Friday, July 15, 2022

Day 119: The Parting of the Waters!

August 17: Tonight, my plan was to camp at my first designated campsite in Yellowstone National Park, so I knew precisely how far I needed to walk and precisely where I would camp, and it was a little over 18 miles. Easy peasy! So I slept in late and didn't hit the trail until 7:15am.

From the very beginning, the skies were smoky with an orange orb of light hovering overhead--the kind you typically only see at sunrise or sunset, but even in the middle of the day it was a solid orange color.

The highlight of the day I hit fairly early in the morning. It was an interesting oddity found along the Continental Divide: the Parting of the Waters. There is a small creek that runs directly down the Continental Divide. If you didn't know any better, it looks like any other small, forgettable, and ordinary creek. Nothing to see here!

Except... this creek does something very strange. Something that I've never heard of a creek doing before. The water that flows down it winds up in two completely separate oceans. Creeks and rivers often split and merge again--that's why a lot of rivers often have small islands in them--but in this case, it happens directly on the Continental Divide and when this creek splits, it never merges back together again. About half the water turns west and heads toward the Pacific Ocean while the other half heads toward the Atlantic Ocean.

The creek is called Two Ocean Creek since it drains into two separate oceans, and where the creek splits is called the Parting of the Waters. At the split, the names of two separate creeks become Pacific Creek and Atlantic Creek, each headed to their respective destinations. Pacific Creek drains into the Snake River which then drains into the Columbia River which finally drains into the Pacific Ocean at Astoria. Atlantic Creek drains into the Yellowstone River which then drains into the Missouri River which then drains into the Mississippi River which then exits into the Gulf of Mexico and the wider Atlantic Ocean.

It looks like an ordinary creek, but the stream going off to the left is headed to the Pacific Ocean while the part running off the right side of the photo is on its way to the Atlanta Ocean.

I found the place mesmerizing. It all looked so ordinary. If nobody had told me about the strange oddity and it hadn't been on my maps, it would just look like any other ordinary creek. But it captured my imagination to think that--theoretically--a fish from the Pacific Ocean could swim all the way to the Atlantic Ocean, getting over the Continental Divide at this point right here.

I took lots of photos, but found it frustrating that the photos looked so darned ordinary. There wasn't really any obvious viewpoint showing the vastly different routes the two creeks would go.

In any case, after about a 20-minute break, I continued onward. Later in the morning, Stranger caught up with me and reported feeling pretty sick and hurting a lot. I kept my distance as he told me this. I didn't know if whatever he had was contagious, but I certainly didn't want to find out! He did, however, report that he felt a lot better today than he did yesterday, so he thought he was on the upswing.

We passed each other a couple of more times throughout the day. Every time I passed him, he was sprawled out like he was dead. I didn't poke him with my trekking pole to make sure he was alive, though. I just looked to see if he was breathing and said, "Hello," which he'd promptly return.

Stranger wasn't feeling too great--sick with something. This is what he looked like when I'd catch up with him on the trail. Don't worry, though. He's still alive!

Near the end of the day's hike, I reached the border of Yellowstone National Park. The land that lives! I've been to Yellowstone a few times and loved the area. Hated the crowds, but it was crowded for good reason. Although here, deep in the backcountry, it wasn't so crowded. Very few of the park's millions of visitors each year hike in.

There weren't any thermal features to see--not yet, at least--but the trail did start following parallel to the Snake River. It looked remarkably small here. The times I've seen the Snake River before, it was much bigger--but that was also much further downstream. I found myself a little fascinated with how rivers change along its route. The size changes, the color changes, the terrain changes--until it looks like a totally different river. It's really quite amazing.

I remembered the Snake River being much larger than this relatively mild-looking stream!

I arrived at the Crooked River Camp and quickly set up camp, but shortly thereafter a storm with very strong gusts of wind blew in and it started raining twigs as well was water on my tarp and the trees above my tarp bent over at an alarming angle! I was truly frightened that the trees would snap in half and could kill me in an instant! 

So despite the fact that it had already started raining, I quickly pulled down the tarp and moved it by the bear poles at the entrance of the camp. This area was meant for food and eating, not camping. Campsites in Yellowstone always have a designated area for food and eating, both of which are prohibited in the places where campers are meant to set up their tents and sleep. Grizzly rules. But at this point, I felt that snapping trees were a bigger threat than grizzly bears, so I moved my campsite into the food area where the trees seemed most solid.

Fortunately, the rain was only a light sprinkle so I didn't get too terribly wet moving camp in the storm. It mostly just made my clothes and sleeping bag slightly damp and they could dry quickly from my body heat.

And that was the end of another day. I passed only one thru-hiker hiking southbound, plus there was Stranger who was hiking northbound. Other than that, it had been a pretty quiet day of hiking.

A smoky, orange sun bore down all day long.

Through Yellowstone, I needed to follow a strict schedule for the campsites designated on my permit each night. The distance I had to hike and where I could camp was pre-determined for each of the next several nights.

This ranger cabin was near the park boundary, but it was empty and locked up tight when I went by.

Here the trail crosses the creek on this beaver dam!


Lou Catozzi (PI Joe) said...

Yellowstone is one of my favorite national parks. The things you can see in the backcountry is breathtaking. However, that creek with the red stain was disturbing. I hope you did not come across that just after loading up on water.

Mary said...

I wondered what that red was in the water! Do you know what it was, Ryan?

Ryan said...

I'm not sure what the red in the water is. If I had to guess, I'd say it was probably some sort of algae bloom, but I don't really know. I wouldn't drink out of it, though. Better safe than sorry!