"There is nothing so American as our national parks. The scenery and wildlife are native. The fundamental idea behind the parks is native. It is, in brief, that the country belongs to the people, that it is in process of making for the enrichment of the lives of all of us. The parks stand as the outward symbol of this great human principle." Franklin D. Roosevelt

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Face of Yellowstone

After numerous people asking if I've fallen off the face of Yellowstone I thought I better update my blog.  Yellowstone has become what I would consider a 'life reality'.  I live here, work here and socialize here.  My reality is Yellowstone.  I still do laundry, shop for groceries, scrape the  frost off my windshield of my vehicle, etc.  However, I do those things in Yellowstone, which somehow make a mundane task seem a tad bit more exciting.  I may not dance around wild with excitement with the thought of using dryer sheets while amongst bison and elk in Yellowstone but in my subconscious I really do think "Wow, I am putting clothes in the dryer while an elk is grazing right outside the window and I can actually see the Mammoth terraces while I fold them."  My Yellowstone reality is that I can vacuum while watching elk, bison, bears, and coyotes wander around outside my window.  Have I been taking this reality for granted?  Sometimes I wonder but then I think more about it and realize that every time I see something interesting, unusual, and even mundane it puts a smile on my face.  No, I do not take it for granted.  I still love it.

And I still love snow.......which seems to be lacking here.  A storm was to move through the Yellowstone area today but in the end it appears only a few inches fell.  Wheeled vehicles are still able to move through parts of the Park using Admin travel.  I am having my son and daughter come to visit for Christmas and it appears that the snowmobiling adventure to Old Faithful that I had planned for us will not be an option.  But there is still so much to do and I plan to show them what my Yellowstone world consists of.  They will see this world that I do not take for granted.  I will show them the Yellowstone that I love.


Saturday, November 26, 2011

Stories in Snow

Coyote by Canyon
First things first:  Hello to Earl and Mary!!  I hope you had a great dinner at the Proud Cut in Cody with Patrick!  And yes, you horse people probably know the meaning of 'proud cut' and yes, there is a restaurant actually named that (and it has delicious food so don't let the name put you off).

The past few days have been a continuance of the blowing and snowing.  Friday it was particularly bad in Mammoth.  The morning was filled with blizzard-like conditions but that didn't put anyone out as there was quite a few visitors in the Park.  I watched from the comfort of the store as the wind whipped up the snow and blew it around.  I have never lost my excitement about snow and winter weather.  Besides the subzero temps that I have experienced in the past (once again I will mention the -58 degrees I endured 16 years ago in Minnesota) I still love a good snowing and I was not disappointed this past week.    

The fresh snow always has a story to tell as I look at the prints of animals, large and small ,that leave their trails in either a parking lot or a valley.  The story tells me who passed through a particular area and sometimes the story will tell me what they were doing and the outcome.  Today's story was of a coyote wandering through the parking lot behind the store, probably on the lookout for the snowshoe hares that have been frequenting the area.  Sometimes I will see a lone bison track wandering through an area and sometimes I will see the tracks of a mere mouse or pine marten.  The story is rarely complete with a beginning and an end but I always take notice to the story in snow in any particular area that I am in.

This past week Patrick and I made a trip to Lake to gather up some items from his Lake office to move to his new office in Mammoth.  We packed up the vehicle with some warm clothes and a lunch and headed out into the interior of the Park.  With Patrick behind the wheel I could actually look out the window without spending all of my time watching the road.  I am still amazed at how much I see for the first time even though I have passed by an area hundreds of times.  It is old scenery that I see it anew.   There are lakes and thermal features that I have seen so many times but sometimes I will see a tree bent a certain way or a boulder that I never bothered to really pay attention to.  Actually being a passenger lets me see Yellowstone in a different perspective. 

Besides a few bison on Swan Lake Flat and meandering coyote by Canyon our first sight of something different was in Hayden Valley.  In the recent past I have watched the swans on Swan Lake but now we could see the numerous swans on the Yellowstone River.  We had to pass at least 50 swans on the river as we passed through Hayden Valley.  They are beautiful birds.
We came across a couple herds of bison between Hayden Valley and Lake that had taken to the road to travel to other areas.  One herd was heading north while the other herd headed south with one lone bison contemplating which herd to join.  He eventually headed south at full gallop as we approached.
Our next stop was Old Faithful.  In the summer the benches are lined with hundreds of people but at that time there was no one in sight.  Patrick and I had our picnic lunch while we watched Old Faithful erupt.

