Ribbon Lake and Point Sublime

Eroded Canyon Walls

Elevation Change for Ribbon Lake and Point Sublime

Elevation change for Ribbon Lake and Point Sublime
Elevation profile and route courtesy of the HAZ Tracks App

Distance: 6 miles (round trip)
Difficulty: Moderate
Best time of year: Spring, Summer, Fall

Artist Point in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River has some of the best views of the canyon, or even anywhere in the park itself. For those wanting a bit more with an extra detour to a remote lake, Ribbon Lake and Point Sublime make for great destinations!

The trail begins at the back side of Artist Point and begins to wind its way around a large curve in the canyon. Inspiration Point overlooking the north rim soon comes into view as you begin to wrap around it from the south rim. Along the way, there are many different views of the canyon, each of them just as mesmerizing, if not more so, than the previous.

At nearly .75 miles, the trail will fork, allowing you the opportunity to head back to Ribbon Lake. The trail to Ribbon Lake heads through a thick forest dotted with an occasional meadow. On its way to catch another junction to Ribbon Lake, the trail will pass over a small bridge followed by Lily Pad Lake, a quiet lake covered with lily pads. The trail continues south to the next junction.

Lily Pad Lake

At the junction, head left to reach Ribbon Lake. The trail continues through the dense forest, gradually increasing in elevation here and there. After about a mile, the trail will begin to drop noticeably in elevation. At the bottom of the hill, the trail joins meets another junction and just through the trees is Ribbon Lake, a more majestic lake than expected surrounded by lush meadows. Poke around for a bit and enjoy the peace and quiet. When you’re ready to head back, make sure you catch the right trail! You’ll know because you should start climbing back up that hill within just a few hundred yards.

Ribbon Lake

Heading back out and passing Lily Pad Lake on your way back out, you return to the original junction at the canyon. Left will bring you back to the parking lot, whereas right will bring you to Point Sublime. Naturally along the way, there are also many more views of the canyon. Point Sublime itself is about another .75 miles from the junction, then a 1.5 mile return trip back to the parking area, so if time is an issue take that into account, otherwise, proceed!

The actual view from Point Sublime isn’t quite as dramatic as the views along the way or as the name implies. Of course that doesn’t mean it’s not worth visiting. It’s still a great view and makes for an excellent spot to relax and enjoy a break. To head back whenever you’re ready, just follow the canyon trail back to the parking lot.

To see more images from Ribbon Lake and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, check out my Yellowstone National Park Gallery here.

Getting there: From Canyon Village, head to the main highway at the 4-way stop sign and take a left. Head south for 2.25 miles and make a left at the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone South Rim Drive. Cross over the Yellowstone River immediately after the turn and proceed to the end of the road, which dead ends at a parking area at Artist Point.

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Midway Geyser Basin

Turquoise Pool and Stars

Elevation Profile for the Midway Geyser Basin

Elevation change for the Midway Geyser Basin
Elevation profile and route below courtesy of the HAZ Tracks App

Distance: .75 mile (round trip)
Difficulty: Easy
Best time of year: Summer

The Midway Geyser Basin is definitely one of the crown jewels of roadside attractions in Yellowstone National Park (and its parking lot attests to that). It features two of the most spectacular features in the park: the Excelsior Geyser Crater and Grand Prismatic Spring, the latter being the third largest hot spring in the world and the largest in Yellowstone. Unfortunately, due to the heat from both of these features, this walk is really only worth doing on warmer days in the summer. Though open year-round, there’s simply too much steam on cooler days to really see what makes this stop so special. Also, if you’re wearing a hat, hold on to it. Winds along the boardwalk can be gusty and you’ll see evidence of others who weren’t expecting the gusts to sweep the hats off their heads. Since you’re required to stay on the boardwalk, consider it lost if it flies off.

