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: Storm Point

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From Indian Pond, to forest, to meadow, to dunes, to lakeside and back again. Storm Point is a super slice of heaven.
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A glorious view of the mountains from the shore of the largest high-altitude lake in the lower 48, Yellowstone Lake.

Storm Point is my absolute favorite hiking trail in Yellowstone. It’s short, non-strenuous, easy to get to and the views are breathtaking. Additionally, I always have interesting animal encounters here. Last year it was an overly-friendly squirrel doing vaudeville, complete with a top hat and cane, right there at my feet. This year was no different. I witnessed a nail-biter of a marmot squabble during my walk. As I approached the rocky cliff pictured above, an older couple warned me that there was a marmot scuffle in progress so I grabbed some popcorn and pulled up a seat (or stump in my case). There was indeed an argument of some sort taking place and I caught the tail end (oooh no pun intended). The triumphant winner is pictured here:

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Sorry for the animal scavenger hunt here. I promise, if you look hard enough, you’ll see the critter peeking out through the dead limbs on the ground…with a satisfied smirk on its face.

The other marmot was sent packing and scurried up the dunes to nurse its pride on a large rock.

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Can you see the pouty face on the rock there?
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Here’s a closer look at the little fella. That, my friends, is the look of defeat. Poor thing. We all win some and lose some, in seemingly equal measure.

Then I literally ran into a rabbit. Yup, tripped right over it. Apparently, it has the right-of-way on the trail? Is this a rule I was not aware of?

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Yet another animal scavenger hunt! Camouflaged against a tree, you’ll see the little scalywag when I’m not running over it.

Then as I approached Indian Pond, right at dusk, I watched the deer graze around the edges and even saw one swim from one end to the other. Ahh… the wonders of nature never cease to amaze. We are all blessed to live in a world where we can witness such things. Don’t take any of it for granted.

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yellowstone national park

Yellowstone: Crawfish Creek

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Read on…your burning questions regarding Mississippi Mud Bugs in Yellowstone are about to be answered!

Although I enjoy crawdads (or crayfish to us northeasterners), I do NOT enjoy Crawfish Creek. Remember the fire swamp in The Princess Bride? It’s just like that. It’s fun to watch in a movie but not fun to experience in real life. One minute you’re tromping through the forest and the next you’re being swallowed whole by thermal, mucky quicksand. For a few minutes I was sure that I sprained my ankle and I had no idea how I was going to be able to walk to the car through several miles of dense, uneven forest rife with ankle-breakers and non-stop stream crossings thrown in there for good measure. That’s my worst nightmare scenario. We took a break for a few minutes and luckily once the pain subsided I decided that it could bear weight. Sometimes I think that humans are built so inefficiently. I mean, ankles are just silly. Why? All they do is strain and sprain, twist and break.

So although the sites and the hike were hellish, one good thing came out of it. Just as my field partner and I were wondering if crayfish inhabit the cool, high altitude streams of Yellowstone, I looked down and there was my answer. It was at my feet, right there on dry land. Another critter must have plucked it out of the water and left it for some reason (the reason being to answer my question, of course). That’s the beautiful blue Mississippi Mud Bug you see in the picture above. I love it when the world cuts the crap for a second and answers a question in a very clear, concise and unexpected way. I wish that would happen more often.

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My field partner trying to figure out how she’s going to get across the stream. I just plow right through.
yellowstone national park

Yellowstone: Winter Creek

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I’m all geared up a ready to go. This was still at the beginning of the hike, when I wasn’t tired and grumpy!
Campsite at Grizzly Lakes Winter Creek
Our deluxe accommodations! It actually was the nicest place I’ve ever backcountry camped.
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One of the many toads my field partner whispered to.

Welcome to Winter Creek, just past Grizzly Lake! This site was a first for me. I’m not sure how after all these years I’ve managed to avoid it but I finally got a taste. It was a little more than a three mile hike to our campsite but it felt more like ten with our packs on. Nevertheless, it was beautiful! And just like the area promises, we saw some grizzly footprints and some wolf footprints on the way in. That never sets me at ease when it comes to backcountry camping (especially after Gibbon Meadows).

Our campsite was glorious! Deluxe, four-star, glorious. It was the nicest backcountry site I’ve ever been lucky enough to camp in. We had a great view of Trilobite Peak which I found to be a little slice of home because we’re all about the trilobites in New York. There was a stream with crystal clear water running nearby, elk grazing in the valley and a trail leading to an old tiny Forest Service cabin. And I of course took a zillion photos of the adorable tiny structure and proceeded to lose them. Sorry, lovers of all things small and quaint, I let you down.

