THE YELLOWSTONE BACKCOUNTRY PAGE
OTHER UNSUAL BACKCOUNTRY SITES
Many areas like these dot the Yellowstone backcountry. The park has numerous "closed" areas. The reasons include wildlife protection, carcass dumping, staging areas for construction, and ranger target practice.
THE "WEDDED" TREE
One of the more bizarre quirks of nature exists near Yellowstone Lake. One quarter mile east of the old Bridge Bay Camp and 50 feet up over a rather steep bank are two mature trees joined 3 feet off the ground by a limb 5 inches in diameter. I have not been able to find this tree myself. But records of its existence can be found in the park archives at Mammoth. Apparently mature Lodgepole Pines can share branches even though they are separate trees.
THE KNOTTY FOREST
If you have ever been to the lower Hamilton store at Old Faithful, perhaps you have wondered how they found wood that was so twisted and knobby. It seems that a certain disease can attack Lodgepole Pines, causing them to grow in that strangely curved fashion.
Several years ago I stumbled into a wide area of trees that had been attacked by this disease. It was amazing to see an entire forest of these mangled and deformed pines. The area was located southwest of De Lacy Lakes in heavy timber. Anyone hiking in that area should be sure to look for this very creepy part of YNP.
According to historian Aubrey Haines, some sections of knotted wood used in construction of the Old Faithful Inn were from an area on the old service road between Arnica Creek and Bridge Bay. Today a portion of this old section of wagon road is closed to the public for much of the season. The park service uses it as carnivour feeding ground were roadkill is taken for the scavengers to eat.
THE OTHER NATURAL BRIDGE
Information has recently come to light of the existence of another natural bridge formation that is equally as impressive as the one near Bridge Bay. Located somewhere near the headwaters of Sour Creek in the vicinity of Pontunpa Hot Springs, this feaure may be Yellowstone's most impressive natural arch. (A survey is planned for summer 2000, if photos become available I will post them here.) It is likely that there are yet more natural bridges in the backcountry that have yet to be recorded.
Hayden Valley Caves
There are quite a few caves scattered in some of the small canyons that line the western Hayden Valley. This is really one of the more interesting parts of Yellowstone. Along with the caves are many small thermal areas, a stage road, and varius artifacts of early habitation.
Near the headwaters of Otter Creek is a superb waterfall. Named "Double Grotto Falls," it is a two step plunge of nearly 40 feet. Above its base on a cliffside to the north is a fine cave that is at least 20 feet high and 30 feet deep. It must have been used at some time by man, but I was unable to find any evidence of habitation inside.
This cave on the upper Mammoth terraces was visited and described by T.B. Comstock in 1873. During the period 1883-1888, park tour operator G.L. Henderson explored and named it, probably for beautiful water droplets held in place on the cave’s walls by tiny, travertine-covered plant roots.
Park archivist Lee Whittlesey found references to the cave in 1978 and park employee Randy Ingersoll found the cave about 1980. Today the location of the cave is not commonly given out in order to prevent vandalism to it, although many employees know of its location. It is technically illegal to enter caves in the Mammoth area because of carbon dioxide gases present.
Upper Firehole River
Roughly two miles upstream of Lone Star Geyser the Firehole River enters a steep walled canyon that contains many fine cascades. Near the upstream end of this canyon and just east of one of these cascades is a large cave. When I visited this spot in 1998, the cave did show signs of previous visitation. An old woodpile and some ancient axe cuts made our party suspect that it had definitely been visited by someone in the 19th century. For a brief time in the 1870's, a trail passed near here on its way to the Bechler area. Parties may have sought shelter in this cave during their multi-day journeys.
The Northeast Corner
Northeastern Yellowstone has much in the way of little known caves. They are scattered throughout the thick spruce and pine forests that are so predominent in this part of the park. A few contain native-american cultural sites, while other remain isolated on high cliffs. To date less than 1% of the northeastern caves have been officially surveyed.
