September 14th-21st Solo Hiking in Yellowstone and Grand Teton NP

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TractorDoc

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I have finally sorted thru enough of my pictures from my Mid September visit to post a trip report. It will be picture heavy -- I've tried to resize most images so as not to crash the internet. This year's trip was a solo event (sort of). My hiking partner fell victim to last minute family events. . . my folks were in the parks at the same time but they had their own itinerary with much different plans than mine.

After arriving in Bozeman, getting the rental car, and stopping for supplies I headed South on US-191 toward the West Entrance.

Proof of my arrival with Black Butte in the background. Self portraits usually involve funny angles because the camera gets placed on whatever object is handy to take the pic, in this case the rental car.

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Yes, I need a haircut.

Arrival day involved getting settled and visiting several boardwalk areas with the folks.
I try to stay on Eastern Time during my visit to minimize jet lag when returning home, so I was typically wide awake by 5AM or earlier. On Sunday the 15th I was up and sitting near Old Faithful about that time without another person around. The moon was full two days prior and still threw out enough light to make the entire Upper Geyser Basin visible once your eyes adjusted. I tried playing around with some time exposure photography when OF erupted, this is one of my favorites.

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I walked around Upper Geyser Basin after OF's eruption and was treated to a lovely sunrise over the Firehole River.

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In fact I walked around long enough to catch another OF eruption once the sun was up.

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The Upper Geyser Basin is nice and all, but I had larger plans for the day. I wanted to hike down to Shoshone Geyser Basin and back -- a 20 mile round trip -- so it was time to get to the trailhead.

A trailhead map of the objective.

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The first two miles of hiking are on an old roadbed. Coincidentally enough @Pringles has recently posted a trip report heading down this very same path to Lonestar Geyser. It is nice and wide and follows the Firehole River for a good part of the way.

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Lonestar Geyser is there to greet you at the end of the road. No one else was present at my 9:30AM arrival but several hikers had noted Lonestar's eruption around 9AM in the logbook. It was resting quietly now.

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After a quick wardrobe change (swapped out pants for shorts) I moved on down the trail. Not far along a lone Bison was resting nearby. Spoiler alert -- this would be the only large mammal (people excluded) I would see along the trail today.

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The trail was easy to follow and had minimal elevation changes the entire way. At one point the continental divide is crossed at Grant's Pass but no signage is present to mark the occasion. Sturdy bridges and boardwalks keep your feet dry early on.

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Not far from Lonestar are several small thermal areas. I found what I think is the world's tiniest volcano here.

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The trail offered a nice balance of hiking thru woods and meadows over the next four miles.

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A little over six miles in the Shoshone Lake Trail meets the Bechler River Trail. I hope to journey down that direction on a future visit.

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The next several miles have more visual appeal (in my opinion) as you follow Shoshone Creek along the trail.

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Not a mammal, but a snake did cross my path.

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More visually appealing trailside creek imagery.

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Almost There!

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The creek crossings get more primitive along the way.

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In dramatic fashion the trail drops out of the forest and the Shoshone Geyser Basin stretches out in front of you.

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The next series of pictures are various thermal features I found fascinating in the basin. I took a picture of just about everything that bubbled, hissed, or emitted steam. :)
Look close and you can see the trail in several pics, it runs right along side many colorful areas.

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This one looks like a face. Can you see the two eyes and mouth?

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Shoshone Creek Runs right thru the basin, much like the Firehole River runs thru the Upper Geyser Basin.

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The most active feature in the basin is Minute Man Geyser. It would erupt for about 10-15 seconds nearly every minute. There was some give and take to that schedule that I will touch on a few pics later.

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Union Geyser is one of the largest in the basin, but it has been dormant for several decades. I believe the largest cone in the center is Union.

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Another geyser erupting in the distance. The Park Service has prohibited off trail travel in the geyser basins since 2016 so exploring these areas was not an option.

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After spending the better part of an hour exploring the geyser basin I made my way back to Minute Man. I set my camera up with the self timer (I don't have a remote) on a stump and tried to run/catch myself in the pic while Minute Man was erupting. I could never time it quite right and ended up with a dozen or so pics of me standing next to an un-erupting cone. Fate intervened though and two rangers from the Norris Geyser Basin happened to walk by to take this pic. I returned the favor for them. I wore my Backcountry Post shirt on this day to give the Shoshone Geyser Basin some love from the home team but my pack/bear spray sort of makes that difficult to see. Its the thought that counts, right?

