Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Wild Enough to Awaken the Dead

There is an interesting article about the new Old Faithful Visitor's Center in today's New York Times. The essay also touches on the idea of nature versus managed nature and what the experience of visiting a National Park is like, describes scenes similar to those shown in my last post, and ends with quotes from john Muir. I'll be visiting the new building on September 15th.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Norris Geyser Basin

A roadside beauty--I think it's Western Monkshood. If I'm wrong, it's probably some variety of larkspur. Either way, toxic beauty has always been the most appealing kind to me.

Afternoon downpours cut short our travels yesterday, but I did get to visit several places I hadn't stopped at previously. After brief stops at Obsidian Cliff and Roaring Mountain, we headed to Norris Geyser Basin. This is the pre-arrival view, but a photo can't begin to capture the actual sight. Clicking to make it larger helps a bit though as with most of these photos.

A variety of scenes near and far followed.

Steamboat Geyser is the world's tallest active geyser, but its eruptions are completely unpredictable. The last major eruption was five years ago, so we didn't wait.

Natural pattern at the edge of Cistern Spring.

The bigger picture.

Porkchop Geyser exploded in 1989, flinging boulders up to 200 feet.

This is Vixen Geyser.

This is not.

Don't recall the name of this beauty.

Nice spot for a picnic.

There are some fabulous underwater colors caused by bacteria and minerals.

We stopped for lunch at Virginia Cascade.

Clark's Nutcrackers were dashing through the air and rarely landing for more a moment so when I had the chance at this shot I didn't waste time focusing. Earlier in the day, we'd seen a weasel and a couple chipmunks which were all too quick for the cameras.

Of the four of us on this trip, three of us are essentially homeless--we ate outside at a chilly windy picnic table discussing our mid-October options while the one person with a house to return to ate inside the vehicle. No doubt these sort of choices produce obvious results.

After lunch, we made a quick stop at Mud Volcano before the downpour hit and we headed back to the home we temporarily share.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Happy Holidays!

The sky is dimming, Ben Webster's breathy sax blows in my ears, and a bit of end of the year melancholy stirs in my soul. I tried to go for an evening stroll earlier but elk were all over an area where I sit to watch the world, and people were standing on the little bridge where I stand to watch the world. So back I came.

August 25th was Christmas, a tradition here as the numbers of visitors and employees begin to decrease. There was a great lunch from the outside world at work where I had two plates of salad and four (five?) pieces of pizza. At a mid-afternoon bingo break, a friend won both games, one for herself and one on a card she was playing for the absent third member of our office group. There was a special dinner at the cafeteria, and an evening gathering in the dorm--I'd had all the food I needed at lunch.

And as the New Year approaches, the pieces of that future have begun falling into place. Unless something very unlikely happens in the next few weeks, I won't be working here this winter. It will be back to Duluth for me, which was always the original plan until the idea of being here instead started growing in me. By the time I got interested enough to start doing the winter networking thing, it was too late.

So instead I'll be trying to stay in Duluth long enough to get some legal matters resolved, moving my stuff there from storage in Boston, and regrowing my hair. I've been told a job here next May is mine if I want it which I think I will depending on what happens in Duluth. I suspect I'll return with a very different appearance--along with the long hair, I'm feeling the urge to return to wearing a couple silver rings and adding an earring as well. And it's time to lose this gut--a New Year's resolution. So it's a (well past) midlife crisis--at least it's not a red Corvette and a teenage blonde.

In a few days I'll turn the page of the calendar and start planning hotel rooms and bus trips. For now I enjoy a room of my own, which is likely to change in a week or two as other park locations begin closing, and contemplate recent events which have begun to take on the glow of auld lang syne.

We two have run about the slopes,
and picked the daisies fine;
But we’ve wandered many a weary foot,
since auld lang syne.

We two have paddled in the stream,
from morning sun till dine;
But seas between us broad have roared
since auld lang syne.

Tomorrow will be a series of hikes focusing on aspects of the giant volcano which is most of Yellowstone--eruptions likely to follow.


Sunday, August 22, 2010

Church Universal and Triumphant

Or maybe you're more familiar with them as a branch of Summit Lighthouse. In any case I learned a bit of their history while passing by their headquarters in Corwin Springs a few days ago when we were taking a van load of boxes to our storage space five miles down a dirt road with a dead snake sprawled in the middle, past the cemetery I'd photographed a couple weeks ago.