We quickly set up camp and then hiked to our first survey site so we could take some of the burden off the next day’s workload. The hike was AWESOME! The “trail” started literally right at our tents and it consisted of walking up a dry streambed between two mountains. It was like hiking in the Ithaca gorges but uphill and dry. This kind of terrain is in my DNA. This was my jam.

We surveyed this enormous lake and halfway through it began to storm. I was in such a frenzy to finish that I ended up blowing past my field partner who started 20 minutes before me. And right at the beginning and the very end of my survey I apparently found the one and only salamander in the entire lake. It was right where I had left it from a few hours back so I was able to count it. Then we decided to cut our day short and head back to camp because the weather was threatening to get even worse. It’s a good thing we did because we were hit with a hail storm as soon as we entered our tents.

We started early the next day because we had a lot of bushwhacking and sites to hit and then we had to hike all the way back out before dark. We utilized our trail again and found most of our sites to be small and easy to survey with abundant tads. However, there were a few remote sites that were absolutely treacherous to get to. The, it-took-us-more-than-an-hour-to-walk-a-quarter-of-a-mile, kinda crap. This was even using every dry, semi-clear stream channel we could find but it was still rough going. This several-hour-long walk between wetlands was when I discovered my partner to be the toad whisperer. It seemed like every second she was finding one at her feet and I never discovered a single one. They were absolutely flocking to her. That’s okay though, I didn’t take it personally, I’m the salamander whisperer so we’ve all got our gifts. There’s actually more truth to this than one would expect. Each field biologist seems to be more adept at finding one specific species. It may be that our eyes are better at seeing certain movements or color patterns. There’s something to it though…there’s a master’s thesis hidden in all this somewhere.

When we arrived at the remote sites, they were bone dry, of course. These moments test your patience and acting skills. You’re mad at this point because you’ve gone all that way, through hell, for nothing. On the other hand, you’re also relieved because you’re exhausted and the last thing you want to do is trudge through a wetland with your heavy waders for an hour. So you have to slap on your best game face and pretend to be absolutley devastated.

The hike back to camp was a bitch which involved sliding down the side of a steep mountain on our butts and then realizing it was totally unnecessary after the fact. Oh well, you live, you learn. The hike back out to the car was easy and long but beautiful. We met three girls who were staying at our site and while we were crouched down looking at fresh grizzly tracks, a group of hikers snuck up behind us and scared the absolute crap out of us. We thought they were bears so we screamed bloody murder and jumped into each other’s arms. Needless to say, they got a kick out of us. Adding to that, there was a stream crossing and I was so tired that I didn’t even bother changing into my waders. I just plowed through the water with my sneaks and long pants on. Well, the hikers probably thought I was out of my mind but at least I was memorable…maybe.

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For reference, we surveyed and camped in the top center area of the map.
yellowstone national park

Yellowstone: Gardner River

Gardiner River with Electric Peak Gardiner River 1 Gardiner River 2 Gardiner River- Electric Peak Gardiner River 4This outing took two teams to accomplish because of the five mile walk to the wetlands and the potential for sketchy wildlife encounters. A few years ago, my field partner was almost attacked by a grizzly mother with two cubs during the hike in. The mother literally swam across the river, with her cubs in tow, to charge the crew. Luckily, she was a good mother and swam over to save her little ones from being swept away instead of continuing her pursuit. Despite frequent bear sightings in the area just days before, no bears were seen on our trip…just tracks. However, we did see a lot of elk, which is always a welcome treat.

It was a glorious day and hike, with beautiful views of Electric Peak and the surrounding mountains. I’ve always wanted to climb Electric Peak (and Avalanche Peak) but I’ve never felt fit enough. Maybe next year (fingers, toes and eyes crossed). During our surveys, a few not-so-lovely storms missed us by a mere few feet. I’m not even joking. I was sitting on the edge of the wetland, completely dry, and it was raining in the wetland. There’s nothing worse than being in a severe rainstorm five miles from shelter. That’s just a hop, skip and a jump away from hypothermia. Luck was certainly with us on this trip.

The wetlands were full of chorus frogs (including adorable little metamorphs), adult toads and salamanders which remained just out of my reach. Salamanders enjoy deeper waters and I’m just too short to get to them, even with my telescoping net. Because of this, they tend to make me feel like my surveys lack in accuracy. Yes, yes, basically salamanders make me feel inadequate (paging Dr. Freud) but I forgive them just on the basis of their awesomeness. Luckily, Dr. Andy Long Legs was with me to easily wade into the depths so I could rest easy knowing all bases were covered.

