Hermitage Point Trail – Grand Teton National Park

Hermitage Point Trail, Grand Teton National Park

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Grand Teton may very well be the most versatile park in the NP system.  Within park boundaries, one can tackle classic big wall rock climbing, ride your bicycle along paths the run below some of the most dramatic peaks on earth, float a legendary river, or paddle around in beautiful mountain lakes of remarkable clarity.

Hermitage Point Trail, Grand Teton National Park

The northern portion of the park is dominating by Colter Bay, with its many boating options.  While these boating opportunities are unique and wonderful, they are not the only reason to spend some time in this part of the park.  Some of our favorite hiking trails start in the southern end of the Coulter Bay complex, near the boat launch.  The trail to Hermitage Point provides an excellent chance to experience the northern park vistas along a flat and fast track out and back to an excellent terminus on the shore of Jackson Lake.  Along the way, you will also be able to make visits to two other smaller Lakes, Heron Pond and Swan Lake.

Grand Teton Visit, July 2014.  Hermitage Point Trail.

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The pano above and the image below were shot at Heron Pond.  The trail passes along the eastern shore of the pond, which provides stunning views of the northern portion of the Tetons, including most notably, Mount Moran.  The pond is filled to about 50% of its surface with some species of water lily – and I am not certain that these are proper lilies, but anyway, some form of aquatic veg.

Hermitage Point Trail, Grant Teton National Park

Excellent time can be made along the Hermitage Point trail, which gains/loses only a couple of hundred feet along the 4.4 mile trek.  Much of the trail is either close and above Jackson Lake, or runs very near to the shore.

Hermitage Point Trail, Grand Teton National Park

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The pano above, and image of the HP below, were recorded at Hermitage Point.  The approx 4 mile distance is just long enough to insure that you will never have to share the point with more than a couple of other people.  Passing power boats, as shown in the image of the HP provide a curious contrast to the otherwise natural wonders visible from this viewpoint.

Hermitage Point Trail, Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton Visit, July 2014.  Hermitage Point Trail.

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A variation on either the route out or back leads you to Swan Lake, shown above, which is another lovely lake near Colter Bay.  This is a mature Lake, wrapped in shade from firs and pines that run right down to the shoreline and nearly filled with water lilies – an especially welcome rest stop on an afternoon return.

Images appearing in this entry were recorded using either the Nikon D810 and the AF-S NIKKOR 24-120mm f/4G ED VR, or the Apple iPhone 5s (all panos).

Copyright 2014 Peter F. Flynn.  No usage permitted without prior written consent. All rights reserved.

Brooks Falls – Katmai National Park

Brooks Camp Ranger Station

The location is legend.  Mention Brooks to a wildlife photographer, even the most rank beginner, and the response will be that they have either been there, or are planning a visit, or dreaming about a visit.  There is simply nothing else like viewing brown bears from the wildlife viewing platforms near the falls of the Brooks River.

Under favorable circumstances, you will visit perhaps ten or more big Alaska brown bears feasting on a lively run of salmon.  You will gain an appreciation for the dedication these bears have for consuming salmon, and the industry with which they pursue their efforts – these animals are not messing around, this is survival.  You will witness bears in close proximity, which invariably leads to intimidation behavior, feinted attacks, and occasionally outright extreme violence.  All of this happens within 100 feet of the viewing platform.

Brooks Falls, Katmai National Park, AK

To be sure, a visit to Brooks Falls is a genuine adventure.  Katmai National Park can only be reached by boat or plane.  If you arrive too early in the year, or too late, or if for any reason the salmon are not in the Brooks River, there will be no bears.  In this case, you will have traveled to a moderately picturesque spit with notoriously lousy weather just to visit with the Park Rangers.  Don’t get me wrong, the Rangers at Brooks Camp are amongst the best in the system, but you are there to see the bears.

The Alaskan portion of your journey will most probably begin with your arrival at Anchorage, and almost certainly by plane.  From Anchorage, you will need to get to one of several more remote locations that lie within float-plane range of Brooks Camp, which is the administrative unit that oversees the business of managing visitors to Brooks Falls.  Homer is a popular departure point, and although Homer is an interesting place to visit in and of itself, the flight from there is longer than from several other locations.  For our visit we choose to stay in King Salmon, AK, which is home to a number of adventure lodges that serve both wildlife enthusiasts and fishermen.

