Sunday, March 27, 2011

Saturday, March 26, 2011

To the Terraces

This morning I headed out to explore the terraces. I didn't go out this way.

It's a kick to be back early enough to see the Bison hanging out around the dorm before they migrate farther into the park. The Elk may be just as unpredictable, but the Bison are far more intimidating.

I took the stairs as far up the lower terrace as I could but they're not cleared all the way up. So I took the road up and around instead and reached the upper terrace just before the road barricade. From what I've heard, several sections of the park roads have now been plowed, but they're not open to regular vehicle traffic yet. It's bike season.

It was one way traffic on this boardwalk--the snow was knee-high to a greentangle. Actually the snow was hard enough to walk on, but since I never saw another person the entire time I was there, one way traffic was all that was needed.

I love the landscapes created by the combination of limestone and hot springs here. To me, it's a lot more interesting than the geysers which erupt in the areas where the water travels through harder underground stone.

You can't actually tell from the following photo, but that's the first Mountain Bluebird I've seen this year. You would have been able to tell if I'd had the camera's recorder on because at first sight I yelled, "Mountain Bluebird!"

Hmmm, desolate and bleak, just the way I like it.

This is Orange Spring Mound in the next photo. The orange cones aren't part of it, but they're at the very edge of the upper terrace road. I walked there through the light snow, singing songs to the invisible bears, to see if it had spilled over the road yet. Some trees on the opposite side were cut down last year because rerouting the road is inevitable if this spring continues to flow.

To be able to see these scenes at all is a treat. To be able to see them without a crowd around is a special perk of being here at this time of year.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

It's a Matter of Life and Death

Here are the two upcoming books I ordered free advance copies of today. The first is a collection of essays by Edward Hoagland; the second title is self-explanatory.

Sex and the River Styx

The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary: A True Story of Resilience and Recovery

Coming out next month is Fire Season: Field Notes from a Wilderness Lookout which I enjoyed quite a bit. Here's my Amazon review of that one.

This book crept up on me like a forest fire which smoldered for a while before turning into a long slow burn not easily extinguished. As I read, there were often passages covering material I knew such as the Muir-Pinchot divide, Leopold's gradual enlightenment, and changes in policy toward forest fires. Sometimes I longed for more new material based on the author's own experiences. But like the author, when Fire Season was over I found myself regretting that I couldn't stay longer.

It has to be a difficult task to write a book about being a fire lookout, knowing you're following in the footsteps of lookouts/writers such as Abbey, Snyder, Maclean, and Kerouac. It also has to be difficult nurturing a marriage while living alone in a remote location for a third of the year, and that is one aspect of the book which gets more attention here than in those previous authors' work.

I enjoyed the reflections on solitude and those drawn to it, and on living a life which is split both in location and lifestyle, since I live a variation of that myself though not to the author's extremes of wilderness lookout and bartender. There are also brief looks at a wide variety of people, some who love the wilderness and try to live in it most of their lives, and others who can't cope with it and quit within a few days to return to urban life.

Despite encounters with bears and lightning bolts, and some social moments, this is a quiet book. Norman Maclean is quoted, "It doesn't take much in the way of body and mind to be a lookout. It's mostly soul." For those with a love of and need for wilderness and personal freedom, this book will be a bit of nourishment for that soul.

I finally made it up the hill behind the dorm to take a few photos. I love the views up there, and it's a great place just steps away to experience beauty and solitude when I need a boost.


Last year, I posted many photos of elk around the dorm. There's another one coming up, but of a very different sort. It's wonderful to experience being around all the wildlife here in Yellowstone: every day can be filled with exciting sightings of some sort--creatures never seen in nature before which last year for me included elk, bison, grizzly bears, marmots, magpies, and more. I saw elk calves romping and adult elk and bison rutting, bears sleeping and foraging, wolf cubs playing, bighorn sheep picking their way downhill, and shared acknowledgment with a beautiful coyote five feet from me.

With all the life must come death. There is no Either/Or. It's perfectly fine to feel sorry for the elk in the next photo; we just need to also feel happy for the coyote and the ravens who've been seen feeding there. Life and death are both all around us here, and where you are as well, at all times.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Biding Time

Waiting for hiking season to get here, waiting for the employee recreation program to start up again (not til mid-May when the hotel reopens), and mostly waiting for a cold to leave my body breathing freely again. I took a short walk Saturday morning which I had hoped would be longer.

I wanted to take some photos of a long view snowy landscape I'd seen on an earlier camera-free stroll. But as I crested a rise for the downward slope to where I wanted to be, a bison came into view on the trail ahead. They have a way of materializing unexpectedly.

So I headed back to see if the stairways on the terraces were snow free so I could take some photos of spots I hadn't seen in a few months, but found I was too congested to tackle the clear stairs I found. So, just another shot from the Palette Spring area at the bottom.

My head is feeling clearer than it has since I arrived so I should be in better shape for hiking by next weekend. I'm anxious to see what's changed on the terraces and to enjoy again the wide open view from atop the hill behind the dorm. I'll have plenty of free days to visit the local spots before the opportunities to get farther afield occur.

