Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Yellowstone Adventure Ends

  1. On our last night, at Chico Hot Springs Resort, we had a prĂ­vate dinner in the Wine Cellar. While we dined on gourmet meals, we talked about the future of wolves in Yellowstone.
    We have spent a week together and become good friends and traveling companions. Tomorrow we will return to our normal lives. Already I miss the wolves and the fun I have had on this trip.

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Chico Hot Springs Resort

Our last night was at Chico Hot Springs Resort in Pray, Montana. What a great place!

Step back in time in their lobby.

Spent some time here!

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Friday, October 30, 2009

Lake Yellowstone Hotel

This is a grand hotel by Lake Yellowstone. It was built in 1891 and has been restored to look like it did in the 1920´s. It is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Our room was very pretty and had a view of the lake. Plus, there was a really cute bear cub on the bed, which of course I had to bring home with me. The proceeds from the sale of the cubs helps support the Yellowstone Foundation. Too bad the cub wasn´t real.

Kent in front of a Yellow Bus. The original buses started touring Yellowstone in 1936, but they were discontinued in the 1950´s.

When the buses were sold, the Skagway Streetcar Company in Alaska bought 8 of them for its company. In 2001, they returned the vehicles to Yellowstone, and now they are touring again. We didn´t get to ride in one, but we did see one at Mammoth Hot Springs. Looking good, Kent!

Some of us in the Sun Room before dinner. I treated myself to Duck, which was excellent. Afterwards, we had drinks here with Pete and Mel, a young couple from England, while a pianist played the Grand Piano. A wonderful evening.

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Sunday, October 25, 2009

Arnica Fire

        When we first arrived in Yellowstone, the Arnica Fire was mostly smoke.   This photo was taken from the Lamar Valley, looking toward the fire, on Friday.  Occasionally we could smell the smoke, but it appeared to be a very small fire.  ´
        Studies have shown that small, controlled fires are needed for many of the ecosystems.  So the current trend is to keep it contained but allow it to burn itself out.  

     On Saturday, however, the winds picked up and the day grew hotter, which allowed the fire to grow.  The same weather conditions occurred on Sunday.  Roads had to be closed and more aggressive measures taken.  
     We were scheduled to go to West Yellowstone on Sunday and to Old Faithful, but we couldn´t get there with the road closures.   We ended up staying the night in Gardiner, but no one minded.   The hotel was very nice.  It overlooked a stream, and dinner was great.
      The next day we were able to get to Lake Yellowstone, pictured above.   The fire was clearly visible from there.   As we got closer to the hotel, we could see the sprinklers wetting down the trees in an attempt to keep the hotel safe.   It was an eerie sight.

Posted by Picasa    If you look closely, you can see the bucket hanging from the helicopter.   The firefighters were getting water from Lake Yellowstone to pour onto the fire.   The weather was forecasted to turn cold and snowy on Wednesday, which would end the fire.   In the meantime, the firefighters worked to contain it. 
       The fire burned approximately 9300 acres, or 14.5 square miles, according to the newspaper I bought.  Fortunately no one was injured, and the fire didn´t damage any structures.  
       The firemen said that if the rain and snow came on Wednesday, it would be a season-ending event.  That´s fireman-speak for ´´the fire will be out soon´´.    And it was.

Norris Geyser and the Dragon´s Mouth

Because of the forest fire, we didn´t make it to see Old Faithful. However, Yellowstone has many lesser-known geysers, vents, mud pots, and other interesting features.
The Norris Geyser Basin had plenty of steamy sites. They were very colorful, and the aroma of sulpher added its own ambiance.

Kent in front of Emerald Spring.

The Dragon Mouth Spring was in a different location, closer to Hayden Valley. It was very noisy and steamy--a great Dragon!

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Kent and Janet in Yellowstone

The way we looked most of the time in Yellowstone.

Looking for wolves in Lamar Valley.

Kent with Linda at Artist´s Point.
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Saturday, October 24, 2009


What can I say?  Watching the wildlife graze made us hungry.  
Whenever we stopped to watch, Linda brought out hot coffee and goodies.   We not only came back with great memories--we came back a few pounds heavier.  
Coffee, boysenberry yogurt, and wolves will always go together in my mind.

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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Yellowstone Afternoons

When the days warmed up, as they tended to do the week we were there, the animals went back into the woods or their dens or anywhere cool.   So our group used that time to sightsee.
One day we stopped at the Apollinaris Spring.  In the early days of wagon trains and horses, travels could find good drinking water here. 

Some of our group checking it out.

Artist´s Point

A view of the Grand Canyon of the  Yellowstone and the Lower Falls. 

