Yellowstone Lake, River, Canyon and MORE

While in the park this summer, we were located just a mile from the southern portion of The Yellowstone Lake area and The West Thumb branch of the Lake. Geysers, fumaroles, and hot springs are found both alongside and in the lake.

West Thumb’s shoreline has suspiciously crater-like contours. Its underwater profile is dramatically deeper than the rest of Yellowstone Lake. Only a massive explosion could have formed West Thumb.

Thought the blowout occurred 125,000 years ago, West Thumb is still thermally active. Hot springs, mud pots, and geysers stream and percolate along the shore, and temperature gauges record high heat flow in lake bottom sediments.

If the lake were completely emptied of all the water, it would hold more geysers, hot springs thermals and mud pots that the whole rest of the park. Unbelievable, but true.

West Thumb of Yellowstone Lake, thermal area

West Thumb of Yellowstone Lake, thermal area

West Thumb of Yellowstone Lake, thermal area

West Thumb of Yellowstone Lake, thermal area

West Thumb of Yellowstone Lake, thermal area

West Thumb of Yellowstone Lake, thermal area

West Thumb of Yellowstone Lake, thermal area

West Thumb of Yellowstone Lake, thermal area

West Thumb of Yellowstone Lake, thermal area

West Thumb of Yellowstone Lake, thermal area

West Thumb of Yellowstone Lake, thermal area

West Thumb of Yellowstone Lake, thermal area

Yellowstone Lake is the largest body of water in Yellowstone National Park. The lake is 7,732 feet above sea level and covers 136 square miles with 110 miles of shoreline. While the average depth of the lake is 139 feet, its greatest depth is at least 390 feet. Yellowstone Lake is the largest freshwater lake above 7,000 feet in North America.

We were told in winter, ice nearly 3 feet thick covers much of the lake except where shallow water covers hot springs. A sight to behold, I’m sure, but it won’t happen for me in this life as I hate winter…and they have REAL winter.

As of 2004, the ground under the lake has started to rise significantly, indicating increased geological activity, and limited areas of the national park have been closed to the public. As of 2005, no areas are currently off limits aside from those normally allowing limited access such as around the West Thumb Geyser Basin. There is a ‘bulge’ about 2,000 feet long and 100 feet high under a section of Yellowstone Lake, where there are a variety of faults, hot springs and small craters. Seismic imaging has recently shown that sediment layers are tilted, but how old this feature is has not yet been established.

Yellowstone Lake, view from the lodge

Yellowstone Lake, view from the lodge

Yellowstone Lake, view from the lodge - sunset

Yellowstone Lake, view from the lodge – sunset

Yellowstone Lake

Yellowstone Lake

The lake currently drains north from its only outlet, the Yellowstone River, at Fishing Bridge. The elevation of the lake’s north end does not drop substantially until LeHardy Rapids. Therefore, this spot is considered the actual northern boundary of Yellowstone Lake. Within a short distance downstream the Yellowstone River plunges first over the upper and then the lower falls and races north through the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. These two spectacular falls flow through the canyon area where the walls of this canyon are all yellow stone, therefore the park name.

At the head of the YS Falls with 4 of our Grand-wonders:  Teegie's three and our one

At the head of the YS Falls with 4 of our Grand-wonders: Teegie’s three and our one

Osprey nesting above Yellowstone canyon

Osprey nesting above Yellowstone canyon

Yellowstone Falls

Yellowstone Falls

Yellowstone falls, river and canyon

Yellowstone falls, river and canyon

Yellowstone Falls

Yellowstone Falls

Yellowstone Falls

Yellowstone Falls

Yellowstone Falls

Yellowstone Falls

Yellowstone falls, river and canyon

Yellowstone falls, river and canyon

In the 1990s, geological research determined that the two volcanic vents, now known as “resurgent domes”, are rising again. From year to year, they either rise or fall, with an average net uplift of about one inch per year.  Kind of scary…

One of our favorite spots in Yellowstone Lake was the Lake Lodge. It is the oldest lodge in the park (over 100 years old) and has been beautifully renovated. Each evening, in their large open reception area, sporting a spectacular view of the lake via huge glass windows, we were entertained by a sensational string quartet. Before you cry, “boring”, they played a range of music from Hendrix (yes, Jimmy) to Pachelbel to Broadway Pops.

