Waterfalls, cascades, rivers and Yellowstone Lake – water water everywhere!

Lower Falls base with rainbow

Upper Falls in Yellowstone’s Grand Canyon

Gallatin River Falls

Firehole Falls

Kepler Cascades

Madison or “Bison” River

Yellowstone Lake

Madison River or “Elk ” River – another view

Hope you enjoyed these water views of Yellowstone.

Craters of the Moon National Monument & EBR 1 – Arco ID

We departed Yellowstone after a wonderful visit and headed southwest to Arco Idaho to visit a unique national monument park, and the sight of the first breeder reactor built in the USA.

We were welcomed to Craters of the Moon National Monument by these orange and pink flowers demanding to be seen amidst abundant evidence of great devastation.

Craters of the Moon is a national monument park made up of the largest group of lava fields and volcanic cones outside of Hawaii. Although not active presently like the Yellowstone Caldera it is due to erupt in about 2200 AD. Historically it has erupted on schedule every 2000 yrs for the last 15,000 yrs.

Note the tiny white patches of wildflowers in front of the lava rocks – spreading phylox or stickseed. Dwarf Monkeyflower, Dwarf Buckwheat and Silver leafed Phacelia make up the bulk of the blossoming plants in the park.

It is a place you must see in person to really appreciate its beauty – all shapes of lava and cinder formations dotted with white, yellow and pink spring wildflowers bursting forth in full bloom and deftly twisted deciduous and pine trees – defying low nutrient volcanic soil and flourishing. We were very lucky to witness the annual wildflower bloom and reveled in the tiny blasts of color as we toured the park.

Above is another close up of some wildflowers that seemed quite at home in the bed of multicolored cinder soil. all the plants seemed very resilient and able to thrive throughout the park.

Given that Kilauea was still erupting in Hawaii at this time – it was cool to see the similar types of lava formations that resulted when magma became lava as it poured through both ground crevices and volcanic cones during eruptions thousands of years ago.

We got to walk up alongside several old volcanic cones and look down into them – pretty weird to think they were capable of such destructive force and fireworks. The landscape is covered with cinder and ash from these previous explosions, allowing a firsthand look at what happens when this fiery material cools over a period of time.

The National Park Visitor Center has a great display portraying the park’s relationship to the surrounding volcanic activity – past and present in both Idaho and Wyoming and it does a great job explaining all the different types of rocks, plants and animals that call this extraordinary place home. Be sure to stop before you go into the park in order to be better informed when touring the Park’s interior. Remember to stay on the walkways and do not walk on the lava or cinder areas as you could be destroying new growth or habitat.

There is also a campground near the entrance – only RVs, campers and tent enthusiasts may use it as it is relatively compact. Funny to imagine staying overnight within a dormant volcano field – there is likely little or no ambient light so the night sky and its stars would be magnificent! It is one of the official Dark Sky Park’s with special programming by rangers for visitors after dark.

The old gray trees – some of which continue to grow – were the result of a fungi parasite the doesn’t actually kill the tree but causes the twists in its branches – early ranger intercession was to kill and cut many of them down but it was later determined there was no harm by the parasite. We found these shapes remarkable and stunning – we took a lot of pictures of them. We loved the contrast of the gray and silver entwined trunks against the cinder fields and smaller green growth.

Below another view of a cinder field coming alive with wildflowers in their spring colors.

Craters of the Moon Park was also used as an training area for the astronauts preparing for Apollo 13 moon walks – because the terrain resembles the landscape on the Moon it helped scientists prepare the men for what to expect.

Don’t miss this amazing stop along Highway 20 just outside of the tiny city of Arco ID.


This remarkable first breeder reactor is a national historic monument and a great stop along the same highway 20. Take the time to have a guided tour – the guides do a great job explaining how a breeder reactor works to produce energy as well as the history of this particular project.

Although there are none currently operating in the USA, many scientists (including my father)believed that this form of nuclear energy production is safer, cleaner and more efficient than the currently operating reactors. Once you understand that the process used to make energy actually breeds new fuel you appreciate the rationale for the “breeder” type process. Both France and Germany have built these breeder reactor plants and they have reported no problems.

above is the first generator power by nuclear power and capable of lighting four incandescent bulbs for its first effort. The reactor remained active and safe until it was taken off line in the early 70s. America lost its appetite for nuclear power after the accidents like Three Mile Island and Chernobyl in the late twentieth century and by the 21st their fate was sealed. Energy politics may have played a part as well – big oil and coal fought hard to stop their future development too.

Above is the center part of the reactor’s control room.

The area where this breeder reactor is located is within the expansive Idaho National Laboratories – scientific research facilities which continues to conduct important nuclear research and development. More nuclear reactors have been built there than anywhere in the world. Not all remain productive – most are for specific experiments and research rather than energy production.

This was one of the nuclear fuel rods transport systems.

Opened in the late 1940s the INL or the Laboratories occupy almost two million acres in Southwestern Idaho and are the area’s major employer, offering good jobs at their facilities. The decision to locate the huge facility in this part of Idaho was based on the low numbers of humans – farming was abandoned decades ago – and little wildlife as well as its remoteness.

