Sunday, July 8, 2012

Volcanism and a Trip to America's First National Park

Something about the beauty and wonder of Nature really speaks to me, both as a photographer and as a human being. The American system of National Parks encompasses some of the most magical and fantastic natural places around, and though I've had the privilege to visit many of them ranging from the Martian landscapes of Arches to the towering forests of coastal Redwoods, I had yet to visit the one park that started them all: Yellowstone. That changed this past May when I treated myself to a belated birthday trip out to Montana and Wyoming and to that land Ulysses S. Grant and later Teddy Roosevelt set aside "for the benefit and enjoyment of the people" for all time.

Porcelain Basin in the Norris Geyser Basin area
I'd looked into visiting Yellowstone several times previously via nearby Jackson Hole, Wyoming, but always found the air fare a bit pricier than I could justify for a weekend jaunt, and work had kept me too busy to devote more than a day or two away. This May, though, I decided that rather than visiting somewhere I'd been many times like Monterey, California, I'd take the splurge and go to Yellowstone via Bozeman, Montana--which also happened to be about a hundred dollars cheaper than Jackson Hole.

To prepare for the trip, I consulted several books, including the wonderful Yellowstone Treasures and Photographing Yellowstone National Park, and discussed plans with both my wife Beth and with her godmother Joy, who have visited the park before. Yellowstone is a huge park at nearly 3500 square miles and offers many different attractions--from mountain valleys to river canyons to wildlife large and small--but what I was most interested in were its geothermal features.

Old Faithful in its initial phase of eruption
A large portion of the park sits atop the Yellowstone Caldera, a massive, active "supervolcano" where the molten magma of the earth's mantle comes close to the surface. Though the park lacks the iconic lava cones people most often associate with volcanoes such as those in Hawaii, Iceland, and countless stop-motion dinosaur movies set on tropical Shangri-Las and is located away from the plate boundaries which define so much of the Pacific "Ring of Fire" and its oft-violently-active volcanoes, Yellowstone is nonetheless an extremely active place vulcanologically and hosts the largest concentration of geysers and hot springs in the world. Every schoolchild knows about "Old Faithful," portrayed in cartoons and many a classic television short as erupting like clockwork on the hour (in reality, the park's iconic geyser varies from just shy of an hour to up to an hour and a half--rangers can estimate this period within ten minutes of accuracy based on the duration of the prior eruption).
The hotspot beneath the Yellowstone Supervolcano provided the massive basalt flows of the Snake River plain to the west, having erupted repeatedly over the past 18 million years or so, with recent eruptive activity occurring roughly every 650,000 years (last time forming the current Yellowstone Caldera--gulp--about 640,000 years ago). Though scientists are not particularly concerned about the prospects of a new eruption--such fears are more the fodder of apocalyptic sensationalism--within the past decade there was a brief period of significant rise of the magma dome beneath the park which drove many of its geothermal features into frenzied activity, even for a short period necessitating the closure of public access to the Norris Geyser Basin.

In all my reading about the park's geothermal activity and the few nature documentaries I'd watched which focused on the same (and not, say, on the park's wolves and other wildlife), I had built up something of an image of Hell in my mind's eye, with suffocating clouds of sulfurous steam bubbling from every fissure in the earth itself and scalding ponds of boiling, acidic mud ready to ingest the unwary explorer.

Boiling sulfurous lakes in the Sulfur Cauldron--with a pH lower than that of stomach acid
Thanks to several flight delays, I arrived in Bozeman, Montana, a bit after midnight and thus wasn't exactly ready to rise to drive the two hours south into Yellowstone in time for sunrise--but given my recent luck as a nature photographer, I found the morning grey and cloudy anyway (note to self: find the patron saint of photography and make him or her a generous donation; I'm getting rather tired of overcast skies and dreary rains, something dating back to my 2010 visits to Monterey and throughout 2011, even to places like the deserts of Saguaro National Park and Joshua Tree National Park!).

Travertine in Mammoth Hot Springs
My route brought me into the park via its North Entrance, through the famous Roosevelt Arch in Gardiner, Montana, which declares Yellowstone as "for the benefit and enjoyment of the people." Even on such a rainy weekday morning (I arrived on a Friday, hoping to avoid some of the weekend crowds), it seemed every single car passing through had to stop and be photographed beneath the arch. Entering the park from the north also grants the opportunity to stop in Mammoth Hot Springs to see the travertine terraces, a series of towering mineral formations dominating the hillside beyond the park's main visitor's center.