The image below shows the view eastward from Brooks Camp on the western shore of Naknek Lake.  Most visit to Brooks Falls begin here.

Naknek Lake from Brooks Ranger StationBrooks Camp consists of the Ranger Station, a lunch kiosk, a camping area, a lodge and cabins, and a small general store.   If you have arrived by boat or float plane for a day visit, you will immediately want to visit the ranger station.  Here you will need to check in and schedule an orientational seminar (see below).  The seminar is held inside of the ranger station, and  is mandatory for entry onto the bear viewing platforms.

Brooks Camp Ranger Station

Brooks Camp Ranger StationA large map in the seminar room (see below) provides an overview of what the rangers present during the seminar.  There are two platform complexes, the Lower Platform at the west end of the floating bridge, and the (main) Falls Platform.  The Falls Platform itself has two sections, one of which (upper) is directly adjacent to the Brooks Falls, and a another (lower) section that is a 200 meters or so downstream.  You must make an appointment to access the upper section, but access to the lower section is on a first-come basis. The rangers staff the platforms and regulate entry.

Map of Brooks Camp

An enclosed lunch area is located just west of the ranger station – see two images below.  The shelter is surrounded by an electrified fence – a neat reminder of where you are.

Picnic Shelter at Brooks Camp

Brian and the HP in the Picnic Shelter

The HP and Brian enjoy their lunch in the enclosure (above).  Most guided tour outfits provide a pack lunch.

To get to the wildlife viewing platform, you travel south from the ranger station along a path that passes by the lodge and general store.  Meals are served to the general public at the lodge commissary.  After several hundred meters you encounter the floating bridge, which is a major junction along the way to the Falls.

The image below was shot from the Lower Platform northward across the floating bridge.  The bridge is continuously monitored from both sides by Park Service Staff.  The presence of bears on either side leads to a temporary closure –  bears frequent this area and the wait for a crossing can be 30 minutes or more…it depends on the disposition of the bear.

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Beyond the floating bridge the path follows a gravel road west.  Griz can appear anywhere along the way and constant vigilance is required.

Brooks Falls, Katmai National Park, AK

The image below shows one of the many well-worn bear paths that intersect the main pathway.

Brooks Falls, Katmai National Park, AK

Below, the HP and Brian prepare to access the south gate of the Falls Platform complex.

Brooks Falls, Katmai National Park, AK

The image below shows one of the gates along the elevated platform at Brooks Falls.  These gates are designed to regulate human access to the platform – no chance that they could fend off a determined bear.

Brooks Falls, Katmai National Park, AK

The image below shows the HP and Brian at the Fall Platform pavilion.  Rangers posted here regulate access to the upper section based on the time of your appointment.  From here you can also freely access the lower section of the platform.

Brooks Falls, Katmai National Park

 One last gate brings you to the main Falls Platform.

Brooks Falls, Katmai National Park

You first glimpse of the platform gives you a read on how crowded it will be.  There are two decks, each with space for about 10 shooters – if everyone plays nice…

Brooks Falls, Katmai National Park, AK

Excitement builds as you approach the viewing platform – not too crowded today, excellent!

Brooks Falls, Katmai National Park, AK

The shot below was made from the upper portion of the platform.  If you are stuck in the back, a long tripod and something to stand on can improve your shooting perspective.  If you are hand-holding you can usually find a slot to aim through.

Brokks Falls, Katmai National Park, AK

And finally, after long travels and after securing a sweet spot on the platform, the bears!

Brooks Falls, Katmai National Park, AK

To get the flowing water look above, I shot at 1/20s.  You need to be patient, and also make a lot of shots – the bears move around quite a lot, and getting an acceptable image is a little challenging.

Brooks Falls, Katmai National Park, AK

Brooks Falls, Katmai National Park, AK

Brooks Falls, Katmai National Park, AK

Brooks Falls, Katmai National Park, AK

Brooks Falls, Katmai National Park, AK

Brooks Falls, Katmai National Park, AK

Brooks Falls, Katmai National Park, AK

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Images in this entry were recorded on July 26, 2012, using the Nikon D4 and the AF-S NIKKOR 200-400mm f/4G ED VR II at various focal lengths.  Exposure was mostly f/5.6 and 1/1000s, ISO at 2000.  ITTR used, corrected in conversion using Nikon NX2.

