yellowstone national park

Yellowstone: Blacktail Plateau Drive

Blacktail Plateau 1

Welcome to Disneyland people! This site was another first for me and I certainly hope it’s not my last. Honestly, as soon as we parked our car and started hiking, we had elk bounding across our path and birds were perched on our shoulders singing Zip-A-Dee-Do-Dah. I felt like I was in a cartoon. We followed a great horned owl flying from tree to tree along with its tubby two fledglings. This blew me away because I’ve never encountered an owl in the daytime before and a great horned at that!

Our first wetland was occupied by a bison herd so we had to work around them as best we could. They were less than thrilled so they begrudgingly decided to move on about halfway through my survey. This was a bummer for me because everything is better with bison, including field work. As the mass migration was taking place, a few folks on horseback came down into the valley to chat with us while we surveyed. We must really be a site for people to behold. Here they are in the backcountry taking in the beautiful rolling hills of Yellowstone, never expecting to see another human soul, and two little girls with nets and waders pop out from the middle of a bison herd grazing in a wetland. Surprise!!!

Not only was the hiking and the wildlife viewing spectacular, the surveying wasn’t too shabby either. A few of the wetlands were absolutely filled to the brim with salamanders. No complaints there. The last wetland was an extremely large wet meadow comprised of tall, sharp grass which sliced my skin with every net swipe. Not cool. That’s a lot of pain just to find nothing but that’s how the job goes sometimes. The one rather neat thing about that meadow was that the substrate was comprised of itty-bitty fresh water clams. I kid you not. I’ve never seen anything like it in Yellowstone. Until further inspection, they looked like small pebbles. I told my field partner to examine the substrate and she agreed that I wasn’t totally out of my mind. Later, I told my supervisor what I’d seen and in all of her decades working in the area she’s never heard of anything like it. Thus, I’m not sure if someone slipped me some crack or not but at least my field partner was right there with me.

As you will discover from my blog, we survey a lot of Blacktail sites: Blacktail Pond, Blacktail Plateau, Blacktail something-or-other. These areas are in the northern part of the Park which includes a harrowing, pants-pooping trip over Dunraven Pass to get to. Usually, I’m frazzled and in need of medication and new pair of undies by the time we arrive at our destination. It’s certainly worth the trip though.

In all seriousness, this is where the rubber meets the road for climate change. Here, wetland loss is measurable and can be witnessed from year to year. People can argue the causes all they want but unless they have their head completely in the sand, they can’t deny that climate change is happening. This year Andy, Kenda and crew installed some data loggers in a few Blacktail wetlands to measure how rapidly this is all taking place. Time will tell but for now the future remains uncertain for the amphibians in this area. If only it was as easy as gathering them all into a large knapsack and releasing them somewhere safe. One can dream…

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The adult great horned owl in the trees.
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A garter snake sunning and eating all my tadpoles…jerk!
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This fawn and its mama were hanging out on the road as we drove to the site. Look at it scamper. So darn cute! I just want to pinch it! Pinch…Pinch.
yellowstone national park

Yellowstone: Gull Point & Utah Dorm Life

Marmot friend

Gull Point is a new wetland complex this year because some of the old complexes are now closed due to nesting swans. My partner and I helped out the other crew on this one and it turned out to be a lot of fun. The day started out with us being dorm-bound due to rain so we cleaned the heck out of the place. Let me tell you, this dorm gets stinkier every year. It smells like butt. It doesn’t help that there was a marmot family living underneath it (one of the culprits is pictured above) but they were sent packing to a rocky slope nearby. They’re super cute but dang do they funk up a joint!

Anyhoo… we hung out and listened to the project leaders get interviewed for a newspaper. I love that my supervisor brings up things like toad orgies during an interview. It was extremely amusing. After that, the skies cleared and we kicked butt on the Gull Point sites. One wetland was basically an enormous lagoon off of Yellowstone Lake and we saw all species of amphibian hanging out there. It was clearly the place to be if you’re an amphibian or a fisherman.

The rest of my days have either been spent inside due to rain or inside due to that stupid lingering sinus infection (the rest of the field crew is jealous because I don’t have to experience just how bad the dorm smells). Some good drawings are coming out of it though so I can’t complain too much. After not having drawn even so much as a sick figure in twenty years, I find myself getting crotchety if I haven’t drawn something in over a week. My how things change.