Patrick shows off his Annapolis 'hat toss'.  This is not to be confused with any famous Minnesota hat toss (such as the Mary Tyler Moore hat toss that yours truly may have had come to mind).

With evening approaching we headed back to Mammoth.  We did have the opportunity to see some beautiful scenery with the sun setting and some storm clouds heading in.

It was a glorious day in the Park and we were lucky to experience it.  Though part of our day was hauling printers and copiers we did have some moments when we could experience the sights of Yellowstone in solitude.  If someone was to study the tracks in the snow around Old Faithful they would see a story of two people watching one of the most famous icons of Yellowstone.  It is our story in snow.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Middle of the Road

 Having just emerged from a winter storm warning and about 8 inches of snow I am certainly glad that I purchased a pair of gators this spring.  Getting a boot full of snow and having soggy socks in indeed uncomfortable.

Having a fresh coating of snow is beautiful and the steamy terraces are a wonder to the eye.  Though we had to deal with a great deal of wind these past couple of days I still enjoy a good snowfall.  A few visitors braved the elements to come to the Park but in general it has been a very slow month.  We are seeing our regular NPS employees wander into the store for some snacks and a quick visit and to enjoy a taco on Tuesdays.  We have new additions to our menu and it seems that the gyro is the food of choice on the other 4 days the fountain is open.
 It has been quite a few months since I've had the opportunity to be a tourist myself and enjoy a trek to Lamar Valley.  So this morning I packed up my camera and headed out to see what I could find.  Mostly I found snow and very very few cars.  For the first time in a very long time I found that I could stop in the middle of the road (with plenty of room to view coming traffic from either direction - of which there was none) and look around and snap a few pictures.
 I love to look at the tracks in fresh fallen snow.  I found a herd of elk by Roosevelt that were resting in the snow.
 Later on, in Lamar Valley, I came across this coyote wandering down the middle of the road.
When he ventured off into the snow I thought I saw something.....a radio collar.  Flashback two years when I saw on a regular basis a coyote between Roosevelt and the hitching posts in Lamar with a radio collar.  That fella I referred to as DigitCould this be Digit?  I have no idea as I don't know how many radio collared coyotes there are in Yellowstone and the surrounding area. 
 I saw a few bison on the Blacktail and a small herd by the Yellowstone Picnic area and further on by the Lamar River.  Their faces were snowy from pushing the snow around and one side of them would be plastered with snow from the wind blowing.
And one mama with her offspring standing by her side as they pushed the snow for vegetation.  I do love the bison.

Another flashback we are all experiencing at the General Store is the sighting of a rabbit that is continuously hopping around leaving its footprints in the snow.  We all remember the demise of the rabbit we affectionately called Mugsey when it was caught by a coyote last winter.  We now appear to have a new rabbit to watch as it hops around the store.  I came back this afternoon to find coyote prints behind the store.  Hhhhmmm, I guess nature might occur again this year with this rabbit.

After over 11 years living year round in the Interior Patrick has finally made a permanent move to Mammoth.  He discarded his canister containing his emergency coffee supply when he realized that a winter trip to the store requires a car and a 5 mile drive when previously in was a 50 mile commute by snowmobile.  He will no longer need to carefully pack tomatoes and other fresh produce in a cooler (tomatoes are notoriously difficult to haul into the Interior in the winter - they freeze and are more difficult to haul than eggs!) and he can now call in a pizza order and pick it up.  Yup, one of my thrills of coming to Mammoth was to actually pick up a pizza - the 'I'll pay for a pizza if you pick it up' bit is no longer needed. 

With  it has been blowing and snowing lately I am reminded daily that everyday Yellowstone is an adventure.  Somedays it can be sunny with bright blue mountain skies and the next it can be a sheet of snow blowing by.  It all contributes to the granduer of this marvelous place.  

Sunday, October 23, 2011

20,000 Miles in Yellowstone

Herd of elk by Canyon
The elk have been making themselves known throughout the Park.  They have been surrounding the store and have even found their way into the fenced in area right outside my apartment door where they have left me 'presents'.  We have to choose our doors in and out of the store carefully when opening or closing as the elk have been found separating us from our vehicles.  The bulls still trot around with their antler-filled heads held high and they still well let out a bugle or two.