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Exquisite Beading near the base of Minute Man Geyser.

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After eating my lunch that included a heavy portion of Reese's Pieces I knew it was time I should start heading back. I believe it was nearing 2PM and wanted to make sure I had returned to the trail head by dark. Before taking the long walk back I did take the short side trail to Shoshone Lake just North of the Geyser Basin.

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I found a nice kayak landing area where I took off my shoes and cooled off my feet for a bit.

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I stirred up the lake bottom so you did not have to look at my feet. ;)

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I laced back up and was soon heading North. Several friends kept me company on this part of the journey.

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I made it back to Lonestar Geyser a little after 5PM. I knew it erupts every three hours and was probably due around 6PM so I took a break and waited.
Around 5:45 I was treated to the full eruption.

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It was a great way to end a great hiking day. No one else was around at this point (I had passed/seen less than half a dozen people all day) so I had the eruption all to myself. I walked around for several different perspectives. . . just the right angle with the sun produced a geyser rainbow!

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Somehow it seems I've foolishly hit the "Post" button. I will leave off here with Day One and continue with another post for following days. There are enough pictures here to make a second post less confusing for me anyway! :)
 
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TractorDoc

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Monday, September 16th was designed to be a lighter day after the 20+ miles I put in yesterday. I started out early again and made it out to Castle Geyser for a 4:45AM eruption to continue my attempts at night time photography.

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Similar to yesterday the entire Upper Geyser Basin was moonlit enough to see into the distance. I believe that is Lion Geyser erupting at center left.

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Of course another morning eruption of Old Faithful was witnessed.

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A short wait was rewarded with an eruption of Grand Geyser.

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This eruption was different from others I had witnessed as Grand stopped but the pool around the vent did not drain, very shortly after a huge burst up and out of my picture frame ended the show.

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As I headed back Daisy Geyser wanted to be seen.

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Eventually I headed up to the Fairy Falls Trailhead. I always try to stop at the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook and this time I wanted to continue on to Fairy Falls itself as I had not been there before.

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The overlook was busy as usual but for good reason -- you cannot beat the view.

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As I continued on towards Fairy Falls I noticed several Grouse on the side of the trail.

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As I was taking my pictures I felt something on my boot. Looking down one of the young grouse was pecking at my laces!

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The trail to Fairy Falls is short and woodsy. The falls itself is nice to take in with a snack before heading back. It does not look like water should be cascading over the tall cliff above . . . but it does!

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The walk to Fairy Falls and back puts you on more even ground with Grand Prismatic. Sometimes you can see the colors of the spring reflected in the steam.

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As I neared the trailhead rumbles of thunder could be heard overhead and dark clouds started to form. In about 10 minutes time the sun disappeared and the rain started pouring down.

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This fella was waiting for me at the car. He was literally a foot or so away from my passenger side door.

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I drove to a few more roadside viewpoints before heading South to Grand Teton National Park. I was overnighting in the Signal Mountain Area and caught the sunset with storms rolling in before heading off to sleep.

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Day Three is another picture heavy day so I will start a new post for it.
 

TractorDoc

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The original plan for Day Three, Tuesday September 17th was a loop hike up Paintbrush Canyon, over Paintbrush Divide, then back down Cascade Canyon in Grand Teton National Park. I never did make the full loop for several reasons. . . I had a nagging blister from day one but more specifically the weather was not ideal. The storms that had rolled in last night were still present and rain greeted me on the way to and at the trail head.

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I started the day's journey at the Leigh Lake Trailhead. I was not sure how far I was going at this point, but I wanted to get some hiking in.

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The waters of String Lake were clear enough to see quite a bit of bottom detail.

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Crossing over the Leigh Lake Outlet.

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A couple miles of forest walking bring you to the junction with the Paintbrush Canyon Trail. It was still raining at this point but I had nowhere else to be. . . so I walked on. Sorry 'bout the blurry sign pic.

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Another mile or so in the rain was less intense. I was still staying hydrated by breathing though. :) Canyon walls started to become visible overhead.

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Eventually you climb up into the beginning of the canyon and are greeted with this small water feature. For lack of identification on my generic map I will call it Paintbrush Creek.

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As I walked on from here I continued with my usual clapping to alert the forest inhabitants of my presence. Suddenly I heard loud snapping and crackling off trail to the right and my heart skipped a beat. I was somewhat relieved to see this guy hiding in the leaves (vs. seeing an angry bear).