Located outside the boundaries of the Yellowstone Caldera, the travertine and the hot springs which fuel their deposition are nonetheless fueled by the heat of the Norris Geyser Basin many miles to the south: a fault line connects the areas geologically, allowing superheated, acidic water to travel north through limestone-laden rock. Calcium carbonate thus dissolved from the fault makes its way to the terraces, where it precipitates out with the springwater and results in an ever-changing landscape as the terraces grow at a rate of up to several inches a year.

Between the sulfurous fumes ("What a wonderful smell you've discovered," to quote Han Solo) and the altitude of around 8000 feet above sea level, the hike up to the top of the travertine terraces had me stopping to pant and catch my breath several times--in fact, I often felt like I wouldn't actually be able to catch my breath given the thinness of the atmosphere and its rank quality.

Driving farther south into the park, I next stopped at the Norris Geyser Basin, Yellowstone's hottest and most active geothermal region. Rangers closed the basin to public access in 2003 when many of the geothermal features superheated and began bellowing constant streams of steam and the ground itself became dangerously hot. Though again open to the public today, the Norris basin sees the most thermal activity, with its major geysers (including the world's tallest, Steamboat Geyser) completely unpredictable and many of its hot springs and fumaroles changing rapidly.

Two of Norris' hot springs and occasional geysers near Pork Chop Geyser, which exploded several years ago (1989) and showered the area with rocks. I believe the larger of the two may be Bastille Geyser; I was thinking it was Pearl Geyser, but it's on the wrong side of the boardwalk for that.
Norris is a fantastic place and features two long loop trails (much of the way along boardwalks--protecting both the delicate features from human feet and, well, protecting humans from the hot, acidic earth and springs).  The "back basin" trail--named due to it at one point being in back of a museum which has subsequently been relocated--feels the more isolated of the two, winding through stretches of lodgepole pine forest and into several open plains housing geothermal features.  The back basin loop passes Steamboat Geyser, which as described earlier is the world's tallest at over 300 feet--that is, when it undergoes a major eruption, which hasn't happened since 2005 (and at times, Steamboat has gone 50 years between major eruptions), as well as dozens of hot springs, fumaroles (steam vents), and other geothermal features.

Colorful runoff from Steamboat Geyser
When I first walked the back basin loop, the day remained overcast and dreary and cool enough to necessitate a jacket with temperatures in the low 50s. Though these conditions didn't lend themselves well to good photography, I nonetheless explored the blasted landscape with wonder--albeit somewhat tainted by the fact that the experience wouldn't quite be its best and first-times only come once. (Seeing Bryce Canyon's hoodoos for the first time under the last light of dusk was such a seminal experience I had to choke back a few tears, for example--and thanks to the weather, Yellowstone's geothermal features did not get the chance to really strut their best during that first impression.)

The air in the Norris basin hangs heavy with moisture venting from all across the ground, laden with an almost-indescribable stench carrying undertones of burned matches and tinges of rotten eggs, and every shift of the wind threatens to engulf hikers in rank clouds from the ever-present geysers and fumaroles. I actually got used to the smell a lot more quickly than I had anticipated, though, and it is certainly a part of the atmosphere (no pun intended) of the volcanic land inextricable from the bubbling pools and steaming geyser mouths. I hate to think of celebrity chef Emeril in this context or quote him at any time, but hey, "you need smell-o-vision" to really capture the full experience of Yellowstone's geothermal features.

During my hike around the back basin, I really wished I had my nephew Iain along. He's at that age where young boys are sure they're going to grow up to be vulcanologists (or perhaps paleontologists--dinosaurs and volcanoes seem inextricably linked in the eyes of five-year-olds)--and here I was, walking alongside what arguably he'd see as real, live volcanoes in action. Beyond the sights and smells, the sound of the park around me, too, was something that photos, no matter how many thousands of words they stand in for, really cannot do justice to. Depending on the particular feature nearest-by, there can be low growls, hissing, bubbling, rumbling... well, all manner of the sorts of things you'd expect to hear from such a hot, strained environment. I attempted to record several videos with my cell phone, but a bug in the particular software resulted in many extraneous crackles in the audio which weren't present at the actual site.