Another sign of the season is the gorgeous aspen trees that have turned a brilliant yellow.  Last Saturday I decided to take the Chief Joseph Highway to Cody to see the colors.  I was using Patrick's Jeep and after doing my safety checks (headlights:  check; brakes:  check; fuel:  check;  Mt. Dew:  check) I headed out to take in some fall colors.  Half way up the pass I realized that my fuel check may not have been checked out as accurately as I had hoped.  The fuel light came on and the needle was buried.  Luckily I made it to the top and could conserve some fuel by coasting down.  I figure it was all an adventure - I term I often use when in an 'oh oh' situation.
The colors along the North Fork

More Colors

Bison dotting the landscape of Hayden Valley
Lately my life in Yellowstone has been filled with counting.  It was inventory time once again. last week.  I had spent my days counting everything in our stockrooms and I spent my nights falling to sleep counting snowglobes instead of sheep.  I did get to make a couple trips to Lake last week, one trip included a grizzly bear cub who crossed the road in front of me.  With things winding down I am hoping to take in some more wildlife viewing, something that I have not been able to do much of.

Grand Tetons
 This weekend included a much needed trip through Grand Teton National Park to Jackson.  I have put 27,000 miles on my car this past year (over 20,000 miles in Yellowstone alone) and I was desperately needing a new vehicle.  We left Lake at 8:30.  We came across this mama elk with a nursing calf in the middle of our lane on a curve.  This shows why it is so important to not speed through the Park.  Anything can be right around the corner.

The Tetons were gorgeous and I was happy to be able to get a picture of them.  My previous trip there the mountains were obscured by smoke.  We looked at a couple vehicles and I finally saw one that I loved.  While Patrick checked out the tires, mechanical thingies underneath the vehicle, etc. I was admiring the awesome stereo and ooohing at the sunroof.  I am now the proud owner of a great vehicle with fantastic sound and a glass roof ----  oh yea, and it is mechanically sound.  

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Lucky Indeed

 Please excuse any typos or gibberish.  At this point in the game I am basically just dragging my fingertips across the keyboard with hopes that something coherent comes out of my attempt.  This season is drawing to a close and with 10 hour work days my energy levels are depleting.  We have had excellent weather until last week.  The change in the seasons came with winter weather advisories, snow/rain/sleet, and road closures through the Park.  Just today the Comm. Center called me four times with road closures notifications.  I had a rare evening of being able to make it to Lake and I left there this morning at 6:30 driving through rain, snow and slushy roads.  Yet there is an excitement to seeing the change in seasons.  And that excitement is in direct relation to my new winter wardrobe that I've been dying to wear.  

The last of the Mammoth employees will be leaving this weekend.  And then there were four.  Number five, Andrea, will be coming for the winter but will not be here until the Adventure Store closes on November 6.  Our first Taco Tuesday will be November 8.  

Though my new friends will be leaving I did get the opportunity to visit with some old friends.  Jay and Cassie (Adventure Store 2010 -- Cassie was our Huckleberry Lady) were heading back to the east coast after a summer at Glacier National Park.  Lee (Adventure Store 2010 & 2011), Andrea and myself met them for dinner in Bozeman last Sunday.   It was so great to see them again. 

This past Saturday I went to Lake to help Patrick with his winter move to Mammoth.  October is a wonderful month to be in the Park.  After a summer filled with bison and bear jams, and with only glances out the car window on my part, I finally took the opportunity to do some wildlife viewing.  Mammoth has been an elk bonanza and I see them on a regular basis.  A mountain lion was even seen behind the Mammoth Hotel last week and mountain goats are a regular by Golden Gate (yet I have still havent' seen them - pout!).  But that Saturday I decided to take my time driving and actually use my camera.  

My first encounter was with a grizzly bear that ran in front of my car by Otter Creek.  I reach in the backseat and grab my trusty camera.  Unfortunately my camera strap was entwined with some stuff that came flying into the front seat with the camera.  I missed that shot.  Luckily I saw another bear just past Mud Volcano....and I really can't believe that I actually saw it.  I casually looked out my window to the east and noticed a black dot on the other side of the river.  I knew it was a bear.  I headed down to Nez Perce Ford just in time to see the bear right across the river.

