Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Christmas Holidays on the South Coast

Most of the year we have access to plenty of deserted beaches within twenty minutes drive of us, the closest a few minutes across the main road. During school and public holidays there is an influx of visitors and we see more people on the beach. The "worst" time is the Christmas break where our population quadruples with temporary residents and visitors on summer holiday. Apart from crowded beaches, the roads are jammed with sometimes long delays, parking and shopping in town becomes a nightmare and prices increase. The normal lay back nature of the area seems to disappear with a more "frantic" atmosphere prevailing. I guess people from the city want to wring every second of leisure time out of their 3 -4 weeks annual leave. But when this translates into someone behind you continually bumping their cart into your legs in a supermarket check out line going nowhere it does test your patience a little.

video

We try not to be selfish and are greatly aware that the area needs this annual economic boost to get through the leaner times of the year. So we grit our teeth as we head to our favourite beaches and try to avoid the masses and their beach tents, umbrellas, beach chairs, screaming kids, football, cricket and volley ball games, kite flying, boom boxes, empty bottles and rubbish left as well as unattended dogs that crap everywhere. And why, when you do find a relatively secluded spot at the furthest end of the beach, does a family arrive and park themselves a metre from you? But it's only for a month or so. By mid February they will all be gone leaving all those tourist dollars behind. OK, have had my annual whinge and leave you with a video view of a couple of our beaches, pre Christmas holiday rush, and best wishes for 2009.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Lizards

There are five families of lizards living in Australia. These include monitors, geckos, legless, skinks and dragons.
By far the biggest family is skinks (Scincidae) which has well over 300 species in it. Skinks make up over 50% of all Australian lizards.
We believe we have what are Eastern Water Skinks (Eulamprus quoyii) living around the house. They grow to about 30cm (1 ft) long and eat a whole range of insects.
They have been breeding quite well over the years and are quite numerous and like to lie on the warm verandas, steps and footpaths especially in the afternoon. Once you are used to them (and know that sudden scuttle is not a snake), it's nice to have them around. They seem to be used to us too either completely ignoring us or pretending they are invisible when we step over them.

Yesterday some movement in the backyard caught my eye. At first I thought it was a small dog , cat or possum in the garden but then it "took off" when I approached.
It was a huge goanna or monitor lizard about 2m (6ft) long that had been eating a dead bird in the garden. He ran up the nearest tree, their normal defence mechanism.

I have seen many in the bush around us as well as racing across the road (or worse, squashed onto it) but this was the first one I had seen so close to the house.
The co driver was NOT impressed! But I thought she had been here long enough now to know about such things and did not keep it a secret (like the 3m (9ft) python I came across in the shed a few years ago).
Goannas are predatory lizards with sharp teeth and claws. They prey on small animals; insects, lizards, snakes, mammals, birds and eggs and are eaters of carrion and are attracted to rotting meat.
They are not really dangerous, preferring to escape than attack but when cornered can be a bit of a problem.
For more info (and a great picture) on Goannas click on: http://www.walkaboutpark.com.au/index.php?id=228

Monday, December 15, 2008

Surf

We were promised a 4 metre swell as the intense low pressure system that caused all our wind problems moved east over the Tasman Sea towards New Zealand. This would have meant some of the big wave breaks in our area would have started working which is always exciting. Many previous unridable breaks have now been conquered due to the advent of "tow in" surfing and it is amazing to watch these brave if somewhat foolhardy souls pull into some pretty big waves.

video

But it was not to be. The waves were a fair size but not the giants expected. The above video was shot at a place called "Guillotines" near us. Shallow and rocky but capable of holding a good sized swell this break is for experienced sufers only. A small group of board riders and belly boarders were enjoying themselves before the holiday crowds hit the coast next week.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Unseasonal Gales

An intense low pressure cell developed over the south east of Australia during the weekend and we copped some pretty severe winds.
Victoria bore the brunt of it but we on the south coast of New South Wales had 12 hours of westerly gales with gusts reaching 80km/hr at times.

There was a lot of tree damage in the area.
I did a quick inspection of my boundary late on Saturday evening when it was safe to venture out and found a number of trees down over fences.

The tree damage around the house was quite extensive as well. It was surprising to see some trees had been snapped off well up the trunk.

So this will mean a day out repairing broken wire and posts as well as cleaning up and piling for next winter's burn off.

