July 6, 2009

Fairyland Basin, Part 1

Steve, our son Eric, and Chris (a friend from Denmark) spent 5 days in Yellowstone National Park last week.
Their first night was at Canyon in the central part of the park, where their nearest neighbor was this old buffalo bull. Although every tourist entering Yellowstone is warned to stay a hundred yards away from buffaloes because they occasionally charge and kill people who get too close, we've seen the old bulls hanging out around the lodges on other trips with no mishaps. As long as humans don't get in the way of their grazing, they don't seem to mind the company.
Steve had reserved a two night backcountry campsite by mail, but he and the boys had to go to the backcountry office to obtain the actual overnight permit. The rangers didn't admit to knowing about Fairyland Basin, our hikers' proposed destination. Strangely enough, the place isn't on any maps. Steve only heard of it through a book on Yellowstone waterfalls, which made vague mention of the exceptional and unique thermal features.
Chris said it sounded like the Area 51 of the national park system. (Area 51 is a U.S. military base in Nevada that is so top secret that the government won't say what it does and will barely admit it exists.) The ranger tried to talk my boys out of the trip, issuing warnings about the many hazards.
Here's the list.
1. Deep snow in the forests:
(This tiny patch is the only snow they encountered on the 3 day hike.)
2. Steep cliffs:
(The cliffs looked like this. For those who have hiked extensively in the Grand Canyon, this isn't scary. We've seen worse.)
3. Dangerous thermals:
(Okay, these really are dangerous if you get too close and fall in. The crust around them can be fragile, so watch your step!)
4. Extreme blowdown that would make hiking to the requested campsite area difficult if not impossible.
(We've seen much worse.)
5. The likelihood of getting lost hiking to the off-trail campsite.
(Both Steve and Eric know how to use a compass and GPS and have hiked off trail successfully all over the West. They weren't worried. Maybe Chris was a LITTLE worried, but he didn't admit it.)
6. Bears.
(They saw this one from the road on the way to the trailhead.)
They were well-aware of the bear dangers. They brought rope to hang their food so bears aren't encouraged to come into their campsite. They had whistles to blow when coming to a bend in the trail or to the crest of a hill, so the bears would be forewarned. They each had an industrial sized bottle of pepper spray recommended as a grizzly deterrent in case they ran into one on the trail. They were packing in a small battery powered electric fence to put around their tent. This may seem overkill, but if you've ever seen pictures of someone mauled by a grizzly, you'd know it's not a healthy experience.
The ranger, of course, was just doing her job, making sure hikers are aware of all possible dangers. Many people do get in trouble in the backcountry. Warnings are a reasonable safety precaution.
After explaining their preparations and abilities, our hikers obtained their permit.
So, loaded for bear, so to speak, they were ready for an early morning start from their trailhead at artist's point, located on Yellowstone Canyon rim overlooking Yellowstone Falls.
To be continued...
For views from other worlds, click here.


  1. Some magnificent scenery. It's always fascinating to think people can come face to face with a grizzly; we wonder if they are as fierce as they are made out to be. I wouldn't work it out for myself however!

    CJ xx

  2. Your menfolk are so brave! We're totally wussy around here. Hiking anywhere that requires me to take pepper spray to ward off bears is a guaranteed non-starter.

    Good thing they took lots of pictures so I can live vicariously because I'm totally NOT adventurous enough to try that myself!

  3. what a fun post, and I'm sure a grand trip for the boys

  4. I find this fascinating info, thanks for sharing. I'm sending this post to a friend of mine who is preparing for a trip to Yellowstone.

  5. How exciting. If I were to ever venture into that part of the world, I want those GUYS with me!!!!
    Love all the pictures.

  6. a huge wow...yellowstone is an amazing park and a treasure. i loved all the captures thus far and am looking forward to the next installment.
    have a wonderful day.

  7. Love the dire snow warning and corresponding picture. Beautiful waterfall picture!

  8. Wow, the photos are amazing!! And what a neat journey!!

  9. As a Ranger I can understand the interigation. There are so many people who "think" they know what their doing in remote areas and then get in trouble and expect to be rescued. I'm glad your guys know what to expect and went prepared. This sure looks like gorgeous country. I look forward to more.

  10. If you took Highway 20 north through West Yellowstone you went right by my place. Been to YSP a lot of times. The warnings are useful for protecting greenhorns. Search and Rescue is expensive and traumatic. I've seen backwoods snow stay deep well into July but not this year. Good for your group for taking the road less traveled. The Park has become a drive thru Disneyland in a lot of respects.

  11. I'm shocked that the rangers weren't aware of the area where the guys wanted to go... Puh-lease!!!! BUT--it is smart to warn people.

    Your hubby and son and friend obviously knew what they were doing and were well-prepared.

    That waterfall is marvelous... You knew I'd notice that, didn't you???? ha

    Can't wait to hear more....

  12. Sounds like it was a successful trip. Glad Steve was prepared for all the "warnings". Did he ever find the top-secret spot?

  13. Ya gotta love Jellystone rangers. I've never figured out if it's a cultural mindset of the Park Service, or something they bring to the job. "The wilderness is pristine, dangerous, and not to be visited..."

    It's totally different with Forest Service backcountry/wilderness rangers--yeah, they might warn you about some technical spots in bagging a peak, but I've never heard a note of discouragement for off-trail hiking etc.

    Glad your family got out and enjoyed the backcountry--it's amazing how few people you see in the park (even during July/August) once you're a half-mile from the road.

    Thanks for sharing the story and the great pics.

  14. Hey, a battery powered portable electric fence. I need one for my cubicle at work.

  15. Fantastic shots of a fabulous place! Brought back lovely memories of our many trips to Yellowstone! Stunning shots!

  16. Adventure beckons strongly from these captures. The thermals look as scary as the falls look mighty.

  17. I enjoy the adventure at Yellowstone and your photos are wonderful. I have never been there but there is still hope for us yet!
    Thanks for the excitement...

  18. Great photos Janie and beautiful country. I understand where the ranger is coming from. We have a water based Wilderness National Park on the islands and there are so many city folk who come here with no idea what the wilderness really is. They think because they hike or paddle a local trail/lake/river at home they are fit for the wilderness...most are not and get into trouble.
    Most rangers don't see the likes of your boys in their day to day encounters.
    Thanks for sharing.

  19. I would hazard a guess they were making sure that should any sort of disaster befall them, they would be unable to sue the park. Glad the bureaucracy was overcome though!

  20. Just beautiful .. buffalo, bear, thermals ... what more could a traveler want ... waterfalls! Looking forward to Part 2.

  21. Wow! I think I'd feel safe with them! That electric fence is the clincher!

    The ranger talk did sound a bit much, but some people are so, forgive me, stupid, and don't think about anything, then would sue them for whatever went wrong.

    TERRIFIC post!

  22. Amazing shots and I am sure the experience was just as amazing!

  23. Hi Janie,
    What a teaser! Now I have to stay tuned for the installment to know if they made their destination and what they found there. Sounds as though they were well equipped for the adventure.

  24. When I came to your blog and saw the Yellowstone posts, I had to jump back to the beginning. This NP holds a special place in my heart. I've been there 4 times, and although I've never done any extensive backcountry hiking, I still love this park. I think I even had the waterfall book you mention -- I let several of my Yellowstone books go last year when I moved from Ohio to Kansas, only because I had too many books, period!

    I would say they were well prepared to keep the grizzlies at bay.



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