Friday, July 29, 2011

Ms. Bailey Faith’s Visit.

My niece, Bailey, came to visit me last week.  At some point, I decided it would be awesome to have my sister’s kids come out and visit me when they were around the age of 16.  Sam came to visit me a few years ago when I lived in Chicago – and we have blast visiting Navy’s Pier, the top of the Hancock building, getting our nails did and attempting to feed her Octopus.  (She was not a fan of the last part…)

Graham and Bailey sitting at Storm Point.
Bailey was truly a trooper.  The first day she was here, we went for a hike out to Storm Point (after a pit stop at Artist Point and her first Bison Jam).  It’s a 2.5-mile hike out to a rocky point on the northern edge of Yellowstone Lake and home to a rather large Marmot family.  Along the route, the bridge was washed out due to the high waters of the creek that you pass over.  Bailey, Graham and I each tried a different log to make it across – and each of them moved rather suddenly to make for a treacherous stream crossing experience.

That evening we hiked out to Cascade Lake for Bailey’s first experience camping not in the front yard of her house.  (Unfortunately, we forgot the camera at home!!!)  She hiked the 2.5 miles to the campsite with a fairly heavy pack through a rather wet, marshy, mosquito infested area.  She had her first try at fish – a freshly caught fish from Lewis Lake seasoned with taco seasonings that we turned into fish tacos along with fire-roasted veggies.  It stormed through most of the night.  We slept on a hill that made us slide down all night so we woke up every hour or so to squirm back up to the front of the tent.  She drank (filtered) water from a lake.  She never even complained once.

Bailey and me in front of Morning Glory Pool at sunset.
That next evening, we made a fantastic dinner of fettuccine alfredo and bruccheta.  Mmmm.  Then we went for an evening stroll around the Upper Geyser Basin, home to Old Faithful Geyser, Morning Glory Pool, Castle Geyser and many more.  We left just in time to meet the mosquitoes during their dinnertime – but we had the boardwalk (relatively, especially for summer) to ourselves and to catch the amazing sunset.  We also got to see my favorite geyser, Grotto, erupt.

Chromatic Pool.

Bailey and me in front of Hidden Falls in Grand Teton N.P.
Graham went to work the next day – so we went down to Teton National Park and Jackson for the day.  We took it fairly easy and took the shuttle across Jenny Lake and hiked a half-mile into Hidden Falls.  We were hoping to see a moose along one of the riverbanks but didn’t have any such luck.  Bailey did spot a Sandhill Crane, a large bird that feeds in marshy fields and is endangered. 

Sandhill Crane.
We went to dinner in Jackson Hole – named after a popular fur trapper that made the large valley in front of the Tetons’ his home while trapping beavers during late 1800s.  On our way back home, we spotted a big Elk Buck foraging in a small valley.  His antlers were still in what is called Velvet, which is when the antlers are growing with a layer of skin over the antlers.  During the late summer, the antlers will begin to itch, sort of like dry skin, and he’ll rub this layer off.  This is the first sign that rut season (i.e. mating season) is about to begin.

Bailey with the Antler Arch in Jackson Hole, WY
Bailey is what you would call a “bear enthusiast.”  One of her main goals was to see a bear up close in the wild.  We had been kind of avoiding bears up to this point, since we were out in the woods where it is a bit more dangerous than alongside the road.  (The bear attack in Yellowstone happened the morning that we were hiking back from camping at Cascade Lake – only 2 or 3 miles from the attack.  Unfortunately, the couple didn’t have bear spray with them and they ran away instead of backing up slowly or playing dead when attacked.  Don’t worry Mama Bear – I know how to be safe in bear country.)

Grizzly Bear feeding on a Bison carcass.
However, this morning we woke up with the sunrise and went out in search of wildlife sightings (and most specifically a bear).  We headed out to Lamar Valley, known as the Serengeti of the West due to the large big game herds, like the Bison and Elk, which call it their home.  The large amount of prey means that predators are never to far away.  There was (supposedly) an elder bison that had died about 150 (or so) yards away from the road that was being eaten by a Grizzly Bear.  We stopped to watch (with the assistance of friendly owners of power scopes) as that bear eventually got full so s/he wandered away to leave an opening for a lone black wolf.  About 20 minutes later, a Black Bear came wandering up from the west – only to be taunted by some of the Bison on his way.  Although it was a distance away, it was really cool to see the interaction of the animals unfolding in their native habitat.