Thankfully there was no house damage although there were some strange noises emanating from the roof during the day at the height of the gale.
Grape vine damage seems minimal with the odd shoot or two ripped off.
And all the animals are fine as well.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Turtle or Tortoise

The Eastern snake necked turtle or long necked tortoise (Chelodina longicollis) is a semi aquatic freshwater tortoise. It is distinguished from a marine turtle by distinct ankle joints and broadly webbed feet each with 4 or 5 claws.
I came across one near our upper dam the other day. First time I had ever seen one in our area.
The dam was almost dry so I guess he was off to look for a more suitable home. They have a reputation for travelling long distances over land.
They eat crustaceans, tadpoles, small fish and molluscs and find their food using their sight and their sense of smell.
To capture their prey they hold their neck sideways and then extend it, striking like a snake. They then swallow it whole, breaking up larger victims with the powerful claws on their front feet.
Their main predators are large birds, large fish and foxes.
To reproduce, the turtles lay about ten eggs each breeding season in early summer.
Obviously he was a a bit shy and hid well down in his shell so I didn't get to see his long neck.
And they can produce an awful smelling liquid when frightened or disturbed so didn't want to tempt fate too much.
But there are some great pictures on the net of this reptile and I have "stolen" one.
photo: © John Wombey
They are also apparently popular pets in Australia but I think I prefer to see them in the wild.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A Google View

Google Maps and Satellite have opened up a whole new perspective on the net. Street View, although considered by some a little intrusive, is also a helpful tool.
We have used all three to plan trips or simply find a store in the part of a city or town we are not familar with. We use the maps to plan routes and print them out so we can find our way, Satellite to check out places of interest and Street View to have a look at potential accommodation and the even the neigbourhoods it is in.


View Larger Map

Above is a Google Satellite picture of our area. You can zoom in or out and navigate around using the buttons on the top left corner. Check out where we live and even further afield. Almost the whole world is available with the swipe of a mouse or the click of a button. Have fun!

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Vegetable Garden

With the seven year drought seemingly over in our region and with the extra water storage installed we decided to resurrect our vegetable garden for the summer.
We buy heaps of lettuce, tomatoes and various herbs every week so we decided that growing these would not only save a bit of money (have you seen what's happening in the stock market lately?????) but more importantly provide us with very fresh organically grown pesticide free produce.
So it was a matter of spraying off all the weeds that had taken over while the garden had been laying fallow, digging it over, adding soil conditioner to improve water holding capacity as well as lime and blood and bone fertilizer.

We also decided that pumpkin, squash, zucchini (courgettes) and cucumbers might also be a good idea seeing they are easy to grow and are relatively disease resistant.

We also selected two types of tomato, capsicums (red peppers), basil and rocket (arugula)

and half a dozen different types of lettuce which we will plant every two weeks or so to ensure a continuous supply.
Naturally the weeds which had been seeding unabated for years think all their Christmases have come at once with the addition of fertilizer and copious amounts of water and are thriving just as well as the veges. But hoe-man (and hoe-woman) are keeping them at bay.

Of course we have to protect the whole area from kangaroos, possums, parrots and satin birds which means enclosing the area with a wire netting fence and covering it with some spare vineyard netting.

On our back veranda we also have a potentially good supply of rosemary, more basil, chives and oregano.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Skin Cancer

