Archive for August, 2010

Running to music

August 31, 2010

I’m against it.

I’m not talking about people who like to listen to music and happen to run. I’m talking about people focused on running who think music will make them run better.

I have several reasons which I find compelling, but I can’t rule out an irrational dislike of music

  • When I’m running hard I have to concentrate intensely to continue to run that hard. It’s very easy to get distracted and slow down.
  • My body finds its own rhythms, and they seem fairly efficient rhythms. For instance, when my foot strikes the ground, I exhale, and the footstrike provides an extra push to the exhale. I worry that an imposed, external tempo would be less efficient.
  • I like the real world. I don’t want to be cut off from it. I like listening to the birds (if there are any), to the waves (if I’m at the beach) to the wind… I don’t exactly like, but I want to hear the cars behind me, or the bear in the woods.  And if someone greats me, I want to hear them.

So when a friend posted a link about a study looking at music and running, I read it with my own prejudices.

The first thing to grab my eye: “12 healthy male college students”. A sample size of 12? Just who are they kidding? Can they really make any claims when they have a sample size of only 12? And they all are “male college students”. That’s a rather specific population to be sampling.

If they want to find out something about exercise that’s going to be useful to me, I want them to sample athletes. People who can exercise well, not random college students. Even college athletes. Oh well.

(And why, if the study is about male students does the article have a picture of a scantily clad woman?)

Basically the study gets these 12 students to engage in moderate exercise and then plays music to them at varying tempi. It finds that the higher the tempo the higher the heart rate and power output.

A little further down, the article mentions another study which found that runs at 90% effort were not helped by music.

I look at this and think: I have no problem exercising hard. I don’t need help from an external source to exercise at a high heart rate. I ran for more than an hour today with a heart rate between 85-90% max. In fact usually I have the opposite problem, it is too easy to go faster than is good for me. True, sometimes, if I’m tired, it can be hard sustain exercise at a 90%+ level. But that’s just where music can’t help me.

So what I gather from the article, is that music is a crutch that can help people who have no will-power and don’t know how to train. It can help increase exercise intensity when training at a moderate level. But it is totally useless when racing, or even training for a race.

The author of the article seems to assume that no one will want to exercise hard and that music is a useful tool.

Some days I feel I live in a completely different world from everyone else.


A run in the dark

August 27, 2010

Mike said to run Jesusita at an easy pace.

Normally I run alone; it’s so much easier not to try to coordinate other people’s schedules. But Tim Smith had been wanting to run trails with me since June, so I emailed him. He wanted to start at 6am. And then Kary asked if I wanted to run Jesusita with her. Only she wanted to start at 5:45.

I was afraid it would be dark, but consoled myself with the thought that the moon would be just past full, and civil twilight would start at 6.

However it was foggy. Densely foggy. The moon was a faint blur above and everything else was black.

Kary had brought Brian and Tim had brought Mike S.

We all set off down the trail and into darkness with Brian in the lead because he was the only one who had brought a headlamp. After the first person tripped, I ran back and got my bike lamp. Thereafter I ran at the back to light feet from behind and Brian ran in front to find the way.

We only got lost once.

There’s something very friendly about running in the dark. The world constricts to the tiny patch of light that includes you and your friends. Nothing seems real except us. You can’t see anything. You can’t hear anything except the fall of feet, and voices floating in the dark.

When we got to the first meadow, I saw the fog was behind us and the moon shone clearly. But it was still dark under the trees.

But it was beginning to get lighter. Soon I turned off my light, though Brian kept his on a bit longer…

It was quite light when the path got steep and we spread out a bit.

It was clear at the top, but the sun hadn’t quite popped over the mountains. Down below the city lay, wreathed in fog, with the tendrils stopping about at the trailhead.

Unexpected picture problems

August 26, 2010

I promised my parents to make copies of some of my Yellowstone pictures.

I took a series of Old Faithful erupting, and named the files based on eruption time, as:

(45 minutes to eruption)

(start of eruption)

(two and a half minutes after)

I do my image manipulation in gimp, which runs on unix-like machines. The place I go to get the pictures printed uses macs. I had forgotten that the mac doesn’t allow a “:” in a filename (because 10 years ago the mac used “:” as a directory separator rather than “/”). The results was that none of my geyser pictures printed.

It’s a little frightening how something as silly as that can keep a picture from printing.

