• My latest book available in paperback and eBook formats

  • Available from Amazon paperback or Kindle

  • Updated w/double blind study results. Ebook or paperback

  • New updated edition available NOW!

  • Recent Posts

  • Tracking Footprints

  • Archives

  • Top Posts

  • Pages

An Advertisement for Yellowstone!

Happy Mother’s day.

Since my son is in New York, I gave myself a present.  The last few days have been either too busy or too cold to go into the Park.  I heard the road opened earlier than the scheduled date, Friday, the 8th.   So on Thursday I headed up towards Cooke City.  I never made it because of a snow storm.  Not that the snow was so bad, but I figured the animals wouldn’t be out.

This morning I woke up early and was out the door by 7am.  I’m only 40 minutes from the Park’s entrance; an hour from the Yellowstone Institute in the Lamar Valley.  Because I had the dog, my plan was to visit for 1/2 day, and take a hike outside the Park the other half, with the dog.

In the span of those 3 hours in the Lamar (or on my way there), I saw: (disclaimer…sorry my photos up close are not great.  I just have a small digital camera that I use because its lightweight for hiking.  Maybe I need to get a better one as well.)

Elk in my Valley.  I thought elk on left looked quite pregnant.

Elk in my Valley. I thought elk on left looked quite pregnant.

First thing on the way to Chief Joseph were some early morning grazing elk.  They are getting ready to calf soon.  My neighbor, on whose pasture these elk are grazing, called me yesterday to tell me to watch my dog as a wolf walked past her daughter yesterday.

Moose on Chief Joseph Highway

Moose on Chief Joseph Highway

These two moose were up past the 212 turnoff to the Park, right alongside the road.  I didn’t see any moose in the Park, although usually some hang out in the river right past the NE entrance.

This one just sat and watched me.  She had frost on her fur.

This one just sat and watched me. She had frost on her fur.

Here’s the approach to the NE entrance.  There was no ranger at the gate today, so no entrance fees.  Happy Mother’s day.

Entrance to Park

Not too far into the Lamar Valley, I stopped by a crowd with scopes.  I watched 2 wolves for a long time, one a collared gray female and the other a black.  They seemed to be trying to figure out how to cross the creek and road to get back to their den on the other side.  There was a lot of howling and prowling.

This is through the scope.  He was way across the Lamar river.

This is through the scope. He was way across the Lamar river.

Pronghorn were all over the hillsides.  Bighorn sheep were grazing high up.  I continued down the road a bit, still wanting to see some Bison babies, when I was distracted by another black wolf of the Druid pack, very close to the road.  I stopped and watched with my naked eye.  He was walking back and forth along the stream bed.  He was so close to the road that I thought he wanted to go to the other side as well.   Suddenly, he had something in his mouth.  It was a fish!  He brought the fish over to a nearby snowbank (all this within 200 feet or so of the road), played with it,  rolled on top of it, then devoured it as a magpie watched.

Wolf eating a fish he just caught

Wolf eating a fish he just caught

Wolf eating a fish

Wolf eating a fish

Finally I moved on to see the Bison calves.  The one animal we don’t have in our valley next to Yellowstone is Bison.  They wouldn’t be allowed to migrate out of the park.  Granted, they do shoot a lot of wolves outside the park, but they return and soon reform local packs.  In addition, each state is required to have a certain amount of wolves in their delisting program.  But Bison no state will tolerate because of the perceived threat of brucellosis to cattle.

Here are the baby pictures:

Bison calf

Bison calf

Mom with two calves in the grass nearby

Mom with two calves in the grass nearby

If all this wasn’t enough (I’d barely driven a mile within the Lamar), I went a short distance down the road to view the Grizzly hanging out within 100 feet of the highway.  He’d been there all morning.  On my way, another black wolf walked through a herd of grizzlies.  He was joined by a grey and they both began howling.  They were answered by a wolf on the other side of the road, not visible to me, near their den site.  A coyote began yipping in tune to the wolves, and then he sauntered across the road.  Several Red Tail hawks circled overhead, while Sandhill Cranes walked along the water’s edge.

Here is the bear:

This grizzly spent hours upturning Bison paddies for insects underneath

This grizzly spent hours upturning Bison paddies for insects underneath

Grizzly rooting around

Grizzly rooting around

I’ve oftened pondered what makes for that special nurturing quality of Yellowstone.  I left the valley and could feel its warm embrace.  There is so much life there.  The animals seem at peace, not threatened.   They are simply doing what they do, going about their business.  There is always a palpable feeling in the air there, like a slice of heaven.  Is it the volcano living underneath?  All the hot springs?  I think its where the natural order of things are in place.  In Yellowstone, man is not the top predator.  This has been so for generations upon generations of wildlife and they ‘know’ it.

It is time to acknowledge Yellowstone for what it truly is–the serengeti of North America–and treat its surrounding environs as such.  Outside of the Park, they are supposedly ‘protected’, but special interests always come first.  Buffalo cannot migrate to lower ground in the winter or they are killed; wolves even when they weren’t delisted were killed regularly (they know what the sound of a helicopter means outside of the Park); right now is bear hunting season in my valley.

The income from open grazing or from hunting tags pales in comparison to tourists coming to see our ‘Serengeti of wildlife’.  Having the Cattle or Sheep lobbyists win every legislative battle is old school.  It is time we see what we have here that is truly of value, and so unique.  It is time to preserve this land of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, not just Yellowstone Park, and manage it with wildlife as the number one priority.