The co-driver and I went to the local skin cancer clinic for a check up. These dedicated clinics are springing up everywhere around Australia because the country has the highest incidence of this disease in the world. It is a lifestyle thing with outdoor recreation and activities being extremely popular. When I was growing up, surfing was my passion and the beach was my second home. We were baked brown by the sun continuously year after year. Protection in those days was virtually unheard of or even considered a bit wimpy.
As a result, for the last 25 years, I can't remember the number of cancers or pre cancers I have had cut out or burnt off my back, face and arms.
Here are some statistics:
-Over 380,000 Australians are treated for skin cancer each year. That’s over 1,000 people every day.
-Over 1,600 Australians die from skin cancer each year.
-Australia has the highest rate of skin cancer in the world. Skin cancers account for around 80% of all new cancers diagnosed each year in Australia. Each year Australians are four times more likely to develop a common skin cancer than any other form of cancer.
-The melanoma incidence rates in Australia and New Zealand are around four times as high as those found in Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom.
The Federal and State governments have made a concerted effort to make generations after mine aware of the dangers of unprotected exposure to the sun and have instigated intensive publicity campaigns that include:
The SunSmart UV Alert:
This is reported daily in newspaper weather forecasts across Australia. The alert is used to raise public awareness of the risk of exposure to UV radiation and to encourage people to adopt appropriate sun protection measures.
The Famous "slip, slop, slap" Campaign:
Slip on clothing that provides a barrier between UV rays and the skin.
Slop on sunscreen, 30SPF or greater
Slap on a hat that shades the face, eyes and neck.
Then added to this was
Seek Shade which is one of the most effective ways to protect against the sun's UV rays.
Slide on Sunglasses to protect UV rays damaging eyes.
All childcare facilities as well as primary and secondary schools throughout the country and numerous workplaces have adopted an ultraviolet (UV) radiation protection program to help prevent skin cancer. Recreational and sporting organizations also participate.
The top layer of skin contains three different types of cells: squamous, basal and melanocytes. Skin cancer is a disease of these skin cells caused mainly by overexposure to ultraviolet radiation.
UV radiation disrupts the cells' genes and can cause them to grow abnormally. If these abnormal cells are not destroyed by the body's natural defence systems they can develop into skin cancers.
There are three main types of skin cancer named after the type of cells they start from.
Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are known as common skin cancers .
Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer and is deadly.
So here are some pictures of the three types.
Check yourself out or better still get a professional to do it.
Basal Cell Carcinoma

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Melanoma
The previous bad experiences have led me to take protective measures by wearing a hat outside, swimming in the early morning or late afternoon, covering up when working in the vineyards and even applying sun tan lotion (when I remember). But I was expecting to have to be "burnt" and cut up a bit more after this doctor's visit. But apart from a few pre cancerous growths getting the liquid nitrogen treatment on the spot all was good.
And the co driver got the all clear too!

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Wine Faults

During wine evaluation by judges, they are not only looking for the good things about wine but also for technical faults. These are many and varied and mainly come from poor wine making techniques.
Below are a few of the more common faults and how they express themselves.
Oxidation: The most common wine fault. It is caused when oxygen comes in contact with the wine during vinification or is a result of poor sulphur addition management. Phenolics in the wine are oxidised causing a loss of colour, flavour and aroma which produces a so called "flat" wine.
Acetyldehyde: This is caused mainly by the oxidation of alcohol and imparts a sherry like flavour to the wine.

Volatile Acidity (Acetic Acid): This is vinegar taint and is caused by spoilage yeasts and bacteria eg. acetobacter
Ethyl Acetate: Smells like nail polish remover and is caused by the esterification of alcohol and acetic acid. It is a common microbial fault produced by wine spoilage yeasts. High levels of ethyl acetate are also produced by lactic acid bacteria and acetic acid bacteria.
Sulphur Dioxide: Sulphur is used as an additive during the winemaking process, mainly as an antioxidant but also as an antimicrobial agent. At normal levels (up to 200ppm) its presence is undetected. However overuse can contribute to flavour and aroma taints which are very volatile and potent. Over sulphured wine will be reminiscent of burnt matches, burnt rubber, or mothballs.
Hydrogen Sulphide: A rotten egg gas smell and is caused by the fermentation of wine where the grape juice has a low nitrogen content. This is overcome by adding additional nitrogen sources eg. DAP
Mercaptans: An onion and rubber smell caused by the reaction of wine components with hydrogen sulphide.
Dimethyl Sulphide: Imparts a cooked cabbage, canned corn, asparagus character to wine.

Cork Taint: Cork taint is a wine fault mostly attributed to the compound 2,4,6-trichloroanisole or more commonly, TCA.
TCA most likely is the result of mould growth on chlorine bleached wine corks and barrels. It causes earthy, mouldy, and musty aromas in wine that easily mask the natural fruit aromas, making the wine very unappealing. Wines in this state are often described as "corked". Cork taint is said to affect 5% of the world's wine. It has lead to the development of a whole range of new bottle closures including synthetic cork and screw caps.
Generally when judges come across a corked wine they will ask for another pour from another bottle as it is not considered technically a one hundred percent wine making fault.
Brettanomyces ("Brett"): This yeast produces a whole number of off flavours and aromas in wine eg. band-aids, bacon, sweaty saddle and rancidity.
Lactic Acid Bacteria (LAB): While LAB is useful in coverting the harsher malic acid in wine to lactic acid during malolactic fermentation, it can also produce wine faults. Wines that have not undergone malolactic fermentation may be contaminated with LAB which can result in refermentation of the wine. Wines then become turbid, swampy and slightly effervescent.