Yellowstone Wildflowers, August

August 24, 2010

In Santa Barbara very little blooms in August. But Yellowstone is a different matter.
My guesses…

Orchid family

Ladies’ tresses

Aster family



Snapdragon family

Indian Paintbrush

Pea (legume) family

Silver lupine


Buttercup family



Larkspur closeup

Evening primrose family

Evening Primrose

Gaura sp.?

Gentian family

Fringed Gentian

Geranium family

Sticky Geranium

Morning glory family

Dogwood family


Borage family

Mountain bluebells

Bellflower family

Carrot family

Cow parsnip


Altitude affects me

August 20, 2010

I ran more slowly than I normally would when running at 8000ft. But I didn’t feel particularly more tired. I couldn’t get my HR up. About 83% seemed the highest it would go. Now I wasn’t racing or anything but it felt more like a 90% effort at the time.

When I got back to SB Mike had me run at for 2.5 hours doing the uphills at 85%. I did that and found I’d run up to Jesusita faster than I’d done all year (not my fastest time ever, but then I was only going 85%).

My heart and lungs were feeling fine, my legs were more tired than I’d expect from an 85% effort.

I guess that’s why they say you should sleep at altitude and train at sea-level.

Yellowstone, fourth day — Mud Volcano.

August 20, 2010

What should I do on my final day?

One friend had recommended the mud volcano, and it certainly sounded intriguing. Not a true volcano, I presumed, but a geyser of mud sounded quite bizarre enough.

The volcano lives about 12 miles south of Canyon. Another long drive.

Going there meant passing through the Hayden valley. I saw a bunch of cars (and people) off by the side of the road, and then I realized that looming out of the morning mist was a herd of bison. So I stopped to watch.

Then I ran back to the car to get my camera, and watched a little more actively.

The bison didn’t pay us any attention. Some of them wandered quite close to the parking area (I moved back behind the line of cars when that happened), but that wander wasn’t because of us. They just happened to be going by and we weren’t interesting enough to avoid.

Quite a few of the animals would roll in the dirt, which I thought was kind of neat.

Time passed, the mist began to lift, and the true size of the herd began to become apparent. I started to count them, but soon gave that up, there were too many, they moved around faster than I could count them and there were probably more on the other side of the hills I could see (there were). There were probably several hundred in sight. Not enough to blanket the plains, but enough to be impressive.

Well, even one of these animals is impressive; especially when walking down the road straight at you. But 200 is more impressive.

In one way, Yellowstone disappoints. The signs record the history of a changing land, usually documenting the time when a feature was at its peak (and that time is rarely now).

So the sign at the “Roaring mountain” describes how it could be heard 4 miles away. Once. Now the steam vents produce a faint whisper that the noise of a passing car overwhelms. (the mountain in the picture was not hit by a snow storm, that’s the color of the deposited rock).

The boardwalks on the travertine terraces at Mammoth have viewpoints at many places now dry and crumbling into dirty grey stone.

Even Old Faithful, which once erupted every hour, now erupts every 65-90 minutes.

Once upon a time (~1870), the Mud volcano sent columns of mud into the air. Now it just bubbles happily to itself. It’s neat, and if I didn’t know its history I would be perfectly happy to watch it bubble — but compared to the eruptions of the past, well — the present disappoints.

So the mud volcano was a bit disappointing. It didn’t erupt at all, just sat there blowing steam and quietly bubbling mud to itself. But there were other hot springs and geysers here.

There is also a mud geyser. Another large pond of bubbling mud with several steam vents. Before an earthquake in 1979 the hillside here had been completely wooded, after the quake the ground became very hot and the trees cooked and died. At the time the geyser started erupting.

That has all changed. The ground seems a normal temperature, there are no more eruptions.

The steam vents are nice…

On the other hand, the Churning Caldron was nicely impressive. A huge pillar of steam rose above it, visible from a long way off, and when I approached it there was an incessant splashing (hidden deep in the mist so I couldn’t see what caused it) and a concomitant train of waves washing up on the edge of the pool.

Several hours later, when I was heading back to the hotel I passed by this basin again. It was much warmer now, and all trace of mist was long gone. It occurred to me to wonder… The steam which hid the surface of the caldron might be much less now. The warmer, drier, afternoon air could absorb more water vapor so there should be less mist. It might be worth stopping the car again and checking out the caldron in case I could now see what was causing the splashing…

Well there was still a lot of steam, but it was possible to make out the great masses of water that were thrown up in the center of the caldron.