The next day, we summited Mount Washburn, elv. 10,243 feet.  There was still quite a bit of snow (and despite a few spills), we made it to the top of the mountain to see 360-degree views of the park.  We passed along the homes of Yellow-Bellied Marmots, Ground Squirrels and Pikas – smaller high altitude mammals that survive due to the cold, harsh climates of mountaintops.  We also got to see a herd of Big Horn Sheep – at first from a distance and then on the trail.   I’m proud of Bailey for making it to the top and seeming to enjoying every step of it.

Big Horn Sheep on the side of Mt. Washburn.
On her last day in the park, she woke up early to go on the Wake Up to Wildlife tour in the Historic Yellow Bus.  She (and I) were hoping to see a Bear close enough that it looked like more than a rock to the naked eye.  She was lucky and saw a Black Bear right next to the road.  She said she wanted to scream and jump up and down but successfully contained her excitement to crazy amounts of picture taking. 

That afternoon, we hiked almost all the way to Fairy Falls.  At the start of the trail, we scrambled up the hill to get a bird’s eye view of Grand Prismatic, the largest (370 feet in diameter) hot spring in North America. However, when we were just around the bend from the fall, the weather began to take a turn for the worst – windier and lightening getting closer – so we headed back to the truck in a rush. Right before we turned around, we ran into another large Buck Elk standing right in the middle of the trail. 

Grand Prismatic as viewed from the nearby hill.
The next morning, after we started to head back to the airport and thinking the adventure was over, a Cinnamon Colored Black Bear ran across the road right in front of us as the sun’s rays just barely reached over the mountain’s peak.  It couldn’t have been a better ending to a wonderful trip that I’m glad I got to experience with her.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Slough Creek Camping – 2S2

Graham and me, in front of Barronette Peak.
Graham and I went camping where Hornaday Creek runs into Slough Creek.  The waters of Hornaday, where we had to walk through the flooded bank to get to our campsite on an island, will eventually head out into the Gulf of Mexico in the form of the Mississippi River – the route containing: Slough Creek, the Lamar River, Yellowstone River, and finally the Missouri River.  I don’t think the island that became our home for the night is usually there, because we had so much snow this winter that all the rivers, creeks and streams are flooded well above their typical banks.

We started at the Slough Creek campground that was a popular site to view the den of the Slough Creek wolf pack last year.  Many of the wolf pups in the park have not survived recently due to a strand of distemper, a common canine puppy disease, that has been affecting the last few litters.  (I don’t remember if that is what happened to the Slough Creek pack or not – it’s just been happening to a lot of the packs.)

A Bull Bison that ran us off the trail.
 At the beginning of the trail, we hiked up over a hill to be greeted with the shear rock face of Barronette Peak grinning down at us being gripped by the beard of winter’s snow.  We hiked along the banks of Slough Creek and through fields of the of spring’s painted show of early wildflowers –Vase flowers, Rocky Mountain Irises, Arrowleaf Balsam Roots, Phlox and others. 

Sandhill Crane feeding in a marshy area.
A bison ran us off the trail by being planted squarely in the middle with a menacing look on his face while chewing his grass. After climbing over that hill, we saw a pair of Sandhill Cranes gathering their dinner from a nearby marshy area. 

Shortly after that, we got to our campsite where we promptly set up – starting a fire, setting up the tent and making dinner.  We feel much more prepared and better equipped this year after our trek around last fall.  We still need to get better at packing food – we always have enough it just never really tastes like anything. 

Barronette Peak.
Our friends, Josiah and Berlynn, arrived well after the stars brightened the dark sky.  We went to sleep shortly thereafter and slept so well due to the sounds of the rushing water that ran only about two feet from our pillows (or balled up dirty sweaters).  We left early the next morning to pick our friend up from a canoe/camping trip.  I could have sat out in the field beside us content all day due to nature’s beauty that abounded us.

Total Summer Mileage:  116.7

Friday, July 1, 2011

Good Day.

Lamar Valley Bison.
However orderly your excursions or aimless, again and again amid the calmest, stillest scenery you will be brought to a standstill hushed and awe-stricken before phenomena wholly new to you.
                                                                                                      -John Muir