This trip also marked the downward slide between me, my field partner and the other field crew. I will not go into details on this here blog, but let’s just say that the relationship began to sour due to misunderstandings originating from this trip. Sad but true. Things happen and field work is inherently stressful which can bring out the very best and worst in people. I will say for the record, despite all of our differences, I enjoyed each and every person I worked with (and met) this field season and wouldn’t change a thing. It was just a shame that some things went down the way they did.

The hike out was arduous and bloody. I took some bad advice from someone who told me that the entire hike was on-trail so I wore shorts. Big mistake! Either that person clearly wasn’t remembering correctly, or they hated me (probably both). It was 80% off-trail through sagebrush which sliced up my legs with every step. By the end, my legs were on fire from being rubbed raw, whipped and repeatedly stabbed. To make matters worse, I had a few bloody slices across them that were taking the brunt of it all. Every stream crossing was an absolute blessing because I could find relief in the cool water. I didn’t make one peep of complaint though until we got to the car and my co-workers were able to get a good look at me. They were a bit horrified and I was embarrassed that I had made such a rookie mistake. Shorts and field work are not a winning combo. Everyone knows that…except for me…but I certainly do now.

 

From the pictures above, I wanted to point out the beautiful gentian plant being admired. That particular gentian takes 40 years to reach maturity and flower. Wow! That plant is older than me! That seems like an extremely daring life strategy.

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Yellowstone: July 11th, 2013

2013-07-11 14.09.222013-07-11 14.09.462013-07-11 14.09.532013-07-11 14.10.35Oh Craig Pass…why? WHY!? Once again, we had another doozie of a catchment. Previous teams had set up seven navigation points to get us, the easiest way possible, to the wetlands. Well, Andrew and I both want to tell those people off. The navigation points led us through the worst forest known to man. Painful hours later, when we finally made it to our first site, it was a large lake. The entire day was one large lake after the next with a few dried up wet meadows containing a few adult frog hot tubs thrown in there for good measure. Surveys of that size are a lot of work but we hustled. This has been a two-day catchment in all years but one but Andrew and I both agreed that there is no way in heck we were doing this another day. So we blazed through as best we could. Overall, the breeding habitat was actually pretty spectacular and we found chorus frog tadpoles, one spotted frog tadpole and by glorious god we saw lots of neotenic spotted salamanders. Yes! They’re so cool! Their gills look like big frilly clown collars and they swim so fast. The way out was much easier because we completely ignored the terribly misleading navigation points and instead chose to follow the stream bed. It was relatively smooth sailing once we decided to buck the trend. I fell a few times, of course; I was poked so hard by a fallen log that it split my skin; surefooted Andrew even fell; he split his walking stick right up the middle; Andrew’s forehead was so badly eaten by mosquitoes (even through his hat) that it was inflamed and lumpy for the rest of the night; and both my hips and knees were shot. Basically, it was the status quo for the week. On the bright side, it was much cooler and not as sunny so we weren’t desiccated husks (we often net the desiccated husks of damselflies and dragonflies and wonder how cool it would be if humans left behind perfect little husks like that). As fate would have it, that was the only day that Andrew carried enough water with him. Now he probably doesn’t think he’ll need to carry as much next time since he still had some leftover this time. Ahh…I see a vicious circle forming. While we were still in the forest, I exclaimed that I could see the road peeking through the trees. Andrew all of a sudden sings “Let’s go there. Let’s make our escape.” like Scott Stapp of Creed so we entertained each other by doing our best Scott Stapp impressions until we reached the car. Then it was no-holds-barred Creed’s greatest hits on full blast. If our neck’s weren’t hurting before, they certainly were after our one-hour extravaganza of head banging, dashboard drumming and air-guitaring. I’m so glad he’s my field partner. He’s funny and happy even during our worst moments out in the field. Our styles are perfectly balanced: in the mornings he has a positive outlook on the day whereas I’m poo-pooing everything and by the end of the day he’s wanting to die and I’m telling him that things are looking up. Hah! When things get tough, we both turn inwards and get quiet but eventually the jokes always start back up. Even better, he’s equally out of shape so I never feel like I’m lagging behind. I don’t think the gal who was supposed to be with me would be anywhere near as much fun. Sometimes we try to imagine what she would be like. She would be a snobby, extremely fit aerobics teacher and she would make me survey every wet meadow, even if it was dry that year.

