Mission San Juan, December 30, 2017

Mission San Juan, December 30, 2017
Mission San Juan, December 30, 2017

Monday, June 26, 2017

Fairy, Swamp, and Artist, but No Inspiration and No Uncle Tom, Part 1 - Mon., June 12, 2017

In Yellowstone National Park, multiple trails beckon, but whose call do you heed? In our case, we opted to do a round-trip, 14k (8.68 miles) Volksmarch to Fairy Falls. 

Normally, Fairy Falls would be a 10k Volksmarch with a 2k option to Imperial Geyser; however, due to construction to the west of Grand Prismatic Spring for the past couple of years, the walk start point had to be moved north, which makes for a longer walk than in the past.

The weather forecast for Yellowstone today showed cloudy but dry weather for the morning. After noon, however, things looked really dicey with a big storm system moving in.

Our goal for today is the 14k Fairy Falls Volksmarch, and I want to take Susan and Darren to see Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. So...we were up very early and on the trail by 7:30 a.m. (This is also good in Yellowstone to make sure you secure a parking space before the big crowds arrive.) The trailhead is at the end of Fountain Freight Road.

We are some of the first hikers (a few cars arrived before us). It feels like we're all alone here this morning. Our walk instructions tell us to take the Freight Road almost four miles to our turn-off for Fairy Falls which we do. The road goes south toward Grand Prismatic Spring; however, construction blocks access to the Grand Prismatic Spring area. 

Ojo Caliente hot spring
Firehole River
Ojo Caliente flows into the Firehole River
A field of larkspur blooming

Me on the bridge over the Firehole - Old Freight Rd.

Straight and flat - Old Freight Road
Lake ringed by burned trees

Canadian geese (honkers)
Following the Firehole River

The wildflowers in the photo above and the photo below are unique in that they grow very close to the ground. At first, I thought someone had stepped on one, but in looking around, we found they all looked that way!

As expected, the Freight Road was closed at our turn-off point to Fairy Falls. Bob and I had been to Fairy Falls a couple of times before. The first time we went, there were only two-foot tall trees with no shade; new growth from the massive wildfire of 1988. When Bob and I returned in 2012, the trees had grown to 12-15' tall. Now, the trees along the Fairy Falls Trail are about 25' tall. They are finally providing some much-needed shade on this portion of the trail.

When we hit the shaded, treed portion is also when the mosquitoes descended in droves. Susan, Darren and I were killing mosquitoes on each other's backs. 

Earlier in the hike, we had warmed up nicely and tied our coats and sweaters around our waists. The mosquitoes were so thick, I took my red windbreaker off my waist and slung it around through the air to clear mosquitoes away before I put it back on for protection. (I had left my three cans of bug spray back at the cabin!) A man coming down the trail toward us laughed and said I looked like a matador when I slung my red coat around me. Funny!

So, even, though the day was a balmy 74 degrees, we all put our top layer of warmth back on to keep the mosquitoes away. When we reached the falls, we enjoyed the coolness of the splashing water and how pretty the falls looked. Note: When Bob and I came here both times before it was later in the year and Fairy Falls had only a trickle of water. Today, the falls were lovely.

At 220' tall, Fairy Falls is the park's tallest front-country waterfall. I think "front-country" means it's easily accessible by the masses, as opposed to back-country, which usually means longer hikes and more inaccessible.

Fairy Falls
Susan M. and me
Susan M. and me at base of Fairy Falls
Bottom of the falls is fan-shaped
220' up
Darren and Susan enjoying a bench at the
base of Fairy Falls
I think this is when we broke out the Atomic Fireballs and Jolly Ranchers. We had a little sugar feast. 

Our dilemma became our return trip. We could go back the way we came through mosquito alley **or** brave the lack of bridge across the stream below the falls and the swamps on the alternate return trip. We decided the excitement of the swamp was a better option than fighting off the mosquitoes again.

Between Fairy Falls and Imperial Geyser, I knew there were swampy areas that had wooden planks laid across the worst areas. Beyond Imperial Geyser, I had only seen photos of the mucky swamp. And the mosquito population along this swampy area could be as bad or worse than what we went through. Ah, the unknown.

First, we had to cross the stream at the base of the waterfall. There was a medium-sized, downed log about three feet above the stream. The log had sharp daggers where small limbs had broken off. All the bark was gone so we were dealing with a potentially slippery surface that wasn't very flat. I went first. I used my hiking poles to help with stability.

When I was in the middle of the log over the stream, my foot went down on a very uneven part of the log and I started to lose my balance. Thankfully, I had a class in tai chi at the convention. I stabilized myself, took a deep breath and thought, "Balance, balance." From there on, I was very careful with my foot placement and finished getting across. Susan used her hiking poles too. We all made it across! The old footbridge that used to be there looked like it washed away in a storm at some point.

You may have noticed that the wildflowers are in bloom and I love them! Susan and Darren kept on trucking while I took wildflower photos. They did stay in sight, though. They had bear spray and I didn't, so we didn't want to get too far separated. (Never did see a bear.)

We crossed a number of mucky or wet areas along the trail back. Most wet or muddy areas had planks on the ground. However, at one point when the muck got to be shoe-sucking deep, there were "balance beams" that we had to traverse across a whole meadow. No handrails! See photos below.

The "balance beams" across the meadow.

Ahhh, solid ground
Lots of larkspur

I thought I saw an animal in the distance. When I zoomed in on it, it was a small, dead stump.
Stump animal in wildflowers
Susan photographing Darren
At this point in our hike, we came upon two hot springs that were overflowing. Both covered the trail. What to do? What to do? We assessed the situation. 

On the first spot where we were stymied, I could see the water wasn't very deep and the trail was pretty well indicated. I marched right through it and the ground was nice and firm. The water didn't come over the soles of my hiking boots.

We weren't so lucky with our second encounter. This area was mucky, sucky, slippery mud. Again, the best path seemed to be to follow the trail through the middle of it, keeping in mind that going off-trail around here could mean falling through a thin crust of dirt into a 250-degree hot spring pool. The mud came to the mesh part of our boots, but no higher.

It was getting quite warm by 10:00 a.m. Since it was breezy and the threat of mosquitoes seemed to be in the past, Susan and I wrapped our coats around our heads to protect us from the sun. 

Stylin' on the trail. LOL.
Mileage sign on the right of us in the photo above
We saw this sign after we got back!
Notice that the sign above did not mention bug spray. That was something they should not have omitted! 

Before long, we were back at the van. After a long hike, we like to change our shoes and socks because them dogs are barkin'! What a nice relief.

Once again, Yellowstone blogs take up a lot of space. I am breaking this blog into two parts as well. To be continued in Part 2...

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