Tag: Yellowstone

wolves

I have been putting off this post for several reasons. One, because it means the end of the posts about Yellowstone and, thus, no more excuses to revisit on an almost daily basis. Two, because there is so much to say about wolves and I don’t think I could do the subject justice in the short amount of time I have to put into these posts. I will do my best, but don’t be surprised if you are wanting to know more about wolves when you finish reading. I will be adding some links for those of you who are intrigued enough about the subject.

The point of this tour was to see the wolves in their natural habitat during the winter months when it is (sometimes) easier to see them. We were told at the beginning of the trip that we were not guaranteed to see any wolves, but that we would see plenty of wildlife. If you have been following the past 10 posts, you will know that we did see wildlife in the form of moose, mule deer, porcupineslong horned sheep and bison amongst others. But the magic really started happening when I was able to see the wolves.

I am super aware that the re-introduction of wolves into Yellowstone has stirred up huge controversies in our country. Farmers, conservationists and hunters all have a very emotional opinion about these animals, some with good reason, others, not so much. Wolves inspire fear, anger, love and/or joy in most people and conversations can become quite intense very quickly. And the dialogue recently became more heated when the federal government took wolves off the endangered species list. This means that it is up to individual states to allow hunting…which of course is what is happening. While it pains me to know that wolves are now being hunted (for sport!) I have no desire to get caught up in the struggle one way or another. I do, however, feel blessed to have had some time observing these creatures.

Wolves are at the top of the food chain and are amazing creatures. I don’t have enough knowledge to talk about them scientifically, just suffice it to say that they have changed the ecosystem in the park very dramatically in the relatively short time they have been there (They began to be reintroduced in 1994) Click here for an excellent synopsis of the history of wolves in Yellowstone.

So what about my experience???

Well, as I stated in my first Yellowstone post, I got to watch a wolf for an hour through a telescope before he went off to the hill to take a nap. He knew we were there so he stayed at quite a distance. I could see him as a dot with my naked eye but it took the scope to see him closely. Our guide was able to capture him with my iPhone through the scope, a feat I never was able to master. So I have pictures of him, along with a picture of their tracks in the snow.

wolf
wolf
so beautiful
so beautiful
the glove shows the size of the wolf's paws
the glove shows the size of the wolf’s paws

There is quite the community of wolf watchers, all out there to observe behavior, take notes, and photograph them. These are the wolf lovers, the ones who have connected with the wolves on a deeper level, the ones who want to see new litters appear and grow up and form new packs. They are learning how to do this in a respectful and quiet way, and to respect the wolves’ privacy and shyness. Some of the wolves are tagged and have numbers, these people know what they look like and keep track of them. It’s a small group, but friendly and willing to share their knowledge with newbies out in the field.

Needless to say, it was a wonderful experience, one that I am so glad to have had. A trip worth remembering for many years to come.

here are more links for cool places to see and hear about wolves:

http://apps.npr.org/wolves/

http://www.npr.org/2014/02/08/273577607/montana-ranchers-learn-ways-to-live-with-wolves

http://www.californiawolfcenter.org/learn/wolf-facts/

 

 

blue sunset

One evening as we were looking for wolves in the Lamar Valley of Yellowstone, I looked behind the van and saw the most amazing sight. The sun was hitting one of the peaks in the park. Everything else around it was in shadow. The clouds over the Absaroka Mountains were dark and cloudy. Then it continued to get even more dramatic. The clouds turned this really rich blue. It reminded me of something out of the Lord of the Rings.

sunset
sunset

When I turned around to look at the bison that the others had gone off to photograph, I noticed that the river had taken on that blue as well. It was another of the magical moments of my trip.

bison by the blue river
bison by the blue river

This day has stayed with me for the past couple of weeks and I found it showing up in my artwork. Here’s a sneak peek at the basket. To see more of it, click on the picture to go directly to my website.

spiral basket
spiral basket

color

It snowed again last night. We spent an hour clearing off the driveway, walkway and path to my studio…again. I do love winter, just not in March, but this is our fate this year. Like it or lump it.

So I shall travel back in my mind to other snowy climes, specifically Yellowstone. And in true March form, I search for color to combat the white/grey/brown and black that pervades my visual sense at this time of year. Funny, in order to do that we have to travel to another geothermal place, this time one that is located right on the edge of Yellowstone Lake.

The heat and minerals that come up from deep below the surface of the earth can be deadly but beautiful. The colors are beautiful, especially in winter against a backdrop of white snow. Flies buzz just on the surface of the springs…any further away from the heat source and they die in the cold air. The expanse of the frozen lake is beautiful, the springs falling down the rocks are eerie. It is startlingly quiet except for the murmurs of conversations and the mud pot that makes sounds like a washing machine.

can you see the teeny flies?
can you see the teeny flies?
ice covered lake
blue sky and ice covered lake
steam from the springs
steam from the springs
minerals
minerals
minerals and thermal water
minerals and thermal water
awesome color
awesome color

geothermals

We didn’t just look at animals on our trip through Yellowstone, we also stopped at some of the amazing geothermal features in the park. Because Yellowstone is a dormant volcano, there are a lot of places for gasses and minerals from deep in the earth to escape. These create geothermal features around the landscape, including the most famous, Old Faithful. Geysers, mud pots and thermal springs can be found throughout the park. Here is one that we stopped at. In winter, they become almost eerie in their beauty.