Excelsior Geyser Crater

From the parking area, head along the Firehole River to the bridge where you’ll get excellent views of the runoff from the scalding Excelsior Geyser Crater. It’s created its own small waterfalls pouring down the sinter cliffs into the river. From here, the boardwalk heads up the small hill and brings you back to the runoff of the geyser crater. Orange and yellow thermophiles line the water on the way to the thermal feature until the water is too hot from its source for them to survive. The Excelsior Geyser Crater is a massive, brilliant blue pool whose water is roughly 200 degrees Fahrenheit. This was previously one of the largest geysers in the park. In the late 1800s, eruptions shot out up to 300 feet high, and just as wide. Because the eruptions were so large and violent, it ultimately blew itself apart, releasing the pressure that caused such dramatic displays. Now, you’ll only occasionally see a few burps from the middle of the pool. Even so, it still discharges approximately 4,000 to 4,500 gallons of water every minute into the Firehole River.

The boardwalk splits at this point. Heading right will take you first past Turquoise Pool and then Opal Pool. Opal Pool tends to drain late in the summer season, and while both are very picturesque, they pale in comparison to Grand Prismatic Spring waiting at the top of the boardwalk. At roughly 300 feet in diameter, Grand Prismatic Spring is the third largest hot spring in the world. Its water is about 160 degrees Fahrenheit and it’s surrounded by orange and yellow thermophiles on a much larger scale than any other spring, emitting a fantastic display of color spanning much of the spectrum.

Midway Geyser Basin Abstract

The thermophile bacterial mats extend under the boardwalk, so please do not disturb them. They are living organisms and it’s not worth killing them to write a temporary message that has no meaning for anyone but you. Also, don’t put your hand in the water along any boardwalk. Whether or not the water will burn your hand is irrelevant. It’s just plain disrespectful and completely unwelcome.

After passing by an abstract photographers paradise along the edge of Grand Prismatic Spring, the boardwalk winds back around to head back toward Excelsior Geyser Crater and rejoin the path where you came up.

To see more images from the Midway Geyser Basin, check out my Yellowstone National Park Gallery here.

Getting there: From Old Faithful, head back onto the main highway and proceed north toward Madison. Just shy of six miles later, you’ll see the Midway Geyser Basin on your left. Park in the parking area and proceed to the bridge crossing the Firehole River.

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Appreciating the Night Sky

Stars over Cathedral Valley

I’m amazed how some “night photographers” just don’t really care about night itself.

While exploring and hiking Capitol Reef National Park recently, I found myself escaping the sun by resting in the shade near the Visitor Center on a rather warm fall day. In reading a bit more about the geology of the park, I became really excited about the Cathedral Valley part of the park, an area I wasn’t expecting to explore this time around. It’s in a very remote desert landscape accessible only by miles and miles of obscure dirt roads, not exactly a place you end up at by accident. So, you would think visitors there would make the most of their visit to the area.

Intrigued, I made the impulsive decision to head out and check it out. I checked my gas tank. I had well over half of a tank. Was that enough to safely make it there and back? I didn’t know for sure, but why not try anyway? Why be on a road trip without the spirit of adventure? (“Adventure is out there!”)

With one of my favorite times of day being the transition from day to night, I intentionally opted to skip the dime-a-dozen shot of sunset on two prominent features in Cathedral Valley: the Temple of the Sun and the Temple of the Moon. Instead, I happily spent extra time exploring the unique geology on the way out there and arrived in time to capture the soft ambient light of the end of the day reflecting off the sandstone fins.

I pulled up to the Temple of the Moon just as sunset was ending and noticed another car there. On the other side of the large, eroded fin, I saw two other photographers wrapping up their shoot of sunset on the monolithic spire.

As I started capturing the soft light with Earth’s shadow rising in the east, I thought it odd that they simply went back to their car. I didn’t think much of it, but as time went on and the light continued to fade, they just stayed in their car, oblivious to the changing environment. Meanwhile, I was outside, in the fresh air, witnessing rapturous light in an extremely remote area of southern Utah. I began to hear owls hooting and other crepuscular animals creating all sorts of sounds. The air cooled off to a remarkably comfortable temperature. It wasn’t just the light making the transition from day to night, nature itself was involved in the whole process.