Though I can't be sure but this inky black grizzly bear looked just like the bear I had photographed in this same area two years ago.....and nearly to the day.  After months and months of traveling this same road I can't tell you how nice it is to finally be able to take the time to watch the wildlife without battling traffic and hordes of tourists.  

So the cat's out of the bag.  October is a great month to visit Yellowstone.  However, with temperamental weather conditions it can also be a big gamble.  I'm not much of a gambler so its a lucky thing that I live here and outside my backdoor can be either a bear, an elk, a bison or even a mountain lion.  I'm lucky indeed.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Mammoth Elk

The elk in Mammoth continue to congregate, bugle, bawl, wander the streets and lounge in the grass across from the post office.  Visitors line the sidewalks, the patio in front of the hotel and post office and snap pictures of the bulls and cows.  Thursday night I came back from a trip from the Food Farm to find two cows and a bull outside the east side of the store.  Unable to leave from the front of the store one guest exited out the back.  I had warned her about the bull around the corner and as we came around the north side of the building we were met with the bull walking straight towards us.  She went up the steps to the loading dock while I ducked behind my car.
I eventually went to the porch in front of the store to watch the bull as he stood directly in front of a vehicle at the gas pumps.  And he stood there.  And he stood there some more.  Cars were lined up on the road to look at him while rangers kept people at a safe distance.
The bull eventually tired of holding up the gas pumping traffic and moved to road where he stood and bugled. 
But he eventually wandered off when a bison strolled his direction.  The bison crossed over to the front of the store so now the rangers had to watch guests on foot and in cars with two large animals in the area.  There was an Animal Kingdom atmosphere in Mammoth that day.

The calendar is saying autumn but the weather says summer.  The temps have been in the high 70's and low 80's and the sun keeps on shining.  The aspen have been changing to a warm yellow and it creates a beautiful backdrop for the mountains.  The elk and bighorn sheep have been in the canyon toward Gardiner though I rarely get a chance to stop and watch them.  The road tends to be clogged with photographers and I am usually on a pizza mission.

A few more people have left the store this week with more tearful goodbyes.  Our large 2011 family is now down to a handful.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Horseback Riding in the Gallatin Mountains

All my pictures from my latest adventure are on my phone.  And even though I have all the 'technology thingys' to get them from my phone to my computer I just can't seem to master that art.  Thus, the pictures remain on my phone and you must use your minds-eye to imagine me astride a beautiful white steed striding me off into the sunset amongst the beautiful backdrop of the Gallatin Mountains.  In other words, I rode a horse and my butt is killing me!

Andrea and I knocked off one more item on our list on Friday.  We went to Skyline Ranch at Cooke City for a 2 hour horseback ride that took us on a 6 mile mountain journey.  It was just the two of us and our guide, Luke.  What an incredible and fun experience.  I spent most my time mounted on Sage (Andrea rode Jimmy) scanning the beauty and looking for any bear activity (always on alert!).  We didn't see any wildlife, only the occasional rustle of brush which eventually resulted in us breathing a sigh of relief when we realized that it was only Susie, the ranch's border collie, prancing along with us. 

A couple of moments sent us into fits of laughter.  One was when we were on a narrow trail next to a drop off.  I spent most of my time in that area at nearly a 45 degree angle to Sage.  I was sure I could lean that horse into staying on the trail and not plunging down the rock slope.  I really didn't need to worry, Sage spent most of his time looking at the trail.  The moments that he looked away I would calmly tell Sage to look where he was going.

The second laughter moment was when Jimmy decided he wanted to turn around and take Andrea back instead of continuing on down the trail with us.  Andrea spent some time trying to turn Jimmy back but ended up spending a few minutes circling around a tree.  Andrea eventually won.
Mammoth has been filled with elk activity.  The bulls have been bugling all night.  I repeat:  ALL NIGHT.  I remember those days, not long ago, that I couldn't wait to hear that autumn sound of bugling elk.  Ok, I've heard it.  And I wish they would observe bugling curfew.  8:00 pm:  it's a wonderful sound.  2:00 am:  it's.......well, kind of annoying.  Especially when there is work in the morning.  But when it is over I know I will once again yearn for that sound so I should muster up the early, early morning energy to appreciate it even then.  