Of all the areas of the park, the least is known about the Thorofare. So much of this part of Yellowstone has literally never been surveyed or researched. This includes its caves. There are many, and most contain important archeology, but only recently have scientists begun to take note of the important primitive sights that exist here.
Yellowstone's backcountry contains countless specimens of petrified wood. Aside from the more notable areas on Specimen Ridge and in the northwest corner (Skyrim), the park has other pockets of detailed, fossilized trees. These include the slopes of Mt. Hornaday, the upper stretches of the Lamar River, and both sides of Lamar Valley.
There are two notable airplane wreckage sights in the park. Unfortunately most of the debris has been recovered on each so that all one will find now is small scatterings of pieces.
USAF B-17 BOMBER - CRASHED 1943
This plane went down after the icing of its carburetors in mid-air and crashed 5 miles southeast of West Yellowstone, MT. In the aftermath the bodies and live ammunition was removed but not the debris. Then after the fires of '88 it was determined that due to the "uncovering" of the wreckage by the fire, its contents would be removed. In the summer of '96 a gentleman came to me for information on the wreck. He had just spent two days in the area looking for any signs of the crash. Having found none, he was looking for a more detailed description of the crash site. It seems that what little evidence of the crash is left is small at best.
USAF B-47 BOMBER - CRASHED 1963
This plane collided with another small aircraft over Ashton, Idaho and crashed in deep snow near Douglas Knob, southwest of Old Faithful. Like the B-17, only the bodies were removed at the time. This wreck had been a popular day hike among employees at Old Faithful. I know of several groups having visited the site. What made this site unusual is that the wreckage was in very good shape. The plane remained relatively intact; thus items such as radios, the co-pilots chair, and control panels were all in good shape. In late 1993, the army finally hauled away most of the large pieces of the wreck. I know of no one who has been to the site since, but I would assume that only the smallest pieces of debris remain.
TWO SINGLE-ENGINE DEBRIS FIELDS
Two other notable wrecks may remain in the backcountry. One is on Mt. Hancock and the other is on Top Notch Peak. I will try to find out if these wrecks have been removed or if any wreckage remains on the sites.
WIDLY SCATTERED GOLD DEPOSITS
Yellowstone certainly contains at least some pockets of gold deposits. The general area that the gold is likely to exist is no secret. Over the years, even a few park service personnel at one time or another have secretly gone in search of what is certainly some sizable deposits.
Within park boundaries there are still open mine shafts, prospector equipment, and the remnants of crude flumes left from the days of the miners. It is scary to think what might have happened had a major gold deposit been discovered during the years preceding the park’s creation.
A word of caution! IT IS ILLEGAL TO PAN, MINE OR REMOVE ANY GOLD FROM YELLOWSTONE. This is one breach of the law that will have the severest of consequences should an individual be faced with such a conviction.
THE LEGENDARY MT. WASHBURN GOLD MINE
There have been persistent rumors over the years from "old-timers" about a gold mine near the big loop of the Mt. Washburn road (known in some circles as Mae West Curve). There is probably nothing to it, as no evidence of a mine has turned up, but the old timers thought it so. They believed that gold was present where the volcanic rock came up against the sediment on the slopes of Washburn. They called it the "Contact Line." Today these slopes of Mt. Washburn are part of a bear management area so a thorough survey would definitely have to clear some major red-tape.
POSSIBLE BURIED TREASURE
Somewhere near the site of the old Yancey's Hotel (today the site of the Roosevelt Cookout) may actually be a buried treasure. Uncle John Yancey was a "goat-bearded, shrewd-eyed, lank Uncle Sam type", whose five-room hotel was said to accommodate twenty guests for $2 per day including meals. A local joke was that the glasses at Yancey's had never held water, only whiskey. Another story was that Uncle John never gave change. One dollar would buy you four drinks or one drink (normally 25˘), but you didn't get change.