Across the road from the mud volcano is another thermal feature called sulfur caldron. The thing which most interested me there was not the caldron itself, but the fact that in the middle of the parking lot a small steam vent had opened, and they have had to close off a bit of parking lot because of it.

The mud volcano may erupt no more, but new thermal features are forming which may someday be equally impressive.

There were quite a number of other thermal features outside these two areas set up for tourists. Across the river were two large steam vents, and down by the riverside were several hot springs. But I was most impressed by a stream of bubbles arising from the middle of the river itself — some sort of underwater steam vent perhaps? Except that didn’t make sense, with that much water above it, the vent should not be hot enough to make steam. Perhaps some other gas was percolating up?

It wasn’t even 11 yet, and I had seen all I wanted to at the Mud Volcano. Where next? The closest place seemed to be the “West Thumb Geyser Basin”, which was on the banks of Lake Yellowstone, about 20 miles away.

If you have a lot of imagination, then when you look at a map of the lake, it sort of looks like a two fingered hand with a thumb. Very sort of. Anyway this basin is at the fingernail of the putative thumb.

I don’t see any spectacular geysers at the west thumb. There are lots of hot springs and steam vents, and pools. The pools are the neat part. Most are crystal clear, and most are colored. The color of the pool depends on the bacteria which live in the pool which in turn depends on the temperature and mineral content.

There are also some hot springs out in the lake which have built up stone vents even in the water.

On the way back I pass through the bison herd again. There appear to be even more of them now (perhaps there was more mist than I realized). Some are wandering in the road, so traffic slows. Remember, bison in the mirror are closer than they appear.

On the road between Canyon and Norris there is a sign saying “Virginia Cascade”. I decide to follow it. There’s a rather impressive waterfall on a less than impressive road.

Once back at the hotel I finally have time to go on the hike my sister suggested days ago. It leads down to the Gardner river, and then along it. The most immediately striking thing is how lush and green the river bottom is while the canyon walls are sere and grey.

There are a lot of butterflies down here, attracted to the blooming wildflowers.

Good-bye Yellowstone!

More pictures

Yellowstone, day three — Canyon

August 20, 2010

Mike said to run for 4~5 hours and to practice staying fueled and hydrated. I wanted to try running at altitude.

Some friends had told me I had to see the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. The canyon rim was about 8000 feet (7918 for the visitor center there), that sounded like altitude, and the bottom of the canyon was roughly 6800 (which still sounded like altitude). So I found a topo map which showed a trail system with a 5 mile trail that ran from the top of the rim down into the canyon and connected (at mile ~3) to a 20 mile trail. 5 miles was too short, but 5 miles followed by as much of the 20 miler as I wanted sounded good.

I was still somewhat worried about bears. So I bought a can of bear spray just in case. It was a great huge thing. Bears apparently need a lot of deterrent. There was a warning on the can about not spraying it on yourself (to make yourself smell bad); obviously getting it into your own eyes is stupid, but more importantly bears actually like the taste in small quantities. I didn’t really want to carry it. I didn’t really want to be eaten by a bear either. I figured I would go to the trail head, and if they had one of those warning signs up (“Bears have been seen in this area”) then I’d carry the spray, and if they didn’t, then I wouldn’t.

I got up early and got into the car about 6:30. No traffic at that time of morning, which was nice, and interesting clouds moved across the mountains on the other side of the valley. I wasn’t in any particular hurry so I stopped and looked at Undine falls, and then at a hot spring down in the riverbed (for some reason I find hot springs down at the water fascinating).

Then I drove on to Tower Falls, where I again got out to look at the falls. These are very tall.

As I drove on to Canyon I noticed that my chest felt tight, and then I thought the car was having difficulty. Then I crested a rise with a sign Dunraven pass, elevation 8859.

I parked my car at the Canyon visitor center, saw no bear warning signs and set off. It was about a mile to the trailhead if I walked, and about 8 miles if I drove (one way loop road). So I made my run a little longer than I had expected.

I had a full camelback, and enough GU and chomps and blocks to last for 6½ hours.

It was very misty. It was also chilly, 42° according to the car thermometer, so I had a windbreaker, a long sleeve SBAA shirt and my running top.

The trailhead itself is marked by a large glacial boulder. To tell the truth, it looks like any other boulder to me, but it is big, and stands all by itself, so it is noticeable if nothing else.

