Archive for June, 2010

Some miscellaneous thoughts to wrap up

While the time frame we chose for our trip to the Tetons and Yellowstone had some drawbacks (very cold, especially at night, snow hiking, lots of places not open yet or closed due to bear activity, etc) there were lots good things too:

  • We had the Tetons mostly to ourselves and Yellowstone wasn’t so crowded as to be unpleasant.
  • The water table was high and the rivers, waterfalls and geysers were full and spectacular
  • We got to see baby animals

The trip was a wonderful time to share together, mother and son.  It brought us back to another time and place when we spent precious time together, just we two.  So here are a few odd pictures to round out these posts.

Hiking in the snow: sometimes up to your knees, sometimes up to your hips, always exhausting. (“Hurry up, Ma.  Take the picture.  It’s cold!”)

Hey, did you bring the axe?  Plan B – Whacking firewood.

Random push ups while we wait for road construction (or pull-ups or handstand push-ups, depending on what opportunity presented itself)

Waterfalls (sometimes being able to get closer than normal because the trail is obscured by snow)

Point Sublime – which wasn’t all that special and not really worth hiking through all the snow.  But we had it all to ourselves.

The photographer doing his thing

In the category of odd things we passed along the road – lots of weird big stuff but this one took the prize.  We actually saw all three of these windmill arms go by on our trek home.  These windmills made us feel very small.

Clear star-studded nights – breathtaking.  Here is the first sliver of waxing crescent moon and Venus at dusk.

The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.  Psalm 19:1

Fauna

Where do I start telling you about the animals?  We saw so many different mammals and birds in this very rich, diverse environment and they were everywhere.  At first, we were so excited to see anything.  Spotting elk and bison was wonderful.  By the time we turned the corner for home, we were saying “oh, it’s just a herd of bison or elk”.  We spent lots of time pulled over to the side of the road, trying to get close up pictures along with everyone else.  But it wasn’t long before we had a herd of bison all to ourselves, and wonderful encounters with bison calves.  Bison sightings were frequent throughout both parks.  It was fun to see the moms with their little ones sometimes nursing, more often resting among the sagebrush.

Elk were another common sight.  In Jackson, there is a National Elk Refuge where the elk can reside during the harsh winter.  They are fed there and the magnificent antlers they drop each year are collected and transformed into the wonderful arches in downtown Jackson.  The males were beginning to grow new antlers and the longer we were there, the bigger those fuzzy horns grew.  The animals were shedding their winter coats (as were the bison) and looked quite raggedy and scruffy.

Pronghorn antelope were also fairly common.  We saw them in the parks but also in ranch fields as we headed home across Wyoming and South Dakota.  They were easy to identify at a distance because of their relatively pale color, much more tan than the several kinds of deer that were about, and much smaller than the elk.

And then there were the moose.  The first one was sitting along the side of the road, mostly obscured by the sagebrush.  Later we saw several of them grazing in the field, several cows with young ones but not babies.

We thought we saw a wolf but in retrospect, I think it was probably a coyote.  We saw several actually but only one at a time and usually at a distance.  Our best encounter was one we spotted while driving along the road in the Hayden Valley area of Yellowstone.  It was trotting along out in the fields.  James positioned himself to take photos; the coyote was coming near to check him out.  As James stood up, the coyote veered off but soon began hunting for meadow voles.  We watched as it stalked, pounced and ate three of the little critters.  And we attracted a crowd of passersby, often the only way to see wildlife, to stop and ask what everyone else is looking at and watching.  The telltale sign of interesting stuff out in the fields is lots of cars parked along the road and photographers with giant lenses and cameras mounted on tripods.  That’s how we got our pictures of bears.

The first bear we saw was on the road to Mammoth Hots Springs in Yellowstone.  What we saw first were cars lining both sides of the road and everyone out of the cars.  We stopped too by pulling into an opportune spot that someone had just pulled out of.  It seemed the bear was sleeping but he woke up soon and started to wander around, scratching himself on trees and rocks.  The park rangers arrived and advised us to move away a little since people are supposed to keep 100 feet away from all wildlife.  We took photos and movies and enjoyed watching for a while.  Then we moved on.  Very fun.  We’ve seen a bear.

A little farther on down the road, near the hoodoos we came upon more cars and more cameras.  “What are we looking at?”, we inquired.  “See that black thing way down there?  Mother bear and 4 cubs.”  We took the obligatory photos, making sure to put the black spot in the center so I could find it later.  She was moving about and we did catch a glimpse of several of her cubs trailing after her.  But she was so far away and we had no telephoto lens.  As it turns out, we came back this same way the next day.  More cars but the photographers were in a different place, looking from another angle.  After much deliberation, I decided I really wanted to see the bears again just in case we could get a better view.  When we walked down there, there was a very nice man with whom I struck up a conversation.  He had a spotting scope set up and invited us to have a look.  What a great view!  They were so close.  And he allowed me to take a photo with my little point-and-shoot through his spotting scope, which is how I got this photo so you can see them too.  It’s unusual for the bears – this one is a grizzly – to have 4 cubs which is partly why so many were interested in her.  But mostly it was just because she was a mother grizzly with cubs.