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Yellowstone: July 7th, 2013

DSCF2458After a tasty breakfast at the Fishing Bridge soda fountain, my friend had to leave and I felt like a sad little heap (sniffle, sniffle…the sniffles are never ending). It was so nice having him around. In the afternoon, I decided to go for a relaxing hike along the Storm Point trail. The hike was highly recommended by Deb and she couldn’t have been more on point about this one.  It’s only a few miles long but the views of Yellowstone Lake were spectacular. This might be my favorite trail thus far. Along the way I met this very, overly friendly squirrel. It was foraging around right next to me and didn’t mind at all that I was right there. It posed for pictures and scooted around near my feet. At one point during the photo shoot, two other squirrels ran between us and proceeded to get into a wrestling match over some food. My friendly little squirrel just looked at them, then shrugged its shoulders, looked at me and continued being cute. I eventually had to break off our relationship or I was certain the creature was going to follow me home. Enjoy the beautiful photos!

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Yellowstone: July 1st, 2013

Today we tackled the Rock Point catchment. We assumed it would be a piece of cake since most of the wetlands were just off the side of the road and didn’t seem to take previous crews a long time to survey. Some said it was a half day of work, some said it was a short full day. So we figured it would take us–the dream team– a half day, easily. However, the only snag would be three naughty little wetlands: two about 600 meters in and one over 1 km in from the road which had been dry in 2011 & 2012. Okay, so you know how this is going to go already, right? The lesson here is don’t assume anything. The teams that went before us were right about the wetlands near the road, they were super easy to get to and easy to survey. We had them finished in two hours. Our next task was to hit the 600 meter-away wetlands and then  the farthest one. We started out super cocky with 100% certainty that we’d get them knocked out in time to enjoy a half day. That’s when we realized that there were steep ridges between us and these next wetlands. Added to that was the forest became extremely dense with enormous spider webs everywhere you walked and tons of fallen dead trees to either climb over or under. Every step was a challenge and we had too many to go. We eventually surveyed the two wetlands and then we had to literally climb a mountain to get to the remote one. The mix of climbing and having to navigate over/under fallen dead trees is nothing less than torture. It took us two hours to get there, just to find it dry, of course. We cursed the world and headed back down the mountain and ridges for another two hours of being scratched and scraped by dead tree limbs. The only thing that made the entire experience bearable was Andrew’s sense of humor. The things he says are totally hilarious. I’m so lucky to have him as my partner. However, this hike made it abundantly clear that I have a gift for choosing the path of least resistance, while Andrew picks the hardest route imaginable. For example, the GPS will tell him to go directly northwest so he walks in a straight line in that direction which will invariably lead us directly into one impossible tangle of dead trees after the other. I’m always taking a second to look at the entire landscape to see possible routes that will take us over the least amount of deadfall. By the end of the walk, Andrew was following close behind me and we came out of the forest right where the car was parked. Never once did I have to check the compass or GPS. Yes! I have so very few talents and I certainly wouldn’t rely on this one but it’s still nice. Since we completely underestimated this catchment, neither of us took enough water, so by the time we got to the car, we were a little nuts. I had rationed my water so I had one sip left and Andrew drank all of his at the last wetland. Andrew did have a water bottle in the car which was now super-heated and not refreshing whatsoever. Overall, we still managed to finish at 3:30 pm, which was not too shabby considering what we went through. Ever since Rock Point, I see it as my duty to report the complete truth as to how a catchment treated us on the field data sheet. Previous years seem to just report where to park and the length of time it takes to hike in and such. But you have no idea what the conditions are like during the hike. You may get one helpful soul that tells you to beware of biting flies and thermal areas, but that’s it. Not me. I wrote down all of it so people know and are fully prepared for one heck of a rough time.