Yancey originally built a cabin on the site in 1882 and a hotel in 1884. His hotel served as an early hostelry for travelers until 1906, three years after his death. For years people thought that he hid his money somewhere around the hotel, but if he did the knowledge died with him. A few have searched in vain for Yancey's cache. Today the mystery is unsolved.
A TUNNEL SOUTHEAST OF MAMMOTH
Between Mammoth and Undine Falls in one of the south side draws is what looks to be a mine shaft. Well it isn't actually a mine, but rather a test tunnel. In early road building days the construction crews wanted to see if this rock could support a tunnel. So they blasted the rock and began running a tunnel through it. Unfortunately the rock was not strong enough and a portion of the tunnel collapsed. Thus they routed the road where it sits today, around the hill and adjacent to Undine Falls.
A TUNNEL BETWEEN THE MAMMOTH HOTEL AND DINING HALL
There is a tunnel that runs between the Mammoth Hotel and the Dining hall. It is there because the original hotel was 418 feet long, and it had steam tunnels running underneath it. Those original shafts are still there at present.
A fine bear den is located near Rainy Lake. It is characterized by a hole two feet in diameter; 10 feet long; 4 feet wide; and 4 feet high.
Service Road Near Canyon
Another grizzly den can be found up the service road southwest of Canyon Village. Until recently, the Park service was giving ranger walks into this den. However they may no longer offer this activity.
A superb grizzly den can be found on the high slopes of the Washburn range, west of Dunraven Pass. This site was described extensively in Doug Peacock's book "Grizzly Years." The area is a closed "bear management area" for most of the season and human travel into the area is prohibited for most of the season.
CARCASS DUMPING SITES
Not heavily publicized, Yellowstone still feeds its bears. Fortunately for them and us, the bears no longer feed on garbage as they did forty years ago. Today the park service routinely moves large roadkill to specific sites in the backcountry for the purpose of feeding wildlife. Each of these "feeding dump sites" are essentially the same. They are located down service roads, they are closed to the public, and they allow bears and other scavangers to feed on natural food sources. These feeding sites are extremely dangerous. Grizzly bears are extremely possessive of their food caches. If you stumble into one of these sites, vacate the area immediately!!!
Yellowstone has many of these sites; a few are listed below.
HISTORIC BEAR FEEDING GROUNDS
From about 1928 until World War II, Yellowstone used to have "bear feeding shows." These were places where tourists could come at a specified time and watch, from the safety of grandstands, grizzly bears feeding on hotel garbage. On any given night, as many as 20-30 bears might show up and scavange for the best things to eat. The two most notable sites were Old Faithful and Otter Creek. Today Otter Creek is the most interesting to visit (the Old Faithful site is not as obvious). It is located about a half mile down the service road that begins at the stream's mouth. Still visible is the amphitheater bowl where the tourists sat, as well as the grassy meadow where the bears fed.
Until the 1970's, Yellowstone used to dump all of its garbage at dump sites within the park. This practice was ended because of the bear activity at these dumps and to promote the idea of keeping the park as natural as possible. Today all garbage is trucked out of Yellowstone.
Rabbit Creek and Trout Creek
The most famous dumps were at Rabbit and Trout Creeks. Remnants of these dumps still remain on their sites, although the bears no longer feed there.
There is another old garbage dump near Dunraven Pass. If you park at the south parking lot access to Mt. Washburn, you simply have to cross the road and hike down a gully into the woods about 200 feet. This dump site looks to be from the 1930s or 1940s. I know nothing of its origin.
CRAIGHEAD RESEARCH SITE
One of the original Craighead research sites can still be found on a hilltop about 4 miles down the old Trout Creek service road in the central Hayden Valley. They used this fine view to observe their radio-collared grizzlies. Today there are still some items of their equipment on that spot.