In addition to the nuclear research an area of almost 1000 acres was set aside as a important sagebrush preserve – scientific studies are conducted there help us understand the impact of climate change on our environment. At a rest stop along interstate 20 you can check the current weather – temperature, humidity as well as the area’s atmospheric radiation content. A first for us!!

Pronghorn (a deer /antelope type mammal that runs up to 35 mph and eats sagebrush) are seen frequently in the preserve as are rabbits and smaller rodents – although very forbidding in appearance there is life in this desolate sagebrush prairie.

Following this visit, we stopped at the world famous “Pickle Place” for a lunch of Atomic Burgers and fried pickles – good food at the only place decent stop in town.

We departed Arco for a short stay in the oil town of Billings, Montana followed by the coal town named Butte.

Glorious Yellowstone National Park for ten days!

This first National Park is more than 2 million acres and at least 40 miles by 35 miles – it has more than three major rivers, mountains, prairies, wetlands, waterfalls, its own Grand Canyon and it is the largest active volcano in North America. Within the caldera or volcano cone as much of the area is called – it has a separate climate and weather zone from the surrounding area. One ranger told us that it snows somewhere in Yellowstone 365 days a year. Temperature swings from just above freezing to high 90s are not rare. It can be raining just outside the Park’s gate in West Yellowstone where our campground was – and gorgeous & sunny in the park. We had the full range of weather during our visit – cold mornings, warm sunny afternoons, snow and sleet in the mountains, hail, thunder and rain days and drizzly nights.

Nothing diminished our terrific experience. We planned ten days and that worked well for us. Take your time, split the park into sections and focus on a different part each day. Arrange a guided tour with one of the many groups – it’s worth the money – you learn things and appreciate their historical and personal observations. We took suggestions from friends, strangers and folks at the campground and we benefited from this open minded approach. It’s best to visit without any preconceived ideas – this place will blow you away and not just with geysers! Be prepared to get off the main roadways and be patient – if some one tells you they didn’t see bison, elk or bears – they were there at the wrong time or weren’t patient enough. We saw every animal we hoped to see and more and we would go back to Yellowstone in a heartbeat.

Start with a driving tour the area near your gate to get the lay of the land and then decide where you want to return later. And have your camera or phone ready and charged at all times. You never know what’s around the corner.

Bison like to walk in the road – cause it’s there. The big bull bison like the one above live solitary lives – except during mating season – you may see four or five less mature bulls together but the seasoned guys are happy with their own company.

Old Faithful is only one of dozens of geysers – named for its historical predictability. Don’t forget to visit the basins – lower, middle and upper – to sample the other interesting geysers, hot springs boiling mud ponds and other volcanic elements. Be prepared – there are walkways around them – do not step off – the ground is hot – oddly enough people sometimes don’t believe that. Old Faith shoots high in the air about every 90 to 100 minutes and they keep a schedule of the eruptions every day.

The area around most of geysers is often warm, sticky and smelling of sulphur and other gases given off with the steam plumes. Try to stand to avoid inhaling the very strong smells .

This is Spasm geyser – appropriately named!

Enjoy the surrounding scenes in the basins, – millions of years old trees frozen in time as well as wildflowers defying the heat and silicate soil that glistens like diamonds in a certain light.

This is one of the turquoise hot springs – the color is a result of the chemicals in the soil and the light refracting across the liquid.

Our black bear sighting above on our last park – day another trip to the Lamar Valley.

Animals – wild and free – in their natural environment are so enjoyable to see – it’s really a spiritual experience. We were thrilled over and over again by each visual encounter. Obey the Park’s rules for observing – 75 + feet for bison and elk, and 300 + for all bears – this is their home not yours. They are raising families here and will protect their young – especially in the spring when there are lots of newborns. Look, Listen, take photographs and enjoy.

An elk herd with several fawns grazing near the Madison River.

There are pullouts along the all the Park’s roadways to stop and observe but if the bison are in the road – it is important to stop or pull out of the way – let them pass and delight in your good fortune at sharing this up close and personal moment.

This big bison was just marching down the road – after passing g our car he moved into the middle of the road to continue his journey

Buffalo or Bison a large bull and several mothers with calves or “red dogs” on the way to their preferred grazing area.

Old Faithful Inn

Visit the Park’s older lodges built early in the Park’s history – they are all quite different – we had a terrific dinner at the Old Faithful Inn; a yummy lunch at Roosevelt Lodge; a good cafeteria style midday meal at Canyon Inn but just a coffee break at the Lake Lodge.

Lake House Inn

These inns also have rooms for park visitors as well but they can be very pricey during the popular seasons. There are plenty of motels, inns, hotels and campgrounds outside to stay in just outside the Park as well as campgrounds in the park which may be limited by first come first serve or rv length rules. Some are quite primitive. In other words there is something for everyone.

These Bison were part of a small herd who we saw several times while we were there along the Madison River crossed.