Copyright 2014 Peter F. Flynn.  No usage permitted without prior written consent. All rights reserved.

 

Porcelain Basin

Norris Geyser Basin

Norris Geyser Basin is a large geothermal area that lies near the conjunction of park roads that head south to Madison, east to Canyon village, and north to Mammoth Hot Springs.  Norris, as park denizens refer to it, is divided into three major areas by a trail system that depends largely on boardwalks: Porcelain Basin, Back Basin, and Back-of-the-Back Basin.  Back Basin and Back-of-the Back Basin are collectively labelled just Back Basin on Park maps, but visitors are likely to appreciate that these two areas are quite easily distinguished by the distinct levels of effort required to explore them.

Norris Geyser Basin

The most accessible, and in my view, the most rewarding area in Norris is Porcelain Basin.  I will post an entry on Back Basin in the future, but this entry will focus exclusively on the quite easily manageable circumnavigation of Porcelain Basin.  The area is located just north of the Norris Geyser Basin Museum, which itself is about 300 meters west of the parking area along a paved pathway.

Yellowstone National Park, Fall 2013

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Yellowstone National Park, Fall 2013

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Norris Geyser Basin

The two images above were recorded looking west from the paved trail that descends from the museum.

Norris Geyser BasinA warning to photogs along the descending pathways…  Prodigious quantities of steam are continuously produced by the Ledge Geyser.  The winds within the basin are characteristically changeable, and one can find themselves enveloped within a steam cloud instantly, virtually any time morning or afternoon.

Norris Geyser Basin

The route leads north down from the museum along a paved path that provides an excellent overview of Porcelain Basin.  After descending perhaps 50 meters, hikers encounter a fork in the path.  I suggest traveling along the east (right) leg, which places one on an anti-clockwise orientation around the basin.  Much of the route around the basin consists of a boardwalk in very good condition.  Guardrails provide an extra element of safety if you are totting children, but are also useful for leaning against while studying the terrain.

Norris Geyser Basin

A bit of backtracking is required if you wish to visit all of the major geothermal features in the basin.  I would highly recommend taking the extra time to visit Colloidal Pool, Hurricane Vent, and Porcelain Springs, all of which lie on an eastern spur of the main route.

Norris Geyser Basin

Yellowstone National Park, Fall 2013

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Yellowstone National Park, Fall 2013

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Yellowstone National Park, Fall 2013

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The name Porcelain Basin derives from the delicate white color of the mineral deposits in the area.  The light color of the surface contrasts with the stronger colors produced by the other mineral deposits, and from the colorful algae and bacteria that exist in the relatively hostile conditions found here.

Norris Geyser Basin

The main route leads north, bold and straight across Porcelain Basin.  The obvious, low-impact, route would have followed the high ground (east) around the circumference of the basin.  I can only guess that the current route was forged in early times, as environmental impact would appear to be maximized with the existing situation.  I have no idea how the boardwalk maintenance can be executed…  Regardless, the boardwalk is wide and stable.

Norris Geyser Basin

But in some parts of the basin the stream bed is green!  Really green…  This unlikely hue is due to the presence of Cyandium caldarium, an algae that exists only in environments with a pH between 0.5 and 5.0, and water temperatures between 35C and 55C.  Yeah, think hot acid solution.

Norris Geyser Basin

Norris Geyser BasinNorris Geyser Basin

You are unprepared for the intensity of the color and contrast.  We have scoured the earth for kooky natural phenomenon.  This is as good as it gets, just stunningly beautiful.

Yellowstone National Park, Fall 2013

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The return side of the route provides a compelling view of the descent into the basin and the crossing.  Pick a time in the afternoon to walk the route and you will be rewarded with favorable light along the entire route.

Norris Geyser Basin

Norris Geyser Basin

Images in this entry were recorded on the afternoons of the September 21, 2012, and September 29, 2013, using the Nikon D800 and D800E at f-stop at f/11 or f/16.  Panoramic images were recorded using the Apple iP5 and the Autostitch acquisition application.

Copyright 2014 Peter F. Flynn.  No usage permitted without prior written consent. All rights reserved.