Category Archives: Stateside

Camping and hiking in the USA

Yellowstone’s Norris Geyser Basin

Once in a while you get a chance to visit a place that will forever live on in your memories. Norris Geyser Basin is all that and more! You would think that crowds of visitors at such a popular attraction would be a deterrent, but Norris somehow rises above all those attentions. Set in the heart of Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park, it is a truly awe inspiring display of geothermal power.

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The Porcelain Terrace Overlook, a photographer’s paradise

We arrived early in the morning with the hope that fewer people would have the same idea, but there were already a fair number of cars in the parking lot. Norris Basin is very well developed. There is an elaborate network of elevated boardwalks to ensure that foot traffic stays where it should and there are plenty of park rangers to keep an eye on things. I had a short conversation with one of the rangers who told me that she was continually surprised by the number of people who underestimate the dangers of geothermal features. The ground is ever changing and incredibly unstable, of course, and over the years many lives have been lost through carelessness. The gist of her message was to heed the warning signs, and stay strictly on the designated paths. Update: In the summer of 2016 a visitor lost his life in one of the hot pools here, adding to the list of unfortunate accidents over the years.

Rather than drive to Norris Geyser Basin, you can also simply walk there from the Norris Campground which is not far away. As with all campgrounds it fills early so arrive early and stake your site accordingly!

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This map gives you a decent overview of the Norris Geyser Basin area

Norris Geyser Basin is essentially divided into two areas, the Porcelain Basin, and the Back Basin. There’s also a museum and historical display to take in if you have the time. I began at the Porcelain Basin, mostly because the sounds emanating from it were so bizarre I was immediately drawn in that direction. The hissing and belching from steam, water, and hot springs everywhere and the heady aroma of sulphur in the air were a real jolt to the senses.

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The ever changing face of the Porcelain Basin, where no two photos can ever be the same

Fumaroles, like the one you see below here, are the hottest features in the basin, reaching temperatures of between 199 and 283 degrees Fahrenheit (93 to 138 degrees Celsius). Some can emit a shrill, squelching hiss that’ll startle you more than a little if you’ve never heard it before.

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A fumarole, which is an opening in a volcano from which hot sulphurous gases emerge

 

Other features seem unrecognizable from one moment to the next, like the Hurricane Vent. One moment a boiling mass of grey and steam, the next an inviting turquoise pool.

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The Hurricane Vent, now you see it…
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….and now you don’t!

 

 

So how does the Porcelain Basin get its unusual coloration? The park tour explains that best…

“The milky color of the mineral deposited here inspired the naming of Porcelain Basin. The mineral, siliceous sinter, is brought to the surface by hot water and forms a “sheet” over this flat area as the water flows across the ground and the mineral settles out. This is the fastest changing area in Norris Geyser Basin, and siliceous sinter is one of the agents of change. If the mineral seals off a hot spring or geyser by accumulating in its vent, the hot, pressurized water may flow underground to another weak area and blow through it.”

“Siliceous sinter is also called geyserite. Deposits usually accumulate very slowly, less than one inch (2.5cm) per century, and form the geyser cones and mounds seen in most geyser basins.”

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The Blue Geyser in Porcelain Basin

Below is an example of the boardwalks the park builds for preservation and public safety. They are both a labour of love as well as marvels of engineering and design. As an aside, I can’t say enough about park staff. Everyone is professional, helpful, engaging, and informative.

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Boardwalks in Porcelain Basin
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Geysers are both impressive and surprising!
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A last look at the Porcelain Basin. This is Congress Pool, I believe

Having barely scratched the surface of exploring Porcelain Basin, I then headed off to Back Basin to see what it had to offer. One could easily spend a full day touring both areas but I had but a few hours to check out both.

Steamboat Geyser is the most spectacular in the Back Basin, with eruptions sometimes reaching 300 feet into the skies above. I didn’t get the chance to see that, as its displays are completely unpredictable. It is also the world’s tallest active geyser!

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Steamboat Geyser

Nearby Cistern Spring is a clear, constantly overflowing pool that is connected to Steamboat Geyser underground. During Steamboat’s major eruptions, Cistern Spring can be seen to drain, before refilling as the eruption subsides.

