring!

200' high Fairy Falls
I can never seem to get decent photographs of waterfalls... instead we just took
pictures of each other!

Fireweed always reminds us of Alaska!
White or Richardson's Geranium

And, flowers, of course.

A butterfly that actually stayed still for awhile.

On the way home, we encountered the usual traffic jam because of wildlife sightings.  This one lasted a bit long because this bison just kept wandering down the road!

Well, it's Monday, July 22nd and our last day at Yellowstone, so guess we'll go fishing again.  The Gallatin is a world-famous fly-fishing river and part of it flows through the northwest corner of Yellowstone National Park.  Yup!  No need for a state fishing license!  So, up Hwy. 191 we went...

Beautiful day to be on a beautiful river!

Alpine Aster, possibly...
 I didn't even get a nibble, so guess what I did?

John had several trout on, but didn't land any (we do catch and release anyway...).  I finally got bored and bushwacked my way through head-high willows to get back to the car.  A woman there was all excited because she had seen a bear down not too far from the river.  I dug out the binoculars and - sure enough - there was a grizzly several hundred yards from where John was still fishing.  She was worried but the bear was busy flipping rocks looking for grubs and could have cared less about one old, probably tough, fisherman in the river.

Fun ending to another wonderful National Park adventure!