We saw a few other animals too. Smaller but equally exciting was the American Pika.  It lives at elevation and is rather shy.  It looks a bit like a smooth, short haired guinea pig, no tail and brown.  No photos, but seeing it was pretty special.  We met a cute little Golden Mantled Ground Squirrel that was very interested in us.  It checked us out and posed for pictures for several minutes.  It looks rather like a chipmunk but much bigger and no stripes on it’s face.  We saw chipmunks too; there are several kinds in the parks but we didn’t determine which ones we saw.  The Uinta Ground Squirrels were everywhere, especially in the Gros Ventre campground.  What we think was a hoary marmot eluded our cameras at Inspiration Point, as did the pair of White-tailed Jackrabbits chasing each other through one of the geyser basins.

The birds also were varied and plentiful.  The most exciting for me was the great horned owl.  There happened to be one nesting in a tree in Gros Ventre campground and we could watch it often.  We heard rumors that she had chicks in the nest but we never got to see them.  One evening at dusk, her mate flew directly over our tent and lit on a tree a little distance away.  We were able to get quite close to it and we got some great profile pictures before it flew on.  These are the first owls I have ever seen in the wild.

I won’t bore you with the rest of the birds, but it was exciting for me, being from the east coast to see so many western birds that were new for my life list.

One  last little movie:  On our way out of Yellowstone National Park, we encountered a large herd of bison running down a hill and across the road.  We stopped to take some video.  What amazes me most about this particular encounter is the way that two large bison cross the road, then stop and turn around, waiting for some others to cross before going on their way.  We weren’t in the right place to see why they waited but it really looked to me like it was a case of some looking out for the welfare of others.  What a fun and fitting way to end our experience in Yellowstone.

And God made the beasts of the earth after their kind, and the cattle after their kind, and every thing that creeps on the ground after its kind; and God saw that it was good.  Genesis 1:25

Flora

We were in Grand Tetons NP and Yellowstone NP way too early for many flowers.  One of the rangers we consulted said that the fields generally bloom in mid-June.  While we were there the trees were just starting to bud out and it was still frosty on many mornings.  As I understand it, theirs was a late spring by most accounts, but we did come across a number of little early bloomers.  The sagebrush was the one constant.  There were old flowers at the ends of the branches but the leaves were starting to green up some.  The smell of the sagebrush was memorable, a dusty herbal smell that teased the senses.  We camped in the midst of it at Gros Ventre (pronounced “grow vont”) for all the time we spent in the Tetons.  It sheltered the prairie grass that the elk and bison eat.

We saw cotttonwoods in the campground and aspens and evergreens nearer the mountains.  Lodgepole pines, douglas fir and blue spruce were common along the trails.  On one of our hikes I picked up several cones to sketch.

I acquired a few new field guides while we were out west, but somehow, a guide to wildflowers was not one of them.  I looked for an online resource and didn’t find one, so if you know what these are, feel free to enlighten me.

These little white flowers bloomed overnight it seemed.  When we went to bed there were none; when we woke up they were everywhere among the sagebrush.

We found these little papery bluebells in the campground at the base of the cottonwood trees.  We saw some delicate yellow bell flowers and these small lily-like blooms.

And I pitied anyone brave enough to walk around in their bare feet if they happened to step on these tiny cacti.  Most of them were shriveled and reddish, but a few had started to plump out and get greener.  They were only the size of my thumbnail.

These little yellow flowers were near the geothermal areas in Yellowstone NP where it is warm enough to grow this early.  There were some tiny purple ones as well but I didn’t get good pictures of them.

We saw shooting stars at the base of Garnet Hill in the Tower – Roosevelt area.  The picture is a little blurry but I’m posting it anyway because they are very cool.

Another interesting plant we saw growing in marshy areas really caught my attention because of the colors.  Originally, the colors were purple, maroon and golden.  While we were there, they were gradually being transformed into greener shades.  I took many pictures of them in all sorts of places trying to capture the feeling of the colors.  This is the best I could do and it doesn’t do them justice.

I’ve seen pictures of the larger blooms that come later in the 65 frost free days that this area has.  If this is the splendor of early spring, then summer must be incredible.

Observe how the lilies of the field grow, they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory did not clothe himself like one of these.   But if God so arrays the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more do so for you, o men of little faith?  Matthew 6:28b-30

Geyser Country

How can one be so close to Yellowstone National Park and not at least have a look?  Since neither James nor I had ever been there, we decided it was worth a peak.  As we left behind the majestic Tetons, we noticed several differences right away.  First, there were many more people.  We met or passed bus loads of tourists and school children and parking lots everywhere were full of cars.  Second, the park covers considerably more square miles and the drive times to get from one place to another were long, especially considering all the “up to 1/2 hour delay” single lane road work on many of the roads.  Third, while there were still snow covered mountains on the horizon, those ever-present jagged peaks were absent.  In their place were wonderful cauldrons of bubbling water and mud with steam rising right out of the ground.  Some were quietly stewing while others were loud and enthusiastic and were aptly named.  Some were amazingly colorful with intricate formations that varied depending on mineral content, structure and life forms that survived there.  What a fascinating place.  And even though we kept seeing geysers, somehow they were all a little bit different.

Old Faithful

The edge of Grand Prismatic – fabulous color but too steamy to see the brilliant blue center

Mammoth Hot Springs Lower Terraces

Mammoth Hot Springs – upper terraces.  The spill from the geysers floods the trees, killing them and leaving these wonderful skeletons.

And finally, a movie for your viewing pleasure.


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