Diacetyl: This is produced by lactic acid bacteria. At low levels it can impart positive nutty or caramel characters which with some wines eg. Chardonnay, can be considered desirable. However at high levels it creates an intense buttery or butterscotch flavour and then it is perceived as a fault.
Geranium Taint: This is a flavour and aroma taint reminiscent of geranium leaves. It is formed during the metabolism of potassium sorbate by LAB. Potassium sorbate is sometimes added to wine as a preservative against yeasts.
Mousiness: A microbial derived fault which can become very apparent on the palate, especially at the back of the mouth, as mouse cage or mouse urine.
Refermentation: This is caused by yeasts refermenting the residual sugar present within bottled wine. The most common culprit is the standard wine fermentation yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae. The main problems associated with the fault include turbidity, a slight carbonation and some coarse odours.
Hazes: Of course there are a whole lot of protein and metal hazes as well as deposits (tartrates) that cause turbidity and affect the visual quality of wine (but not always taste) and are regarded as faults.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Wine Shows

The 10th annual South Coast Wine Show will take place on the 23rd January 2009. Preparations are well in hand and publicity for the event is underway. Details are available on:
But what is a wine show and what happens there?
Simply put, a wine show is an opportunity for wine producers to submit their wines for evaluation by experienced judges.
The wines are divided into various sections and classes eg. variety, style, blend, age etc. and are then given a score, usually out of 20 according to a number of criteria, 3 points for colour, 7 for nose and 10 for palate by each judge. Depending on the average of those scores, medals as well as trophies are awarded.
Gold medal 18.5 – 20.0 points
Silver medal 17.0 – 18.4 points
Bronze medal 15.5 – 16.9 points
These shows can be all encompassing ie. international, national or state, or regional, like ours, where only wines made from grapes of a particular region are eligible.
Wine shows can also be variety driven eg. the Canberra International Riesling Challenge as well as having other restrictions eg. winery size, with the Australian Small Winemakers Show (ASWS)
being a prime example.
Wine shows are held under guidelines developed by the Australian Society of Viticulture and Oenology. Specific details can be found at:
Wines submitted to the organizing committee are sorted into the various classes pre show and each wine in that class is given a specific number.
On show day, tables are set up with numbered white tasting boards on white table cloths. White assists in color evaluation. Samples of each wine in a class are then poured, in order of their catalogued number, into glasses placed on the numbered board, one glass per judge. They then proceed to evaluate each wine by swirling it around the mouth and spitting out (no swallowing!), making notes and finally giving each wine a score on a sheet numbered according to its place on the board. Under this system, each wine is completely anonymous.
Discussion about results, especially those that indicate a medal possibility, then take place under the control of the chief judge. If any descrepancies or great differences of opinion are evident, a re tasting and reevaluation may take place. When the results are finalised these judging sheets are passed onto the collator who processes them.
The judges then move onto the next class at another table which has been organised during the intervening period.
The used glasses are removed, replaced with clean ones, and the process continues class by class.
The judges usually, but not always, like to taste in a specific order eg. whites, older whites, sweet whites, roses and light reds, reds, older reds and finally fortified wines.
In our show, around 170 wines are judged. This takes all day taking into account lunch and other breaks.
Looking more closely at the three criterea;
Colour means hue, color density and clarity. White wines range from water white to a deep straw yellow or maybe amber depending on the grape variety, age, vinification process and condition. Red wines range from purple to brownish. Density can vary from light through to medium and dense. Clarity ranges from brilliant through bright to hazy. Any turbidity can indicate poor wine condition.
Tilting the wine glass over a white surface and looking at the "rim" is the best way of evaluating color. Swirling the wine around the glass allows the wine to open up and release it's subtle aromas and possible flavors in preparation for the next step of smelling the wine. How the wine drips back down the side of the glass are called the wine's "tears" or "legs." This gives an indication of how much alcohol is in the wine - the more alcohol, the more legs or tears.
Nose means the aroma (smell related to the grape) and bouquet (smell related to the vinification process and aging). This gives the taster an indication of the flavours to come as well as a number of possible wine faults. Any "off aromas" eg. oxidation or corking will result in a loss of points. Some of the nose descriptors include floral, grassy, melon, spicy, earthy, berry, leafy.
Palate means the taste and the "feel" of the wine in the mouth and involves the combination of textures, flavors, weight and overall structure. The wine's balance is the combination of sweetness, acidity and fruit flavours. Structure involves weight, astringency (tannins) and texture which is basically a "feel" or a tactile sensation rather than a flavour.
Judges are also looking for varietal flavour in young wines, complexity of developed flavours and texture in aged wines, how all these continue on the middle palate and finally how long all these sensations last ie. the length of finish.
And they are looking for wine faults.
What are wine faults?
Well, that's a subject for a whole new blog entry.