Yellowstone is known for its geological features.

Due to the forest fire, we weren´t able to get to Old Faithful.  Instead, we went to Dragon´s Mouth and the Norris Geyser Basin areas.   We saw lots of mud pots, geysers, and other steamy, smelly things.  They were unique and interesting, but they weren´t wolves. 

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Sunday, October 11, 2009

Hayden Valley and the Canyon Pack

We stopped at Hayden Valley a number of times, and some of the group hiked into it one afternoon.  It is one of my favorite spots.  For scenic beauty, I think it out shines Lamar.  This photo shows the Yellowstone River meandering through it.  Canadian Geese and ducks were always swimming there.  Nathan said it is usually a good place to find bears, but we didn´t see any.

Wolves were what we wanted to see, and the viewing at Hayden was the best.   The Canyon Pack lives here, and one morning we saw a beautiful grey female and a black pup.  We heard the wolves before we saw them.  A distinctive howl floated through the still morning air.  I had been hoping to hear a howl.  When we were at Lamar, I could see that pup howling, but I couldn´t hear him because of the distance and the wind.  Finally I had heard a wolf!

The wolves were on a hillside that would be on the far right, if the picture extended that far.   We were able to watch them through the scopes, but also through the binoculars.  This pup was very healthy looking, and the adult was beautiful. 

The pup sniffed at everything and played for a while before it went over a hill and disappeared.  The female wolf, however, stayed for a much longer time.  At one point it looked like she was watching for the other members of the pack.   Sage grew here, too, and she rested in that for a while.  Then she began working her way to the right. It looked like she might be checking out brush for small game, but if so, she didn´t find any.  We were able to watch her for quite a long time before she trotted out of sight.  

She was beautiful, and the wolf that I was able to see the best.  I will always remember her.

The Yellowstone River cuts through the Park, reaches Yellowstone Lake, and continues down to the southeast boundary. We went as far as Yellowstone Lake, staying a night at Lake Yellowstone Hotel.    

A very early morning picture of the river. 

The Canyon Pack would be the last wolves we would see.  We saw other animals, including Big Horn Sheep, a Jack Rabbit that dashed across the road in front of the Adventure bus, a small herd of female elk, a couple of coyotes, and maybe a few mountain goats.  I never could see the goats, but some of our group might have.  We went looking for a badger that had been spotted by another group, but we never found him.  But Yellowstone is so beautiful, that just being there was enough (after seeing the wolves, of course).
We had been scheduled to go into West Yellowstone and to Old Faithful.  The fire, however, continues to grow.  Nathan and Linda are keeping tabs on road closures and hoping that we won´t have to be evacuated.     Camping out in the Adventure bus might be more adventure than any of us want!    

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Saturday, October 10, 2009

Lamar, America´s Serengeti

  We hit the hill early on Sunday, looking for the Druid pup and hoping to see more of his pack today. Dan Stahler, another wolf expert, has joined us. You can´t have too many eyes looking for wildlife here.
   The pup is there, and this time there is an adult babysitter with him.  It´s fun to watch the two of them interact.  The pup nuzzles the adult, playing and running around a little.   The pup is not well, however.  He has mange, and I can see the toll it has taken on his fur.  Dan explains about the disease and how it can keep the pup from growing thick enough fur to endure the severe Yellowstone winters.  If he doesn´t improve soon, he may not survive.  So it was good to see that one of the adult wolves was taking an interest in him. 
  While we waited for the other wolves to show up, we watched the other animals. They are the reason it is called America´s Serengeti. 

A buffalo just finished taking a dust bath in this photo.   They roam everywhere, and seem unaffected by the other animals.  They walked right through the area where the two wolves were at. They seem to know they aren´t in any danger.

A coyote came through, too, but he didn´t stay long.

Normally the elk would be here, but they haven´t come down from the high country yet.  The weather has been unusually warm.  The Equinox storm, which usually hits around September 22, is late.  You can´t tell it by the temps in the morning--it is very cold--but it warms up quickly.  By 11 a.m. we are all removing layers of coats and sweat shirts.  

A small herd of Prong Horn antelope are here.  They are very pretty and frisky this morning.  Their rut will begin soon.

While we were watching for the wolf pack, a grizzly bear wandered down from the mountain that is on the other side of the valley.  He came very close to the buffalo, but no one could tell if he was really looking to hunt one of them or not.   At one point, however, a few of them lined up and faced him.  They stood shoulder-to-shoulder, and looked very formidable.   The griz ambled back into the pines after a while.