So besides the marmots and robins, here are a few pics of some other beasts enjoying the smelly dorm life:

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Mule deer outside dorm

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Yellowstone: July 13th, 2013

Old Faithful (2)
The Old Faithful Inn

I couldn’t resist visiting the Old Faithful Inn one more time. It’s just so beautiful in there. I was able to write my next post for the Declaration of You Bloglovin Tour right on one of their original writing desks from 1904. I’m getting spoiled. I ate too much ice cream, took some great photos and then went on an hour-long guided tour of the building. It was a fantastic learning experience. I had no idea that Yellowstone is in three states (Wyoming, Montana and Idaho) because the Park actually existed before state boundaries were made. Yup, our first national park existed even before statehood. Yellowstone existed even before there was a National Park Service. The hotel was funded by the Pacific Coast Railroad and owned by a man named Harry Child. He went to the railroad asking for money because he knew that if he didn’t build the hotel then someone else eventually would. The railroad had recently created a stop at Yellowstone’s first entrance, Mammoth, and they decided a hotel would attract more passengers so they went for it. Child hired a 29-year-old man named Richard Reamer, whom he had met on a trip to Seattle, to build the hotel. Reamer must have been impressive because he had no formal architectural education and had never built a hotel before. In 1903, they began building the original 140-rooms plus lobby and had it completed in almost exactly one year. It took less than 100 men (I think somewhere around 50 to 70 is more like it.) to build the structure during a brutally harsh winter, sleeping in tents nearby. All supplies and furniture had to by hauled by horse-drawn sleigh into the park from the northern Mammoth entrance. The pine logs and volcanic rock for the chimney were harvested from the park and were transported by horses as well. Reamer specifically harvested tree freaks of nature to get those bent and funky looking pillars. Some of them even look like arms with big muscles. Interestingly enough, all of the logs originally had their bark because Reamer wanted visitors to feel like they were in a forest. However, during World War II the hotel shut down and they used that time to scrape the bark off because it was flaking everywhere and was troublesome to keep clean and dust-free. In the early 1900s, visitor numbers were exploding and Reamer was hired to add two 100+ room additions (the last addition was almost abandoned by Reamer because the park service didn‘t approve of his design–thankfully he won out). During the tour we got to go into one of the original honeymoon suites in the “old house” (this is what they call the original lobby plus 140 rooms–which now has more like 90 rooms because they used some space for gift shops, offices, and such). It was so adorable! It still has some of it’s original amenities with the addition of some respectful upgrades; however, you still have to walk down the hall to go to the bathroom or take a shower. It’s all a part of stepping back in time though. Some rooms still have all of the original amenities such as claw foot tubs and pull-chain toilets. These rooms are highly sought after and are therefore booked far in advance. Strangely enough, it’s cheapest to stay in the “old house” compared to the newer wings, presumably because of the shared bathroom but I find it way more charming. In the winter, the hotel closes and all of the original furniture is transported to Mammoth where it’s stored in climate-controlled conditions. The windows on the first floor are boarded up, the pipes are bled and the lights go out. For the rest of the season it’s freezing cold, dark and completely abandoned with the exception of one night where the winter employees are invited to bring their sleeping bags and watch The Shinning. No joke. I would love to do this!

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The Crows Nest.

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A huge popcorn popper to the right.

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On my way back to the dorm I gave fishing in Yellowstone Lake another go. Wow, either I don’t know how to fish or my pole is messed up. On my first cast, the entire reel along with all of the fishing line went right into the lake. I had to go swimming just to gather all of the pieces. I picked up and persisted for another hour or so and went back to the dorm sans fish. There was a nap in there somewhere and then a nice walk to Fishing Bridge. I passed a fender bender on the main road. I’m not sure how people manage to hit one another going 45-miles/hour, not even at an intersection, but they do. Then I turned the corner to the bridge and passed a few feet from a big boy bison stuffing his adorable face with grass. Then there was another big boy taking a leisurely walk on the bridge. Once the cars chased him off the bridge, I watched him rub himself on a nearby hillside. Then it was off to the general store for some food (including a no-bake cookie, which I now crave 24/7). The rest of the night was spent chatting, reading an entire book on reiki, and resting.