Friday, October 17, 2008

An Echidna

The co driver saw what she said was a "very strange animal" down by the vineyard.
When we got down there to have a look, we saw that it was an echidna or spiny anteater. They are somewhat rare around here and, together with the platypus, are the world's only monotremes, or egg-laying mammals.
They produce young from eggs which are hatched outside their body, in the same way as birds and most reptiles. During the breeding season, a female echidna develops a simple pouch into which she lays a single egg. The egg takes about 10 days to hatch, producing a young animal which measures around 1.45 cm and weighs as little as 380 milligrams. The young echidna is carried around in its mother's pouch for about three months.
By the time the infant leaves the pouch, its spines have started to develop, but it still stays close to its mother and continues to suckle milk through specialised pores in the skin inside her pouch. Although they begin to eat termites and ants soon after leaving the pouch, young echidnas are often not fully weaned until they are several months old.
Adults vary in size, from 35 to 53 cm. Males weigh about 6 kilograms, while females weigh about 4.5 kilograms.
When frightened they curl into a ball, with snout and legs tucked beneath and sharp spines sticking out or they will burrow straight down into soft soil to escape predators.
When he saw us he tried the latter.
Unfortunately he got tangled in the netting and was unable to dig very deep.
Extricating him was a delicate job as those spines are very sharp. Trying to wrap him in just one towel was not that easy either. So by the time I had got him out of the netting and went to find more protection for myself, he had already begun to dig into the ground.
The only way we could get him up was to dig quickly under him with a shovel.

Finally we had him in our grasp.
Apart from the spines and very big claws, they have very cute faces with long noses.
So after a photo shoot, I took him down to the bush and set him free.

Our good deed for the day.

Friday, October 03, 2008

USA 2008 / Heading Home

The Buffalo Bill Cody Scenic Byway follows the North Fork of the Shoshone River through the scenic Wapiti Valley from the East Entrance of Yellowstone National Park to Cody. This route has quite amazing scenery with very beautiful river views on one side and rugged canyons and contorted rock formations on the other. Obviously this is a very popular area for outdoor recreation given the numerous camping grounds along the river and the number of dude ranches offering accommodation in the hills.
Six miles west of Cody the highway skirts the huge Buffalo Bill Reservoir and, after travelling through the mountains via some fairly long tunnels at the spillway end, you arrive in the town.
Cody is a happening place with a lively main street and a "good feel".

