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.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Where the sheep and the antelope play

Although we thought it would be hard to top the white rabbit sighting we decided to go for a short hike after our pizza in Gardiner. As Dave said in the previous post, there's almost no snow left in that part of the park. We hiked a short way up the "Rescue creek trail". Rescue creek was (mis)named because it was thought that it was the site of the rescue of Truman Everts. Everts was a member of the Washburn expedition who was lost for 37 days in Yellowstone. When he became separated from his party in the southern part of the park his horse ran off carrying most of his gear away. He survived by eating thistles (and as a result eventually after being found needed to drink bear grease as a laxative-imagine 37 days of an all celery diet). Luckily he had some opera glasses still with him which he was able to use to start fires to keep warm. He was eventually rescued ( just not on rescue creek) by two fellows who never received their reward money. Washburn felt that since Everts was alive he should pay the reward and Everts contended that he would have found his own way back without the rescuers. At any rate, we got treated to some good pronghorn antelope sitings and even some big horn sheep were down on the flats.

Friday, March 12, 2010

White Rabbit

The day after our trip up to the Pebble Creek meadows we went into Gardiner to go to the post office, grocery store, and get a pizza at the KBar. The environment is a lot different than up in the mountains. Gardiner is always in a rain shadow, and never gets much snow even in a normal year. The elevation there is about a mile above sea level. The Pebble Creek meadows were up at about 8200 feet.

On the way into town near where the Boiling River enters the Gardiner River, we saw a white rabbit in the snowless sage brush along the side of the road. It bolted up the hill, and stopped long enough to get a clear picture. It doesn't stick out as much when it's near the snow patches, but it looked pretty vulnerable lower down where there was no snow.

Jack Rabbits rely on speed (up to 40 miles and hour), and protective coloration to avoid predators. This one needs its summer brown-gray coat. The winter white doesn't look so helpful with all the snow gone.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Pebble Creek

Given the poor x-country ski conditions we thought it would be a good time to snowshoe up to the upper meadows of Pebble Creek. The short 1.5 mile trail up is steep, climbing about 1000 feet from Warm Creek. You can see where we started below.

The meadow was extensive, and untracked except for one set of ski tracks. No big bison churning up the snow here. We felt like we were defiling the scene with our snowshoe tracks. Our skis would have been nice once in the meadow. Snowshoes were slow going.

There were lots of small mammal tracks and these tracks that appeared to be cat tracks. The tracks were pretty melted out, so probably look bigger than the orginals.

Out in the meadow I thought the stride wasn't that long, but the photo below makes it look bigger. So the choices are bobcat, lynx, mountain lion, and probably one of the first two given the type of animals (small) available to eat.

Photos don't do justice to the expanse of white meadow, and the surrounding mountains. Plus the silence. The trail down to the Pebble Creek Campground heads down the meadow curving somehow out of sight to the left through a large gap in the mountains.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


It looks like Spring is here. About three to four weeks early. High temperatures have been in the 40s the last few weeks, and a lot of sunshine. Rivers opening up, walk ways melting. We may have done our last ski. It was doable but the skis clattered on the ice, and we had to walk some of the downhills -- ice packed luge runs. Guess we will look for bears. There are reports of a few out and about.

Saturday, March 6, 2010


Coyote are common in the park. You often see them trotting along the road, and they regularly serenade us. We found this one mousing near Tower Falls along the ski trail.

I missed the pounce.

Looks like it missed this time, but it kept at it as we passed by.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Something Different

While Bette and her sister Diane were touring the Northern Range, I was supporting a bit different type of class -- The Artistic Journal in Deep Winter. It turned out to be a lot of fun. The class started off with making your own journal. Stitching the binding was a challenge. But here is my journal.

The class included working indoors and outdoors with different media. Below are students sketching along the Lamar River. It was a balmy afternoon in the 40s.

The instructor, Eleanor Clark, had some great specimens you could work with. I found the pheasant feet to be quite attractive for some reason. Am I another Olaus Murie or what?

Well maybe not. Here is my memory drawing of coyote and bison in the Lamar Valley.