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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 . . .

Thoreau saying

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 . . .

Thoreau saying

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 . . .

Thoreau saying

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 . . .

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Five-Geyser Day

What an absolutely gorgeous day in the Old Faithful area. The sky is so blue it looks like God Photoshopped it! There is no wind making 50° feel much warmer. Most everything except the Visitor’s Center is closed for the season which translates into very few people and bring your own lunch. I want to check if the rangers are still noting eruption times for the most predictable geysers at the Information Desk in the VC. I’ve yet to see Castle Geyser erupt and I’m hoping today is the day. WOW, we are in luck. Old Faithful is due to erupt in two minutes. Well, that’s give or take ten minutes, but Castle Geyser is expected to erupt 45 minutes later. A beautiful day and very few people making for a quiet, relaxing stroll around Upper Geyser Basin. Thar she blows!

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Continue our geyser walk . . .

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Firehole Sunrise

The three-mile loop road known as Firehole Lake Drive is amazing in the autumn. At sunrise we see the warmth of the sun battling the cold air, low clouds, massive amounts of thermal steam, and fog. It can take hours for the sun to finally break through. During that process, we meander through an eerie, cloaked landscape that envelops us. Welcome to a Firehole sunrise.

pre-sunrise

Making our way to the lake . . .

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Artist Paintpots Sojourn

Along the Gibbon River, between Norris and Madison Junctions in Yellowstone, is the often ignored Gibbon Geyser Basin. Unless there are bison, elk, other ungulates (hoofed animals), or the occasional coyote feeding in Gibbon Meadows, people pass by this area on the way to Old Faithful or Norris Geyser Basin. The most popular and most beautiful collection of thermal features in the Gibbon Geyser Basin are found along the 1.1 mile loop trail called Artist Paintpots. We walk about 1/3 of a mile through a young lodgepole pine forest which is reestablishing itself after the 1988 fires. So let’s head out and take our time in this colorful collection of thermal features.

trailhead

Onward to beautiful colors . . .

Thoreau saying

SNAP*Shot: Whitebark Pine

The Whitebark Pine, a foundation species, a keystone species, is dying in great numbers across the mountain west, which includes Yellowstone.

I stand tall, proud, ancient. Overlooking the beautiful valley, the Caldera, and the mountains. Through wind, snow, ice, and rain–I stand tall. My brothers, sisters, aunts, and uncles are not doing well. It is getting too hot and we have no defense against the diseases and insects that thrive in warmth. We love frigid weather, standing high above the tree line, loving the windswept mountainsides; some of us only 16 feet tall, others 66 feet tall, and our seasoned relatives are over a 1,000 years old. Regardless of size or age, we all stand guard on the mountainsides, using our shade to keep snow hard and in place until it can gently melt filling your rivers and streams. Stabilizing the soil around us which allows other plants and trees to live in our community. Feeding and giving protection to many animal and bird friends, as well as being nurseries for Lodgepole pines, Englemann spruce, and Subalpine firs. It is becoming too warm and staying warm for too long each season–I’m weakening and many of us are dying. I’m very worried–what will happen if we can no longer stand guard?

We do our jobs for humans quietly, consistently, and proudly. Humans must now do their job to save us–the dangers are real and getting worse! In the meantime, I stand tall, proud–and hopeful.

Let’s take a closer look at the amazing importance and struggle of the whitebark pine.

whitebark pine

Continue to learn what and why . . .

Thoreau saying

August in Wonderland

Yellowstone National Park, established in 1872, became famous for its supernatural landscapes of geysers, boiling mud, brilliant-colored hot springs, and amazing geological formations. Journalists as far away as New York talked of America’s Wonderland and every sort of person, rich or those of modest means, from America to Europe, became interested in one of America’s most spectacular places.

The Northern Pacific Railroad, looking to expand their tourism trade, began service to Yellowstone in 1883. In their effort to entice people to the park, they produced two brochures called Alice’s Adventures in the New Wonderland. Written as if by a grown-up Alice to her friend, Edith, she explains the marvelous sights, a bit of history, and beautiful scenery as she travels by railroad from Chicago to Yellowstone.

Today we are still awed by the beauty of this wild Wonderland, but in August we have a different kind of wild experience: Fires and Smoke.

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Continue reading “August in Wonderland”

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SNAP*Shot: July 4 Dazzle!

Is there any better way to spend the July 4 weekend than taking a photo seminar at Lamar Buffalo Ranch? Hint: the answer is NO! Bison walking around the cabins, badgers visiting, Pronghorn and even moose wandering through the valley, and a short walk into the mountains for flowers and quiet.

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Wait a minute, it is July 4th. We are missing the fireworks, the ooo’s and aaaah’s, the smiles on everyone’s face. So as the sun begins to set, looking west we have an amazing golden evening. Not fireworks, but beautiful. The clouds begin to cover the sun that we will not see again today except for it highlighting the clouds and offering orange along the horizon.

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In Yellowstone it is always a good idea to turn around. There might be something big coming your way, but more often there is a beautiful sight you just couldn’t see from the other direction. Right now is no exception. The storms are coming in from the east, and as the golden sun hits the storm clouds–we have our “fireworks”!

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Don’t forget to slow down and look behind you! Until next time . . .