Lake Lodge String Quartet

Lake Lodge String Quartet

Each night at 9:00 p.m., when the lodge lowered the American Flag, just outside the massive windows, they would play our national anthem and all would rise to the occasion…This made my heart smile with pride.

We went every other week as our work schedule allowed; often with our new, precious friends.  We celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary in this location, with these wonderful new friends.

Mel and Jerry at the Lake Lodge

Mel and Jerry at the Lake Lodge

Teegie and sweet husband at the Lake Lodge

Teegie and sweet husband at the Lake Lodge

Rose and Rob

Rose and Rob

Grace, Rose and Rob at the Lake Lodge

Grace, Rose and Rob at the Lake Lodge

Brandon, Lilly, Teegie and Grace

Brandon, Lilly, Teegie and Grace

Rose, Rob and me

Rose, Rob and me

Teegie, Grace and Mel

Teegie, Grace and Mel

If you want to stay in the lodge, one must reserve months in advance and be prepared to pay from $363.00 to over $600.00 per night, plus tax—these are the 2015 rates.

Our friends Gay Bissell and Fawn Fortman drove ALL THE WAY TO YELLOWSTONE FROM MISSISSIPPI to visit us.  We took them to visit our beautiful falls and had dinner together in the lodge.  Thank you for making that long, long drive.  We love you.

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Yellowstone Lake Lodge

Yellowstone Lake Lodge

Bear Tooth and Chief Joseph Highways

During our tenure at the Yellowstone General Store this summer, we are given two days off, in a row, each week.  We have taken day trips up to this point.  None of these trips will be posted in date order as each has its own unique subject.  This was our first overnight trip because it would be impossible to see this region without an overnight stay. Motels are almost always full in and around the National Park area during the summer months.  If one is fortunate enough to find a room, one must be prepared to pay a premium rate ($200. to $600. per night – no joke).  Fortunately, we know how to “Live In A Minivan”, so we secured a small lot at a KOA in Red Lodge.  It is a precious little town, by the way.

Red Lodge has a micro-brewery (Red Lodge Ales), which WE DO NOT RECOMMEND …save your money.  There are many other great choices in town for meals and cold beer. I have attached a crude map of our route out of Yellowstone from our temporary home at Grant Village.

ale red lodge2 Red Lodge1

Travel is slow through the park with bear, buffalo or elk jams to contend with, which is never a bother to us.  We were told, when coming to Yellowstone, one needs to pack a lot of patience.  I will pass along this very necessary advice.

wolf swans sheep buffalo IMG_2895 IMG_2609

Osprey

Osprey

Moose

Moose

Grizzly

Grizzly

Black Bear next to our dorm

Black Bear next to our dorm

Elk

Elk

We left through the NE entrance to Cookeville, MT where we picked up the Bear Tooth Highway.  This route also took us through Lamar Valley.  This is an exceedingly large, open expanse, surrounded by mountains and striped with meandering creeks where wild life thrive in 360 degrees of calm, green beauty.  This is usually where one see wildlife; we did not.  I enjoyed it more than Sweet Husband, as he was the driver.

BEAR TOOTH is a winding, two lane highway climbing to an elevation of over 11,000 feet with many cut backs and 7% grades.  If you have any issues with altitude sickness or fear of heights, I would not recommend this trek.  However, it is one of the most beautiful drives in North America.