Gnome face in the Porcelain Geyser Basin area
On the opposite side of a ridgeline from the back basin loop is the appropriately-named Porcelain Geyser Basin (still a part of the broader Norris Geyser Basin), pictured as the lead-in image for this blog. Various minerals give the hot springs of the area an opalescent appearance, hence the "porcelain" appellation. The acidic pH of the waters throughout the area give rise to many different species of thermophillic bacteria, archea, and algae which color the runoff and rims of the springs differently than those in other areas of the park. As the Porcelain basin is much more open than the nearby back basin area (as well as being located closer to the parking lot), it can feel somewhat more crowded.

Runoff from Echinus Geyser
Many visitors will mistakenly attribute the vivid colors seen throughout the various thermal features to minerals present in the earth, particularly sulfur and iron for the yellows, reds, and oranges. Though these minerals are indirectly responsible for the artist's palette of colors seen, the actors directly painting the landscape are microorganisms. In cooler waters farther from the pools and geysers themselves, algae and cyanobacteria contribute blues and greens, while in the deeper hot springs and thermal pools and along the mouths of geysers the hyperthermophillic bacteria and members of the Archea domain (single-celled organisms with a distinct evolutionary heritage from bacteria) perform metabolism dependent upon sulfur and other minerals and provide many of the reds and oranges seen. The adaptive mechanisms of these organisms to such high-temperature and often-acidic environments have played a huge role in modern biotechnology: the enzyme Taq polymerase, isolated from the bacterium Thermus aquaticus--itself originally discovered in Yellowstone's hot waters--is what makes so much of the study of DNA possible.

Note that weather conditions can play a large role in what you'll see in the Norris Geyser Basin; for example, on the dreary Friday when I first hiked through the area, temperatures were in the low 50s and at times I experienced rain, sleet, and even snow, all of which led to huge clouds of steam condensing in the air above the basin's geothermal features. In the Porcelain Basin, I could only see several of the geysers intermittently, even in the warmest temperatures of the afternoon, due to the fog-like clouds of steam, and I stood at the edge of the boardwalk waiting for the wind to shift just so to disperse the vapors enough to snap a photo or two. The next day, a relatively clear Saturday, found the exact same features clear and quite visible beneath the noon sun after the morning chill had boiled away. Likewise, photographers interested in the rainbow hues of the various thermal pools and springs need the sun to be high in the sky and unobstructed to really penetrate and illuminate up the depths.

Colorful runoff from Pinwheel Geyser in the Porcelain Basin area--the green is produced by algae and cyanobacteria which thrive in the cooler temperatures several feet away from the vent itself
My next stop was at the Artist Paint Pots, which Verderber highlights in his Photographing Yellowstone as a less-crowded alternative to the Fountain Paint Pots. Paint pots are pits of acidic mud up through which sulfurous gasses bubble; lacking the level of water of hot springs, they instead put on a fascinating show of goopey, roiling mud. Seasonal patterns in groundwater affect the quality of the mud: in wetter months, the paint pots may be soupy and more springlike; in the depths of summer or an early fall drought, the mud can completely dry out and becomes the cracked mouth of a gas vent. At the Artist Paint Pots, the leftmost (western) of the two paint pots tends to be the drier and more active and had the perfect consistency during my visit to capture spurts and explosions of thick bubbles of mud.

Incidentally, Verderber is right about the crowds; although it was afternoon and a prime time for visitors to be out and about, I had plenty of time to myself with the Artist Paint Pots to take photos and even a bit of video (again, noisy due to an issue with my phone). The reason most likely has to do with the hike, which from the parking lot climbs some steep staircases and winds about a mile back into the paint pots themselves--it's not a difficult hike, per se, but unlike the Fountain Paint Pots, these features are not located right off the main park road and do require a bit more work to reach.

Acidic mud bubbles in the Artist Paint Pots
I had hoped to catch something of sunset--after all, for the landscape photographer, the "golden hours" around dawn and dusk are the two most productive times of day when the sun's rays are long and bring out magical colors across the skies and the land beneath--but as I gave in to hunger and drove out the park's west entrance to West Yellowstone, Montana, in search of dinner and the night's lodging, the cloud-ridden skies didn't promise much. I ended up heading to bed a bit early with plans to arise and drive in to Yellowstone Lake for sunrise the following morning.