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Yellowstone: July 4th, 2013

 

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Oh Mary Bay…what can I say. This was the only wetland so far to have completely turned my stomach. Mary Bay is a large pond/lake that is just filled to the brim with waterfowl turds. Each year it gets a little smaller and I know why: it’s being filled in with poo. We could only survey a small portion of the perimeter because the ground was so unstable. When we did manage to dip a net, it was always filled to the brim with bird doo-doo (and also few chorus frog tadpoles and one dead salamander larvae). The rest of the sites around Mary Bay were thermal and completely dried up. Since we were close to the road and a prime internet spot, people parked in the pull-offs and watched us survey. This included the Wisconsonian-forest ecologist-trouble-makers who relished the opportunity to heckle us from their truck. Jerks! Since most of the wetlands were dry in previous years, we had assumed that we would finish quickly. Hah! Hah…hah! Well, you know all about how our assumptions turn out by now. I had a self-imposed end time of 2 pm because I had to drive to Jackson Hole to see the 4th of July fireworks. So we finished the bay sites within two hours and hustled up the ridge to survey the other sites. Oh, I should mention, right before our ridge hustle, I literally came four feet from running head first into a solitary male bison. He was hanging out in a thermal area just over a little hill. I was running to catch up with Andrew, crested the hill and there was big boy bison standing right in my blind spot. We were literally face to face. He seemed delighted to see me and was not alarmed at all. I, on the other hand, nearly shat myself and ran away. I looked back and he seemed disappointed in my reaction, like he was lonely and looking forward to sharing his little thermal pool with me.

I caught up with Andrew and it was onward and upward. On the map and gps there seemed to be an obvious trail to the sites but that was soooo not the case when we crested the ridge. The trail looked like tornado alley. It was a never-ending sea of mature downed trees that we had to climb over. It took hours to get to and from each wetland and it was painful. Here is what I want to write in the field notes for future surveyors: Upper Mary Bay–You will get shived more times than a prison yard scuffle. No joke. My legs are now a cut-up, bloody, and bruised mess. Every step through that site was painful. A rainstorm rolled in during our last few surveys but it was a welcome reprieve from the brutal heat. And our last few sites were rather pleasant. We followed well-traveled game trails to the wetlands and the lush forest suddenly felt like we were in the Pacific Northwest. A few of the wetlands that were dry in previous years, were the size of small puddles but they were overflowing with near metamorph chorus frogs. They had tiny little arms and legs but still had their large tadpole tails. They were adorable! Once our last site (which was dry) was finished we followed a game trail out and it was easy-going. What took us several hours to hike on the way in took us only a few minutes to hike on the way out. Let that be a lesson to you, always take the game trails. You may end up in a bear den or exactly where you want to be, either way, it’s better than being in a jail yard situation.

Luckily, I was finished by 2 pm and was on my way to Jackson. The fireworks were great. The company was great. I couldn’t have asked for anything more. The one thing I learned from my weekend though was to never, ever, try to find a spur of the moment campsite or hotel anywhere near Yellowstone, the Tetons or Jackson Hole during the 4th of July. You either have to plan way in advance or just give up. The rest of my weekend was spent with someone I absolutely adore. He drove over seven hours to come visit lil ole me, which was way more than I would have ever expected from him. I played tour guide (which I failed at for the most part) and the weather was absolute crap at times but it was a lot of fun.

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Yellowstone: July 2nd, 2013

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It’s hard to tell but this creature is rubbing him/herself against a tiny metal rod.

Crawfish Creek (I like to call it Mississippi Mud Bug Creek) was another brutal experience. The four mile/ two-hour hike to our wetlands was a nightmare filled with boggy surprises, seeps that will swallow your limbs, thermal areas, stream crossings, hoards of hungry biting flies, blood thirsty mosquitoes, steep mountains, intense heat, huge swaths of downed old-growth trees, dense forest with spider webs in the face, etc… By the time we got to our first site, our shoes, socks and pants were completely waterlogged and mud-soaked from experiencing the entire array of the ways one could get sucked into the muddy center of the earth. The wetlands–at least the ones that weren’t dried up–were nice to survey. Thankfully, most were large ponds or wet meadows that were easy to navigate. There’s nothing I hate more than a large, untrustworthy wet meadow (ex. Tanager Lake) but give me a small one with a few little pools in it and I‘m as happy as a pig in mud. We caught a lot of chorus frog tadpoles and a few spotted frog tads (which were enormous). Once again, Andrew made the most of it and was hugely entertaining. Most of the time we bonded over guns, gun rights, gun legislation, self-defense, violence in society, etc… We also talked about our favorite actors from Bruce Campbell to Anthony Hopkins to Daniel Day Lewis and Tarantino movies. I had my suspicions before but this catchment made me realize that Andrew does not think of me as a girl and I love it. Most of the time we talk about guitars, cigars, guns and politics…all the things I enjoy but no one usually talks about with me. It’s totally refreshing and I’m going to miss it. The walk out went a little quicker but the biting flies were unbearable. The field notes from previous years said to don head nets because of the flies but neither of us were that prepared. They wouldn’t have made much of a difference though. The flies attacked the entire body regardless of clothing or nets. They were an unstoppable force of pain. I could even hear them chuckling at our attempts to deter them with bug spray. They bit my stomach, through my shirt, and intensely focused their attack on my hands. By the time we got back to the car, our hands were completely chewed up and swollen and my welted stomach hurt for several days after.

