yellowstone national park

Yellowstone: Nez Perce off the Mary Mountain Trail

The glorious view from the Mary Mountain trailhead.
The glorious view from the Mary Mountain trailhead.
A boreal chorus frog.
A boreal chorus frog.
Elk antlers
Elk antlers
An adult spotted frog.
An adult spotted frog.
Black bear print
Bear tracks.
A very large wolf print.
A very large wolf print.
Big sky country.
Big sky country.

If you don’t remember the disaster that is Nez Perce, just note that it was by far the worst site of last year that nearly crippled both Andrew and I. It’s a 7.5 mile hike each way on flat terrain (a few miles are sandy so imagine hiking in sand all geared up) and two to three miles between the wetlands. So in total it’s about 18 miles. Not to shabby. Plus, there’s usually unpredictable weather, stream crossings and wild predators involved. It rained on us last year during our surveys making the hike out in wet shoes and socks bloody, painful and cold.

So you can imagine my delight when we were scheduled to survey sweet little Nezzie Perce on Friday of our first week. And if we didn’t finish our surveys all in one day, we’d have to hike back out there on Saturday. Admittedly, I’m in a lot worse shape than last year, plus I’m super sick with a cold so I didn’t have much hope for this ending well. However, as lady luck would have it, we had a huge team of extremely capable USGS employees on hand to help us knock it all out. Compare this to last year when we had a huge team of complete idiots who only held us up. Andy, the coordinator for this project, took one team and I took the other and we made magic happen! As you can see from the photos, the amphibians flocked to us like the salmon of Capistrano. We saw eggs, we saw tadpoles, we saw adults…. It was great and the weather held out.

The most painful part is always that 7.5 mile hike back to the car and this year was no different. There were a few times that I just wanted to just drop dead but my stubborn arse kept plugging away. What helped the most, because I have super bad knees and hips, is using hiking poles (plus mega doses of hyaluronic acid and flax oil). I’ve never done this before but I cannot express to you the difference it made on my joints. Sure, you look kind of like a pretentious idiot who thinks they’re skiing but it’s worth losing some street cred over it. In fact, I wasn’t even sore the next day whereas last year I couldn’t get out of bed for a few days. Yup, I’m a well-oiled machine out here, save for my cold. But who really needs to breathe anyways? That’s so overrated. Overall, it was nearly a 17 hour day. We left the dorm at around 5am and returned a smidge before 10 pm. Yow!

Also, let me note here that I was among four other girls on this hike and it served as a great reminder that girls are way grosser than guys. All we talked about the entire day was poop. This by no means is a complaint. Poop is where I shine people. I have so many classic poop stories, I should write a book, and I broke out a few of my best during this trip. And let me tell you, the ladies were impressed. The guys were absolutely horrified but I think they need a not-so-gentle reminder every so often that we’re nowhere near as delicate as we let on.

Travel, yellowstone national park

Yellowstone: June 18th, 2013

 

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Antelope Valley with snow-capped mountains.
Antelope Valley
The Beartooth Highway in the background.
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Deb & Andrew enjoying the view.
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Deb with her binoculars.
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Beautiful sunshine.
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The wildflowers are starting to bloom.

If you ever get the chance to visit Yellowstone, you have to take the winding ride from Dunraven Pass to Mount Washburn to Tower to the Lamar Valley. When I wasn’t white-knuckling it in the back of Deb’s car –praying her sight-seeing gaze didn’t stray too far, too long and send us toppling off a cliff–I was totally awestruck by the sweeping views of the Beartooth Highway and Antelope Valley. On a cliff side in Tower, overlooking the falls, is the Park’s only population of chimney swifts. Deb described them as cigars with wings, due to their svelte little bodies. The entire ride was glorious. We met the GRYN crew at the Specimen Ridge trail head (Specimen Ridge contains a petrified fossil forest that I have yet to see) and almost too briskly walked several brutally hot, uphill miles to our catchment. Aside from the large bison herd, there were pronghorn antelope along the way. They’re behavior was a little incongruous when you consider normal ungulate behavior in an ecosystem where they are considered prey animals. A group of three of them nearly walked right up to us, full on. And another group, turned away from us and back-stepped towards us, kind of like we wouldn’t notice their butts getting closer and closer. Presumably, there were babies hidden nearby so they were fully prepared to chase us away if need be. There is also a known wolf pack in the area that we were not lucky enough to see. Once my tired, overheated, parched ass arrived at the catchment–far behind the young whipper-snappers–we got to work surveying what was left of the wetlands. Over the last few years, these wetlands have been drying up at a rapid pace. It’s interesting to look at the data and site photos from previous years to compare. The wetland loss has been obvious throughout the Park due to this being a dry year, but the amphibian breeding habitat loss at this catchment has been staggering. Most sites were entirely dry. Nevertheless, we found tiger salamander larvae, chorus frog tadpoles and a few toad tadpoles. And every step we took between wetlands, there was always and adult chorus frog or two at our feet. I have complete faith that they will figure out the breeding habitat loss situation before we humans do. The walk back was a breeze and so enjoyable since it was all downhill. Such views are truly indescribable. Once again, we drove back from whence we came and it was equally gorgeous on the way home–it wasn’t just a mirage born from fear of unintentionally being driven off a cliff. I got home, cleaned my waders and net, read for a bit and was asleep by 10:30 pm. We had to be up at 5 am the next morning to tackle the dreaded Nez Perce catchment.

 

Crystal Bench
Andrew trying to escape me.

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More antelope butt.
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Interesting place for a tree.