When the bear left, we decide to take a break, which means we hop into the Adventure bus and ride to the closest porta-potty.   It is at the other end of Lamar Valley.  While some of us stand in line, the others scan for wolves.   They soon spot 3 of the Druid pack trotting into the Valley and heading toward the other two wolves. Quickly we load back into the bus and return to the hill.   Eventually we are able to see another wolf through the scopes, but by now they are really far away.  The day is warming up rapidly, and the Druid pack appears to have left the Valley.
We decide to leave, too.  This time we are going to drive up to Mount Washburn, through the Dunraven Pass.   Bears have been spotted up there, and we decide to look for them.

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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Into the Den

On Saturday afternoon, Linda Thurston takes us to an abandoned wolf den.   It is located about a mile off the road.    To reach it, we hike through a field dotted with buffalo ´´pattys´´, bleaching bones from former kills, and rocks.  Huge rocks, in some places.   Then we hike up the hill to the den. 
Linda, a wolf expert, brings people to the den so that the wolves won´t attempt to use it again.  The other pack abandoned it when the wolf-watchers and road noise bothered them too much.  This points out how much wolves avoid people.  Even though the people stayed on the road, and the den is nearly a mile away, it was too close for the wolves.       

The tree roots help anchor it in place.

Chip, one of the guys in our group, climbed feet-first into the den.  The den is narrow, but deep.   He went nearly all the way in, with only his head and shoulders sticking out, and he could barely touch the back of the den.

Linda explains the wolf/prey relationship using some of the old bones.

 One theory is that wolves are always hunting, always checking on the condition of the other animals to see which ones may be weak, sick, or old.  One interesting side-effect of the reduction of the elk and deer population is the increase in some native plants.  It´s all about balance.  

Another interesting stop that we made today was to the studio of Dan and Cindy Hartman.  They are wildlife photographers who live in Cooke City,  just outside of Yellowstone.  While we had a great lunch, Dan showed us slides and told about some of the adventures he has had photographing the animals.  Fantastic!
 Check out his website to see some great pix of the wolves and other wildlife.

 We had a chance to buy souvenir photographs, of course. (Yes, I had to have one of the Druid pack.) Dan is a lot of fun, and his studio is a great place to visit.

Tomorrow morning we are going back to Lamar Valley. One viewing is not enough! We hope to see the pup again, along with more of its pack.

We know there are great wolves out there, and we are determined to see them.

On Sunday, we are scheduled to go farther west and south, over to West Yellowstone and Old Faithful. A new event, however, may cause us to change plans. A fire that has been a small, non-event, has grown larger today. The weather has been unusually warm and the wind picked up this afternoon. The combination has allowed the fire to grow, causing the Park to close some roads. So Nathan and Linda will keep an eye on things. In the meantime, we are going back to the cabins tonight and have dinner at the Mammoth Lake Lodge.

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Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Druid Pack - Our First Wolf

Lamar Valley is huge.
Look as far as you can in both directions, and you still won´t see where it begins or where it ends. 

We left the cabins at Mammoth Hot Springs before dawn to drive to
 Lamar Valley.  We wanted to get there early, when the wolves are more likely to be active.  

Climbing up a hill, we set up scopes, prepared cameras, and scanned the Valley.

All of us had seen Lamar in nature films, but only one of the group had been here before.  Linda and Nathan, of course, are experts at spotting wolves.  In that expanse of sage and grass, they know exactly where to look and what to look for. Trees line the back edge, and the road creates the front boundary. In between are sections of sage and grasses. A stream meanders through it, near the road.  I was amazed at its size, and I think many of the others were equally surprised. 

A couple of men were fly fishing in the stream.  From our hillside, they looked like ants.  When I looked to the right, I saw Prong Horn Antelope grazing.  Bison were everywhere.     

The Valley is home to the Druids, one of the oldest packs in the Park. On the first morning, we spotted a yearling pup, who was all alone.    

He was harder to see than I had expected.  Even when I knew where he was, the distances were too great for binoculars.  For me, the scopes were a challenge to use. I think they work better if you don´t have glasses with bifocals. I tried looking with glasses and without.  Mostly, I kept hoping the pup would simply come closer.

 Still, I was seeing a wolf pup, and that was a thrill.

We watched him for hours as he played in the Valley.  He would move in and out of the sage, and occasionally howl.  Whenever he laid down, he disappeared in the sage.   We kept hoping the rest of the pack would arrive, but they never did.   Still, none of the other animals bothered him.   The antelope grazed in their area, and the bison roamed everywhere.   

All that grazing made us hungry, too!   Nathan and Linda brought out hot coffee, huckleberry yogurt, rolls, cereal, hard-boiled eggs, and other breakfast goodies.  We feasted as we stood on the hill, surrounded by the animals, and watched the wolf pup.
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