There's a saying about the best laid plans, I believe, and mine were a bit upset by noisy kids tromping up and down the wooden stairs and balcony outside the hotel room. Well, that and the fact that I had neglected to include the transit time from my hotel in West Yellowstone to Madison Junction inside the park, leaving me a good half an hour short on time--the sun was already coming up by the time I reached the Old Faithful area still a good 25 minutes or so away from Yellowstone Lake. Given the skies were still fairly white Saturday at daybreak, I didn't miss out on much anyway, I suppose--and I made the strategic decision to U-turn back to Biscuit Basin, a broad, steam-filled area I'd passed between Madison Junction and Old Faithful.

Ghost of a lodgepole pine in one of Biscuit Basin's hot springs
The morning stop at Biscuit Basin turned out to be an inspired if serendipitous choice, as I managed to arrive during a period of fairly intense thermal activity that cloaked the entire basin in an ethereal fog through which the basin's blue and green pools peaked and blended together. At one point, I witnessed the movement of a hot spot of some kind through the basin: Jewel Geyser and Shell Spring, both back closer to where I'd begun my morning walk started violently hissing and bubbling furiously, then within a couple of minutes Mustard Spring where I stood started spouting. As the activity behind me at Jewel Geyser died away, an geyser unnamed on my map about twenty feet out into the basin beyond Mustard Spring started fizzing and steaming. Several waves of intensified activity thus passed through, giving a rough indication of the unseen hydrothermal plumbing connecting the geothermal features around me.

I will note that when the morning temperatures are close to or a bit below freezing, the boardwalks can be treacherously slick with frost--so be careful! I could tell exactly where the ground was hot as those stretches of boardwalk were ice-free and merely damp, but downwind of any of the steaming pools over cooler stretches of ground made for very slow-going walking to avoid taking a nasty tumble.

Runoff into the Ironspring River from the Black Sand Basin
After my breakfast at Biscuit Basin, I drove a short distance to the Black Sand Basin, where I watched Cliffside Geyser erupt and spied an Osprey out fishing from the Ironspring River. Both Biscuit and Black Sand Basins were an interesting contrast to Norris, with features more broadly-spaced and of a different character. And although the chilly start to the day left plenty of geothermal steam clinging close to the landscape, the sun had started to poke through the clouds overhead, making for some beautiful photographic contrast as well.

One thing to note about Yellowstone and its inevitable summer crowds: mornings are the best time to visit the park. While most people are still snug in their beds or at the most up and having a bite of breakfast, you can be exploring with at least a couple of hours largely to yourself. I was the only person in Biscuit Basin that morning, and there was only one other vehicle parked at Black Sand Basin (presumably attracted by the eruption of Cliffside Geyser). An added plus is that pre-dawn and the immediate hour or so afterwards are the best times of day to spot a lot of the park's wildlife and without the inconvenience of lengthy traffic backups seen closer to dusk as the day's visitors slow down to spy the bison who will be out for dinner at that time of day.

Cliffside Geyser
Next up on the Grand Loop road tour through the park was its most famous landmark, Old Faithful. The rangers had not yet updated the schedule with the morning's next projected eruption (as the visitor center didn't open until 9:00am), but I figured that at most I had about an hour and a half to wait--probably less, as I'd been parked in the lot, downloading the dawn's set of photos to my laptop to free up more room on the camera memory cards (by the end of the two-and-a-half day trip, I'd log over 3000 shots, so this quickly became a routine) and hadn't seen any sign of eruption for the first 20 minutes or so I'd spent there. Eventually, I trudged over to the massive, amphitheater-like seating area surrounding the big geyser and picked out a choice spot for my camera and tripod, among the first of what would soon become a rather large crowd of spectators.

I need to pause for a moment to observe that when out in Nature, people either seem to speak in low whispers (as if inside some sacred site--which I suppose they indeed are), or to shout at full volume when "talking" to the person standing two feet away? Several times during my trip, I overheard one side of a conversation in Mandarin from over a hundred feet away, as if the women speaking were like those self-important businessmen you overhear on planes or in airport lounges, virtually shouting into their cell phones about some big mega-deal in the works. I encountered several other Asian tourists--Japanese and Korean by their language--and took photos for little groups and couples interested in posing before this or that geothermal feature, and all spoke in that same reverent indoors voice; the shouting seemed limited to Chinese speakers. The Chinese women I work with are rather soft-spoken--but the men do say that it is not atypical for there to be "loud" Chinese women demanding that every sight be seen (or announcing they're not getting out of the car into all that icky mud, no way). I just don't know.