I do appreciate the fact that I'm incredibly lucky to have such things happen right where I live and work.  And the end result of all this commotion will be all those Mammoth baby elk in the spring.  I guess I can live with the fact that I will be awaken numerous times a night to some bugling when in the future I will be squealing over those babies.

I have not been able to take my evening trips to Lake as often as I would have liked to lately.  The store went to 'short hours' (9:00 - 6:00) and with the sun setting earlier and earlier in the evening I haven't had time to make it there before sunset.  Patrick surprised me earlier this week with a trip to Mammoth to see me.  He made me dinner and we spent the evening watching Mildred Pierce (working our way through old classic movies).  

A couple of weeks ago Patrick presented me with a Kindle.  Joy, oh joy!  This is the best invention ever (followed by a close second with Mt Dew)!  Being at Lake at the time I went to the nearest location with cell service so that I could register it using the 3G network.  And that is how I ended up at Steamboat Point registering the Kindle.  In Mammoth I can use the wireless internet to get all sorts of great books.   I am having a ball loading all the free books that I can.  I have an assortment of classics (The Scarlet Letter was my first book followed by Little Women) to books on Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt to thrillers (Dracula and Frankenstein).   I am an avid reader when I have the time and I at one point in my life had nearly 2,000 books.   With winter coming I will put this Kindle to great use.

This week 4 more employees will be leaving Mammoth General Store.  Saying good-bye is something that I do but do not relish doing.  My friends at Canyon General will be leaving this coming Friday.  Another season is coming to an end.  I am here year-round but so many that I get to work with and people I form friendships with are seasonal.  They leave to go home or on to other locations to work for the winter.  An amazing thing happens here in Yellowstone.  Friendships that are formed are not seasonal friendships but they are forever friendships.  We may drift apart in miles but we are forever entwined by Yellowstone. 

Monday, September 19, 2011

Chief Joseph Highway

 With Saturday coming around I decided to head off on my newest adventure:  heading to Cody via the Chief Joseph Highway.  It had been years since I had taken this road and so it was like a fresh and new moment for me.  Of course to get there I had to head through Lamar Valley, it was only my 5th time this summer that I had ventured through Lamar.  I had spent so much time there these past few winters but it seemed anew without any snow and my sporadic drives through this summer.  The golden vegetation and the newly yellowed aspen leaves reminded me that fall was just about here, and the huffing and puffing of a few bison proved to me that rut was still lingering but mostly over.

The Chief Joseph Highway is my 3rd favorite drive in the area (the Beartooth is my favorite and the drive along the South Fork is my 2nd).  Clouds hung low in the area and I had seen that snow had fallen in the higher elevations when I got a glimpse of the Beartooths as I headed toward Chief Joseph.  I stopped at an overlook before hitting the switchbacks up the highway and after wandering a ways from my car I was pelted with rain and sleet that stuck to my clothes and hair.  Great, sleet hair for the rest of the day.
The winding road up and over on Chief Joseph Highway

View from the top of Chief Joseph Highway
 I met up with Patrick in Cody where we went to a Japanese restaurant.  We got to climb up to our table and sit on pillows at the table.  We got to keep our shoes on since there was a cutaway underneath the table where we could put our feet instead of curling up to eat.  We have been working our way through the various restaurants in Cody, sometimes eating at our favorites a second time.  The food was delicious so we will be heading back for some Japanese feasting sometime in the future.

Mammoth has been abuzz with the bugling of elk.  A couple of bull elk have their harems in Mammoth and we were pleasantly surprised this morning when a bull elk wandered behind the store.  Armed with our cameras we were watching him from the loading dock when he stopped on the hill behind the store and let out a loud bugle.  We all applauded him as he majestically wandered off behind the gas station next door.
I had a small malfunction with my camera and eventually was able to capture the moment as he crested the hill and wandered away and eventually found himself crossing the road.  All that was left for me was this butt shot.  He spent most of the day wandering around Mammoth causing quite a commotion with the visitors as he stood across the road from the store.  Later this evening I heard a short siren.  Looking out my window I saw three park ranger vehicles with lights flashing as they followed him down the road by the store.  It is once again time to carefully survey the area when taking the trash out.