MISCELLANEOUS MAN-MADE YELLOWSTONE HISTORY
A COAL MINE
Along the prominent slope that connects McMinn Bench to Mt. Everts is what from a distance appears to be a black spot. That spot is actually the debris and tailings from an old, operating coal mine. The mine was operated during World War I when there was a coal shortage in this country. It was a very poor mine because the low-grade coal had too much sulphur in it. Because of this the mine was used only briefly. Today the remnants of the old hand mine include tailings of 15 to 20 feet in height.
A STAGECOACH GRAVEYARD
Incredibly, somewhere out on Swan Lake Flats is a Stagecoach Graveyard. At the end of the stagecoach era in Yellowstone the powers-to-be dug a large pit, and many of the vehicles were just pushed into it and covered up. They sold a few coaches to local farmers to use for parts, but the vast majority were lost to this mysterious grave. Today no one knows the exact location of these relics of a Yellowstone past.
HOTEL FOUNDATIONS AND DUMP SITES
Few people seem to realize the accessibility of these very intersting relics of the park's past. Scattered in very close proximity to the Grand Loop Road are the former sites of many obsolete Yellowstone Hotels. Still seen at these sites are shards of glass, china, cans, bottles, etc. In some cases just a few feet from the highway are dinner plates over 100 years old. A list of these sites include:
The Fountain Hotel (near the Fountain Paint Pots)
The 1st Marshall Hotel (across the Firehole River from the Fountain Flats picnic area)
The 2nd Marshall Hotel (next to the Fountain Flats picnic area)
The 1st Norris Hotel (adjacent to the Norris campground)
The 3rd Norris Hotel (difficult access and probably in a clsed area because of its proximity to the geyser basin)
The 2nd Canyon Hotel (near the brink of Upper Falls)
The 3rd Canyon Hotel (near the present day Canyon corrals)
THE BUFFALO FENCE
This one is quite unusual indeed. Running up the slopes of Amethyst Mtn. along the banks of Chalcedony Creek is a gigantic wooden fence nailed directly to the trees. It stands at least 5 feet high, has three rows, and runs many hundreds of yards. It appears to be at least 50 years old. The park archivist believes it is probably the original fence used to corral the park's bison during the years that they were kept in Lamar valley.
THE CROWN BUTTE FEEDING TOWER
Straddling the northwest border of Yellowstone is a strange looking wooden tower. It is located near the summit of Crown Butte, just east of U.S. Highway 191. The only thing we found inside was some sort of feeding apparatus, apparently for birds of prey. If this tower was once part of a bird study it does not appear to have been used recently.
If any of you make the climb up Crown Butte, keep a sharp lookout for a large boulder about halfway up the west side of the butte. It has been spraypainted with the words "Mike Finley '68." Could it be the same Mike Finley? Its doubtful, but who knows!!
I have personally found fire fighting equipment in the backcountry on several occasions. On one trip along one of P. W. Norris’s old roads I found a small axe. While near the headwaters of Astringent Creek our group found two huge nylon equipment bags; the type that would have been dropped from an airplane. These were probably both left from the fires of ’88 or the Pelican Fire of ’91. Park employee Mike Stevens found an entire cache of equipment still in the bag in an area near Earthquake Gorge at the headwaters of Canyon Creek in 1997. As far as we know the park has since recovered these items. But surely other stashes of equipment dot the Yellowstone wilderness.
RIFLE RANGE AND GOLF COURSE
At the north of the park, near Gardiner is a very interesting site. The old, army rifle range. It includes a deep trench, roughly twelve feet deep with concrete walls, where the men stayed when they raised the targets up and down. The full length of the range was about a 1,000 yards. It even included a spotting tower. Today most of the debris from the tower is gone. But a few remants remain.
Then from around 1920 to about 1940, park staff began golfing on the site. It was most likely a terrible course, and the greens were rather poor. But they persisted for some 20 years. Today quite a bit of debris remains. Some of it indicates there had been a house on the site, while other spots along the Gardner River you can still see the presence of abutments, as if somebody had a crossing many years ago.
THE YELLOWSTONE BACKCOUNTRY PAGE
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