Bunsen Peak & Sheepeater Cliffs

trilobite holmes dome antler.jpg.jpgSpring decided to make an appearance today in Yellowstone and I relished the intermittent sun peaking through the rapidly forming cumulus clouds. I climbed Bunsen Peak (8,564 ft), and my feet traveled over rocks some geologists think are 50 million years old and the remnants of an ancient volcano. The 360-degree view from the top proved to be quite spectacular and the horizon revealed a number of mountain ranges including the Gallatin, Washburn, and what I think might have been the Grand Tetons.

sheepeater canyon.jpg.jpgAs I noted in a prior entry, Bunsen peak is named for the German physicist Robert Wilhelm Bunsen, who invented the Bunsen burner. His scientific work on geysers contributed greatly to their study, but he never actually visited Yellowstone.

The name Sheepeater Cliff at first struck me as something out of a horror movie, but I later learned the designation refers to the Sheepeater Indians, or “Tukudeka,” the only Native Americans thought to spend the entire year in Yellowstone. According to Anderson’s great guidebook, A Ranger’s Guide to Yellowstone Day Hikes, “there’s evidence that the Tukudeka herded bighorn sheep off steep cliffs.”

On my hike along Sheepeater Canyon and the Gardner River, I met three Israeli young men who were traveling on a five-month road trip in North and South America. We hiked together for the last few miles and I enjoyed their company. Two of them had just finished their military service and were taking this trip before beginning university.

view of gallantin range.jpg.jpgOne of my companions asked me, “aren’t you scared hiking alone in grizzly country?” My answer was yes. During my hike today, I exhausted my entire repertoire of U2, Eagles, Beatles, and Counting Crow songs. At some point I wondered if a grizzly offended by my poor musical ability would attack me, so I switched to reciting T.S. Eliot and Yeats poetry. Nothing like a recitation of “The Second Coming” to put the potential of being mauled into perspective. For the record, I do realize hiking alone in grizzly country is risky, but solitary wandering is one of my joys in life.

By the way, if you want to see some stunning photography of Yellowstone by a talented artist, visit http://www.travelsinbearcountry.com/index.html

Hayden Valley

hayden valley.jpg.jpgTuolumne Meadows in Yosemite remains my favorite place on earth, but Hayden Valley in Yellowstone definitely ranks a close second. Imagine Tuolumne cubed, and you’ll be able to visualize the scale of Hayden Valley. My one complaint about Hayden is I won’t be able to wander aimlessly (vigilantly, yes, aimlessly, no) through its soft green meadows and hillsides—not with grizzly bears around! Yet its peaceful, pastoral landscape literally brought tears to my eyes.

grizzly in hayden.jpg copy.jpgDuring my brief walk in Hayden, I observed a grizzly far off on a snow-covered hillside digging intently; a herd of bison munching on the spring grass; and, a white pelican paddling in the Yellowstone River.

According to Lee Whittlesey’s excellent book Yellowstone Place Names, the valley’s namesake, Ferdinand V. Hayden, was “as much as any other individual…responsible for the creation of Yellowstone.” A medical doctor who later became a geologist, Hayden conducted three government surveys of the Yellowstone area in the late 1870s and has “at least 44 genera and species of various organisms ‘from a living moth to a fossil dinosaur’ named for him.”

white pelican 2.jpg.jpg

Madison River

bison swimming madison river.jpg.jpgOn my drive back from West Yellowstone this morning, I stopped frequently and explored the Madison River area in the western portion of the park. Although the sun was bright, snow had fallen in abundance over the past two days, and the park had closed the road to the public twice from Mammoth Hot Springs to Norris, only allowing administrative traffic with 4WD because of blizzard conditions.

My declarations of spring have definitely been premature--most of the park remains entrenched in winter. Some portions of the river remained under ice and snow, and elk and bison grazed in the small patches of uncovered ground.

bison calf in snow.jpg copy.jpgThe Madison River runs 183 miles through Montana and Wyoming and is a headwater tributary of the Missouri River. Lewis and Clark named the river in 1805 for then US Secretary of State James Madison. I'm also told the river is paradise for fly-fisherman, especially in fall for rainbow and brown trout.

A small herd of bison crossed the river while I watched, and a small calf walked tiredly through the snow. A dozen elk also lingered in one of the areas left bare by snowmelt, and Canadian geese strolled along the banks of the river.

ravens with bison kill.jpg.jpgFurther up the river, I discovered a less idyllic scene: ravens perched on the carcass of a bison. The long winter has taken its toll on the Yellowstone ungulate population, and winter kill has been high this year. I waited an hour to see if a wandering grizzly or a pack of wolves would come claim the kill, but the ravens had the feast to themselves.

Mt. Everts and Bighorn Sheep

bighorn trotting.jpg copy.jpgAs I write this entry in my home office, a large furry head at the window startled me. About a dozen bison are grazing in my front yard and wandering around the house in search of better foraging.

Another gorgeous spring day and the temperature reached 65F. I hummed John Denver’s “Sunshine on My Shoulders,” and the Beatles, “Here Comes the Sun” on my hike up the shoulder of Mt. Everts in honor of the spring weather (and also needing to make noise as a grizzly precaution). Note to mom--I have been good about carrying bear spray on my excursions.

curious bighorn.jpg copy.jpgI went in search of bighorn sheep since they’ll be heading back to the higher elevations before too long as spring deepens. My luck was good: while munching on a Luna bar on a break, two sheep strolled over a ridge and began grazing about fifty feet away.

