A Late Yellowstone Autumn Day

There is a definite crispness to the air in northwestern Wyoming during these late September days. In fact, I find a thickening frost on car windshields every morning after overnight temperatures dip below freezing. The glimmering, shimmering, steaming months of Yellowstone Summer 2012 have departed and left in their wake the vibrant hues and chill of autumn.

Flaming aspens on Terrace Mountain

 At 7770 feet above sea level, Grant Village is surrounded by a sea of lodgepole pines – there is not an aspen tree in sight. The Mammoth Hot Springs area in the northwestern part of the Park is nearly 1500 feet lower in elevation than Grant. That’s where we would find our colors of autumn among the conifers, with aspens exchanging their luminosity from greens to goldens. IMG_4071Sacha AndAspenSacha amid the low glowing aspensThe Fawn Pass trail around the base of Terrace Mountain would be our last hike of the season before we itinerant park rangers once again lace up our boots (and pack up our cars) to go off in search of winter fortunes.

Aspens glow on the hillsides of northwestern Yellowstone

The spire of Electric Peak is a distant landmark from Mammoth Hot Springs and the Fawn Pass trail.

Me, Sacha, & Jan on the Fawn Pass trail – Electric Peak stands imposingly in the distance

We kept away from this lone one–ton bison lounging in the sagebrush. I’m glad I know how and when to use the zoom function on my camera!

See that black dot in the center of the picture?


This is that one-ton black dot!

It would be easy enough to scale these hills and summit Terrace Mountain from this side – and who knows what excitement we would find when we reached the top? Even though I have a pretty good idea it is a jumble of rubble and a tumbling of rocks up there, that trek is definitely on my Yellowstone bucket list for next year.

Terrace Mountain from the west side

A sign marks the junction of the Fawn Pass trail with the trail to the hoodoos.

A hefty squirrel cache, mounded beneath the spreading boughs of an old lodgepole pine, appears to have been around for at least decades.

IMG_4112Squirrel Cache

The trail climbs easily to an overlook of Bunsen Peak and on around to views of Mt. Everts.

View to Bunsen Peak, across the Park road

Watch out for the approaching descent if you happen to be on skis!

A modest tree, a cluster of leaves, or a spent wildflower can certainly have an enormous visual impact if you just take the time to look around.  Out here on Terrace Mountain it is easy to do.

Mt. Everts is in the background


IMG_4129High CountryAutumn


Autumn fireweed


Sacha and Jan mosey toward the hoodoos on Terrace Mountain

The jumbled hoodoo rocks of Terrace Mountain are travertine, calcium carbonate deposits formed around 63,000 years ago from now extinct hot springs that came up through bedrock limestone outside of the caldera. These hoodoos are not really hoodoos at all but are blocks of rock that tumbled from Terrace Mountain in a large landslide sometime after the end of the Pinedale glacial stage some 10,000 years ago.

Tumbled travertine of Terrace Mountain

Around the next bend we noticed a burnished blaze from the tips of the yellowing aspens. There it is!  The small grove was tucked neatly in at the bottom of a damp grassy draw.

We waited for this white–tailed deer and its mother to continue their late munching lunch and move off the trail and up the hillside so we could pass. We were not far from the car and so did not mind lingering a bit.

What a perfect day and way to end a season of living in Yellowstone. Goodbye for now, Terrace Mountain! Goodbye, travertine and aspens and bison and squirrel cache and fireweed!

Farewell for now, hiking buddies Jan and Sacha!  I do hope we meet again next summer!

Yours Truly, Watching For Rocks wherever I go!

Katherine Hanson

Hey there, I'm Katherine Hanson, the curator of watchingforrocks.com, a site dedicated to uncovering the hidden gems of the USA. With a passion for exploration and a love for discovering the beauty in every corner of this vast country, I'm on a mission to share the best cities, national parks, historic landmarks, and entertainment hotspots that the USA has to offer. From towering mountains to bustling cities, there's so much to see and experience. Join me as I embark on adventures and uncover the wonders that make America truly remarkable.
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