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Fairy Falls and incidentals

Grand Prismatic Spring

August 5. One of my motivations for hiking to Fairy Falls is that the trail leads around the back side of the Grand Prismatic Spring, the largest hot spring in the park, and certainly one of the most stunning (for scale, note the people standing on the boardwalk.) Across the trail from the spring is a steep 300 foot hill that I scramble up to get a better perspective on water’s surface.

Though the photo pales in comparison, you get a sense of the spring’s indescribable blue color, rimmed with orange. The colors are so intense that the rising steam is iridescent blue, shading to electric orange as it wafts over the outer rim. At first I think I’m seeing a rainbow effect; then I realize the steam’s color is reflected from below. The colors are the result not of minerals—as you might expect—but of microscopic organisms that thrive in the superheated acidic environment. Only recently have scientists discovered these organisms, and it’s estimated that less than 1% of over 10,000 varieties have been identified. They’re being studied partly to try and understand what types of life-forms we might encounter in outer space.

A recovering forest

Anyway, after taking a few pictures I slide back down the hill and continue toward Fairy Falls. The area I’m hiking through was devastated by the 1988 fires. The bleached skeletons of large pine trees lie in chaotic disarray across the landscape, as though a great giant had begun a game of pick-up-sticks, then abandoned it. Naturally seeded young pines are growing in their place, as well as bountiful fields of wildflowers. I feel like I’m walking simultaneously through both a cemetery and a nursery.

Park rangers say that a forest of lodgepole pine is naturally destroyed by fire every 150 to 300 years; this forest has had 23 years to begin the regenerative cycle, a process it’s undergone countless times over tens of thousands of years.  So while I grieve the loss of old-growth forest, as I might anything beautiful and beloved, I realize at the same time it’s only human indulgence that conceives and sustains the grief.

Fairy Falls

I reach Fairy Falls, a lovely 200-foot ribbon tumbling over rocky cliffs into a dark pool below. But I can’t linger long, as once again storm clouds a beginning to stand up. At only 5.2 miles, this was a short hike. Nevertheless, by the end my foot is beginning to bother me again, forcing me into an unnatural gait. I should rest again tomorrow.

Moments after I return to camp late in the late afternoon, a group of six bicyclists rolls into the campsite next to mine. Their bikes are loaded down with sidesaddles in the back and racks fore and aft. They’re a ragtag looking bunch, not wearing the sleek tights and expensive gear of “serious” bikers. They set up camp under small polygonal nylon tarps stretched taut between trees, eschewing even the lightest tents to save weight.

Matt, Dan, Quinn, Ben, Jason and Chelsea are their names; five guys and a gal. They’re twenty-somethings cycling from Seattle to Key West, 4300 miles. One of the group plans to remain in Florida, another is a seasonal ski instructor who’ll follow the snow come winter, and the rest—well, let’s just say the rest are keeping their options open.

Rearing their bikes and ready to hit the road.

I’m not clear what their connection is since they’re from scattered parts the country—New Jersey, Ohio, Wisconsin, Washington, and elsewhere. Last year they hiked the Appalachian Trail together and then asked, “What next?” The idea was hatched to meet in Seattle and bike across the country, subsisting on Doritos and beer and the kindness of strangers.






Gratuitous buffalo picture (don't worry, telephoto lens.)

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