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Cistern Spring

The Back Basin boasts many more geysers with colourful names. Here are a few more…

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The Pearl Geyser
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Puff N’ Stuff Geyser, named for its loud puff, which sounds a little bit like a large surfacing whale
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Somewhere beneath the cloud of steam and gases is the Echinus Geyser 

I was so enamoured of this place that, truth be told, I nearly lost track of the time entirely because there is so much to see. The power of nature is on full display at Norris, and it’s a show that should not be missed. It’s a strong reminder that while some forces alter our planet gradually, others are capable of changing it from minute to minute or even second to second! Beneath much of Yellowstone is a vast volcanic caldera, which many scientists consider to be highly unstable. Yellowstone National Park is, in other words, something you might want to see before its ground is forever altered.

Yellowstone National Park’s overview and tour of the Norris Basin can be found at this link

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Norris Geyser Basin, well worth a visit!

 

A Paradise Lost ?

It was in September of 2014, just last year, when we last visited North Cascades National Park in northwestern Washington.

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Park sign at west entrance

 

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Moss and maple

On the first day of a two week camping trip, we decided to stay at the Goodell Creek Campsite. It was surprising to discover that the site was nearly vacant at the time, and as I wandered the trees alongside the Skagit River, I felt that peace that comes only with solitude in nature.

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A forest glade

There were numerous towering Douglas firs scattered among the forest, many as wide as seven feet in diameter and well over three hundred years old. Dense canopies of big leaf maple filtered the sunlight and the papery leaves that signal the onset of autumn had just begun to fall. As the afternoon passed, the sun made several brief appearances, as did the very lightest of rains. It was a truly enjoyable day for us all, sitting by the campfire and listening to the sounds of the river and the calls of birds.

 

Roll forward in time to August of this year, when I happened to be watching a Seattle news telecast two weeks ago. Goodell Creek was on fire, another victim of the record setting drought the Pacific Northwest has been enduring. Immediately, my mind recalled vivid images of this magical place. I don’t know yet what the extent of the damage has been, but I do know that Highway 20 has been closed in the area and that after two weeks the blaze remains largely unconfined. The nearby town of Newhalem, home to the families of many Seattle City Light employees, is also in danger.

 

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Skagit River

Time will tell whether the forest and campground have survived, but I  am sincerely hoping that they have. Many thanks to the firefighters who are battling valiantly to save the park. Sometimes, when you really experience a place, you leave a bit of your heart there forever. I’ll always remember Goodell Creek for that reason.

John Day Fossil Beds, Painted Hills Unit

When most people plan a visit to Oregon, they’re thinking about the pounding surf of the Pacific Ocean, walking on warm sands, or maybe experiencing the rage of coastal storms, from a distance. Still others might pay a visit to Mt Hood and its neighbouring peaks, or even Crater Lake National Park. Few if any have even heard about the three units of John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.

This fall, I had the chance to visit the Clarno and Painted Hills Units, leaving me the Sheep Rock Unit to look forward to. We had but a few hours to spend at Painted Hills, but the drive there through the surrounding countryside made it well worth the drive.

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The mountains surrounding the Painted Hills Unit

 

Through years of seepage and erosion, plus the exposure of volcanic layers, the resultant rhyolite clays that have extruded over the years have created a landscape that is incredibly unique. Though these formations are fragile, their composition does not provide a fertile growing medium, thus, being mostly free of vegetation, the layers give the hills their painted appearance.

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Best view from a parking lot? Maybe!

 

Camping in the actual monument areas is considered off limits, but more information can be found here on lodging, among other things…..

http://www.nps.gov/joda/planyourvisit/ptd-hills-unit.htm

I spent most of my time just enjoying the views from the trail that runs from the first parking lot, but there are a number of other paths to walk. I also strolled the nearby Painted Cove Trail, which comes complete with a boardwalk. This, and the other units, as the name implies, have also been the sites of significant fossil finds.

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Painted Cove Trail

If ever you are travelling through Central Oregon on Highway 97 it is time well spent to meander your way to John Day Fossil Beds. You’ll certainly be glad you did!

 

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A photographer’s paradise

 

Remember when you are there to stick to authorized trails so that you do not damage any formations. They have taken countless centuries to form and can be ruined in seconds by careless human footsteps.

We were impressed not only by fascinating geology but also by the solitude of the John Day River and its quiet and colourful mountains. I know we’ll be back again.

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Along the access road…