One of the very cool things of being on this side of the dorm is that I can now hear the Great Horned Owls across the street, both this morning and right now. I hope I'll still hear the Coyotes I heard from the other side last year.

Saturday afternoon I was sitting at the computer after giving up on my walk when I noticed the wind had suddenly picked up. Shortly after was when I noticed that the room's sliding window wasn't actually held in place at the top and the wind was blowing the window into the room--I think I have that back on track now. Following the wind came a blizzard of snow which lasted about five minutes, ended, and repeated for another five minutes an hour later.

I had a chance to speak with a Ranger this week and ask the questions left over from last year--the trailside burrows I wondered about are from Badgers (haven't seen them yet), and I got a rough idea of where the nearby Wolf den from a couple years ago was located. I'll be trying to find remnants of that as the year advances, but knowing where it was certainly explains all the bones I found in that direction last year.

Tonight I saw my year's first group of Mammoth Elk. I'll probably see them at least a hundred more times before I leave in October.

When I got here last year, I thought I probably couldn't climb Bunsen Peak because the trailhead is located five miles down the road and I didn't want to walk the road, climb, and walk back--too much time dodging traffic on a narrow road. Over the course of last season, I learned how to get there by the backdoor trail, so once the snow is gone and I've gotten my bear spray I'll be up top.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Quiet Time

Haven't gotten out much because of work, weather, my cold, and my foot, but it was nice to see a larger group of bison at Mammoth than I did all last year. I saw mostly solo bison here last year because I arrived after they'd moved farther into the park. I'm looking forward to seeing some of their red calves.

It's not exactly a picnic for them here though--I've walked past that grass they're trying to eat and it's completely flat, more like brown cement than nourishment. Maybe the next one had just had a spring checkup at the clinic.

I'm on the other side of the dorm this year, so I have different views. From left to right though the window, it's Mt. Everts and the post office, the fort and visitor's center (there go the bison again), and Bunsen Peak and part of the hot springs area (zoomed).

If weather and health cooperate, this weekend I'll try to climb the hot springs and the hill on the other side of the dorm.


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

I'm Back on the Terrace Again

Getting here wasn't necessarily easy, but it was worth it. And it's not the nicest of days--windy and rainy. To give you an idea of the variability of the weather here, if you check the forecast on the widget to the right for Yellowstone, it will tell you there's going to be a foot or so of snow in the next 36 hours (as of post time). But if you check the forecast for Gardiner, the little town five miles away from me, it will tell you to expect an inch or two.

The trip from Bozeman was a death-defying adventure. Apparently the van that picked us up barely had any brakes. Actually, it didn't really cause any problems along the way but when it got turned in and checked, the driver was told it shouldn't have been on the road. The first big wildlife spotted along the way were a few herds of mule deer. Then as we got closer to Yellowstone, we had to stop to let the last of a herd of elk cross the street. And then when we'd barely gotten in the park, we had to stop to let the last of a herd of bison cross the road.

After that, it got interesting! We were a little farther into the park, on the two lane winding, climbing, road that leads to Mammoth when we came upon a couple dozen bison in the road. They were going our way (and it's a good sign to see them heading back into the park as the warmer weather of recent days is exposing some of the ground for grazing), but they were taking up the entire road with no way around them for us, and no easy way off the road for them with a steep drop on one side and a steep climb on the other. So we did our best bison impression and joined the back of the herd.

Then around the downhill curve ahead, a large snow plow came at us all, and the plow dragged on the road, grinding loudly.
I think it was deliberately lowered to move the bison but possibly it was just the result of the curve. In any case, the immediate effect was to send two dozen bison into a U-turn stampeding straight at the small car we were in (because we'd turned in the defective van) some ten feet away. I was in the front passenger seat so I had a very good view of tons of bison heading straight at us. The three of us had no doubt that at least one bison was going to hit the car head on, and maybe try to run right over it. It seemed impossible for them to avoid us but they somehow did, both in the empty lane to the left and on the narrow edge of the road a foot to my right.

I felt both very grateful to the bison for caring
whether they ran over us, and very annoyed that they'd been forced to exert energy (it's been a very tough winter for them) and were now heading in the wrong direction.

Between a couple human resources tasks, I had enough free time today to get my mailbox key and mail, pick up the box of stuff I'd left behind (where I happily discovered a couple t-shirts I'd decided in Duluth that I must have thrown out), and say hello to former coworkers. I was happy to discover that a couple I liked last year but who weren't expected back are actually here and will be through the fall. And for the moment, I not only have a room and bathroom to myself, I have a whole suite. The connected room (shared bathroom) will be filled by a couple friends in April, but I don't know when I'll be getting a roommate or who it will be. And like last year, I'm starting off sick here. I woke in Bozeman feeling congested and am now dripping and sneezing and learned that everyone here is just getting over the flu so I'll probably be picking that up as well.

I'm still unpacking, but made time to take a quick walk and quick photos before dinner. Here's what the place looked like today.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Mountains and Raptors and Bears

This is one of those posts when I at first wondered which blog to put it on, one of the problems of writing two. It started out being about me and my activities, but they were mostly nature-related activities, and since more people read this than the other, and then the raptors joined the post, here it is.

