Summer is moving ahead quickly. Most of you have read about a comet called Neowise (New Wisdom) that has been visible in the night skies. Some of you have had a chance to see it! Recently, a friend , Pat Musick, and I were able to make a fantastic journey into a remote region in Yellowstone Park called Hoodoo Basin. We did see Neowise one night and ….Wow, another “trip of a lifetime” experience.
We had several water crossings from this point forward, so we changed out of our boots into water shoes, and back into boots on the other side. Eventually, the trail narrowed and we entered the North Absaroka Wilderness area. Following Sunlight creek, we made our first camp before we reached the park boundary. The next day we finally climbed higher and higher, through oceans of wildflowers and snow patches, to arrive on top of the crest of the Absaroka Mountain Range and into Yellowstone National Park’s Northeast border. What a sight as we looked out across the expansive mountains and headwaters of the Lamar River.
On our way to camp that day we watched a grizzly bear who was running from us, another 2 grizzlies playing on a snowfield (they appeared to be siblings in their first summer away from mom), saw a heard of elk and passed through a unique geological region with odd shaped spires and pillars that have eroded out of the Absaroka volcanic rock.
Up at this elevation, many snow patches hung on from winter and one could see the melt process as water flowed from the corners on its way to the cycle of life that water supports. (see GYE nature news #10)
We arrived at camp early evening, but with the long days we still had plenty of light to set up tents, prepare an evening meal and hang our food. These nights the sky was clear and dark and appeared as though someone had thrown a bag of glitter that is still traveling through the light years! The next morning we made our way to the base of Parker Peak, crossed a large snowfield and slowly made our way up a ridge to the top of the mountain. Again, it seemed as though we could see forever. From the northeast corner of Yellowstone, we could see over to the Northwest corner. The Gallatin Range of Mountains, Electric Peak, and Mt Holmes were visible.
Again, we looked out across the basin and 2 more grizzlies on a hillside far away were visible with binoculars. This time it was a mom and cub of the year which was playing on the snow as mom was foraging. It is truly wild and big country out here. The next day and a half we wandered and explored. We found a few different groups of elk and a number of places with evidence of early people.
Signs included bits of obsidian that had been “worked”, piles of rock that had been moved around, and even grinding stones where they had most likely been working with Obsidian found in other parts of Yellowstone to make tools, spear points and arrow heads. It is breathtaking to sit here looking across at this big place and imagine people in these very spots hundreds of years ago doing the same thing!.
On our walk back to the campsite, we spotted many more flakes of obsidian along the way. This was a busy spot at one point in time. The area I am describing is not the source area for this obsidian. Yellowstone’s obsidian outcrops are found primarily inside the “caldera” that exists within the park. The caldera is what would be left of a collapsed volcano. In this particular place, most of the caldera rim has been obliterated through continual lava flows pouring from fractures that existed around the rim of that volcanic collapse for 400,000 years or more. It was also carved by subsequent glacial periods. Today one does not see a big crater in Yellowstone, but evidence throughout the park of the most recent supervolcano that occurred in this area 640,000 yrs ago. Obsidian is found throughout the Americas. Early people quarried and traded obsidian extensively. Yellowstone obsidian has been found in the Indian mounds in Ohio and as far south as the Mexican border. The Yellowstone region was a destination for early people to gather, work and trade this valuable trade item. A study done at the Idaho National Laboratory has shown a technique called “X-ray florescence” can show the geographic origin of individual flakes or artifacts by matching characteristics found in specific regions.
That evening, after quick rinse in the stream, washing out dirty socks, a camp dinner and a final cup of tea we soaked up the utter silence and found ourselves at peace with tired bodies and filled hearts. Sleeping under a clear and star filled night is the best sleep one can experience! The nest morning, after breakfast, packing up tents and camp, we were on our way back to the park border. We took time to explore the hoodoos of Hoodoo Basin. A hoodoo is a tall irregular spire of “soft” rock, often capped with a harder rock.
It forms as erosion peels away layers at a time and eventually forming something like a “totem pole”. One thinks of Bryce Canyon with the word Hoodoo. There they form in the red and cream color sedimentary rocks of the Colorado plateau. They are found in volcanic regions as well and are certainly “bewitching” as their name implies.
The dusty trail left lots of evidence of who had passed before. Elk, Moose, bear tracks were abundant. Today, though, we saw bison tracks (which I would not have expected). As we climbed closer to the park boundary, it became more evident that bison (the American buffalo) had traveled here recently. What a sight to see approximately 50 bison down from the ridgeline in a grassy bowl resting before containing their journey.
Every backpacking journey I’ve ever taken has left me feeling stronger, richer and more grateful for the diversity and beauty of planet earth. In this uncertain time, with a very uncertain future, this is where one can feel grounded and grateful. It’s fun to share this with you.
For now, I’m back in Big Sky, cleaning and packing preparing for a move south about 50 miles. You all know moving is not an easy task, but so often I reflect back on something experienced last week. Those are the memories that keep me focused.
Happy Trails to all of you, Leslie
Leslie at boundary photo by Pat Musick