Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A River Runs Through It

After the elk wandered off we continued our drive up toward Lamar Valley. At Norris Junction Norris-Canyon Road bisects the Grand Loop, crossing the Solfatara Plateau and meeting up with the loop road again at Canyon Village. Just south of this junction is the place where the Yellowstone River, the longest un-damed river in the lower 48 states, plunges off the plateau and into the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.

The canyon, according to one guide, is 1,200 feet deep at its deepest point and 4,000 feet across at its widest, and runs for 24 miles through the park. The canyon walls are awash with color, inspiring John Muir to write, "All the hearabouts seems to be paint." The image above looks to the northeast--notice the spires in the fore to mid-ground. Some call these hoodoos, but hoodoos are generally found in desert lands and have a varied thickness from top to bottom, giving them a totem pole look (think Bryce Canyon). These spires are more uniform, thicker at the bottom and tapering at the top.

The North Rim Road offers spectacular views of the canyon and falls. In the photo below, looking upriver, you can just see the Lower Falls in the distance, the white vertical stripe below the horizon line.

As is the norm, you can see cool stuff from your car but if you want the best views you've gotta get out and walk. So we did. I don't recall how long the path was, but it wound down and down into the valley. Notice the boardwalk at the bottom left corner of the next shot.

Down and down we walked along the switch-back path until we came to another viewing platform. What a sight. The Lower Falls towers 308 feet above the canyon floor, and the spray from the falls supports a micro-habitat along the rock walls at the base of the falls. There were only six or seven people here, so we lingered awhile, soaking in the sights and sounds and catching our breath for the hike back UP the path.

After viewing the falls we continued north toward Tower-Roosevelt. Just south of the junction with Northeast Entrance Road, the river and road meet again near Tower Creek. Here, along the far bank, are more cliffs like the basalt formations along the Gardiner River.

More cliffs, spires, and the Yellowstone, passing through The Narrows.

Along this stretch of road I felt like I was in the middle of a western movie, with sweeping panoramas, the river rapids, buttes and clear blue sky. In fact, much of Robert Redford's film A River Runs Through It was shot along the Montana portion of this river.

We would soon be leaving off the Yellowstone to make our way into the Lamar Valley and a hike along the Slough (pronounced slew) Creek. This area is home to the famed Druid and Slough Creek wolf packs, and we were hoping against hope to see one of those magnificent animals. As for the Yellowstone River, it continues north into Montana, takes a turn to the northeast and continues on until it empties into the mighty Missouri River.

Next: The Slough Creek and some exciting finds.


  1. Yellowstone is still on of my favorite places. I remember the trail to the falls. 3/8 mile down - felt like 2 miles back up! What a great view!

  2. Thanks for a pic of a hoodoo to match the definition...I'd read of, but not seen...quite a hike down and up...magnificent vistas...didn't know Yellowstone River was longest un-damed in the U.S. Learning a lot, thanks...and Happy New Year!