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I walked up the trail a short way while keeping an eye on him. He was nibbling on leaves and appeared to be heading in the same direction I was.

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Soon enough he found his way out onto the trail where I had just walked up.

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And promptly found a cozy spot right alongside the trail to lay down while keeping an eye on me.

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The rain had let up enough by now that I felt comfortable swapping in my 70-300L Lens. I always wonder why I lug the extra two pounds with me and hardly ever use it. . . today was justification day. For a few moments the sun decided to peek out from behind the clouds and Mr. Moose looked like he was dozing off.

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The improving weather encouraged me to move upward into the canyon. . . that and the large moose in the middle of the trail sort of discouraged me from going back anyway. The trail crosses Paintbrush Creek several times as you climb up into the canyon.

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In some areas willows surround you and elevated terrain peeks out below the clouds in the distance.

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Canyon walls became more visible farther up the canyon. Fall colors make this one of my favorite times to visit.

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Pika could be heard on the talus slopes in many areas, but I never could see them.

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Looking back toward Leigh Lake as you climb into the canyon. It was about here that my improving weather took a turn in the other direction.

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A picturesque waterfall is cascading down the opposite side of the canyon, but just as quick as the sun popped out earlier a light snow fall blew in to obscure the view.

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Another view looking back at Leigh Lake. The snow was not terribly heavy -- in fact I rather preferred it to the rain as I was plenty warm and the snow pellets bounced off me vs. making things wet. The changing weather was providing a nice atmosphere to the hike. The more it changed the more I was enjoying it.

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Onward and upward. Pika voices were plentiful here.

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Eventually I reached the trail junction for Holly Lake. I was thinking of making this (Holly Lake) my destination for the day as it was around 1PM by this time.

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As you approach Holly Lake you walk thru a modestly wooded area before climbing up an exposed path to the lake. The wind was super intense here and I was leaning into it/hanging onto my jacket draped over my pack to keep from blowing away. The lake itself sits in a beautiful location -- on a sunny day I'd consider dipping a toe into the water but not today. The wind chill was enough to give me shivers at this point so I took my location picture before heading back down to the protected area.

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There was not a good place to set the camera at Holly Lake anyway, so I took my self portrait at the unnamed lake that lives on the trail before Holly Lake.

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As I started back down the trail the snow had lightened, but it had left its mark.

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Once again the sun decided to peek out here and there -- catching a picture at just the right time was tricky.

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I believe Paintbrush Canyon is named for the colors that paint the canyon walls in Autumn, but I still found the namesake flower blooming along the trail.

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The rain and snow was not keeping this little bugger holed up.

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Another pic of that waterfall with less snow obscuring the view.

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One last look up before leaving the canyon for more wooded parts of the trail. I did pass several backpackers on their way up as I was heading down the trail. They confirmed the Moose was in the area I had seen him earlier, but luckily he was not in the middle of the trail by the time I was heading back down.

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I was not done with my Moose observations though; walking down thru some of the woodsier areas I heard another trailside crackle that turned out to be a moose of the opposite gender. It was fascinating to watch her eat. She would wrap her mouth around a branch and then move her head with a sideways/upward motion while stripping off the leaves.

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I watched her eat for 30-45 minutes. . . I lost track of time.

The rest of the hike back was uneventful walking thru trees kind of stuff. The rain had let up by now and the sun was trying to warm up the afternoon. Even though I did not make my full loop goal I don't think I would have changed a minute of how the day went. The weather added "atmosphere" to the hike and the trailside Munching Moose were definitely a trip highlight.

One more post should probably finish off the trip. ;)
 

TractorDoc

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Wednesday, September 18th was another planned transition day. The goal was to drive back up into Yellowstone and how I would go about it would depend on Steamboat Geyser at Norris Geyser Basin. It has been erupting roughly once a week or so and the last eruption was on the 11th. As it turned out the eruption occurred the night before so I was free to take my time and head North as I pleased.

Another place I always try to visit is the Moulton Barns on Mormon Row. I drove out early this year for some sunrise pictures.

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As I headed North along US-89/191 I stopped at several turnouts for more mountain views.

Snake River Overlook:

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Oxbow Bend:

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Eventually I found my way into Yellowstone and took a quick walk around West Thumb Geyser Basin. I've always liked how Fishing Cone contrasts against the lake. . . today especially with the snow capped Absarokas in the background.