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Yellowstone: June 19th, 2013

IMG_20130619_170252Welcome to my 16-hour day from both heaven and hell: Nez Perce starting from the west side of the Mary Mountain trail. Andrew and I woke up at 5 am to meet the GRYN crew at the trail head by 7 am. The dorm is almost in the center of Yellowstone, between Fishing Bridge and Lake, and it takes about 1.5 hours to drive to many of our field sites. It’s also about 2 hours from the nearest exit out of the Park. We had a 7-mile hike to the catchment ahead of us with about 15 wetlands to survey (one being a 1.5 hour survey in previous years) and another 7 mile hike out, none of this includes the wader-clad hikes between each wetland. The goal being to turn this mother out in one day so we didn’t have to re-live the hike the next day (giving Andrew and I a four-day weekend, yes!). The hike was really nice, aside from our brutal, break-neck pace. You have to remember, I’m hiking with a bunch of young, fit dudes. My stride measures 0.4 meters and theirs on average is 0.8 meters. So for every one of their steps, I had to take two and by God, I kept up! In some spots I even outpaced them. There were some thermal features along the way and some stream crossings to content with–not to mention the fresh bear scat and enormous grizzly bear prints (sadly, no long-distance sightings though). Two and a half hours later we made it to the catchment. Andrew and I were split up because we were the only ones that knew how to work with some of the data collection equipment. We split up into two groups of three: two people to survey and one to spot for bears and collect habitat data. Surveys went fast and easy. I worked with Andy, the project manager, and perhaps the laziest young fella I’ve ever met. Andy and I would be surveying for amphibians and we would look over and he would be snoozing under a tree. I wanted to smack him but Andy and I worked so efficiently that he didn’t hold us back any. Andy is an absolute hoot! He’s a few years older than me, has the accent and laid back attitude of Matthew McConaughey (I would be shocked if there wasn‘t any naked bongo playing in his past or future), and bonded with me over our love of 80s hair bands.  Needless to say, we got along famously.

Both teams converged on the enormous pond/lake wetland for one final survey. Four people surveyed and it took 1.5 hours each. I found 115 chorus frog tadpoles, 2 spotted frog tads and an enormous neotenic tiger salamander. It took every ounce of restraint I could muster to not kiss that chubby sally on its grinning little mouth and put it in my pocket! In the process of catching the sally, I was nearly attacked by a sandhill crane. Apparently, I was too engrossed in my netting to see that I had nearly trotted upon the crane sitting on her eggs. I was only a few feet away when she flew towards my face. For the rest of the survey she was verbally abusing me from a nearby tree. Eventually, she landed back in her nest to sit atop her two or three enormous eggs. It was kinda neat, besides her almost eating my face off. A storm rolled in just as we were finishing up. Luckily, we only experienced a brief period of hail and extreme cold. On the way out we surveyed a new site the we found earlier and then started our long trek back. It was rather amusing being amongst a group of young guys. I forgot how awkward and undeveloped they are. Some of the stories they were telling, like getting busted for drinking under-age and denying it to a police officer or sustaining severe head trauma while riding home form the bar drunk on your bicycle, were proof positive that our brains truly don’t develop until our early twenties. Nevertheless, they were amusing. The hike back was difficult and painful, to say the very least. Andrew sustained some minor foot injuries and we were all beat from the day. The last ¼ of the trek was by far the most agonizing. I could no longer keep up with the whippersnappers and Andrew was doing as bad, if not worse than I was. By the end, we could barely walk. We did our best to hide our pain in front of the rest of the crew. It took every ounce of cool we had to bid them a causal goodbye. As we turned away from them, on the walk back to Andrew’s car, we promised each other to never tell the whippersnappers how much we hurt. Our pride was the only thing we had at the moment. As soon as they pulled out of the parking lot, we poured ourselves into the car (crying out in pain with every movement), whipped off our wet socks and compared our sores and blisters. I won the prize for largest, angriest looking blister, sadly. The trip home was both funny and agonizing. We told stories to lighten the mood but laughing hurt. The simple act of breathing felt like a steaming hot poker. Our pain was so bad, we saw a tourist excitedly running to her car and just the visual of her running made us both recoil in horror. By the time we reached the dorm, our bodies had seized up to the shape of the car seat. We both considered sleeping in the car because we didn’t want the pain that comes along with bending and standing and certainly not walking. We arrived at the dorm at 8:30 pm and at 9 pm we made it inside. As soon as we opened the front door and made it through the threshold five minutes later, Andrew collapsed and the phone rang. It was Deb, asking how the day went. I quickly and prideful reassured her, got off the phone, walked by Andrew’s lifeless body and was greeted by three amused forest ecologists from Wisconsin, three geochemists from Germany and one sociologist from Laramie, all enjoying our show. They were in hysterics! They had assumed we were hammered when we stumbled in. We pathetically recounted the hike for their enjoyment. Andrew was such a hilarious mess, he pulled up a chair to cook his staple–ramen noodles–because standing was out of the question, then he couldn’t eat them because his body hurt too much, then he left to call his wife but completely forgot to turn the stove off (is this how fires get started in Yellowstone?). Oh we certainly were the nights entertainment! At some points, there wasn’t a dry eye in that kitchen. One group of researchers, who will remain nameless, admitted to faking an animal jam earlier on in the day. They all got out of their car at a roadside pull-off and just started pointing out into the valley. That’s pretty much all you have to do to test the gullibility of human nature: just point into the trees and the suckers begin pulling over and the cars pile up behind you in no time flat. I must admit, I was overly amused and more than a little jealous, I’ve always wanted to do that. After the laughter, I creeped and creaked to bed as soon as my body could get there and slept like a log.