They moved to this ranch in the 1980s and proceeded to build an intricate system of underground shelters stocked with weapons and seven years worth of food because their leader was predicting nuclear holocaust in 1990. When it didn't happen, they claimed their prayers had averted it. Well, jeez, why'd they waste all that money on the bunkers, then? Here are a couple pages about that period by a former member.

Ironically, very nearby is Devil's Slide which looks like the devil lost a lot of skin on his way down.

Between moving day and picnic day and the usual casual Friday, it was jeans week last week. And as of yesterday I have a room to myself again for some unknown period of time. This week is the winter job fair and Christmas in August, and Saturday will be the next to last group hike--after checking the schedule and cost and listening to most of the musicians who'll be playing at the music festival, I've decided to stick with the hike.

And to get the lowest prices, soon I'll have to start reserving hotel rooms and buying bus tickets to wherever the next place is. At this point all I'm certain of is the day I'll be leaving here and that I'll be staying in Bozeman that night. Whether I'll be heading west or east the next day is still to be determined, as is whether I'll return here in December, May, or never. Just keep the target moving and it's harder for the bombs to hit. No escaping the fallout, though.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Bad News, Bears

I heard about two more dead bears today which I think gives them a 7-5 lead (?) against the humans this season. A small black bear became hit and run victim number three, and a 576 1/2 pound male grizzly was found dead and sent to Bozeman to be examined to have the cause of death determined. Both were found in the same general area of the park, near Fishing Bridge. I'll let you know when I hear about the cause of death.

After a half day of work, I put in ten miles of hiking yesterday, five each way on the dirt road between here and Gardiner where the office picnic was being held. I only hung around for a couple hours since I'd skipped the steak or salmon choice and didn't particularly want to watch other people eat them either, but I did enjoy playing some horseshoes for the first time in about 40 years (and leading our seasonal team to victory over the full timers). I wanted to check out the road and how long the hike takes since I'll likely be getting to the music festival that way in a couple weeks.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Walking Round the Neighborhood

The elk had the dorm surrounded yesterday, but we managed to escape. Many critters have been acting strangely recently. The ravens have been calling in higher pitches and standing on the ground letting humans get too close. Last night I watched a magpie harass one of the elk by repeatedly landing on her back as she lay on the grass and then when he tired of the elk, he stuck his head down a ground squirrel hole and pulled out some fluffy burrow lining.

Saturday morning, we set off early and chilly on our group hike which looped around Terrace Mountain. Our starting point was about five miles down the road, but at the hike's midpoint we were back above Mammoth, so everything you'll see here is within walking distance of me right now. The first couple miles passed through flatlands filled with the sound of sandhill cranes. Our view ahead was high mountain and low cloud.

But we weren't going up there. This was more our style.

We were soon following the route which was taken by the stagecoaches which once transported tourists in Yellowstone. But don't think flat--some folks were so frightened by the downhill plunge of the road, they headed back east as soon as they could.

We saw the cones of coneflowers.

And heard the cries of Clark's nutcrackers. We found parts of an elk skeleton. Half of our group was from China and they eagerly posed with the bones. Understandable. Then one of them asked about my hiking stick and posed arm in arm with me and my stick as a photo was taken. The next didn't want me in the photo; just the stick.

It wasn't hard to picture the bear cub who climbed this aspen.

We made a detour to a hot spring away from the road. Along the way, the water was boiling.

And I saw my first marmot.

Later in the hike, we found a marmot tail. Not from that one though.

After visiting the hot spring,

we headed back into the woods and found an aspen grove, not very common here.

Shortly afterward, there were happy butterflies.

As we climbed out of the woods, we had a nice view of the lovely patterns of Mt Everts.

And the less harmonious appearance of Bunsen (same guy as the burner) Peak.

Some flowers gave a change of scale.

Before we headed on into the area of a long ago landslide and the rockscape it left behind.

The NPS offers ranger-led hikes of this loop. Their description includes this:
A brief portion of this trail has a sharp drop-off on one side. Hikers who are afraid of heights may be uncomfortable on a portion of this trail.

I'm here to tell you that there are actually two portions of this trail which have a sharp drop-off on the left side. I have no photographic evidence because my eyes didn't leave the trail until I had crossed those portions.

But afterward the eyes continued to see beautiful views.