Mountain Bluebird patiently waiting for the eruption of Old Faithful
Several of the later-arriving tourists asked around or spoke within their own groups: "Isn't it supposed to erupt at 9:00? It's five 'til and doesn't look like much yet. Nah, it's going to go on the hour--that's why it's called 'Old Faithful,' innit?" I kept my inward snickering to myself--I mean, visitors who hadn't bothered to even read one thing about the park's most iconic feature, who seemed to only know so much as was visible in a Bugs Bunny cartoon or two? However, I'd been in place for nearly 50 minutes with another 20 in the car, so was getting a bit antsy myself for the eruption we'd all lined up to see.
Sure enough, at about ten after nine, the steam output of Old Faithful suddenly began to ratchet up (see prior photo in this entry, above, for that rising steam column), and in moment a vast shaft of boiling white blasted dozens of feet into the skies, to be seen nude only a few seconds before wrapping itself in a cloak of steam for the remainder of the eruption--an eruption brief enough to give the rangers their first estimate of the day, setting the time for the subsequent blast a mere 65 minutes in the future.

On my limited schedule, I only had time to see so many things and thus walked away from a boardwalk loop around the Upper Geyser Basin--saving it for an occasion when I can return and share the wonders of Yellowstone with my wife Beth. Although I'd been awake for nearly 6 hours, it wasn't even 10:00am yet, and I finally turned for my original morning destination in the West Thumb Geyser Basin and Yellowstone Lake--the largest lake at this altitude of over 8000 feet above sea level. The tourists had already begun to arrive in force, so I had to be quick in navigating the boardwalks and easing into position to capture the photos I wanted, like one of Fishing Cone where brave folks would once catch fish from the lake, then drop the hapless fish into the cone--voila, parboiled fish, coming up!

Fishing Cone in Yellowstone Lake
Many of the other thermal features near Yellowstone Lake weren't something which called to me quite the same way as did the Norris Geyser Basin's, so I didn't linger long as I waded through the crowds of tourists disgorged from tour bus after tour bus pulling into the lot. I still had a huge section of the park left completely unexplored, running north from the lake into canyon country--though road closures due to still-present snowpack this far into May (note: even as of early July 2012, the Dunraven Pass remained closed due to snow!) would prevent me from continuing much beyond the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and into the Lamar Valley and its massive herds of buffalo and packs of reintroduced wolves.

The terrain changes quite significantly on the climb up from Yellowstone Lake toward Canyon Junction, with less obvious thermal activity (aside from the Mud Volcano and Sulfur Cauldron area, that is) and more open alpine meadows along the Yellowstone River floodplain. Along the drive, I stopped several times to watch as bison frolicked and tussled.

Bison playing
Upon first glimpse of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, one would mistakenly but honestly think to have discovered the origin of the park's name: the rhyolite walls of the canyon cover a range of colors predominated by a golden yellow hue from iron compounds which millenniums of geothermal activity have transformed to their current state. The same actions of hot acidic flows also are partly responsible for the canyon itself, as over time they altered the structure of the igneous rock to make it more brittle and friable, making way for the Yellowstone River to carve down through hundreds of feet of solid rock.

Lower Yellowstone Falls from Artist Point
On top of that, uplift from the Yellowstone Caldera fractured and faulted the region, and ice dams on Yellowstone Lake near the end of the last ice age and their subsequent break-ups and resulting violent flash floods further sped the formation of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, which today runs for nearly 24 miles in length and descends to depths of as much as 1200 feet.

Two sets of cataracts drop through the canyon, the Upper and Lower Falls. The Lower Falls are actually the higher of the two in terms of drop, plunging nearly twice the height of Niagra Falls at 308 feet. The one-way scenic loop from Canyon Village follows the edge of the canyon and offers several vantages, with the most famous and perhaps most beautiful being Artist Point.