The start was about half a mile from the rim so it took a while before I  got to see the canyon itself. The sides were pretty steep, and from the look of the tree roots I had the impression that the top was still eroding into the depths.

I stood back.

A little further along the Silver Chord Falls are visible on the opposite rim. The canyon is quite wide, and the falls are relatively narrow so from this viewpoint they just make a thin streak of white down the opposite rocks.

I’ve warmed up a bit and removed my windbreaker and stuffed it into the cammelback. The guidebooks warn of rapid weather changes (as happened yesterday when the storm blew in) so I want it close at hand.

The trail is pretty easy here. Flat, well maintained. I think I’m making good time. It turns out that I’m actually going a bit slowly, but it feels as if I am going faster. I guess that is the altitude. At least I’m not gasping for breath or anything like that.

I realize I haven’t been singing to the bears.

I decide they don’t really need a recital today.

I scramble over a rock with a small pine tree growing on it. It looks like a natural bonsai tree — all gnarled and contorted with a thick trunk and small set of branches. I wonder if the Japanese got the idea for bonsai from observing trees in the wild?

On the left of the trail (away from the canyon) the forest opens out into a large meadow. There are lots of wildflowers here, various asters, lupines, a beautiful lichen which clings to dead spurs.

This also seems to be an insect graveyard. There are a number of flowers with a dead insect embedded in them. At least, I think they are dead. My guess is that the rain of the previous day brought on a cold snap and the bees and butterflies just got too cold and died.

One more view from the canyon rim, and then the trail splits, and I head down into the canyon itself. It’s quite steep, one of those slopes which is easier to go up than down.

There are hot springs on the side of the trail too. I hadn’t realized there would be any. These aren’t particularly impressive, but it is certainly amazing just how common these features are.

A little further down the path splits again, there are two campsites, one up river, one down. I follow the up river trail first. It’s a little obscure, and very steep, but I find enough of it to convince myself I’m on it. There’s another hot spring here.

Finally I reach a point where I’m right at the river. The sky is clearing and it is nice and blue. It isn’t warm yet, but it looks prettier.

I wander around the river bank for a bit, climbing down into the river briefly and then it’s time to turn back.

Only I can’t find the trail.

The path along the bank is pretty obvious, but there doesn’t seem to be anything that leads up. I try just climbing up the slope without a trail, but it is scree and I can tell I won’t get very far that way. So I just run back and forth on the bank, until, eventually, I see the faint trail that leads up. I manage to lose the trail a couple more times, but none of those is as bad as the first. Eventually I reach the point where the two campsite trails diverged.

The other trail is in better shape and leads through wooded glades, across a small stream and gently downward.  On the way I get glimpses of Twin Falls on the other side of the river, and a little further beyond that is a nameless waterfall which isn’t as nice because it sort of hides behind a large boulder.

Eventually the trail reaches the river itself, and at about that point Sulfur Creek comes bouncing down the hillside (the near hillside) in a series of small waterfalls. The water in the creek is a milky color and I speculate that its source is a series of hot springs up on the canyon rim. The water is not warm though.

It really is lovely down here. The campsite at the end of the trail is perched 30 feet above the river and must have a good view (but there are people in it, so I turn back without disturbing them).

Then begins the slog up out of the Canyon. Mostly I manage to run, but every now and then I slow to a walk. It starts to get warm, and I consider removing my next layer, but then it clouds back over and cools down.

I notice that my Heart rate never gets above 83%. Wow. I think I working hard though.

I reach the top, and the place where the big trails diverge and I head out toward Mt. Washburn and Tower falls.

The trail crosses a little stream and continues out into a meadow full of wildflowers.

In Santa B all the wildflowers are pretty well over by mid-August and I was assuming that they would be finished here too. But this meadow is full of lupine, yarrow, and wild parsleys (and others I can’t identify).

The trail skirts the edge of the meadow and then heads into the woods again, out into another meadow and back into the woods.

Then it heads past another thermal area with a rather interestingly colored pool (and a rather ugly one too, which I didn’t photograph).

And back into the woods.

Passing through the woods I find a nice bed of blue bells, and then after them another thermal site. This one is more impressive, venting lots of steam into the air and containing the first mud vents that I have seen, these are hot springs which are so acidic that the water wears down the rock, turning it into mud, which then burps and boils on the surface.