This male pronghorn was grazing alone but had herd mates near by – they live together as a group and are the fastest antelope in North America.

Pronghorn, elks, wolves, bighorn sheep, coyotes, grizzly and black bears, mule deer and bison all call this park home. Below a solitary elk enjoys the sweet grass along the road to Firehole Falls.

Above is a large gray coyote that at first we thought was a wolf due to its size. We watched it cross back and forth in front of us for several minutes – searching for something it lost earlier.

Below we captured a sighting of very large moose up on a hill as we left the Lamar Valley in rain and sleet.

Birds like the Mountain Bluebird are everywhere – stop and listen to their joyful songs. With a rack that size this was likely a very dominant male.

Here you might catch an American White Pelicans may join Canadian geese and Mallards in the many rivers We were lucky to catch this pelican fishing in the wetlands. Eagles and osprey are often seen both nesting and hunting their prey around the these waterway areas. Below is a huge bald eagle nest with immature fledglings testing their metal outside the twig walls.

We glimpsed a pair of Sand hill cranes feasting in another wetland along the Madison River.

There are many bodies of water in the park – lakes, ponds, rivers, streams, waterfalls and cascades. Fly fishermen and women wade into the waters to enjoy the fishing – the catch and release sport that is offered here. There are several kinds of trout to entertain these sportsmen.

Kayakers brave the rapids as well as the milder curves and oxbows that weave through three of the largest rivers – Madison, Gallatin and Lamar. A tremendous runoff from a large snow pack and higher that average spring rainfall has swollen the banks of all the rivers – by August they will be much smaller.

Yellowstone River – very full this year due to rain and melting snow in the mountains.

Keep your eyes open for any and all of creatures. If you are lucky and patience you will see all kinds of animals – we saw a black bear and a moose on our last day in the Park.

It is a feast for the eyes, the ears and the spirit.

Our next blog post will be more about the geology and landscape of Yellowstone National Park.

Red Lodge MT and a drive on scenic Beartooth Highway.

Before spending ten days visiting Yellowstone National we were in Red Lodge Montana at a KOA just off Route 212 which becomes the Beartooth Highway. Charles Kuralt called it the most scenic highway in the USA and after spending a day driving its amazing curves, steep hills and snow banked summits we agree!

Some have driven through in their RVs and motorhome – we decide against that preferring to drive the Grand Cherokee Overland which was built for just this type of drive. The twenty degree temperature drop was just one if the surprises during the ride. But we definitely recommend doing this – it’s breathtaking and remarkable for the landscape, adventurous folks enjoying the remaining 30 foot snow pack , and the view from more than a mile high down in to the basins and valleys that blossom green at the foot of winter white slopes in late June.

We did not expect twenty foot snow banks along the road as well as sharing the experience with skiers, snowboarders and snowmobile enthusiasts out in full force. The snow apparently dies not melt until late July and this year the snow pack was deep and resilient.

It’s a treacherous ride in places so do follow the road sign and drive with care and caution. Do stop and get out to walk the slopes to get a better view and enjoy the July snow. It was fun to see families who had never seen snow reveling in the cold crisp piles. As originally New Englanders we did not need to feel or touch it but we did appreciate others folks enjoyment. We stopped for lunch in Cook City – an old mining town that has adjusted to its tourist stays and has a few good restaurants – we had a terrific lunch at the Bistro and then headed back to Red Lodge via Chief Joseph Highway – named for the brave and renown Nez Perce chief who led his people on a tragic trek across three states to avoid being sent to a reservation. We became familiar with these amazing people and his story last year during our Lewis and Clark Expedition Tour. Their attempted escape ended tragically in what is now Big Hole MT where the last battlefield is preserved along with a reverent memorial program designed by the Tribe’s 20th century members. This tribe was very important to Captains Lewis and Clark during their search for the water route to the Pacific. They were supportive and helpful to the explorers but their efforts were not rewarded some 60 years later when their ancestor lands were taken by the white Europeans who came to settle out west. This Highway is reputed to be one of the routes taken by the fleeing native people during their escape. It was also beautiful drive but not nearly as treacherous, giving us a different view of lush green valleys and full flowing river beds due to the melting snow up high.

Red Lodge is a funky – artsy, counter culture mountain town with lots of shops, eating spots and places for visitors to stay. We visited a few galleries, a candy emporium as well as a used stuff / antique store and its small gun shop while strolling the main drag one beautiful sunny day. Lunch was delicious margaritas and Mexican fare at “Bogarts” a Mexican themed Restaurant with Humphrey Bogart photos and memorabilia. The day we arrived we actually had a thunderstorm that produced pea sized hail at our campground but golf ball sized in town.

The highlight of our gallery visits was one to a furniture store where the lamps, chairs, tables and even a desk and four poster bed were sculpted from amazing tree trucks especially juniper. It was gorgeous art period! I found a coffee table to lust over and who knows maybe I’ll get one some day. Out of respect for the artist we took no photos except for the one of a moose out front of the store. Check out Rocky Fork Juniper Furniture by Lee Kern – his work is magnificent.


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