Named after Buffalo Bill Cody, who helped create the original town, they rely pretty heavily on his legend and the "wild west" in general.
The Buffalo Bill Historical Centre is a popular large museum located near the town center and contains large collections of western memorabilia. During the summer, a re-enactment of a wild-west shoot-out takes place next to the Irma Hotel which is an historical site still open for business. This landmark hotel was actually built by William Cody and named after his daughter Irma Cody.
We were persuaded to go to the shoot-out. It was, in a word "hokey", but so bad it was good.
Cody calls itself the "Rodeo Capital of the World" and there is an amateur rodeo every night for the 3 months of summer. It also hosts the Cody Stampede Rodeo over the Independence day holiday which is one of the biggest rodeos in the USA. And as a bit of added trivia the town is also the birthplace of Jackson Pollock.
We opted for a bit of luxury for our one night stay at Chamberlin Inn and it was worth every dollar.
They recommended the Wyoming Rib and Chop House which turned out to be the gastronomic find of the trip. A huge wine list and a great menu, basically meat, but with some interesting starters. I tried fried green tomatoes for the first time. Wonderful! Judging by the crowd waiting for tables (luckily we booked) it has a formidable reputation.
Next morning we headed further east and over the Bighorn Mountains via Granite Pass but not before visiting a large quilt shop in the one main street of Greybull (pop: 1800). The co driver has a preference for these out of the way quilt businesses. How they survive in these very small towns always amazes me. This one does by means of a world wide on line trade with much merchandise being sent to Australia.
The 2715m pass is located on the Bighorn Scenic Byway and at its base Shell Creek has formed a canyon of shimmering pink granite. The rocks here are between 2.5 and 2.9 billion years old and are amongst the oldest in the world. The climb up was pretty spectacular and the view over the prairies on the other side just as so.
We were tailgated a long way down the other side by an elderly impatient old fart until we managed to let him get by. As karma would have it, 20 miles further on we passed him by the side of the road being booked by the Highway Patrol so it was waves and high fives all round.
Back on the flat rolling prairie and the I90 we gunned it towards Rapid City in the Black Hills.
But first a small detour to the Devils Tower near Sundance. We were in two minds whether to do this due to the long distance already travelled. But it was worth it.
The Tower is a volcanic neck which stands alone 386m high in the northern region of the Black Hills. It was the USA's first national monument and has great cultural significance to many American native tribes including Arapaho, Crow, Cheyenne, Kiowa, Lakota and Shoshone.
After another shopping spree at Rapid City's newly opened Cabelas where there were more than a few bargains to be had, dinner at the Outback Restaurant and an overnight at the local Holiday Inn Express we set on a our last 6 hour leg back to Sioux Falls.
Then it was another few days in town until it was time to say my goodbyes and head home via Denver and Los Angeles with United. I upgraded to Economy Plus this time and the little bit extra leg room made the flight a lot more comfortable. The movie program had not changed and the inevitable crying baby was on board (when will they introduce adults only flights????) but I slept from Hawaii to Fiji and was soon in Sydney.
There was the smell of Spring in the air on landing which indicated that the season's work with the grapevines was about to begin. And sure enough, on arrival home, I could see that bud burst was well under way with quite substantial shoot growth already on the Pinot Noir.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Yellowstone National Park

Let's get rid of a few facts to start. Yellowstone NP was the world's first national park established on 1st March 1872. Most of it lies in north west Wyoming and covers an area of 8987 sq.km of which 80% is forest. It is basically an active volcano with one of the world's largest calderas, an explosion crater, covering 3500 sq.km in the centre. It has about 10,000 thermal features and around 300 active geysers. The area experiences 2000 earthquakes a year. The last major 'quake was 640,000 years ago and spewed out 240 cubic miles of debris forming the current caldera. So the clock is ticking!

We stayed at the Yellowstone Village Inn in Gardiner just outside the northern entrance to the park with its famous gate.
This was a quiet little town that basically caters for tourists and we were able to stock up our cooler with ice and goodies at the local supermarket each day for our excursions into the park.
Our first day was spend travelling down the western road to the shores of Lake Yellowstone .
First stop was the Mammoth Hot Springs terraces

These step-like terraces are formed as heated water moves along the Norris-Mammoth Fault. The hot water carries dissolved calcium and bicarbonate to the surface of the terraces where pressure lessens. Carbon dioxide then escapes as gas and the carbonate combines with calcium to precipitate as travertine.
The Terraces are constantly changing shape and color. Springs which were once active may become dry and lifeless but activity can later resume. Along with changes of thermal activity come changes in color. Fresh travertine is bright white in color and on weathering changes to gray. Bright colored cyanobacteria and algae mats which are dependent upon a stable temperature and a flow of water also change as the microorganisms die creating a bleaker landscape.

One feature of this area was the Liberty Cap, a dormant hot spring cone.
It was formed from a steady flow of hot water emerging from a single source, depositing dense layers of travertine and continued to grow while there was a source of water. Either the hot water spring found a more convenient underground channel to escape through or the orifice became sealed by travertine deposits, so it is now an inactive spring.

We were not specifically looking for animal sightings as we were more interested in the geography but we ran across most on the list except bears and moose. Most elk and mule deer were concentrated around Mammoth Hot Springs township and on our hotel lawn.