Grasshopper Valley

Grasshopper Valley

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This is "The Bear Tooth Mountain" from which the name of the highway comes

This is “The Bear Tooth Mountain” from which the name of the highway comes

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Glacier lake - naturally, frozen over in the winter

Glacier lake – naturally, frozen over in the winter

Ice caps (glaciers) still in July

Ice caps (glaciers) still in July

Ski Lift at the crest of Grasshopper Valley

Ski Lift at the crest of Grasshopper Valley

Glacier Lake

Glacier Lake

Grasshopper Valley

Grasshopper Valley

Grasshopper Valley

Grasshopper Valley

There is one location on this highway where skiers take snowmobiles to an area called Grasshopper Valley (see pictures above).  It has a near vertical slope to a valley of frozen glacier lakes.  They then can ride the ski lift back up to the road and repeat.  I wouldn’t do it in three lifetimes, but some people love these near death experiences.

MOTORCYCLE RALLY:  I promise, I’m not exaggerating, there was at least 3 motor cycles for every car (maybe more).  Red Lodge is at one end of the Bear Tooth Hwy and Cody, WY is on the other.  Red Lodge is where motorcycles converged going to two different cycle rallies:  The BMW Rally n Billings , MT and the 75th anniversary of the Harley Davidson Rally in Sturgis, SD.

I only saw two brave people driving an RV on that highway; I would NEVER, EVER do that.

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Bikers are quilters - like who knew? Sign in Red Lodge at quilt shop.

Bikers are quilters – like who knew? Sign in Red Lodge at quilt shop.

We arrived in Red Lodge with time to drive past on to Billings.  We were told about an area near Billings where William Clark (of Lewis & Clark fame) and his company stopped at a site he named, “Pompeys Pillar (Tower)”.  The pillar itself stands 150 feet above the Yellowstone River and consists of sandstone from the late Cretaceous Hell Creek Formation, 75 – 66 million years ago. The base of the pillar is approximately one acre.  It is simply a giant rock in the middle of a vast valley, on the edge of the river.  If you are driving along highway 312 near Billings, you cannot miss it.  BTW:  It appears much grain, etc. is grown in this rich valley for Coors.  William Clark would probably approve.

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William Clark's signature in the rock

William Clark’s signature in the rock

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The pillar features an abundance of Native American petroglyphs, as well as the signature of William Clark, co-leader of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Clark’s inscription is the only remaining physical evidence found along the route that was followed by the expedition.

The inscription consists of his signature and the date, July 25, 1806. Clark wrote that he climbed the sandstone pillar and “had a most extensive view in every direction on the Northerly Side of the river”. He named the outcropping after Jean Baptiste Charbonneau—the son of expedition member Sacagawea—whom he nicknamed “Pompy”, as he had become quite attached to the 18 month old member of the company. His original name for it was “Pompys Tower”; it was changed to the current title in 1814.

DAY TWO:  Started with waking from an 11 hour night of much needed rest…we must have been extremely tired.  Red Lodge has a wonderful, locally owned bakery (City Bakery).  After a stop for breakfast pastries we headed south out of town to Chief Joseph Highway. This highway was named in honor of Chief Joseph, the Nez Perch Chief who resisted resettlement by the United States and fought in this region, but eventually lost.  His surrender speech is below.  This is one of the most beautiful and peaceful places Sweet Husband and I have traveled. Surrender Speech by Chief Joseph, born Hinmatóowyalahtq̓it, which means Thunder Rolling Down The Hills, (1840-1904) Chief of the Nez Perce Tribe:

Chief Joseph

Chief Joseph

“I am tired of fighting.  Our chiefs are killed.  Looking Glass is dead.  Toohulhulsote is dead.  The old men are all dead.  It is the young men who say yes or no. He who led the young men is dead. It is cold and we have no blankets.  The little children are freezing to death.  My people, some of them, have run away to the hills and have no blankets, no food.  No one knows where they are–perhaps freezing to death.  I want to have time to look for my children and see how many I can find.  Maybe I shall find them among the dead. Hear me, my chiefs.  I am tired.  My heart is sick and sad.  From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.”

We were the conquerors and they the conquered.  That is the way of life in all wars.  Much has been lost and much gained.  The land is preserved, but war cannot and will not change – until the day we beat our swords into plows.  Yes, that day will come.