There couldn’t have been a better advertisement for Yellowstone as this mornings two hours in the Lamar Valley.

Coyotes and Communists

Oregon Basin is sagebrush desert surrounded by sandstone formations outside of Cody.  It’s desert hiking with so many things to explore.  I’ve only been there a few times.  Its a maze of BLM dirt roads, mostly used for oil and gas explorations.  One of the oldest oil fields in Wyoming, coal was also mined here from the late 1890’s to the 1940’s.   Old mines and buildings can still be found. But long before all of this, Native Americans camped and hunted in the basin.

On one of my few explorations here last year, a friend took me to a petroglyph site.  We drove through barbed wire gates, mile upon mile of windy dirt roads, past working derricks, until we parked alongside an abandoned coal mine.  We walked around a sandstone ridge to a small box canyon.  Protected from wind, it was the perfect campsite.  That’s where the petroglyphs were, along with a giant rattlesnake.  Sadly, many of the glyphs were defaced and beer bottles and trash was strewn around.Oregon Basin, Cody

I really like exploring the desert and its formations.  W__  spent 20 years hiking the basin and surrounding badlands.  Today we turned off onto a dirt road from the Meeteetse Hwy.  Someone had been killing coyotes and dumping them there.  Two fresh kills  attracted several Golden Eagles that flew off as we drove bye.  More old coyote carcasses were strewn along the way.  Coyotes rank as predator status.  That’s the status that Wyoming wants for wolves, which means it’s legal anytime to shoot the animal on sight.

I asked W__ why someone would be shooting coyotes around the basin.  There’s no sheep here anymore, just cattle at certain times of the year.

“Because its something to do”, he answered.  “Someone is baiting around here, so watch your dog.  There’s traps.  Do you know what a coyote trap looks like.”

I told him I didn’t.  W__said that by law a trapper is supposed to hang a sign, like a rabbit’s foot, by the trap.  We hiked over the hill and alongside a sandstone ledge.  Almost immediately he said “Here, I’ll show you what to look for” and took me over to a small overhanging rock with a 2×4 piece of wood half buried.  Attached to the wood were two wires.  “This is what they wire their traps to.  I stepped in one once.  They didn’t sign it, and it was half buried in snow.  Luckily, it didn’t get much of my foot and I could wiggle out.”  I tore the wires away from the wood and tossed them.

We talked for a while about random coyote killing with no reason.  W__is my philosopher and preacher friend.  “Always gotta have something to blame your troubles on.  Used to be the ‘communists’.  When I first came to Wyoming, everything you didn’t like got blamed on the communists.  When that went away, it became the coyotes.  With the sheep industry mostly gone, now its the wolves.”

I told him a story about my old neighbor, JB.  Only a few days ago we were talking about something contentious, maybe the economy, when suddenly he said “Its the communists.  They’re the ones doing all this.”  I was certainly puzzled.  Then he looked me dead in the eye and asked “You’re not a communist, are you?”  I had to laugh.  I’ve been accused of a lot of things, but that was so ’50’s!

We walked around ledges, exploring all the niches.  Koda kept busy looking for jackrabbits.  Rabbit scat seemed to cover every inch of the desert.

“I’ve found a few arrowheads in the Basin.  Once I found a scraper.  Never found that much though.”  We came across a ‘boneyard’, an area with a large scattering of small bones from jackrabbits, gophers, and mice.  W___ pointed out a ledge that contained a small cave that looked like a coyote had set up camp there in the past.  I found a perfect gopher skull inside.Sandstone formations

With the desert sun warming and the ground was free of snow, we choose a windless large smooth boulder for a lunch spot.  I passed some time picking sticky bentonite clay from my boot soles.   In the distance, a herd of pronghorn lazed and ate.   I’d just watched an episode last week of Wyoming’s Congresswoman, Cynthia Lummis, tell Stephen Colbert that the Pronghorn is the world’s fastest animal.  Colbert made a big deal out of correcting her, saying that the Cheetah is the fastest.  But in a sense they were both right.  Those Pronghorn can sprint as fast as 60 mph and sustain a speed of 30 mph for miles.  Cheetahs sprint faster but flag out after a few hundred yards.

When I first got here, people told me Pronghorn were related to goats.  They’re not.  In fact, they’re not antelope either. They’re completely their own thing.  Antilocapra americana are the sole surviving member of a family dating back 20 million years, which means they’re an ancient animal.  They don’t quite fit into any category.  They have horns that are somewhere between antlers and horns,  that shed and are branched; they lack dew claws, and  can pick up movement 4 miles away. They are super fast and love a good race.  There are many stories of them racing cars at 60 mph and beating them.    At one time they were probably as numerous as the bison, and were slaughtered at the same time.  Today most Pronghorn live in Wyoming and Montana, and probably total around one million.  Male Pronghorn

We  headed back towards the car and I picked up a small old pronghorn horn.  I dropped W__off and did some shopping in Cody.  In the health food store, I noticed at the counter there was notice urging me to call my congressperson about a bill to make organic farming illegal.  The sheet said that Monsanto, the GMO giant, was behind the bill.  I talked with the store owner about it.

“Its’ outrageous.”  he said.  I agreed.  Monsanto are corporate crooks, I added.

“You know who it is, don’t you.”  He looked at me perfectly seriously and said, ” It’s the communists.”

And even I started to think, “Maybe its the communists who were killing those coyotes.”