I was able to get away from the group in order to take these pix. It was my first chance to be “alone” amongst the landscape. It felt wonderful.

Bison like geothermals
Bison like geothermals
snow covered wasteland
snow covered wasteland
wood abstract
wood abstract
the steam from the pool creates cool frost on the trees
the steam from the pool creates cool frost on the trees
steam, frost and dark skies
steam, frost and dark skies
lone sentinel
lone sentinel

unplowed

What do you do when you can’t drive somewhere because the roads aren’t plowed? You take one of these!!!

Bombardier or snow coach
Bombardier or snow coach
tight quarters
tight quarters
trailer for our stuff
trailer for our stuff

Bombardiers, named for the J. Armand Bombardier, who patented the Bombardier Snowbus in 1939, are, quite simply, “da bomb” when it comes to snow travel. I urge you to check out the website of the company we used, they have the most authentic versions of the snow bus (aka snowcat, snow coach etc.).

We piled in, took our seats and took off on a wild ride through the snow. Occasionally we would see wildlife and stop to take pictures from the roof hatch. Traffic was pretty nonexistent except for the occasional group of snowmobilers (ugh) and the lone park ranger. Regulations on winter travel in the park are pretty fierce and it is kept down to a minimum in order to keep the ecosystem as calm as possible. Each driver had lots of stories to tell and kept turning around to yell them to us (it’s a little loud in there) and so I was glad that there weren’t too many snowmobilers or bison or moose or…

Riding in one of these is an interesting experience that I’m glad I had…wouldn’t want to do it for the rest of my life but for a couple of days it was fun!

moose

There are lots of moose in Wyoming. Believe it or not, they can actually hide if they are lying down in the brush. Only their big heads can show and only if you are looking for them. They lose their antlers in the winter which makes them even harder to see. Moose are actually more graceful in snow, their long legs are perfectly proportioned and designed to use as little energy as possible stepping in tall snow drifts. They are still kinda funny looking though.

I lost count of how many we saw, I think it stood around ten. Here are some of the places we saw them:

where's the moose?
where’s the moose?
out in the open
out in the open
detail
detail, he eventually crossed the road and disappeared
trying to get over the fence
a different moose crossing the driveway
in someone's backyard
in someone’s backyard
sleeping in the trees
sleeping in the trees

gone and back

Sometimes vacations become more than a trip away from home. Sometimes they become a spiritual retreat, a moment of connection with the greater (and simpler) meaning of life. This was one of those trips for me.

It did not start out that way. A twelve hour day to get two thirds of the way across the country depleted my energy sufficiently for me to come down with a cold by the end of the first day. And not just any cold, but one that makes you stupid, grumpy and old. The travel was ridiculously idiotic, it all revolved around a broken bathroom on the plane in which we were supposed to fly into Jackson Hole.  It ended with us having to make an unscheduled stop in Denver before flying to Jackson Hole. I won’t bore you with the details but suffice it to say that by the time I found my luggage didn’t make it to Jackson Hole, I burst into tears. Not an auspicious start to a vacation.

The next day went to the dogs…literally. We spent the day learning the art of dogsledding and I actually drove a dog sled for five miles. A two foot snow storm the night before made things a little more difficult but all in all it was a good day. That night we had our first of many group dinners, meeting our two guides and the rest of the members of the tour.

Throughout the week we spent much time driving around in special vans, stopping to look for wildlife. The list of birds and mammals increased each day, some we saw close up, some were quite a distance away and could only really be viewed through telescopes. Traveling through Yellowstone in Bombardiers (snowcats) was truly a wonderful experience, but I would not want to have to travel that way every day. I hope I don’t put any noses out of joint when I say that Old Faithful was somewhat disappointing. Maybe I was just really tired. By this time, my cold was in full swing, and the only thing that saved it was the cold medication I took religiously.

Then we drove to the northern parts of the park to find the wolves. And that’s when the magic happened for me. A snowshoe trek to an old wolf’s den became my moment of true connection with the earth. It is a bit hard to explain, and maybe I won’t really try. It was just one of those moments when the stressors of life fall away and you are left simply being where you are, taking in what is around you without any thoughts, without any judgements, without any anxiety.

I was blessed to have guides who understood this and didn’t try to rush me through the moment. There was no feeling like I had to hurry up to get back to the van because we had other places to be and things to do. Quite simply, it was RIGHT NOW that mattered the most.

The magic continued that night with an outstanding sunset. And the next morning we were able to spend over an hour observing (through the scopes) a wolf traveling and howling in the distance. The sound of a wolf howl is like no other, it brought a smile to our faces. It is lower than a coyote’s, and therefore is harder to hear, yet it pierces the soul. I talked to the wolf through the scope, he knew we were there and kept looking at us crazy humans standing on a ridge looking at him. Finally he went up into the hills to take a nap. I wanted to join him.

The return trip was just as ridiculous as the one out there, another comedy of errors that added hours on to the voyage. But I kept the wolf in my heart and managed to (mostly) slide through the day. I made it home eventually, at least physically. Spiritually…that’s another story.

I think I will take the next few posts and show snapshots of the trip. The pictures can’t and don’t do the trip justice, my camera is just not good enough to capture the expanse and beauty of the winter scenes. However, they might give you a glimpse of what Yellowstone is like in the winter. Here is the first one, taken in the Lamar Valley in the north of the park on the last day of the trip. It is one that will stay in my mind for some time to come. The tracks that you see were made by wolves and bison.

 

great expanse
great expanse