Sunday, August 26, 2012

Yellowstone Falls

Tuesday, Aug 14

The sky was still red, but not as hazy from the fire as it had been yesterday. As close to 7AM as possible, we hopped into the car and drove to the Upper and Lower Falls on the Yellowstone River. The sites are much more pleasant in the cool of the morning, and the crowds are less dense.

We started out at the Upper Falls viewing area. The morning sun was about halfway down the far cliff, and the falls were bright white where the sunlight hit them. Then we started down Uncle Tom's Trail.

The viewing for the Lower Falls involved climbing down something like two hundred metal grid stairs bolted onto the side of a canyon wall. Clomping down them reminded me of the World of Yonada (pause to imagine John dramatically saying, "I must know the truth of the World!")

Probably the most alarming sight was not seeing through the mesh stairs onto the tops of rock towers below, nor the steep pitch of stair's flight: it was coming across dented and deformed steps and realizing that rocks the size of heads had fallen off of the cliff.

At the bottom of the cliff we looked up at the trees. Some clung to the rock by their roots, some grew away from the cliff in the way their coastal cousins grew away from ocean winds, some had obviously made a horrible mistake in choice of rooting spot and had become withered kindling.

The lower fall plunged over the cliff face and fell into a white mist before pounding the rocks below. A driven mist blew away from the falls and curled over and around nearby slopes. Secondary falls, fed by the mists, tumbled to the Yellowstone River. An arcing rainbow seemed to span the space over both shores of the river, reminding me of the Bifrost Bridge and Wagnerian music.

The walk up was easier than the walk down. The joke of the hour was "They went down this with knotted ropes and rope bridges!" Which was true--there were black and white pictures of Victorian women in dresses, large hats, and gloves grasping a thick knotted rope as they navigated a steep slope.

After the falls, we drove a short distance to Artist's Point, a favorite perch of Thomas Moran. By this time it was after 10:30, and the crowds were beginning to thicken. Still, we had a wonderful view of the Lower Falls. The cliff sides are visually interesting--the river has exposed different rocky layers, and rain and snow have eroded small craggy towers on both sides of the valley. Pines lined the top of the cliff, and what looked like deer trails strung down from the trees and crossed rocky spurs.

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