A couple nights before leaving Duluth I watched a 1981 movie I'd enjoyed long ago, Continental Divide with John Belushi as a Chicago newspaper columnist and Blair Brown as a Rockies Bald Eagle researcher. I think that's all I wanted from life--for a wildlife researcher who looked like Blair Brown to fall in love with me and invite me to live in her remote cabin. Oh, well.

Over a couple days, I migrated with or against the flow of the spring breaking college students in Duluth, Fargo, and Bozeman. Waking up on the bus at dusk, I saw a sign which read Wyoming and saw what appeared to be a he
rd of Bison, but alas, they were cows and Wyoming is just a town in Minnesota--I had many more hours to ride.

I thought it would be quite a nice coincidence if I ran into the same Bozeman woman at the Minneapolis bus station I did last year, but I was on my own this time.
The bus passed the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park during a very grey dawn with a mix of wet snow and heavy rain so I didn't get the impressive views from the last trip. Crossed the Yellowstone River a few times. In a tree beside a smaller river, I saw a Bald Eagle perched. A bus driver said no smoking of any substance including medical marijuana, one of the many items the tea-partying Montana Republicans want to overturn despite the 62% of residents who voted for the initiative years ago.

There was no snow at all on the ground in the Billings area, but a lot in the stretch between Livingston and Bozeman. Temperatures are forecast for the mid 40s while I'm here, and low 40s in my area of Yellowstone so I'm afraid I've missed the best of the snowy park views.

Bear says, "My Grizzly brothers are awake and waiting for you, puny human!"


Grizzly Bears Emerging From Dens In Yellowstone

You wouldn’t know it from the deep snowpack covering the park. But it appears some of Yellowstone’s bears believe winter is drawing to a close.

On Tuesday, March 1, park employees observed grizzly bear tracks on Mary Mountain, which is roughly near the center of the lower loop of the park’s Grand Loop Road.

Bears begin looking for food soon after they emerge from their dens. They are attracted to elk and bison which have died during the winter. Carcasses are an important enough food source that bears will sometimes react aggressively when surprised while feeding on them.

Park regulations require visitors to stay 100 yards from black and grizzly bears at all times. The best defense is to stay a safe distance from bears and use binoculars, a telescope, or telephoto lens to get a closer look.

Hikers, snowshoers, and cross-country skiers are encouraged to travel in groups of three or more, make noise on the trail, and keep an eye out for bears.

Bear says, "You have a taste of the Tetons. I want a bite of the Bison!"

When checking to see what was happening in Bozeman this weekend, I noticed that Charlie Parr, someone I saw many times in Duluth and whose cds I owned, was playing at a smoky bar outside of town Friday night. It would have been fun to see him in a different place, but since I was fresh off the road myself, I didn't go. Also saw that I missed a lecture here by Terry Tempest Williams by two days, and that Fred Eaglesmith played Livingston a week ago. I wonder which part of the population he made fun of, the people who like to shoot everything or the rich folks who moved here from other states.

Ho hum, just another parking lot in Bozeman.

More specifically, that's a parking lot near the REI store where I attended a presentation by two humans from the Montana Raptor Conservation Center. They brought three raptors with them, a Swainson's Hawk, a Great Horned Owl, and a Turkey Vulture.

Walking back to town afterward, I heard someone yell out a Hello with my name attached. I couldn't tell who it was, but that will probably be one of the many things I learn in Yellowstone this year.

Monday, March 7, 2011


I didn't think my foot was up to walking all the way to the end of Park Point and back yesterday, but I did at least make it across the bridge. Let's walk.

If I'd gotten started a half hour earlier, I would have some great sunrise photos.

A little break inland.

OK, back to ice on the Lake.

And ice on the rocks.

I loved the following scene the moment I saw it. Just as I took the first shot, the guy on the right walked in.

And I had to wait five minutes for him to leave his dogshit in my drinking water.

A swim in the canal.

Across the bridge and out to the beach for this lovely view of Lake Superior.

Well, it would have been Lake Superior if not for that big pile of ice. Here's a sandy, icy rock instead. Or maybe it's just sand and ice and no rock.

And a sandy, icy beach.

OK, here's Lake Superior after I climbed over that first ridge.

Do I see icebergs?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Big Changes on Isle Royale

I haven't been reading the winter research updates regularly, so this news is more than a week old, but there is now only one wolf pack left on the island and there may only be one female wolf. Read the entries for February 23rd and 26th here.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Old Faithful Webcam

I tried posting this on a Yellowstone website with a topic specifically for webcam shots but apparently couldn't follow the directions properly, so I'll just stick it here.

Beach Day!

Yesterday I walked all the way from home to library for the first time since my foot injury, and it felt OK though I was mightily distracted by the temperature and the views. I was going to post these yesterday but my blogs had been deleted because the associated email address is one of the 0.02% Gmail accounts which disappeared. Today the blogs are back but not the email yet. The thought of the blogs being gone didn't really bother me at all, which may not be a good sign for their futures.

Anyway, here are some of yesterday's photos. Some of the formations and pools reminded me of Yellowstone, and I really like the way many of the photos appear to be shot in black and white.