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SNAP*Shot: Trumpeter Swans

Trumpeter Swans, beautiful and majestic, are North America’s largest waterfowl and heaviest flying bird. This dark, windy winter day is brightened by this white beauty keeping an eye on us as she guards her family. Females are called a pens; males are called cobs.

adult trumpeter swan

Trumpeter Swans are a native species to North America. Most Trumpeters weigh 21-30 pounds, although large males can reach 35 pounds. Standing on the ground, an adult male can stand four feet high. With a wingspan over seven feet carrying that heavy body, Trumpeters need at least 100 yard “runway” of open water; running hard and fast across the surface of the water in order to generate enough speed for take off. What a sight!

Beginning in the late 1800s, Trumpeter’s were hunted to near extinction for their feathers to adorn fashionable hats, skin for face powder puffs, and long flight feathers coveted for writing quills. Aggressive conservation efforts helped the species recover by the early 2000’s. Since they generally build their nests atop beaver or muskrat dens, overhunting of these rodents diminished breeding habitat for Trumpeters. As the rodent populations recovered, the swan numbers improved. One of these years you’d think we’d recognize that this world is a system with each part relying on the others, including animals, bugs, birds, plants and people, hopefully helping preserve the balance. Sigh . . . but we did good with the Trumpeters since in most of their range there are healthy populations that continue to increase.

Nests are sometimes built on large floating mats of vegetation. Their nest can be 11 feet across and 3 feet high and is often used by the same pair year after year. The young swans, called cygnets, turn white at about 1-1/2 years old. There are usually four to six eggs in a swan’s clutch. Trumpeters have an unusual way of incubating their eggs: they warm the eggs by covering them with their webbed feet. Once hatched in June, the cygnets can swim and feed within 24 hours. By 15 weeks they will have gained over a pound a week reaching up to 20 lbs. and will now be able to fly.

young trumpeter swans

It is assumed that Trumpeters mate for life, but it appears that they change mates a number of times over their normal  lifetimes of more than 20 years. Cygnets stay with the parents over their first winter, but the parents chase them away in the spring as they begin planning for their next family. The young swans stay in sibling groups until about two years old when they themselves start the search for a mate and a new life in a remote open-water area.

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SNAP-Shot: Winter at the Lower Falls

Yellowstone in the white wrapping of winter is a stunning wonderland. Winter at the Lower Falls is magical with blue ice growing ever thick and wide in this frigid season. An ice cone forms at the base of the falls from splash, mist, and snowfall until it is over half as tall as the falls itself. The water, thick with cold, crashes down 308 feet sending mist into the air taller than the falls. The roar of the falls from Lookout Point is muffled this time of year from all the constraints in it’s path, but once at the bottom, the Yellowstone River flows downhill and north, free of the ice cover it struggled through before the falls. The beauty of this place just begs for us to linger. As the wind picks up, we don’t have enough layers to keep the freezing chill at bay, so time to return to the warmth of the snowcoach and smile at the beauty of this special place.

Lower Falls in Winter

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White Porcelain

Yellowstone in winter is truly a wonderland. A quiet solitude, the result of few park visitors and the muffling effect of deep snow. Vast sparkling snow landscapes that feel disorienting and measuring snow depth in feet defines winter here. Last autumn we visited Porcelain Basin, one of two basins at Norris Geyser Basin. Today we will marvel at the basin in its winter glory–White Porcelain this time of year! Welcome to Yellowstone’s most acidic and hottest hydrothermal area and one of the most active earthquake areas in Yellowstone.

Porcelain Basin


Bundle up and let’s go

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Ride~About: Winter Wonderland

Walks and hikes are great, but sometimes the road trip getting there is spectacular as well. Even in the car we can slow down and look around enjoying the landscapes, critters in the meadows, and features unique to the drive. We had six inches of snow overnight at Lamar Buffalo Ranch and the clouds are closing in as flurries begin to fall. A gorgeous winter wonderland, just in time for Christmas!


Continue our ride

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Porcelain Beauty

edge of change-2554

The western side of Yellowstone offers an otherworldly experience of fumaroles (steam vents), hot springs, mudpots, and geysers . Here our wilderness walks are on boardwalks with brief excursions through hearty pines standing tall as they resist heat, steam, acidity, and constant sometimes violent change. Today we walk the volcano’s edge in northeast Norris Geyser Basin, the hottest and most acidic geyser basin in Yellowstone. Welcome to  Porcelain Basin.

Continue walking . . .