He is not the only bull in the area.  The other night I saw two of them in Mammoth.  One lounging in the grass in front of the post office while another on clawed at the ground with his massive rack by the hotel.  It was an impressive display of ground raking.  The sounds of bugle resonates through the air here.  I love that sound!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Bugle Boy

There has been a thick layer of smoke over areas of the Park lately.  There are a few fires burning and the Lake area has been hazy and stinky at times.  I can see the smoke plumes of the fire on the east side of the lake from the porch of the apartment.  Sometimes the wind blows just right and Mammoth becomes smokey and the smell sticks to our hair and clothes.  This morning is one of those mornings.  

Andrea spent last Sunday in the Tetons.  It was a beautiful blue-skied day but smoke from fires in that area obscured the mountains a bit so I didn't even bother to take any pictures.  We wandered the streets of Jackson; popping in and out of stores and boutiques.  We even stopped in a shoe store, tried some on and left without falling into temptation.

My alarm clock this morning was the bugle of an elk.  There has been a bull and his harem by the Chinese Gardens and they wandered behind the store this morning.  The rut is coming and I look forward to seeing the big bulls wandering the Mammoth area.

The temps can dip down into the 20's overnight but the days have been in the 70's and 80's.  The grasses and ground vegetation are now turning an autumn colored brown/orange/gold.  Some of the mountain peaks are still holding snows from this past winter.  The herds of bison in Hayden are still grazing in large herds and the males are occasionally raising the clouds of dust as they roll.  I hear very few roars of the males as everything winds down.  I still get in jams in Hayden and I now wish I had carried a stopwatch with me so that I could have timed the jams I had been in this previous year.  My jam time would be measured in many many hours.  

There are only a few weekends left before the snow starts to fly and I want to cram so much in.  I have included on my list of things-to-do a guided ATV tour and an overnight horseback riding trip.  Though not overtly dangerous I feel a little wild when something I do involves signing a waiver.

I have been feeling a bit guilty lately.  I have been ignoring my e-mails.  I haven't had much of a chance to look through them in at least a month and a half.  But I have had quite a few people stop in the store and say hi to me and I thank you for that.  Summer is such a busy time and the slower paced winter season is so much more conducive to finding time to answering e-mails and posting.   And right now I think I will start my winter to-do list:  snowshoeing, cross country skiing, etc.  So much to do!

I Can Fly

Robyn and Andrea harnessed up and ready to zipline

Andrea on the zipline
On Saturday Andrea and I decided to cross off another item on our summer to-do list so we headed to Big Sky, Montana.  Destination:  Basecamp for some ziplining.  We harnessed up, put our brain buckets on then we started the hike up the mountain.  First I should mention that I tend to be on the clumsy side and I have had a fear of heights.  And as for flying in any fashion:  I once had a panic attack on an airplane and decided to spend two unsuccessful days in a fear of flying class at the Northwest Airlines headquarters in Minneapolis.  Though I was excited all arrows pointed to a disastrous experience for me.  There was a total of 3 lines we needed to zip down.  On my first I didn't even think about what I was doing so after being hooked to the line I took a running leap into midair and flew over to the other side.  I LOVED it!!!  The second line I stood backwards on the platform, leaped off, swung my legs up and around my line, let go and flew across upside down.  On my third I crossed over doing my best Peter Pan imitation for the photographer snapping pictures below.  Andrea and I had the best time, conquered some fears and laughed a whole lot.  I can fly!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Goodbye Summer

Here I sit wondering just where the time went.  It is September 1, the summer is just about over and so much is left to be done.  Granted, I have done some fun things this summer but I feel like I have neglected so much on my list of "Things To Do During The Summer of 2011".  But there really is plenty of items to cross off my list, such as:  camping, fishing, having a picnic, seeing Old Faithful erupt, boating on Yellowstone Lake, hiking, Pig Races, visiting the Bighorn Mountains, etc.  So what is left on this list?  Visiting the Grand Tetons, zip line, white water rafting, more hiking, more picnics, etc.  If I could gaze into a crystal ball I am sure I can see all those activities in my future.  Maybe not this year but there are plenty of years in Yellowstone to come to accomplish all that and more.

