Sunday, August 28, 2011

Vacations

Every year, millions of people make plans to come here for vacation. Never one to go with the crowd, I've been busy making plans to leave here for vacation(s). And this morning I finalized arrangements for one of them--in mid-November, I'll be riding the City of New Orleans all the way down to the city of New Orleans and revisiting a place which reawakened me in the late 80s when I was struggling through a couple years in Corporate Amerika. Amazingly, it's already having the same effect from 1500 miles away.

Going there never would have seriously crossed my mind if a coworker hadn't gone recently. When I heard she was going, we started talking about the place and her enthusiasm (despite the fact that she goes there regularly) was contagious, and the conversations about musicians serendipitous--I went to work one morning intending to ask her if she knew of someone I'd listened to years ago because I'd just discovered he plays almost weekly at a club a couple blocks from where I'll be staying. Before I had the chance, she was telling me about another club where he plays with a couple other musicians. Along with my own research and memories, I'll be getting lots of tips about restaurants and clubs in the coming weeks.

And in the process of figuring out how I was going to travel to New Orleans, I found that a bus route between Duluth and Marquette is running again so I'll probably spend a couple days over there because I thought I'd never be able to get to the UP again. It probably won't be that cold and snowy for the all night bus trips along the winding Yooper roads in early November, but you never know. And the return bus still leaves Marquette in the wee hours just like in the old days!

The road to happiness:




Well, Gardiner, anyway.

What's been happening in Yellowstone? We've got another dead hiker, a Yooper in fact. Although the news release said the cause of death is unknown (that is, was it a bear attack or bear scavenging?), I've heard three bear traps were flown into the area yesterday but I don't know if they're intended for one bear or a sow with two cubs. Doesn't sound good for the bear(s) involved. I've read the suggestion of suicide by the man in a couple places, and Yellowstone is a popular place for it. Even if not intentional suicide, hiking that trail (Mary Mountain) alone without bear spray is certainly tempting fate. Three weeks ago as we drove past the trailhead, a Yellowstone Association guide said, "I'd never hike that trail without bear spray."

On the other hand, several rooms at the Old Faithful Inn had to be evacuated when a guest, who I'd wager has never stepped more than a few feet away from a car here, used bear spray on a mouse. Really, I can't make this stuff up.

I did another hike to Lost Lake. It's still there, and some of the thimbleberries were ripe. I could barely see them, but I ate as many as I could find when we passed them at dusk.

The terraces are still here too and as lovely as ever.



Although we've been having an uncomfortable hot spell at Mammoth with a spectacular display of lightning crossing the sky a couple nights ago, the season is changing. There are warbling yellow flashes, and almost all the ground squirrels are back underground til spring. On a couple days outside the office, we saw a bull snake investigating the squirrel holes.



The photo contest winners haven't been announced yet, but all the votes are in. One of my five photos made it past the initial cuts where about 3/4 of the submissions are eliminated. I don't expect it to win (I only voted it third myself) but I'll do a post on the contest when you can see the winners.

And this Thursday, I've got the day off and based on all I've heard about the area where we're going, I should have some spectacular scenery for you next weekend.



Laissez les bon temps rouler!

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Monday, August 15, 2011

Love is in the Air

Incoming!



I spent Sunday riding around the lower loop of the park's figure eight road. We saw and heard some of the bison rut, and from one spot observed a white pelican and two bald eagles, and later saw a Swainson's hawk.

Pick your habitat, any habitat.





Another day, another wolf.



That is apparently the alpha female of the Canyon pack. We watched her tearing at a carcass by the treeline for a while before she trotted away along a creek into the woods. When we passed on our return trip, we walked halfway over to try to see what she was eating but ravens were feeding then so we didn't get close enough to discover what it was.

I'm not sure if the next one shows mating, molting, or fighting.



I heard something interesting about the fatal bear attack this year which you're not likely to ever read in the news. It's unsubstantiated from an unnamed source, but one who has more connections and potential knowledge of the situation than the average park employee. Word has it that park biologists are convinced by what they saw that the bear involved was not a grizzly but a black bear. The trails there are going to remain closed all summer although they think the bears have left the area.



The happy couple.



Can't a gal get some privacy?
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Thursday, August 11, 2011

It's a Wild Life

I took a short local walk last weekend and some casual photos of a butterfly on a thistle flower.



It wasn't until I got home and looked at the photos on the computer that I noticed the critter on the other side of the flower.




I took the following photo during a work field trip. Do you know what it is?



While waiting for everyone to arrive for lunch, I took a short solo hike up a trail I'd never walked before. I found a scene which reminded me of trails beside rocky creeks in Duluth.



With Thimbleberries. Not ripe yet, but I'll be back in ten days and may have to fight a couple of the Black Bears we saw in the area for a taste.



And cliffs and waterfalls.



A closer look at the Lost Creek Falls. I like the boulder at the precipice.



Out in the Lamar Valley after lunch, we visited a scene we'd been hearing about for a couple days. The carcass of an Elk killed by Wolves had been usurped by a Grizzly. The Griz had been laying and sitting on the body but the remains were visible to the left when he strolled over to the river.



Did you correctly identify that earlier photo as Bison legs in the midst of a dusting? There would have been some magnificent photos there if we'd been in a slightly different spot as we slowly passed the dark Bison standing in a light cloud of dust.

Last night I headed back out to Lamar on a rec group trip.


Most of the baby Bison are no longer red.