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I take a picture of this same runoff channel every year. This year the oranges/reds cover a smaller area than in times past.

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Even the elk use the boardwalk around here!

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I left West Thumb and drove into Hayden Valley. The visual treat waiting for me here was wolves -- I had not been able to see them in Yellowstone before.

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I eventually did find myself at Norris Geyser Basin. I took my time to walk the area as it always seems different year to year. Steamboat was still letting off a good amount of steam.

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I had one more surprise waiting for me on my way up to Mammoth. A mother grizzly bear and two cubs were right along side me on the road -- this was my first time seeing a mother and cubs so close.

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I tried catching some sunsets at the Mammoth Terraces but cloudy skies would not allow it.

Thursday September 19th was sort of left open during my initial planning. I wanted to take on some kind of hike in the Mammoth area, I just did not know where. With a promising forecast I settled on the Bunsen Peak down to Osprey Falls loop.

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Early on you get a nice view of Golden Gate.

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The early morning start was pleasantly cool as I worked my way up the wooded area. Can you find the deer in the picture?

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Soon the trees began to thin out and views opened up in all directions. A nice view of the Hoodoos.

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Swan Lake, Gardner's Hole, and the Gallatin Range.

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Closer View.

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More Grouse! I had seen more this visit than on all my prior visits combined.

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The view down to Mammoth.

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As I neared the top of Bunsen Peak I could hear Pika all around me. This time I caught one (in a picture) racing by.

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At the top. The thing I like the most about this picture is how the tree at the right looks perfectly straight while everything else. . . well, does not.

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View to the South West. My car is parked in the lot at the lower right (whitish spot).

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As I continued East leaving Bunsen Peak more Pika could be seen scurrying about. The telephoto lens was utilized again!

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Heading down and West from Bunsen the Gardner River can be seen cutting thru the canyon. I could also see the road I'd be walking back to the trail head on.

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The view to Mammoth and Gardner beyond.

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The hike down takes you thru some open areas but also some wooded ones. I was clapping extra often and extra loud after seeing that Momma Grizzly yesterday. There may or may not have also been some on-trail singing taking place. As I reached the bottom I liked how these Aspens angled up the frame of the pic.

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The hike is not over yet. So starts the descent to Osprey Falls.

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Switchbacks take you down into the canyon -- the river getting closer with every step.

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I'm a bit of a geology nerd, so I could not help but admire the columnar basalt (I think its basalt) of the canyon walls. Seeing the different layers cut thru by the river is fascinating.

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We made it! Sometimes I wonder what I am thinking when I look back at the pictures and see my facial expressions.

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A less personal view.

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I sat by the falls for around 45 minutes and ate lunch. I admired more canyon geology near the falls.

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As I headed up I crossed paths with several hikers heading down. I also noticed these pollinators while catching my breath in a shady spot.

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The walk back to the trailhead on the old road crossed a lot of open area. Several nice views were had looking back up toward Bunsen Peak and down the canyon of the Gardner River.

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I arrived back to the car by 3PM and took a drive over to Lamar Valley to see hundreds of bison. From there it was back to Mammoth to meet the folks for supper at the Mammoth Dining Room -- I ordered the meatloaf. :)

Friday, September 20th turned out to be an even rainier day than Wednesday had been. The ultimate goal was to drive up to Bozeman for the overnight hotel before flying out Saturday. I had time, my rain gear, and half a bag of Reese's Pieces left (the big bag, not the small one) so I decided to take on the Beaver Ponds Loop. The hike was enhanced by limited visibility due to clouds hugging the ground in addition to the sound of Elk bugles everywhere. Fewer pictures were taken due to the wet weather, but I simply had to take a pic of what I thought was a Beaver at one of the Beaver Ponds. (From a distance).

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Closer inspection suggests the Beaver is a Muskrat.

Self Portrait outside the Muskrat's home.

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When heading back to Mammoth I picked up on what I can only describe as the smell of wet animal. . . it was the only time my hair actually prickled up on the back of my neck and that I had the bear spray in hand. I never saw any movement as I walked thru the wooded area but I sure had the sense that something was nearby. I made it back to my car unscathed. Before leaving the park I caught this bull elk resting not far from the road.

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Overall I had a great time during the week and have a visit planned for around the same time next year. I've always been comfortable traveling solo -- in fact a lot of my previous trips have taken place that way. People look at you a bit funny when you talk to yourself and answer your own questions. . . but I'm good with it!

Thanks for reading!
 

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