These animals lacked the striking curled horns and were either ewes or yearling rams. An adult ram’s horns, the size an indication of dominance and rank, can account for up to 12% of the animal’s body weight.

bunsen peak.jpg.jpgFor the rest of the afternoon, I continued to hike on the rolling hills in the basin along Mt. Everts, and studied the plethora of animals tracks, scat, and bones in the area. Mt. Everts was named for Truman C Everts, who was lost in 1870 for 37 days in the Yellowstone wilderness until Yellowstone Jack, a colorful adventurer, found him.

From my vantage point I also had a good view of Bunsen Peak (pictured at left), named for the noted chemist and physicist, Robert Wilhelm Bunsen, who invented the Bunsen gas burner and was the first scientist to take a serious interest in geyser activity.

Bison Jam in My Neighborhood

Bison%20JamRecently, a herd of bison have been walking--single file--down from the hills in the morning to forage in my neighborhood. I don't think I'll ever tire of watching these magnificent animals. I took the photograph at right this afternoon from my front yard, ready to dash back inside if they got frisky.

I bought a delightful book today from the Yellowstone Association store: The Buffalo Story-The Full Saga of the American Animal by David Dary. It's 400 pages of everything you ever wanted to know about the buffalo--from prehistoric origins to modern day buffalo ranching. And before you cry, it's called bison, not buffalo, read what the author of the book has to say on the nomenclature issue:

"What we call the American buffalo is, of course, not a buffalo at all. It is a Bison, which is related to the European Wisent. The scientific world insists that the word "buffalo" should be used only to describe the African buffalo or the water buffalo of Asia. But for more than 150 years this animal, the bison, has been called a "buffalo." To millions of people he is a buffalo, and on these pages this is what I call him."

As for the origin of the word buffalo, the author provides a few clues. It appears that the early French and Spanish explorers knew their species, since they referred to the animal as Bison d'Amerique and bisonte respectively. Boeuf, the Canadian term, along with buffelo, a word used by later French explorers, gets phoenitically closer to the modern term of buffalo.

Electric Peak

Moon%20Over%20Gardiner.jpgTruly, a beautiful morning. Even in the bitter cold I had to stand outside and admire the full moon gazing out of a purple sky as it gently shone over Gardiner. I even took my gloves off in order to take a photograph.

The wash of blue—the last remenant of dawn—on Electric Peak also captured my attention. Standing 10,969 ft tall, it’s the highest peak in the Gallatain Range and the sixth highest in Yellowstone. I enjoy being greeted by such a striking neighbor every day from my home.

Given my passion for all things weather, the peak’s name has an appropriate backstory. According to author W. Blevins in his book, A Roadside History of Yellowstone Park, the peak was named in 1872 after a team making a geological survey almost died in a lightning storm. Their leader, Henry Gannett, described the incident:

Electric%20Peak.jpg"A thunder-shower was approaching as we neared the summit of the mountain. I was above the others of the party, and, when about fifty feet below the summit, the electric current began to pass through my body. At first I felt nothing, but heard a crackling noise, similar to a rapid discharge of sparks from a friction machine. Immediately after, I began to feel a tingling or prickling sensation in my head and the ends of my fingers, which, as well as the noise, increased rapidly, until, when I reached the top, the noise, which had not changed its character, was deafening, and my hair stood completely on end, while the tingling, pricking sensation was absolutely painful. Taking off my hat partially relieved it. I started down again, and met the others twenty-five or thirty feet below the summit. They were affected similarly, but in a less degree. One of them attempted to go to the top, but had proceeded but a few feet when he received quite a severe shock, which felled him as if he had stumbled. We then returned down the mountain about three hundred feet, and to this point we still heard and felt the electricity."

Summer thunderstorms are going to be quite delightful from my porch.

I am happy to report that today I walked from my office to the IT department across the street without a coat and I did not freeze to death!

P.S. Forgot to post this photo the other day of a bull elk.

History of My Home

gallery_image.php.jpegToday I wandered into the Mammoth Hotel Map Room and became mesmerized instantly upon entering. A wood inlaid map, seventeen feet by ten feet tall, dominated one wall of the room. The 2,544 pieces on the map had been crafted from fifteen different types of wood from nine countries, and took five months to assemble. California’s puzzle-like piece is constructed of burl redwood, my home state of Massachusetts of Brazilian Rosewood.

The map, designed in 1937 by Robert Reamer, has an odd assortment of obscure cities that were once central to railroad routes. Kings Canyon is labeled as its original name, General Grant National Park, and the error of Maryland’s capital being labeled Baltimore, noticed by a visitor a few months after its installation, remains uncorrected to this day. (Mr. Reamer suggested a solution of moving the actual capitol to Baltimore to the insulted Marylanders.)

New%20Home.jpgCoincidentally, Reamer, who is considered the early inspiration for the rustic style now known as “parkitecture”, also designed my home. In Yellowstone alone he designed the Old Faithful Inn, the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel, and the Lake Yellowstone Hotel—just to name a few.

My home, the Lockwood Residence, was built for Yellowstone Park Transportation Company (the early concessionaire in the park) executives in 1926, and then Superintendent Albright found it “satisfactory in every respect.” One of my co-workers, Ruth Quinn, has written a fascinating book on Reamer, called “Weaver of Dreams: The Life and Architecture of Robert C. Reamer.”

Freezing, arctic weather update: this morning it was -13F.