We also saw bighorn sheep on the cliffs leading into the park, a lone pronghorn crossed the road in front of us, a small pack of wolves and the odd lonely bull buffalo that seem to take much pleasure in crossing the road halfway and standing there, holding up traffic. We were constantly amused by the large number animal enthusiasts who would miraculously appear at such times with cameras with huge lenses (lens envy was a constant companion in our car) and snap away.
We did however see large herds of bison on the Yellowstone River flats the following day which gave us only a little idea of what things may have been like two centuries ago.

Then we travelled further south past Roaring Mountain (which actually was), to the very edge of the caldera and the Norris geyser basin.
This area is divided into the Porcelain Basin and the Back Basin. The former was our favorite thermal area in the park. A boardwalk traversed the whole area and we were able to walk passed roaring steam vents, gushing geysers, bubbling crystal clear blue pools, rivers of steaming water colored by algae as well as hot springs.
Many of Norris thermal activities release acidic water. Living organisms thrive in the extreme environments of these acid hot springs and the overflow channels of geysers and hot springs are often brightly colored with minerals and microscopic life forms. Hardy, microscopic, lime-green Cyanidium algae thrives in these warm acid waters. Orange cyanobacteria can be found in the runoff streams in Porcelain Basin. From a distance these bacteria look like rusty, iron-rich mineral deposits
Then it was into the caldera where the Gibbon River falls 26m over its edge on the way to meet the Yellowstone and onto the Old Faithful thermal region.
This was the major disappointment of our trip. The area's commercial development and acres of car park are really a blot on the landscape. The old boy himself must have had prostate problems on the day we were there as his 'performance' was pretty mediocre. You got the feeling that the crowd of around 500 gathered on the bleachers for the "show" were as underwhelmed as we were. This must be one of the world's most over rated tourist icons. We couldn't get out of the area quickly enough.
We had a picnic lunch at Scaup Lake surrounded by the ubiquitous lodgepole pine forest with yours truly sitting with his back to the trees pretending to be quite oblivious to the potential for a bear attack. I had left the car unlocked and the escape route mapped out in my mind, however, just in case. It didn't help that the co driver was continually asking "what's that noise?" while looking out into the bush. She will pay.....later!
Then it was over the 2500m Craig Pass and onto the shore of Lake Yellowstone. This is a really beautiful area with the azure blue lake dominating the landscape.

Time to turn around and head back to Gardiner, calling into all the detours we had noticed on the way down including Kepler Cascades, the Firehole River Canyon and Firehole Lake Drive with its many geysers and the amazingly blue and bubbling Firehole Spring.

After a very early dinner we fell into bed exhausted and wondering what tomorrow would bring.
Next morning dawned bright and clear. I should point out here we had taken our winter clothes and an ice scraper as we had been warned of the possibility of fickle autumn weather in the area.
Well it was in the high 20's/low 30's after a fairly cool start most of the time so our winter gear was definitely excess baggage. The Aspens must have known things would be ok. They hadn't even bothered to start to change color yet.
This time we headed down the east road to Tower Fall.

We took what was described as an incredibly rough (read: normal Australian country road) detour on the Blacktail Plateau Drive in the hope of seeing a bear or two. Others had the same idea. I guess the convoy scared off any wild life. We did see a petrified redwood though, the remnant of a time past when the area was sub tropical and before a huge volcanic eruption turned it to stone 50 million years ago.
After viewing the falls (there are 290 in the park) we climbed back over the caldera via the 2700m Dunraven Pass and headed for Canyon Village.
Here the Yellowstone River drops down into the the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone first via the 33m upper falls, then the 94m lower falls. Your first stop is right on top of the upper falls to watch it go over the precipice. The noise is deafening.

Then across the river you can get a more conventional view. We walked down part of Uncle Toms Trail to get a view of the canyon itself. The trail goes onto the bottom of the lower falls but the signs warning of the difficulty of the climb put us off a bit.

So instead we headed off to Artists Point for what is considered the classic view of the lower falls and the canyon.
We were not disappointed.

From here we drove along the Hayden Valley where the Yellowstone meanders quietly through meadow like terrain after leaving its source lake. Plenty of buffalo and the odd wolf were to be seen.
Then we came across another thermal area. This one had boiling mud pools and sulphur cauldrons which not only were hot but had a pH of 1.0. Falling in would not have been pleasant. You could even see thermal activity in the river that flowed below us.