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SNAP*Shot: Yellowstone’s Iconic Lower Falls

The best known site in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is the Lower Falls. Twice as tall as Niagara Falls, water drops 308 feet resulting in mist and froth at its base adding drama and beauty. During the autumn when water flow is at its lowest, about 5,000 gallons (19,000 liters) of water per SECOND drops to the canyon floor. During peak spring runoff 63,500 gallons (240,000 liters) per SECOND thunders over the brink.

Lower Falls

The 20-mile long canyon is up to 1,200 feet deep and up to 4,000 feet wide. The beauty of the deep V-shaped canyon wall colors frame the gorgeous falls. The colors come from different levels of thermal intensity interacting with the rhyolite walls. You can see some of the thermal activity in the canyon walls during the day, but when the temperatures drop you’ll be amazing at all the thermals up and down the walls spewing their steam and losing their anonymity.

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

Never forget, it is amazing what finding a great spot to relax and beautiful light can do for your spirit. Enjoy . . .

Lower Falls Rainbow


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A Yellowstone Memoir

I sit here in the center of Yellowstone National park  with an amazing view south. I envy the Tetons, such youngsters and still growing and rising into the sky. I remember the extreme heat that gave me form but wonder about the caldera below and the timetable for its next explosion.

Yellowstone caldera

I ponder my brothers and sisters north in Specimen Ridge and east in the Absaroka Mountains. I’m in awe of my nieces and nephews, the columnar basalt standing tall along the Yellowstone River at Tower.

yellowstone columnar basalt at tower

The explosion that planted me here is much older. The Absaroka volcanics spewed rock and ash, witnessed ash flows and lava flows through intense fury and extreme heat. Half my home, known as Mt. Washburn, fell into the caldera, but the remaining half stands tall reaching over 10,000 feet into the clouds and ever-changing sky.

Yellowstone Washburn

I’ve seen 45 million years of heat, ice, compression, water, and erosion, but not near as much as my ancient ancestors, the 4,700 million year old granitic gneiss still gracing the landscapes and canyons to my north. Today my edges offer homes to colorful lichens and flowery plants. Humans, so very new on the landscape, rest on my flatter surfaces and comment on my makeup; the whites, pinks and freckled rocks all found within me. I’m a volcanic conglomerate–45 millions years old and still here to tell the tales of glaciers, volcanoes, and time.

Yellowstone Conglomerate

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Naturalist’s View

Yellowstone Association, a non-profit partner of the National Park Service, is dedicated to educating us all on this amazing place called Yellowstone National Park. They offer seminars on a wide range of topics at their Yellowstone Institute, located at Lamar Buffalo Ranch. Not only do we get to learn surprising and interesting things about this vast land, but we get to stay at an historic location in the Serengeti of the West, Lamar Valley in the Northern Tier of Yellowstone. What an adventure today as our seminar group heads up into the mountains to see the only remaining wolf pens used for the 1995-96 reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone. Come, explore with us.sign-3

Continue our walk . . .

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SNAP*Shot: Lost Creek Falls

Lost Creek Falls is a 40-foot waterfall in a steep, narrow box canyon behind the historic Roosevelt Lodge, a log structure built in 1920 to commemorate a visit by Theodore Roosevelt. The narrow canyon is home to Douglas and Subapline firs and moss-covered hillsides offering a pleasantly cool walk.

lost creek falls-

This short walk meanders along the creek that blissfully cascades over and around granite boulders on its way down from the falls.

lost creek falls

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Lost Lake–5 miles out, 2 miles back

Heading into the wilderness takes a combination of love, mindfulness, caution, and knowing and respecting your physical limits. Montana and Yellowstone are places of glorious big sky, mountains, and many trails with awesome elevation gains. So I stand on the edge of wilderness, knowing beautiful Lost Lake lies ahead, with  a willing heart, mind, and feet but lungs that make me reevaluate the wisdom of every trek.

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Continue walking . . .

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Into The Woods . . .

I saw the sign so many times–Harlequin Lake–but I could never see the trailhead. Was it further up or down the road? Did so few people walk the trail that the surrounds swallowed it up? Well, why don’t I just park across from the sign and take a good look. I see it . . . uhhhhh . . .


Continue the walk

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SNAP*Shot: Gibbon River

The Gibbon River begins its life in Grebe Lake found in the center of Yellowstone National Park. About 20 miles from it’s origin we find Gibbon Falls. This river sneaks in on the eastern side of the Continental Divide making it one of the few rivers in the park flowing from north to south. Crashing down 84 feet right along the Loop Road, we can take a short walk to see the wilderness framing the falls. Flowing another 4.7 miles south, the river joins the Firehole River forming the Madison, a major tributary of the Missouri River. The gift of water flowing from the mountain tops of Montana and Wyoming.

Gibbon Falls