I turn back for one last look at the springs, and then on into the woods again.

Up a little hill, and across a meadow, or rather a series of meadows. There are small streams, meandering through here, and as the trail crosses over one I see something which looks (sort of) like a Delphinium. The flowers are more open than any Delphinium I’ve seen before but I can’t imagine what else it might be.

Lots more wildflowers here. A columbine, two different Geraniums, many Asters and other things I can’t identify.

I decide I’m going to turn back when my watch hits 12 miles. No particular reason for that, I just need some sort of deadline, otherwise I’ll keep going; I don’t really want to turn back, but I know I must, soon. I’m now at 11.28 so I can keep going a little bit longer.

The sun comes out as I run through yet another little meadow, this one with a campsite in it. And a little beyond that it is time to turn around.

Back through the meadows with their wildflowers.

The sun doesn’t last. It comes and goes. I realize I still have on the long sleeve shirt I donned in the cool of the morning. It is still cool enough that there seems little point in removing it.

Once again I find flowers with dead (or at least immobile) insects on them. I don’t see this in Santa B. What causes it? Is it cold?

And back to the hot springs. I am continually amazed and how much desolation surrounds these vents. Why does the barren area reach above the springs further than it goes below? Does the steam (which I’ve breathed on many occasions) contain more toxins than the run-off water?

Into the woods, the other set of hot springs, woods again, meadows. A nice stand of fringed gentians, and near-by are some Indian Paintbrushes. Indian Paintbrushes (at least the Barbarian varieties) are all root parasites, I wonder what plant this guy is parasitizing, here, in an open meadow.

And finally I am back at the trail junction. It means to me that I’ve got another 2.7 miles on the trails and another mile or so of road. I’m not exactly tired, but I am looking forward to stopping.

Shortly after this I start to see people again (the trail down into the canyon is fairly popular). No one else is running though. I saw no other runners in the park. As I come up to one guy, hiking with his son, he asks me:

“Seen any bears?”

“No, thank goodness.” I realize I have forgotten even to worry about bears.

The guy swings a can of bear spray in his hand: “I’m ready!”

I’m glad I didn’t need any.

And then I reach the trailhead with its large erratic boulder. And then Canyon parking lot.

I immediately buy some lunch, and drive off to the south rim to find a place to eat.

Just south of Canyon, the Yellowstone River plunges over two huge waterfalls and ends up in the canyon. But south of those falls, the river is at ground level. And it is here that I find a picnic spot.

Thence I drive down to Artist’s Point, which has a good view of the lower falls. These falls are 300+ feet tall, and it looks as though the spume from the falls splashes up about a third that distance.

Pulling back a bit, the canyon itself is quite lovely. There are just enough clouds to make the sky interesting, but not so many as to hide the sun, not right now anyway.

And the view down the canyon isn’t bad either.

A little further up the road is a viewpoint for the upper falls. These aren’t as tall as the lower (only 100 feet), but still impressive.

Then I drive back across the river and take the north canyon rim loop road. The first stop on it lets you climb down to the top of the lower falls, but on the way there is a good view of the upper falls too. And a little further down there is a view of the spume of the upper falls which is pretty spectacular in its own right.

The climb down to the lower falls is surprisingly long, and full of very short switchbacks. I’m not usually that impressed by the top of a waterfall, you can’t really see the falls generally, but this takes my breath away. It’s a long way down. You still can’t see much of the falls, but you can see the spume, and there is a rainbow floating out of the spume.

Lower falls from above

Rainbow in the mist

The spume condenses on the canyon wall, and smaller waterfalls run down from there.

I dutifully went to all the other stops on the northern rim, but none were anywhere near as impressive as this one.

As I drove back to the hotel, the sun shining on the valley was quite lovely

The sign says this is prime grizzly bear territory, but I can’t make them out.

More Pictures

Yellowstone, second day — Norris

August 19, 2010

I wanted to see more geysers.

They are impressive.

There are three “geyser basins” near Old Faithful and I’d only looked at one of them. But going down there meant risking another 3 hour drive, and I could not face that yet.

There was another basin at Norris, which was only 20 miles away and had no road construction. It seemed a better choice. Not only that, but Norris boasts the tallest geyser in the world, one whose eruptions send water up 300+ft (against Old Faithful’s 120 and Castle’s 90). Of course the last time it erupted was in 2005, but one can always hope…

There are two main loops at Norris; the one I take first looks out over a, well, a basin, denuded of vegetation covered with pools of water and puffs of steam. There are two large steam vents right below the trail and two large columns of steam obscure much of the view. The big vent is called “Black growler”, and it certainly does growl.