Arriving at the lake we turned east and followed the shore for quite a way until we started the climb over the Sylvan Pass and exited the park through the East Entrance. From there it was quite a pleasant drive east to Cody.
Our Yellowstone adventure was over.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Road to Yellowstone

From Hudson we by-passed St. Paul and Minneapolis and headed for Fargo on the I94, stopping in St.Cloud to try to find a quilt shop we had visited 5 years before....and we did! We also had a scarey moment on the road when we thought we were being chased by a giant chicken (pic stolen from the "Gold 'n Plump" web site). Imagine that sight suddenly turning up in your rear vision mirror!
I had all sorts of expectations for Fargo, mainly due to the movie of the same name. But it turned out to be a fairly typical large mid western city, much industrialised and commercialised. It did redeem itself a little, the following morning, when we sought out the historic area and found the old part of town with its large Victorian houses and tree lined streets. But by far the most impressing structure was the water tower.

Then it was on half way across North Dakota, via Jamestown for lunch, to its capital Bismarck which lies on the mighty Missouri River. Here we caught up with Aleycia, Jim and new baby Miles. I liked Bismarck. Nice shady tree lined streets, some architecturally interesting older houses and an impressive capitol area.
Here they commemorated the Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery which over wintered a few miles north at Fort Mandan for 146 days in 1804/05. It was during this time they met Sakakawea the pregnant native American wife of their French guide who turned out to the heroine and possible saviour of the expedition.
We enjoyed a visit to the street fair and market which took up quite a number of blocks of downtown and did not leave there without contributing to their economy.
Next day we were again on the road early (still the I94) with Billings, MT our target. This was a very long drive across some of the most featureless landscape I have ever seen. But from signs on the road the day before we knew we were in for a treat. Just a few hours into our journey lay the town of Medora, "North Dakota's Number 1 Tourist Destination"
It was closed for the winter......in September!
We made a brief stop at the overlook of the North Dakota badlands at Theodore Roosevelt NP but freezing cold temperatures and driving rain encouraged us to go on.

We met up with the Yellowstone River for the first time at Glendive where we had lunch. It's just a little way from there that the river flows into the Missouri so we were still well and truly on the Lewis and Clark Trail. After 10 hours on the road we arrived in Billings and met up with Karyl and Joe and enjoyed a pleasant evening catching up.
Next morning it was on via Red Lodge to the Beartooth Pass. Red Lodge was a good place to stretch the legs and top up the caffiene level in preparation for the road ahead. The Montana Candy Emporium in the town must be the biggest lolly shop I have ever been in. We resisted the urge to buy tempting as it was too see all that genuine old fashioned stuff, not the repulsive Chinese copies so readily available these days.
The Beartooth Highway is an "All American Road" that runs between Red Lodge and Cooke City. It has a series of steep zigzags and switch backs to the Beartooth Pass on the Montana/Wyoming border and reaches a height of 3345m (10,974ft). The road rises 800m in 20km. Due to heavy snowfall at the top, the pass is usually open each year only from late May through to early September. In fact it was closed a few days before we made the trip due to a snow storm. At this high altitude, snowstorms can occur even in the middle of the summer and the pass is also known for strong winds and severe thunderstorms.

We had been a little intimidated by the road's reputation but after checking with the ranger station that morning we decided to bite the bullet. And we are glad we did. This is probably one of the most spectacular roads in the world. It was a perfect day with a high blue sky, sunshine and no wind. The views were spectacular and out little car handled the climb well. Campers, RV's, motor cyclists and even push bikes were doing the climb. Some places were definitely of the "dont look down" variety, especially where there was no safety rail but once above the tree line and heading across the alpine meadow towards the western summit it was plain sailing. Plenty of snow at the top to play in too (for those not used to it) and the view across the Rockies was breathtaking. Also breathtaking was the lack of oxygen at that altitude. I could only manage to throw three snowballs at the photographer.
Needless to say as much care had to be taken going down as coming up so it was good to reach Cooke City for lunch. Americans seem to be very liberal with the word "city" when naming their towns. This one had one main street with a thin sliver of potholed tarmac, a gas station, a few bars, restaurants, cafes and tourist shops plus a couple of motels. Population 140.
From there it was an easy drive into Yellowstone through the north east entrance and onto Gardiner at the north gate where we had booked our accommodation.
One of the most memorable days of the trip.