Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Snowshoeing, Buffs, and Terraces

My first day off in about a full week, I decided nothing could be better than a snowshoe up the Terraces. I grabbed some hiking poles and bear spray, strapped on my lumbar pack, zipped up my puffy and headed out. Up the snow-covered wooden steps I ventured until I reached the top of Palette Spring. There, I strapped on the snow shoes and began the hike up the back terraces. Deep snow drifts covered the boardwalk but my harish feet kept me high in the snow. My feet automatically slipped into the "small step revolution" as I ascended the steep terraces. Then, before my eyes, rose beautiful Cleopatra. Water poured off its terraces, giving life to the orange-colored thermophiles that thrive in Mammoth. I continued up, up, up the terraces and then down, down, down the other side.

Excitedly, I descended to Mother Mary Spring, only to be startled aware of life forms other than thermophiles in the vicinity. A big bull buffalo (buff) lay basking in the warm hot spring air. I came up to him unaware and stopped mid track. Oh boy, I was definately too close to that buff. Slowly I eased along the boardwalk hoping not to startle the animal. He was completely indifferent to my existence and much more interested in conserving energy than fussing about a human. As I stood watching him, he began to roll on the hot ground, throwing his legs into the air. He nonchalantly stood up and chewed on the vegetation around the springs. What a sight to be seen!

Not wanting to disturb him, I continued on my hike. It was incredible how different the terraces were. Many had expanded twice their size in 2006. I reached Canary Spring to be greeted by its familiar orange color and the gentle lapping sound of water hitting the "shore." Sounds of rapids filled my ears as I followed the boardwalk paralleling the hot spring. Water was gushing down the hillside! I couldn't believe it - there was so much water! The sight left me astounded and smiling, I walked to the Upper Terrace Loop.

Around the loop I went, starting the gradual ascent towards Orange Spring Mound. Intent on my snowshoeing, I turned a corner, gung ho to hike up the hill, when a brown mound began to move. I was definately way too close this time. The buff's horns shown in the afternoon light, making me gulp. Oh boy. How could I safely get around this time? The buff looked at me... and I looked at it... and it continued eating. I unstrapped my snowshoes, waiting for it to make its move. A skier, Mitch, started descending the slope but stopped as I waved my hands and pointed at the bison. "I see it!" he replied. There we stood, a person on each side, waiting for the buffalo to move. Languidly, it walked across the trail and stood munching on the other side before slowly moving off towards some other, more interesting, hot springs. Mitch and I decided it was time to move away and we headed back up the slope.

Orange Spring Mound was gushing all over the road. Little orange terraces were forming over the asphalt. Water splashed merrily out of the springs and continued its path of least resistence down the hill. Beautiful.

The rest of the snowshoe/ski went through relatively fresh powder, glimpsed other gushing hot springs, and descended past the Brian-crash hill to the parking lot. Snow fell thickly from the sky as we passed through this winter wonderland. Tired, but content, Mitch and I hopped in his truck, returned to Fort Yellowstone, and left the spectacular terraces behind.

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