And I found my first Yellowstone thimbleberries, few and in that meaningless stage between pretty flower and tasty berry. Probably won't make a return trip to try to get the couple dozen there. I settled for eating a nearby currant.

And soon the final destination.

The white bus, not the mountains.

Sunday's long road trip was a disappointment as far as our main reasons for making the trip but brought a few rewards: a good lunch, a good book about Yellowstone which I hadn't seen in Yellowstone, a medium distance view of a bald eagle over a river, and two very close looks at ospreys.

Tomorrow's a half day followed by the office picnic, and next week it's Christmas in August. Nothing scheduled yet for this weekend, but my roommate leaves Saturday and having the room to myself again (hopefully until I leave) guarantees a good weekend. I have eight weeks remaining.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

These are a few of my favorite places

Actually I've never been to most of the places on this year's version of Outside magazine's Best Towns. But any list with old friend Portland, ME and new friend Bozeman, MT on it is good with me.

Had a great seven mile hike today through extremely varied terrain and just spent an hour or so going through photos and making notes. There won't be another post tonight and I expect to be on a road trip all day tomorrow but stay tuned for my first encounter with a new furry mammal species, insect sex, and to learn why my hiking stick is going to be famous in China.


Friday, August 13, 2010

More Bad Photos

It's been another week in Yellowstone, where summer might be over. The temperature was about 20 degrees below average today with a strong chilly wind and showers which felt like snow wasn't far away. The heat rattled the pipes in the office.

A couple coworkers who've been working summers here for many years left today for medical reasons and aren't likely to be back. They're not the first people I've known here to leave suddenly. It's a strange life, knowing that every relationship you have will, on the one hand, only last five months, but that on the other hand, those five months could be repeated for many years. An odd mix of distance and closeness develops even between people who only nod at each other every other day.

I walked out of the dorm early one morning with camera in backpack and was instantly confronted by this.

I didn't witness it but one morning rangers on horseback and armed with shovels drove the elk away from the visitor's center and up into the hills. Hardly seems in keeping with the don't disturb the wildlife motto, not to mention that many tourists come to Mammoth specifically to see the elk. Have no fear though, there were several around the employee dining room for breakfast today.

I didn't witness this one either but I've heard reports of traffic jams caused by mating bison blocking passage. They must have been listening to The White Album. Why Don't We Do It in the Road?, for the youngsters and non-Beatles fans amongst us.

I was happy to finally get some photos of perched mountain bluebirds. They're bad photos, but at least you can tell they're birds and blue.

I'm signed up for a group hike tomorrow which might give me my first view of a grizzly bear on foot. Me on foot, I mean, not the bear--I've seen them from vehicles. I've heard one recent report from a hiker seeing one from one of the trails we'll be on, and another report from someone driving by the area and seeing one several times in the past couple weeks. Actually, I've thought of not doing the hike for various reasons but the chance of a griz encounter will probably get me there.

There's another group hike I'm scheduled for in two weeks, but I probably will skip that one because I just learned of the Yellowstone Music Festival which is the same day and sounds like something I need a lot more right now.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Speaking of Death . . .

. . . as those thousands of words worth of photos were last night, the bears and humans are tied again. According to this report, a black bear was killed this week after repeatedly visiting the Slough Creek campground and eating human food. But though the numbers are the same, the percentages are vastly different as July set an all time record for the number of human visitors in a month.

Despite the numbers, I have little trouble finding moments of peace. At any given moment, most of Yellowstone is delightfully empty. The empty spaces can be more difficult to reach, but the moments are easy to find anywhere as most tourists either sleep in or race to their cars.

Before work, I often take a walk near the hot springs and wind up standing on one of two small bridges listening to the soothing sound of running water.

The first is across the street from one of the most active springs. Water flows beneath the street and then in a creek, steaming in the morning, through a meadow. Far beyond the meadow is Mt. Everts, and although it has been light out for hours, I often watch the sun rise above it around 7 o'clock.

My second bridge is at the beginning of the Beaver Pond Trail. Here I can watch another of the most active springs some distance to my left while looking up the heavily wooded ravine as swallows swoop all around me.

Enough of the death theme; tomorrow we'll liven things up with a trip to Bozeman for the Sweet Pea Festival. Have a great weekend in your favorite place of peace.


Thursday, August 5, 2010

Visiting the Dead

After work today, we visited a couple cemeteries, one in the park and one in the nearby town.

But there's always room for the living.

Can you find the grasshopper?