IMG_20130619_175907 (1)The worst part of all this, and I was pondering this on that last ¼ mile back to the car, is that seven years ago, Polly and I did a three-day, 15-mile (each way) back-country hike with 50-pound packs each. It was an absolute hellacious experience that I can’t believe we lived through. We forded several rivers almost getting swept downstream and soaking our packs. We set up camp in very active bear country, got devoured to near anemia by mosquitoes the entire time, starved to the point that we ate mac & cheese that contained more mosquitoes in it than macaroni or cheese, and were hammered by freezing rain soaking us both to near hypothermia. I remember being so exhausted and delusional half way through the 15-mile hike back that I crumbled on the trail and begged Polly to leave me there so I could happily be eaten by a bear. Yet after all that, I came back for more. This year, I specifically signed up, looking forward to more of these “adventures.” I’m here all but tempting the Gods of nature to hit me with their best shot. This leads me to question everything about myself.

Travel, yellowstone national park

Yellowstone: June 16th, 2013

West Thumb Lake Overlook Trail (7)In previous blog posts I’ve mentioned having weird dreams but this morning takes the cake! Have you ever heard your name being called in the middle of the night or right when you are dozing off? I think it’s fairly common and experts say it’s a hallucination of a sleepy mind. I woke up at about 4 am to a disembodied voice say something. The freaky part is that Brooke, one of the new forest ecologists from Wisconsin, woke up at the same time and started yelling “What? What did you say? Who is there?” I just hid under my covers and freaked out. I would have never believed that two people could have the same hallucination or hear the same disembodied voice. The next morning, I formally introduced myself and asked her if she remembered any strangeness in the early hours. She had no recollection of yelling into mid-air in the wee hours of the morn.

Besides disturbing my new dorm-mate with stories of strange voices and such, I started the day off by creating a mock-up of the book I’m writing–with Cassie illustrating. I got farther than I’d imagined and am feeling really good about the potential benefits of having a book like this available. When my ideas became less than awesome I took a break and went to the Fishing Bridge general store to eye the fishing poles and lures. I’ve been manhandling their fishing gear every day since I arrived. When I saw there was only one more metallic green pole left, I knew it was time to spring into action. I gathered up the pole, a lure, a huge hunting knife and went for it. Then I headed to the marina to purchase a fishing license for the entire season. Now I need to find me some pliers to crush the barbs down (a requirement in the park since it does less damage to the fish). There are only a few species considered native to the area and the rest you are legally required to kill. You can either puncture their swim bladders and let them sink to the bottom of the lake (which adds nutrients to this nutrient-deficient ecosystem) or eat them. I’m not sure I am capable of either. I’m a bleeding-heart sucker but we shall see, maybe I will get in touch with my inner mountain man.

The afternoon was spent hiking the West Thumb Lake Overlook. It’s an easy hike with a beautiful view of Yellowstone Lake. On the way back to the car I literally ran into a herd of elk. Since they are not hunted in the Park, they’re accustomed to having humans up in their grill taking photos of them. They didn’t mind me being there at all. I took a photo or two and continued on. As I walked back to the car, I couldn’t help but consider the 4+ million visitors to the Park, most of whom only stay for less than 1.5 days. They’re idea of enjoying the Park is the cheap and dirty pay-off. It’s the view from their tour bus window or the instant gratification of a roadside peek at a herd of bison or elk. Most never get to feel the exhilaration of stumbling into the middle of a herd of bedded down elk. It’s better than nothing I guess, but to me it’s still sad.

Now I’m back at the dorm, sitting at the picnic table, typing this. Just behind me, our favorite bison from years passed, named Swing Set, is lying down next to the playground equipment he’s named after and it looks like he’s brought a friend. Awe. We also have a marmot scurrying around the dorm. Chunky little waddler! He ate the corner of our grass welcome mat. Gross!

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