Landscape with Bison:



For reasons obvious in the quality of the next photo, I turned off the digital zoom on my camera so long ago that I had forgotten it existed until a coworker mentioned using it on our trip. When we got back to the carcass scene, I turned it back on long enough to take some closer photos of a bear shape between a couple wolf shapes.





The long and winding road--on September 1st, I'll be riding that road to places I've never been before.

!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

A Day at the Lake

Yesterday was one of the best days I've had in the park as five of us employees and a great Yellowstone Association tour guide visited three places I hadn't been before--two of the locations are now among my favorites in the park. We took the Blacktail Plateau Drive, a one way, one lane, six mile dirt road, which goes through a wide variety of habitats from flowery meadows to dark old forests. This would be a fabulous hike when it's closed to cars--there isn't really room for both hikers and cars. I'll be there again Tuesday and maybe get some photos though there are only a couple spots to pull off to the side. The only negative to taking this road, assuming the vehicle is up to it, is that you bypass the main road where Floating Island Lake is, where I saw the moose last week.

From there, it was over Dunraven Pass again, and we took a little break shortly after passing the Pass. It was there that I took this photo of a yellow and green hillside.



And down at the bottom of that hill, I almost got to witness my first goring when a guy ran down the hill (where he'd already been too close) and almost right into an immovable object.



I call that one An Ignorant Animal and a Bison.

When we went kayaking last weekend, our goal was the West Thumb Geyser Basin, but we didn't make it because of the weather. Yesterday we visited it on foot and saw some kayakers who had better weather.




It's pretty cool to see the geothermal features right next to the lake.



Under water and barely visible in the next photo because the lake is still so high from all the winter snow is Fishing Cone. The stories claim that early visitors would catch a fish and flip it into the cone's boiling water to cook it.





From there we started heading back north and found a spot for a quick lunch where we had this view.



And then on to the Storm Point Trail. I'd seen this described in trail guides as one of the most beautiful short hikes in the park, and heard many people agree. I was signed up for a trip there last year which got canceled, and again this year when I canceled because of my foot, and now I unexpectedly had the chance to see it. Our guide said that she would hike it every day if possible and it wasn't long before I agreed with her.

You start out by Indian Pond, and then pass through a meadow.



Before long you're on the edge of an older lodgepole pine forest.





And then to an open area with a marmot colony living among boulders, and a small sand dune which reminded me of my favorite Duluth hike. We saw an eagle fly over here which had the marmots on alert.







Above is Storm Point and its view. We'll zoom in on that mountain on the other side just so you know that we do still have snow in Yellowstone.



From there it's a short walk along the shore and then into the most heavily forested section of the trail where you might find some berries before looping back through the meadow to the trailhead.



Two mostly flat miles of great views, a variety of habitat, and wildlife (bring your bear spray). When we got back to Mammoth, our guide asked if we had any questions--I asked her if we could do it again tomorrow.

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Thursday, August 4, 2011

Another Bear Done Gone

The rangers killed a grizzly bear Monday. He was a young bear who had spent his life hanging around the developed areas on the north shore of Yellowstone Lake despite being hazed away repeatedly. Saturday he went too far by charging a man sitting beside the Storm Point Trail (which I would have hiked a couple weeks ago if not for my injured foot). The man, who apparently didn't have bear spray with him, threw his backpack at the bear who then ate the food inside the pack. That sealed his fate if the charge itself hadn't already done so considering his past history. You can read the news release here.

There have been some interesting comments about the cause of the situation here, with some debate about how well or if the park has enforced rules about food storage in recent years and what young bears may be learning as a result. Given the larger numbers of both bears and people in the park, it's probably past time to be tougher on these matters to the extent that limited funds for rangers make it possible.

Grand Teton National Park recently tightened its rules about getting close to bears after a couple bear charges at tourists parked along roads. Yellowstone plans to follow; more information in this article. Some photographers are upset because they think their photographs are more important than the subject of their photographs. Others fear that making it harder to get close to bears near roads is going to lead to more people hiking into the backcountry (not going to happen, in my opinion).

I think there may be more changes needed. Although I would hate to see (and would probably ignore) a minimum number of hikers required instead of recommended as now, one change I'd completely support is making carrying bear spray mandatory for hikers. A shot of bear spray instead of a tasty backpack might well have saved that bear's life and changed his behavior.

Last night I finished going through my photos and selected the five to enter in the employee contest. This morning I went to the store to make the required prints and found the machine out of order. Hopefully it will be fixed by the entry deadline in ten days. If so, I'll eventually post the five I picked (actually, I think they've all been posted here at some point in the past) and let you know if any of them make it past the initial cut and how they do in the final voting later this month.

I got paper copies of some past issues of Yellowstone Science including issues focused on cougars, grizzlies, wolves, bison, the 1988 fires, Mammoth Hot Springs, and more. My original plan was to get copies of all the back issues but I realized that wasn't a good idea considering my transient lifestyle. Or not so transient, with me in half a dorm room most of the year and my stuff in a small storage unit 1000 miles away.

Some short hikes to at least one place new to me coming up on Saturday, so hopefully some new photos here Sunday. And at least three or four more events to follow this month.

As is true with any place you see every day, sometimes you take it for granted. This tendency has been exacerbated for me lately because my foot has limited my hiking and kept me largely to a work and room routine. Then one day, you come back to your senses as I did this morning on my walk to breakfast when I looked around at the surrounding mountains and thought, "DAMN!"

I've also been talking with a couple people I enjoyed working with this spring and will be working with again this winter and trying to decide how those of us without cars will be getting back here. It's only early August, and I expect to enjoy many things in the next few months, but I'm looking forward to early December.

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