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Back At You!

Hello everyone! It has been a hectic four plus months and I’ve missed you! Yes, I’m still alive, still taking pictures, and still heading into the wilderness. The biggest change is I’ve gone back to school working toward a second Master’s degree. OK, this is a lot of work, and since I’m retired I sometimes ask: WHY? Well, because I’m a life-long learner and can’t help myself.

So in my crazy, busy, demanding new school life, I “escaped” one morning to visit a place I love close by. We have walked here before, Missouri River Headwaters State Park. This day I arrived before sunrise to soak in the pre-dawn beauty, the glorious sun coming over the mountains, and the autumn landscape.

Come on along . . .

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SNAP*Shots: The Marvelous Monument Plant

What are those tall stalks growing in the meadows? Do you see them? Let’s explore.

This four- foot stalk is covered with small flowers, and the flowers are green with purple dots. They look more like they belong in subtropic areas of the world, not the meadows of Yellowstone. So unusual and so beautiful.

This is a Green Gentian (Frasera speciosa), also called the Monument Plant, and is monocarpic. No, I didn’t know what that was either, but it thoroughly explains this unique plant. Green gentian can live to be 80 years old, but each year of its life all you see are the pretty basal leaves growing a few feet tall and reaching to the sky until . . .

. . . the last year of its life when it produces a stalk from 4 to 7 feet tall covered with beautiful small  flowers. The flowers range from pale green to white with purple or blue dots, but I’ve only ever seen the flowers in shades of green. This is the  “monument” phase. Each flower produces up to 60 seeds ensuring the next generation. The plant then dies leaving the dead stalk which may stand a few years, as you can see above.

So “monocarpic” means growing many years without flowering, then flowering and dying after its seeds are developed. We may see many stalks across a meadow or only a few, but the stalks tell us that this is the last hoorah of this amazing monument plant.

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Nature Walk in Kodachrome

Today we are taking a short nature walk that highlights Utah’s beautiful sandstone formations and life in the high semi-desert ecosystem. We are visiting Kodachrome Basin State Park about 20 miles southeast of Bryce Canyon National Park. I’m already in awe of the fantastic, similar yet different, landscape of Kodachrome. Let’s take our time and really enjoy!

Let’s explore more . . .

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Zion’s Northwest Treasure: Kolob Canyons

Tucked away in the northwest corner of Zion National Park is the stunning five-mile scenic drive into Kolob Canyons. Most people either drive right by or never take the time to head to this area. It’s a shame for them, but means less crowds for us. Kolob is home to narrow parallel box canyons, called finger canyons, cutting into the western edge of the Colorado Plateau. Glorious peaks with 2,000 foot crimson cliff walls.  The word “Kolob” is from Mormon scripture meaning “residence closest to heaven.” Let’s see for ourselves!

Come on along . . .

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SNAP*Shot: Annual Visit with Harlequin Ducks

It’s Mother’s Day and once again the Harlequin ducks (Histrionicus histrionicus) are at LeHardy Rapids not far from Yellowstone Lake.  We talked about them a few years ago, but they are fascinating and so beautiful. Let’s visit with them again.

Look there . . .

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Zion’s Angel’s Landing Challenge !?!

I am excited! This is my very first visit to Zion National Park in southern Utah. Taking the shuttle bus into Zion Canyon, the only option from mid March to late November, we’ll get off at the Grotto picnic area. From there we cross the bridge over the Virgin River and begin the hike to Angel’s Landing. One of the most famous hikes in the national park system and one of the very best short hikes in all North America, how can we not give it a go? This is the most popular hike in Zion, but many people turn back before going half way. You know me. Lung issues make elevation gains a real struggle plus I’m afraid of heights–remind me again why I’m visiting canyons? Well, why not!

I already know I cannot walk the last half mile to the top of Angel’s Landing since it requires pulling yourself along chains, using both hands for safety, then walking on a rock trail, sometimes only 3-feet wide, with 1,000 foot drops on each side. Totally not an option for me! My challenge is to make it up 1,080 feet to Scout Outlook. However, Plan B is going as far as I can without being scared to death by narrow trails along cliff edges. Always good to have a Plan B. So let’s get going. It is 7am, temperature in the mid 50’s, and the sun is beginning to hit the mountain tops. A beautiful morning to challenge that fear of heights!

Let’s go . . .

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Ousel Falls Wander

Well, it is that time of year. Not really winter, not really spring. Ice on the trails, lots of brown popping through the dirty-looking snow that’s left. The evergreens are not their beautiful greens, more like a yellow-green and pale. So to make up for this “it’s so much better any other time of year” feeling, we are going to Ousel Falls outside the town of Big Sky, Montana.  A short walk down and up, switchbacks across, through a canyon, and then rewarded with a beautiful waterfall. With all this ice, though, be sure to put on your ice cleats. It is mostly overcast today, but the sun is peeking through a bit and it is supposed to reach 52°.  That’s warm without wind, but we’ll see if the predicted wind changes things. Have those cleats on? Let’s go!