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Still rubbing…
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The young ones are tentative about crossing.
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They own the park and they know it.
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Take your time…no one’s waiting.

 

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Yellowstone: June 15th, 2013

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Today was an official day off of work. I spent most of the morning reading, writing and organizing my photos. Then I took a brief walk to the Elephant Back trail. This was the first hike we went on as a group back in 2006 and I felt like I was on death’s door the entire time. I was lagging way behind the rest of the crew, huffing and puffing. To tell you the truth, that first hike had me terrified that I didn’t have what it took to make it through the field season. But, as we know, I certainly did. So I found myself, once again, at Elephant Back ready to tackle the beast. This time around it was easy. I’m not sure if I’m in better shape now (doubtful) or if I’m just better at going my own snail-like pace. I believe the latter to be more of the case. Overall, it was an easy hike and the views were gorgeous–which I was too busy gasping for air last time to fully appreciate. I had to laugh because there was a 75-ish-year old couple complete with walking canes making the trek as well. A great example of what a sissy I can be at times.

 

 

Then I went to the Lake Lodge to use the internet, which ended up being down so I had to drive the 16-miles to Canyon in the hopes of there being internet. It took about 45 minutes to drive those 16-miles because the bison just loooove to slowly meander right in front of the cars. God, I just adore bison. I have to resist the urge to molest them by running my fingers through their soft, shedding coats. They just look like gentle giants, although I know they’re not. In fact, my little nephew, Pugsley (he’s a black pug), looks just like a mini bison, which just compounds the urge for me. Needless to say, it’s never advisable to be on a tight schedule in this Park. Anyways, I made it to Canyon, paid my $4.95 for internet service just to find that this very electronic journal would not upload because…well it’s a long technical story but I can’t update my blog now–unless I want to drive two hours each way to do so. That was a huge bummer for me. I was so hoping to keep everyone up-to-date on life in the field. So I drove back, extremely downtrodden, with Guns & Roses blaring my angst throughout Hayden Valley. Every bear, moose, elk, bison, wolf, coyote, frog and shorebird got to hear a little Welcome to the Jungle. It’s just my way of sharing the musical highlights of human society. I went to bed feeling rather defeated but grateful, knowing that tomorrow promises to be a serene, internet-free day off.

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Yellowstone: June 12th, 2013

 

 

Hayden Valley
Hayden Valley
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A leisurely swim
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Big boy bison

 

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Wait for the irony…wait for it…
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…and here it is!

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posing
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just after this he rolled in dirt
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now off to cause a bison jam.

Training Day: Thrice

Today feels like I’ve finally settled in, which is a lot quicker than most field jobs I’ve had. Perhaps it’s because I’ve done this before. Andrew, Deb, and I navigated to some wetlands nearby. I kept up just fine despite being rather out of shape and squishy and having comparatively stumpy legs with a 0.4 meter stride–which basically works out being a pathetic shuffle. Thankfully, I have not experienced any ill effects from the altitude change; however, that increased daylight has messed with my rhythm a bit. It’s still light out at 9:30 pm and my body doesn’t know what to do with that. It rained on us and the temperature dipped down to about 35 degrees during our surveys. Still, there’s no place I’d rather be. It was heaven, even if I did trip over a log on my way out of the thick forest, for all to see and enjoy. It’s all good. Nothing unusual. You gotta remain loose and then you will never get injured–that’s my little tip of the day. As I write this, I’m overlooking the majestic and lush Hayden Valley at dusk. This is where the bison, bears, and wolves all love to roam. I’m talking about some serious home on the range stuff here.