Dave Ross, Ranger, Yellowstone National Park
John: Please give me a description of the geography and topography of the Cascade Corner, the Bechler area.
Dave: The thing that is unique about Bechler in regards to the rest Yellowstone Park is it is the Cascade Corner, the southwest corner. The thing that makes it unique compared to other areas of the park is it begins in the winter, precipitation. We receive an abundant amount of snowfall and that in relation to the topography – which we have two high mountain plateaus. The Pitchstone, the Madison, they join together and abruptly descend down into the Bechler Meadows. The combination of the topography and the amount of precip that we get is a perfect recipe for cascades and waterfalls that are well known throughout the area.
J: Talk about Cave Falls.
D: Cave Falls is one of the few falls that you can actually access by road. It is a dirt road. Turn off highway 47 and about 19 miles dead ends in the park, Yellowstone Park at Cave Falls. The falls is unique. There is somewhat of a cavern type cave on the northern side of it and it’s about 50 feet in height and around 300 feet in length.
J: Tell me about Union Falls.
D: Union Falls is by back-country trail, the access is by back-country trail. About 8 miles on in there you can – two different trail heads that you can access it by. Over by Grassy Lake Reservoir or by Fish Lake. Fish Lake is more of a flat terrain that will take you on into the falls whereas coming in from Grassy Lake you’ll come down part of the Pithstone so a little bit of a downhill and uphill climb on the way out. The falls actually has two streams that join together right at the falls. Very constant falls of cascading over a good part of it near the top and pretty much all the way down. I think the height is about 250 feet. It is one of the tallest falls in Yellowstone Park.
J: Talk about the trail system and use of the area.
D: The amount of precip that we receive definitely impacts visitor use in the area. Really the ideal time to come on into Bechler country is the latter part of July on into the middle of September and most of it is the fact that it is a seasonal wetland and the rivers run high, a lot of wet country and a lot of what results in a lot of bugs and mosquitoes. The fords being difficult enough keeps a lot of people out and there are very few trails that you can’t take into the Bechler area where you don’t have to do some type of river ford. So they become more accessible through that ideal time – end of July to the middle of September.
J: Most of the waterfalls are a long way in?
D: Most of the waterfalls are in quite a ways. We have one falls that you have to take a dirt road to that is accessible by trail by two miles, about two miles. The rest generally speaking, seven to eight miles in so round trip you are looking at sixteen, eighteen miles.
J: Is there thermal activity in this area?
D: The plateaus that are in the Bechler region, the Madison, the Pitchstone are of volcanic origin so we end up with a lot of springs, warm springs and cold throughout the area. The most popular thermal area would be going up the Bechler canyon to Ferris Fork and we refer to one of the areas that people get into to actually do a little bit of bathing as Mr. Bubbles – is what I’ve heard it called. Thermal stream that flows on into a cold water source which makes it legal to get into.
J: What is the primary visitor recreational activity?
D: The primary visitor use is – really depends on the time of year, but mostly hiking and horse use. Horse use is a little bit more short lived. Our trails don’t open to horseshoes until the first of July and the meadow even a little later. Most people are hiking to see the small lakes, the cascades and the waterfalls.
J: How much of Yellowstone Park is actually in Idaho?
D: Not much but it’s still be neat to have part of it in your state. It’s about two and a half miles. Just over two. It does encompass Robinson Creek and Boundary Creek is just a little bit more on the Wyoming side. Farther up I think it goes back on into Idaho but still some neat country.
J: What do you personally like?
D: I enjoy the back country aspects of rangering. There are some good areas in Yellowstone that provide this but Bechler is a good resource for being able to do just that.
J: Compare this area to other parts of Yellowstone as far as use?
D: It is different. The experience is exceptionally different. You go to Old Faithful versus coming to Bechler, there are extreme differences. Bechler, as a visitor you need to take time to be more prepared to experience it and then you’ll make yourself – you’ll insure that you have a more enjoyable trip.
There is something to be said to be able to hit a trail and actually listen to the sounds of what is out there, what is in nature and Bechler provides that, offers that better than a lot of areas in Yellowstone.
J: How much use does this get compared to the main part?
D: The use is – if we go by the permit system we get about 4,000 to 5,000 visitor use nights, is what we call them. That’s a permit per night. It is lumped in from this ideal time of visiting which is the middle of July to the end of September so certain times of the year, certain hikes in Bechler really need to be planned ahead and Yellowstone provides advance reservation for you to be able to do this so that you will be able to get our camp sites which are designated camp sites and insure that you have a trip and plan in accordance with the sights that you are able to reserve.
J: You don’t have the mass numbers you see in the main park?
D: We do not have the mass numbers that you see throughout the park. We have dirt road access into Bechler from Grassy Lake Road, the Reclamation Road and Cave Falls Road and about everywhere else you can get into Bechler is dirt road or cross country so that weeds out quite a few people.
J: Does this area mean much to eastern Idaho?
D: Yes. Eastern Idaho in my mind, it’s pretty neat to have a piece of the national park, Yellowstone National Park in your state and at your back door and it affects a lot of people locally and throughout the state.
J: Why would somebody want to come over and check out this Bechler area?
D: The big appeal is you’ll have a trip that you are going to remember and I’m not saying that it will necessarily be 100% enjoyable but there is something about the country and there is something about the experience that will stick with you for a lifetime.
J: What about you?
D: I’ve been pretty lucky. My dad was a ranger so I’ve been part of Yellowstone all my life. It definitely gets into you; probably a lot of the locals can agree with me. It’s a part of you. Bechler, I worked here in ’89-’90 before I came back as a sub-district ranger and it gets into you. It’s neat country; it’s the water shows that you have. The experience that you have at Bechler is unique compared to the rest of the park. It’s something that gets into your system. It’s an experience that you won’t forget. It takes some planning a little bit of leg work prior to your getting here. We’ll insure that you have a more successful trip but there is nothing like being able to go down the trail and listen to the sounds of nature and hear the running water and feel the mist of the falls. There’s no better place to be than Bechler.
J: How long do you think you will stay here?
D: I’ve had a hard time myself going, leaving so we’ll see. Don’t want to jinx yourself.
J: Your thoughts on the eco-system. How about the whole Yellowstone eco-system?
D: The whole Yellowstone eco-systeM: the park is very small in comparison to the Yellowstone eco-system and these places are inter-linked. You can’t just manage the park and expect everything to be fine and likewise on the outside of the park. I think it’s very good for us users to consider that in our activities throughout the Yellowstone eco-system, not just as you come and visit the park.
J: What are the wildlife concerns?
D: Some of the wildlife concerns we have is that nowhere else in the United States do you have such a concentration of predators – Black Bear, Grizzly Bear and now wolves as well. So our concern is that the public stays in tune on how to behave in this type of country, how to prepare themselves for visiting this type of wilderness. Other concerns are insuring that we keep the resource and the wildlife for future generations. That is one of our park mandates and difficult responsibilities.
J: Does it make it a little wilder than other places?
D: In my mind it is hard to not speak of wilderness without the presence of predators and in that sense, yes it makes it a little bit more wild.