Watch your step . . .

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SNAP*Shot: Red Foxes

The red fox (Vulpes vulpes) is the most widespread and adaptable mammal on earth. They are found in very diverse habitats from the Arctic to the dessert. The also adapt easily to human environments such as farms, suburbia, and even cities. Foxes have a nickname, “reynard”, from the French word renard, which refers to someone who is unconquerable due to his cleverness. The resourcefulness of the red fox has earned it a legendary reputation for cunning and intelligence.

Yellowstone has been home to red foxes for many years, first documented in the 1880s.  The red fox is the smallest canid (dog family Canidae) of three found in the park, coyote and wolf being the other two. Foxes rarely howl like wolves or yip and sing like coyotes, they bark. They do have many communication sounds, but primarily they bark. The average female (vixen)  weighs about 10 pounds. The male (dog) weighs 11-12 pounds. They stand about 16 inches tall at the shoulder and are about 3 feet long. One third of their length is that beautiful, bushy, white-tipped tail. Although the average lifespan in the wild is 3-7 years, red fox in Yellowstone can live up to 11 years. I guess they love it as much as we do!

red fox

Continue . . .

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Snowshoeing Upper Terrace

The sun’s out! What a change from the gray landscape and snowy conditions we’ve seen day after day in Yellowstone. Let’s head to the Upper Terrace at Mammoth Hot Springs for a winter hike around the loop called Upper Terrace Drive. During the summer season (April-early November), this road is cars only. When snow falls, it becomes the domain of folks on skis and snowshoes.

The Mammoth upper and lower terraces form a massive hill of travertine. Travertine is the result of thermal (HOT mineral-laden) water rising through limestone. The water carries large amounts of dissolved limestone (calcium carbonate) as it races to the surface. Upon reaching the surface, carbon dioxide is released depositing the calcium carbonate which forms travertine, the chalky white mineral that forms the rock of the travertine terraces. Travertine formations grow rapidly due to the “soft” nature of limestone. They also change quickly as we will see along the trail. One fascinating fact that continues to amaze me is that all the extremely hot water creating this entire travertine area comes through a fault line from Norris Geyser Basin about 20 miles south. That is some hot-water pipeline. So my friend, strap on those snowshoes and let’s go!

Come on . . .

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Ride~About: Winter Gray on Gray

How exciting to be traveling into Yellowstone via snowcoach on this winter day, although a very gray winter day. Our trip has been planned for about a month. It is totally overcast, snowing occasionally, but not too cold–in the mid 20’s. Since we are all photographers, we hope the weather will improve, but ya pay for ya ride and take ya chances!

We left West Yellowstone traveling through the West Entrance. We will be driving to Madison Junction then to Old Faithful, with stops all along the way at the various thermal basins. As we drive along the Madison River, we are hoping to see a bobcat or the pair that have been hunting in the river over the last few weeks. Keep your fingers crossed. We’ll also hope for some sun as the day progresses, then again, there is never a bad day in Yellowstone!

snowcoach gray view

 

Here we go!

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SNAP*Shot: Winter’s Sunrise

Sunrise is a good news/bad news scenario in wintry Yellowstone. The bad news is that it is extra cold before the sun comes up and winters in Yellowstone can be colder than -40° although -25° might be more usual. Still, that is pretty cold! So the good news? Well, the sun doesn’t come up until about 7:40am unlike summer when it rises at 5am! OK, later start time, colder weather–not a bad trade off since we can add layers. Let’s bundle up and head out. We’ll have breakfast when we get back.

Thirty minutes before sunrise, as the sky begins to brighten, we have gorgeous muted colors all along the western horizon. Be sure to keep your skin covered, it’s cold out here!


No slouching, let’s get out there . . .

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Rose Creek in Winter White

Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley is  a sparkling winter wonderland, and the Lamar Buffalo Ranch is an ideal mid-valley location with a bit of civilized warmth from the frigid winter surrounds. The ranch was instrumental in saving bison from extinction in this country in the early 1900’s. Today, although not open to the public,  the ranch hosts educational opportunities through the Yellowstone Forever Institute and the National Park Service’s Expedition Yellowstone.

Let’s walk up to where Rose Creek splits into three separate creeks as it races down into the valley to join the Lamar River. The trail is hard packed, but let’s put ice-traction cleats on our boots for safety. It is a little after 10am and about 8 degrees, but with no wind, it feels much warmer.  What a beautiful day! Don’t forget your sunglasses.

Let’s go . . .