Artist Point is certainly a fantastically inspirational spot to simply stand and take in the awe of Nature, though be forewarned that you'll be sharing that view with plenty of other people with the same mission at hand. When the sun strikes the golden cliffs of the canyon, it's a glorious sight unlike anything I think I've seen anywhere else on earth.

After my stops along the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, I headed back across the plateau to Norris Junction for another go at the geysers and hot springs of the Norris Basin under the day's better light. By then the altitude and my several miles of hiking were taking a toll on my body, but I really wanted to get a chance to see the unique geothermal sites under blue skies and with some sun illuminating the depths of the pools.

One of the thermal pools of the Norris Geyser Basin bubbling away
To properly photograph the depths of a given thermal pool requires several elements be in place. First, the air temperature needs to be warm enough so that the steam emitted by the pool or spring evaporates away rather than hanging in a dense cloak over the surface of the water. Second, the sun needs to be high in the sky, so that its rays can dip straight down into the pool rather than glancing off its surface--and the skies should be fairly clear and blue, to minimize the reflection of clouds across the water. Third, the wind needs to cooperate, blowing what steam there is away from where the photographer is set up. Fourth and finally, a circular polarizer can help and should be considered essential gear for any Yellowstone photographer; much like polarized sunglasses, a circular polarizer when rotated for best effect will block out glancing reflections along the surface of the water, allowing the camera to fully see into the depths of the pool. Though these conditions were not all perfect during my afternoon return visit to the Norris basin, I did come away with several images I know I will enjoy for years to come.

I was a bit surprised that the back basin loop wasn't more crowded on a pleasantly-sunny Saturday afternoon, and I got a kick out of a couple of people stopping me to ask if I was a "professional." Given the proliferation of quality DSLR cameras and more and more people realizing that the higher-quality the lens the better the chance to take quality images, I saw many hikers out with thousand-dollar Canon "L" lenses like mine--maybe something about my poise and the big carbon fiber tripod I lugged around stood apart?

After a return to Norris, I headed for one of the few remaining highlights every visitor to Yellowstone must see: the Grand Prismatic Spring, an image which is almost as iconic as that of Old Faithful erupting. From the boardwalk leading up from the Firehole River and along several large-scale thermal features, Grand Prismatic Spring isn't really that much to see: some colorful bacterial mats and runoff, a bunch of steam, and hints of the blues and greens at its heart. To get the big picture, so to speak, requires either overflight (an expensive and somewhat risky endeavor--a small plane crashed due to abrupt changes in lift due to all the thermal currents in the air while passing over the Grand Prismatic Spring several years ago), or else a hike off-trail up one of the two ridges overlooking the spring. I must confess, though, that I did not have the energy to undertake another couple of miles of hiking on this trip--well, I did want to save something to experience with Beth when the two of us make a shared visit to the park some day!

Silica-rich waters give this pool near Artist Paint Pots an opalescent sheen
I wrapped up my day with dinner in West Yellowstone at an unlikely (but tasty) tapas joint, enjoying the closest thing I could expect to Spanish cuisine out in the wilds of Montana before driving onward to my waiting hotel in Bozeman for the trip home. The day had been long indeed, with my "on the clock" time exceeding 20 hours from roll-out in the pre-dawn darkness to pulling up to the Hampton Inn in Bozeman. Those who think the life of the nature photographer is glamorous or easy or that trips like this one are an enviable "vacation" for me ought to try accompanying me sometime--it's hard work! (Rewarding, though, if in a spiritual and aesthetic sense rather than a financial one.)

Biscuit Basin "sunrise"
Every year, I buy an "America the Beautiful" pass, which for $85 gives me unlimited access to our national parks, monuments, and most other federally-managed public lands which charge an admission fee. The pass really proves its worth when visiting the west, where some of the most stunning parks are located and many of which charge $20 or more to enter. I certainly got my money's worth on this trip and came away with Yellowstone elevated to my top two or three favorite parks to visit (with number one alternating between Bryce Canyon and Arches National Park, depending on which one I've been to more recently). From the volcanic and geothermal activity--the largest concentration of geysers and other hydrothermal features on earth--to its mountains, forests, and canyons, Yellowstone was a fantastic experience I'll treasure for years to come.

Although my visit had been brief and not really long enough to enjoy every single spectacle that Yellowstone had to offer, I was exhausted and ready to head home, too--and to start planning a return trip for the wintertime to see the park in a completely different light.

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