Earth's Shadow over Cathedral Valley

Then a door opened and was slammed shut. One of them retrieved an item from the back, slammed that door shut, then got back in the car, slamming a door a third time. It was quiet after that. Nothing made a sound and I never heard any of the natural sounds again that night. They must have fled elsewhere. If animals are bothered that much in such a remote location, where can they still be undisturbed?

After that, I concluded that they were just waiting for more stars to come out to start some night photography. I couldn’t help but think that they had completely missed the point of being there, especially if they were planning on night photography. Of course it still wasn’t quite dark enough yet for true night photography, but why wait? Why sit in the confines of your car, shut off from the natural world during such a unique time of day? Why come to a recently designated Dark Sky Park just to shut yourself away and completely miss the point of night itself? Watching the night sky overcome daylight gives you a better appreciation of the night sky. The experience lends itself to better night sky photography by giving you more context and respect for the subject.

Maybe they thought that since night photography is the latest trend, they should stick around after sunset since they were already there and get something at night so they’ll have a better chance of selling a photo. So, they simply sat there, waiting for that slow and mundane daylight to leave so they could hurry up and get on with their night shooting.

Of course, I don’t really know what possessed them to ignore the magical and surreal darkening of the day, one constellation after another answering to the Milky Way’s roll call before making its grand appearance. I do know one thing for sure about them though: they didn’t appreciate the night sky nearly as much as I did that night. They were there to fulfill an obligation, if only to themselves, while I was there to witness the most underappreciated time of day reveal an awe-inspiring natural treasure, dozens of miles away from disruptive artificial light. For me, photos of that experience were just icing on the cake. It’s being there that really puts the night sky into perspective. Otherwise you might just see the stars as a different backdrop than a daylight sky for a photo.

Once I left after getting a few good night shots, they finally got out of their car. How do I know? I stopped to do a few more shots at Temple of the Sun on my way out and saw that they had humongous flashlights to light both the Temple of the Moon and the Temple of the Sun, each separated by about a half-mile. Lighting both requires much more than just a headlamp or simple flashlight, and they were doing just that. Though I also used a light in one or two shots, it was a dim red light on my headlamp, thereby preserving my night vision. Since the rods in your eyes need at least 30 minutes to truly adjust to darkness, I’d bet that they saw a much less brilliant night sky than I did, even though they were just a half-mile away. They were simply using the night sky as alternative backdrop to daylight and not really getting a sense of night itself. Of course I’m not against light painting, I’m just against photographing something you don’t fully respect (like bears). I can only hope that there are others immersing themselves into night photography that actually understand why the night sky is important and don’t just see it as something to exploit.

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Moose Falls

Moose Falls

Elevation Profile - Moose Falls

Elevation change for Moose Falls
Elevation profile and route below courtesy of the HAZ Tracks App

Distance (one-way): .1 mile
Difficulty: Easy
Best time of year: Year-round

Moose Falls is the kind of hike that is so short and sweet that there’s really no point in not doing it. With the entire hike (if you could even call it that) adding up to less than a quarter of a mile, it’s the perfect stop along your way to or from Grand Teton National Park. So whether you’ve already experienced a great diversity in Yellowstone’s waterfalls, or you’re itching for your first taste, this is a must-do partly because of its beauty and partly because of its easy access.

Moose Falls is a 30 foot waterfall pouring over a cliff along Crawfish Creek on its way toward the Lewis River. The trail to the falls is easy to follow and has very little elevation gain on its way to the brink of the falls. A small rocky staircase will lead those interested down to the base of the falls.

As indicated, Moose Falls is worth the trip any time of the year. Those making the trip on a snowmobile tour or snowcoach tour in winter are typically offered the opportunity to make the short walk to the falls.

To see more images of Moose Falls, check out my Yellowstone National Park Gallery here.

Getting there: From Flagg Ranch near the border of the South Entrance, drive up Highway 89/191 just over three miles where you’ll cross over a bridge which names Crawfish Creek below. The parking area is just after the bridge on the right (or on the other side of the road if you’re coming from the north).

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