I haven’t gone far into the basin when a small (~20ft?) geyser erupts in front of me. The eruption doesn’t last long and I barely catch it in the camera. Probably Sunday Geyser.

As I wander through the basin, the things which impress me most are the absolute desolation and the view of the steam rising from the edges.

After going through the basin I climb up on the north rim and look down. The Colloidal Pool looks very odd. A little further there is a small steam vent, or two vents very close together.

I turn and walk back to the other trail. A squirrel takes umbrage at me and chatters when I walk past his tree, then chatters more when I stop and look at him. He runs up the tree, then out on to a branch, then behind the tree, then down, out… chattering all the while. I find him (her?) quite entertaining s/he finds me annoying.

The other loop has a lot more trees on it, and the geysers are hidden from one another by them. But the first thing I see is not a geyser but a snowshoe hare.

After that comes steamboat geyser, which is not erupting today in spite of all my hopes. Or not erupting hugely. Every few minutes it squirts water 10 ft into the air.

A little further on is a steam vent with the amusing name of “Huff and Puff”, a hole in the side of the hill which spits out steam.

There are many steaming pools of water, some with odd colorations from the thermophiles living within them. Near the end is Minute Geyser which is in continual ferment producing small squirts of water.

Then I went back to Mammoth, thinking to do a hike my sister had recommended. As I left the hotel it was drizzling, but it had been doing that all day (off and on) so I snuggled deeper into my rain coat and went on. The wind picked up. The rain picked up too. After a half mile I was drenched, so I turned back.

Two hours later my sister stopped by my room and suggested we do a hike my brother had recommended. It had pretty well stopped raining by now. This hike lead up to a wildflower meadow and out and down to some old beaver ponds (no beavers left now) and then looped back to the hotel across the sagebrush I’d run through the day before.

More Pictures

Yellowstone, first full day — Old Faithful

August 18, 2010

My sister told me she had seen a bear near the hotel the night before.

I was supposed to do a two hour run this morning. I was worried about bears.

The rules for hiking in bear country are: Don’t go alone, Don’t go at dawn or dusk, Make lots of noise, Don’t startle the bear(s). I feared I would be breaking pretty much all of those. No one would want to run with me. I wanted to go out early so I could be with my family the rest of the day. I was at 6000ft+ and running, would I have any breath to make noise? And running would mean I’d come upon bears much faster than a hiker and be more likely to startle them.

There were signs up saying there were bears in the area.

The old stage-coach road from the hotel to Gardiner is a 5 mile dirt track. I thought a road might be less likely to have bears than a hiking trail, especially as it still got occasional vehicular traffic (It’s a one way road now).

I figured that would be the best I could do. I also decided to recite The Hunting of the Snark as best I could while running (It’s the longest monologue I have committed to memory, and while it doesn’t last for 2 hours in normal circumstances, I did not expect to be able to spend as much time talking as I normally do in a recitation. I expected to spend more time panting.).

The trail took off immediately behind the hotel, and went straight up for about a quarter mile. This was a bit surprising as Gardiner is about 1000ft lower than the hotel. It wasn’t easy going uphill and trying to recite, so the Snark came out in bits and pieces between pants. I tried to make sure that I shouted something before each twist in the road.

Eventually the climb ended and I got a view a very stark landscape. Dead grass, sagebrush (which is not related to sage at all, at all), not much else. Some trees and wildflowers down in the canyons where there was a bit more water.

I had been concerned about running at altitude. Admittedly 6200ft is not that high as these things go, but it is higher than I am used to. Going up the hill had been difficult, but not impossible. That was consoling. Going downhill seemed easy. Indeed, when my watch beeped out the first mile I found I had been going for less than 10 minutes which is a pretty fast clip for me on a trail (of course this was a road, and a downhill road at that, still it was cheering). The Snark was coming out a lot more easily now.

The road dips across a small gully with a stream at the bottom of it. A little water makes a huge difference in the vegetation. There are trees, and the ground cover looks green. There’s even a small lake down below me.

But I climb out of that and into the dry landscape again. There’s a bit of sun now and it doesn’t look as gloomy as it used to.

