Butterfly on Goat's Beard, Red Lodge, Montana, June 2017

Butterfly on Goat's Beard, Red Lodge, Montana, June 2017
Butterfly on Goat's Beard, Red Lodge, Montana, June 2017

Thursday, August 9, 2012

All in a Day's Journey -- Thurs., Aug. 9


Mesa Falls Scenic Byway, Idaho and Bechler Area of Yellowstone, Wyoming:

We like explorative day trips! Today we have a doozy planned.

We left the 5er at 7 a.m. Our first bison sighting was next to the RV park restroom. Driving north from Fishing Bridge toward Canyon, we came upon many bison crossing the road. Yellowstone traffic jam in progress. One bull bison in particular was standing perpendicular across both lanes, basically blocking all traffic in both directions so “his” herd could cross the road to the river.

Bison blocking road.
Yellowstone traffic jam.
About two minutes later, a park ranger passes us with lights flashing and literally ran the bison off the road. His car didn’t actually touch any bison, but he got mighty close. The Red Sea parted and we were on our way.

Another wildlife sighting took place between Canyon and Norris in a meadow close to the main road. Two bull elk were lying down in the grass. I was able to snap some close-ups. You can only see the antlers of the elk in the background. The grass must have been deep!

See the second set of antlers in the background?
Looks like he's chewing his breakfast!
Our drive from Norris Geyser Basin to Madison followed the Gibbon River part of the way.
As we were driving along the Gibbon River, the view was beautiful from the passenger side. I saw an interesting geothermal feature across the river and had Bob pull over. A cone-shaped feature with a “pot” in the top of it was overflowing water into the river below it. The cone had all kinds of colors in it from the minerals in the water washing over it. I consulted our “Yellowstone Treasures” book. This feature is called “Chocolate Pot.” We were mesmerized by it.

Chocolate Pot.
Gibbon Falls was next along the Gibbon River. Since the last time we had been to Yellowstone, a new parking area with interpretive signs has been constructed at Gibbon Falls. You can now walk ¼ mile along the canyon rim to view the falls. Lovely.


Gibbon Falls
From Madison, we headed west through the Madison River Valley and spotted a number of elk grazing in the meadow. As we continued toward the West Yellowstone entrance, we noted it was “rush hour” for visitors entering the park from West Yellowstone, Montana. A continual stream of vehicles was going the opposite direction into the park.

In West Yellowstone, we made a brief stop at a bakery to buy treats for the road. Our favorite was the Huckleberry Buckle coffeecake—a nice crumb topping, coffeecake and huckleberry filling running through it. Mmmmm.

Exiting the west side of town, we noted there is currently a Mountain Man Rendezvous encampment in progress.

We traveled west, then south on U.S. 20 toward Island Park. Our next goal was Big Spring, one major part of the headwaters of Henry’s Fork of the Snake River. In Oregon we have the beautiful headwaters of the Metolius River. I hoped that Big Spring would be similar. We were not disappointed.

The springs bubble out of the hillside here.

Start of Henry's Fork of the Snake River.
Such a serene setting.
A mini millhouse.
One of our main reasons to sightsee in the Idaho/Cascade Corner of Yellowstone was the Mesa Falls Scenic Byway, Idaho Route 47. The road is fairly level, well-maintained and starts out through semi-open fields with pine trees. On one of the byway interpretive signs, we saw mention of Warm River Springs, another source of the headwaters of Henry’s Fork of the Snake River.

We turned off Hwy 47 onto Road 150. Bumpity-bump for six miles on a washboard, gravel road and down a steep grade to Warm Spring, the source of the Warm River Springs. This spring looked more like a waterfall. 


Warm River Springs

Looking downriver.
There is a small cabin next to the spring-fed outlet; apparently it can be rented out. A sign at the entrance to the property asks people to respect the privacy of the people renting the cabin. No one was renting at the time we were there, but we respected the private property sign and did not go any closer to the source of the spring.

The granddaddy of the sights on the Mesa Falls Scenic Byway is Upper Mesa Falls. The first structure you see is the historic inn. The original purpose of the building was to be an office for a power company which was going to harness the power of the falls. That never happened. The building was abandoned and in disrepair for years, but then was completely remodeled as a visitor center for the falls. 



Such a beautiful spot. Love the rainbow!





In our element.
From the Visitor Center, you can hike a suspended loop trail with many viewpoints overlooking the stunning, powerful falls. The time of day we were there was picture perfect and I was able to capture photos of the rainbow in the spray of the falls. This is quite the spot! Be prepared to climb some stairs.

After Upper Mesa Falls, we continued south to the Lower Mesa Falls overlook. Lower Mesa Falls is powerful and pretty in its own right, but it’s so far from the overlook to the falls, you don’t have the same personal connection as you do with Upper Mesa Falls. It’s still dramatic. 

