Monday, March 29, 2010

Heading Home

Do we have to?


The day after our Garnet Hill hike we went back and walked part of the Hellroaring Trail. The trail is named for Hellroaring Creek which was named by a prospector during spring runoff.

It's only a mile downhill to the suspension bridge (a 600 foot drop down muddy and snow packed switchbacks). We wondered how they built the suspension bridge over the Yellowstone. Packing in the concrete and steel cables must have been fun.

There were lots of elk north of the river. Elk are the most skittish animals we've encountered in the park. Probably because these elk wander about 8 miles north out of the park in the fall and and get shot at.

Though at the same time there are elk hanging around the buildings in Mammoth. They are fine if you are next to your car in a pullout by the road, that's where you are suppose to be. But people walking on trail is a problem for them.

We sent these packing up the slope. Philosophically you would like your presence not to alter the animals behavior, but that's hard with elk when you are hiking in the backcountry.

Wolves like elk. We thought this wolf was just ahead of us, since tracks were melting out fast. You can also see older and much smaller coyote tracks to the left of the wolf tracks. A coyote weighs about 30 lbs and a wolf 100 lbs.

On the way out we saw grizzly tracks which weren't there on our way in. Exciting to see when the tracks are fresh and going in the same direction as you are.

The bear veered off the trail and appeared to head back down towards the nice meadows down by the Yellowstone and not up the switchbacks. I'm on the switchbacks below looking back at the Hellroaring looking at the bear and enjoying the vista.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

More Bear!

Monday, Bette and I hiked the Garnet Hill loop trail out of Tower Junction. Weather wasn't that great, with quite a few snow showers, though we did get some sun breaks. The trail starts out going through the rolling sage brush of Pleasant Valley towards the Yellowstone River. You encounter the Hellroaring Trail (what a name), and a suspension bridge across the river. More on the Hellroaring in our next post.

There were signs of spring with these flowers about to bloom.

Ran across a few elk skeletons. The one below was probably from this winter. Some of the bones appeared to be partially buried. We wondered if a mountain lion had killed the elk since a lion will cover up its kill. The kill was also at the base of the steep cliffs on the northwest side of Garnet Hill, which looked like good lion country.

The last part of the trail entered Yancey's Hole, the site of an old hotel during the early days of the park. It's where people now take wagon rides from Roosevelt Lodge to a cowboy barbecue. On the way in we saw bear tracks along the muddy trail. A little bit later as we walked down the wagon/stage road we saw a large dark brown animal in the snow covered flats. It was not behaving like a bison. Through the binoculars we could see it was a grizzly bear!

Adrenaline really kicked in though the bear was a good safe distance away across the hole. He was pretty clear through our binoculars, as we watched the bear play in the snow. He rolled around on his back, laid on his back with his hind legs in the air with rear paws held by front paws (happy baby pose), sat up to look around and laid flat out on his back with front and back legs outstretched like a human looking up at the sky (corpse pose). After playing he started moving off in a direction away from us which was a relief so we started again walking down the road. The photo below was taken probably at the closest we got to the bear. At that point he was ambling around the base of the draw sniffing the ground, and taking a break every now and then to sit down and look around.

The bear was upwind of us, so it wasn't clear that he ever was aware we were there. At times he sat down and looked in our direction, but never got up on his hind legs to look around. We were in clear view the whole time (just sage brush). I tried to sketch some of his antics. It was quite the thrill!

Friday, March 19, 2010

First Bear of spring!

Dave was the program assistant for a photography class the last few days. The class found this bear sleeping on his day bed near the Yellowstone river picnic area Wednesday evening. (the location makes it impossible for me to wipe Yogi Bear images out of my mind). I was very jealous that I missed seeing him so I went back to the picnic area Thursday morning. Luckily he was still snoozing away on the same daybed. He had built up so much grass around himself that he looked like a strange bird on a nest. As far as I can tell the only big change between Wednesday evening and Thursday morning was that by Thursday he had rotated 180 degrees so that his head was pointed in the opposite direction. I went to hike the beaver ponds loop right after seeing him so every shadow under a Douglas fir on the entire hike made me feel my pack strap to be sure my bear spray was present. I hope I get to see more bears before we go, but I don't want to wake one up in case he's grumpy when disturbed.

Blacktail Creek Trail

Last Sunday we hiked to the Yellowstone river. The trail traveled across some rolling sage covered hills and then went down the side of a canyon formed by blacktail creek. The snow was melted from the southern facing slopes but was still clinging to the northern facing ones. When we finally reached the river there was an impressive suspension bridge to take us across.

There are some great campsites along the river-it would be a hot hike down there in summer but if you left really early in the morning you could be swimming by the time it got hot.

On the way back up we scanned the hillsides for bears as we had heard one was seen in the area earlier in the week. We didn't have any luck.

Beaver Pond Loop

I headed towards Mammoth on my day off yesterday in search of a trail with little enough snow to be hikable. The "beaver pond loop" starts and finishes near the Mammoth Hotel. The hotel is closed for the season now so I had the trail all to myself. It climbed up above the hotel area for some nice views of the Gardner river canyon.
It then wound in and out of Douglas fir stands to a series of beaver ponds. This one was the largest of the ponds. Two dams were visible creating a large upper and small lower pond.

The route back was though a high sagebrush covered plateau. At one point I came across this herd of elk. Right after I took their picture they realized I was there and all went running off. I tried to assure them that they could safely stay bedded down but they weren't convinced.

Mystery Bird

I found this bird track while skiing for what looks to be the last time around Round Prairie. It was a frosty morning with a light dusting of new snow. Warm afternoon the day before. There were no other tracks in the vicinity. No little mouse footprints.

My first assumption was some sort of owl jumping on a mouse or other small rodent under the snow. Owls do rely on hearing, so would not need to see the little mouse. But who knows. It's a neat track anyway.