Then it’s a meandering descent down to Gardiner. The old coach road intersects the main road at the Roosevelt arch, the official park entrance. My watch tells me I have run 4 miles. This road was supposed to be 5 miles long (my watch isn’t perfectly accurate, but it isn’t that far off). Drat. That throws off my calculations. Normally a 10 mile trail run would more than fill a 2 hour slot, but I’m running faster on the road than I expected, and the road is shorter than I was told.

I decide to run back to the hotel, and then turn round and repeat as much of the road as I need to to get in my 2 hours. I ended up running ~12 miles in roughly 2 hours. So I guess the altitude didn’t slow me by much? Or maybe the road, even with a 1000ft descent/climb was easier than I expected.

When I returned everyone else was leaving to go to Old Faithful. I hurriedly showered and breakfasted and then went out after them.

It’s about 50 miles from Mammoth to Old Faithful. It took me 3 hours to drive it. There was road construction that slowed things down immensely.

En route there was also a wildlife-viewing traffic jam. There was a bison wandering down the middle of the road. After he passed me, I pulled over and got out of the car with my camera to take a picture. But the camera didn’t go. I remembered I’d taken out the battery the night before. So I bent over and fished the battery out of the bag, and put it in. When I looked up the bison was about 6 feet in front of me and heading toward me.

I backed up.


It was some time before I was in a position to try to take a picture.

Eventually I got to Old Faithful. I was about 45 minutes before the next eruption and already the viewing area was almost full. I found myself a seat and waited (there were lots of people, I didn’t try to find my family).




T+30 seconds


I felt I had to see Old Faithful. I didn’t know how commonly other geysers erupted and I wanted to make sure I saw at least one.

While I was waiting for it to erupt I could see at least two places down in the basin below where great clouds of steam would suddenly appear. They seemed to erupt more commonly than Old Faithful. Now if I could only figure out how to get there…

As I wander down into the basin I pass many pools. I turn a corner and witness an eruption. Only it doesn’t end. It just keeps going. Nowhere near as tall as Old Faithful, but impressive in its own right. It is impossible to get around it without getting splashed. Surprisingly, the water is cool, though the mist is warm. “Sawmill Geyser”, says the sign.

There are many pools that are called “geysers”. Quiescent, or barely bubbling, or with small eruptions. Some of them have little signs: “Next eruption will be on 26 August”, or “Will probably erupt between 4 and 7pm today”. I did not wait.

I see my parents and my nephew and niece (but not my siblings). They seem to be done with the geysers, but I want to see more, so I don’t join them as they head back.

After a long wander I come to something called Castle Geyser. It was erupting. It had been erupting for a while and had no intention of stopping (According to Wikipedia it erupts for about 20 minutes and then throws up steam for another 40). I found the sheer volume of ejecta, and the duration of the eruption even more impressive than Old Faithful. Also we were allowed closer to it so it looked bigger.

The drive home only takes an hour and a half. I get really lucky and get waved through the road construction area with no wait.

That evening a herd of elk wandered onto the hotel grounds. The lawns are irrigated, and the grass there is more succulent than elsewhere.

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Yellowstone, arrival

August 18, 2010

I flew in to Bozeman, drove to the northwest entrance to the park. The land is sere, dry. Not much grows. A bit of sagebrush, a lot of bare rock. Not very enticing.

From the entrance the road follows the Gardner river for ~5miles before it comes to Mammoth Hot Springs. About halfway there was a traffic jam. This annoyed me, until I realized that everyone was staring at the barren cliffs above. There were some animals high up above us. Once I got through the jam, I pulled over and walked back to take some pictures. I tried to remind myself that traffic jams were an indication of something interesting to see and I should take them as a hint to look rather than rudeness on the part of the drivers. Still… why didn’t they pull over instead of stopping in the middle of the road?


It was late afternoon when I got to the hotel, too late to go anywhere else, but Mammoth has its own sights, so I went and looked at the traverine terraces just down the road. Hot acidic water from underground dissolves rock, and when the water reaches the surface and cools, the rock precipitates out of solution and leaves rocky terraces. Various bacteria which like hot water live on/in this rocky surface and color it. The color of the bacteria depends on the water temperature.

The rock will coat anything, and bits of tree that fall into the hot springs end up covered in rock (there used to be a business here where people would leave stuff in the pools for a week and go home with a unique, rocky, souvenir. This is no longer allowed, but I see it happens naturally on twigs).

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