Lower Mesa Falls
Coming down off the plateau, you drive through an area where the road is between a creek and a river. They connect up just past a bridge over the creek. Most of the way on Mesa Falls Scenic Byway, you drive through sparse forest, so it’s quite a surprise when you go crest a hill and voila! farmland. You’re up high on another plateau with rolling hills covered in hay and potatoes. That’s right. This is Idaho, folks, the potato state. In this section of Idaho, they grow potatoes for the seeds.


We headed east toward the Bechler Ranger Station in Yellowstone National Park’s remote southwest corner. The first few miles were a nice paved road. Then the gravel road began. This road is BUMPY! Not a typical washboard gravel road, but a road with rocky hardpan: shake-your-body, garble-your-speech bumpy. About 12 miles worth. Our typical speed was 20-25 mph and in some parts that was too fast.

About 10 miles in, we reached the turn-off for Bechler Ranger Station, and a narrower bumpy road for 1-1/2 miles. The Bechler Ranger Station is the smallest ranger station we have ever seen. 




Solar array for Ranger Station area.

We spoke with the ranger about Cave Falls and Bechler Falls. He gave us information and asked us if we had bear spray because bears have been seen in the Bechler Falls Trail area. We told him we did not have bear spray. He recommended we make a lot of noise on the trail.

We drove back out the 1-1/2 mile road to the main road and turned east toward Upper and Lower Cave Falls. Wouldn’t you know, the last three miles of the road was paved. Made us happy. At lower Cave Falls, we met a couple from Alabama who are workamping for the season at Fishing Bridge RV Park where we’re staying. Small world. They took a picture of us and we took a picture of them.

Lower Cave Falls
Bob & Susan -- Lower Cave Falls
 Lower Cave Falls was pleasant. We didn’t realize it wasn’t the main Cave Falls. That was upriver. Got back in the car and drove to the end of the road. Upper Cave Falls was very dramatic, but not nearly as high as Upper Mesa Falls. 

Upper Cave Falls
The parking lot at the end of the road is where the hike to Bechler Falls starts. We geared up for the 2.6 mile roundtrip hike to Bechler Falls. What a pleasant hike. It was quite warm out, but this trail followed a river most of the way. I would call this trail easy. 

My workout came, however, in the form of making noise to ward off bears. Because of the ranger’s warning, I was as noisy as possible. If you need bear scare words, here’s some:  “Go bears go. Go, go, go. No bears, no. No scary bears, no grizzly bears, no black bears (no polar bears, per Bob), no, no, no.” All that alternated with the “Move It” lyrics from Madagascar. Plus both of us took turns clapping. One thing you do not want to do is surprise bears. They don’t take too kindly to it. This trail had lots of places for bears to be where we couldn’t see them; hence all the noise.

Partway into our hike, we came upon a group of six or seven high-school kids making improvements to the trail. They were digging trenches and putting in small wood log steps. On the way back to the car, we stopped to talk to two of the girls. They are working for one month. One of the girls was from Cleveland, Ohio and the other was from Los Angeles, CA. I asked if they were staying nearby. They said they camp five miles up the trail. So every day, they hike five miles (two hours) to their work site and hike back at the end of the day. They’ve seen bald eagles, osprey, otters, bear, and I forget what else.

The confluence of Bechler River and Falls River was gorgeous and we loved the sound both rivers made rushing together. We arrived at Bechler Falls, took some photos, relaxed for a bit. On the way back, a yellow-bellied marmot ran on the trail a few feet ahead of us, then disappeared into the brush.

Bechler River on left, Falls River on right.
Bechler Falls (photo by Bob)
When we finished our hike, we returned to U.S. 20 and headed north to Harriman State Park. Harriman was a railroad tycoon, head of Union Pacific Railroad. They owned a parcel of land which E. W. Harriman never got to enjoy because he died before he could stay there. His widow, Gladys Harriman, and her children spent many summers in Yellowstone and ended up donating thousands of acres to the State of Idaho to preserve the land and the wildlife. Today, trumpeter swans nest on the property.


We arrived in West Yellowstone just in time for dinner. We chose to eat at Gusher’s, a sandwich and pizza place. Bob and I had grilled turkey & swiss sandwiches with potato salad. It tasted good after a long day.

While we were in West Yellowstone we took advantage of a real grocery store and did some shopping. We purchased boneless, skinless chicken breasts, corn on the cob, carrots, cookies, turkey bacon, turkey hot dogs, hot dog buns and eggs. Now we won’t starve. LOL.

Drove back to the 5er at dusk. Saw elk herds in Madison River Valley and bison in road at Hayden Valley.

Wildlife sightings today: over 100 bison, elk, coot, peregrine falcon, osprey, ravens, Canadian geese, swallows, mule deer, two sandhill cranes, rainbow trout, mallards, belted kingfisher, marmot, trumpeter swans.

Long day, but well worth it. We hiked five miles total.

Travel Bug out.

2 comments:

  1. I think you saw the same two elk we saw. You passed right by where we are staying, Henry's Lake State Park. Of course, we were inside Yellowstone then. I just sent you a message through blogger.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Beautiful photos. What an adventure. I bet the water flow is more dramatic in the spring when the winter snow begins to melt.

    ReplyDelete

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