With the bison rut coming to an end I am making my way through Hayden Valley with much less sighing on my part.  The jams are smaller and farther apart.  My trips from Mammoth to Lake have taken as long as three hours this summer but I am now able to do it in the normal 1 1/4 hours.  Occasionally I find myself in a jam but nothing of the magnitude of earlier jams.  I often thought it would be interesting to have a stopwatch where I could see how much time I spend sitting in jams during a one year time period.  Or maybe I may not want to know.  I do admit that of all jams I have enjoyed the bison rut jams the most.  I roll down my window and listen to the bellowing of the males as they keep their lady loves separated from the rest of the herd or watch as they roll in their wallows or paw at the ground.  Aaaaah, bison lust.

And now I look forward to elk rut.  I heard my first high pitched screech of an elk in Mammoth the other day.  The elk were in front of the store this morning grazing on the grass and I am looking forward to the bull elk moving in and displaying their machoness.  
And as you may have heard, there has been a second death due to a grizzly mauling in Yellowstone this summer.  It happened last week on Mary Mountain Trail and the west side of Hayden Valley has been closed to hiking.  It is a very sad situation indeed.  

The winter crew for the Mammoth General Store has been chosen and I am looking forward to an incredible winter.  The crew will include Andrea, Faye (current Floor Supervisor at Mammoth), Connie, Jerry (current Custodian at Mammoth) and myself.  What a GREAT group!  This will be Faye's and Jerry's first winter working in Yellowstone and both are looking forward to serving up some of those famous Taco Tuesday tacos.

There is currently a few fires in the Park because of lightening strikes and dry conditions but there was a nip to the air today that reminds me that fall is right around the corner.  Snow flurries are possible at higher elevations but fall can be temperature temperamental.  Cold one day, hot the next.  Last fall was beautiful and warm and then the snows came.  What is in store this year?  I have not a clue.  But the cooler temps remind me (as do the store schedules) that it is time for so many of the employees to move on to their next adventure.  Over 50% of the Mammoth General Store employees will be leaving on September 6.  It's that time of the year to say goodbye to so many people.  It's hard.  The next exodus from the store will be October 16.  Then all that will be left is five.

I am blessed.  I have met and worked with some of the most incredible people I have ever known.  Yellowstone is filled with incredible beauty, incredible opportunities and incredible people. 

Goodbye summer, hello fall.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Christmas in August 2011

On Thursday it was everyone's favorite day in Yellowstone:  Christmas in August.  We close the store one hour early, clear the floor of the store and set up tables for a Christmas meal.  The surroundings were festive with tinsel and Christmas decorations.  Our meal consisted of turkey, ham, lasagna, beans, rolls, mashed potatoes, stuffing, etc.  I have moved up from my dressing like a banana days (2 years ago) to emceeing.  Paul did a stand-up routine and told us jokes.
The evening was complete with a visit from Mr. and Mrs. Clause and a game involving our gift exchange. 

Pig Races

For the second time in August I took a trip over the Beartooths.  The reason:  Pig Races by Red Lodge, Montana!!  Andrea and I set off from Mammoth on a Saturday morning a couple of weeks ago and headed for The Top of the World.  Yes, there really is a place on the Pass called Top of the World which consists of some cabins and a store.  We stopped at the store and picked up a couple of sandwiches and snacks and matching t-shirts with Beartooth Pass written on the front.  

This was Andrea's first trip over the pass, and though I had been over it a few times in the past, we both enjoyed the scenery.  We stopped at a small mountain lake and had a picnic....a very short picnic since we were soon covered with ravenous mosquitoes.  We had a moment of laughter when we crossed over into Montana on the pass and saw a sign that said "Speed Limit 70 mph".  Yeah, right.

The pig races were fun.  Though there is an opportunity to bet on them (a fundraiser for local kids for education.  They have already raised over $90,000!) we were too afraid that we would lose our spot so we stayed put and watched 4 of the races.  Since we were camping in the Custer National Forest south of Red Lodge we left while there was still light and headed back to the campsite.

While Andrea and I spent our time shopping in Red Lodge and watching pig races Patrick was at the campsite setting it up.  We spent the evening popping popcorn, watching the fire and strategically placing our bear spray in areas of the tents for easy access.  No bears showed up but Patrick did need to chase off a deer that circled our campsite and showed no fear of humans.

The next morning we went back to Mammoth via the Pass and made one last stop in Cooke City for funnel cake.  It was quite a weekend.  Beauty of the mountains, the thrill of watching adorable little pigs run in a circle and gaining the knowledge that I can warm up an egg and sausage burrito on a log by a campfire.

Friday, August 12, 2011

My Minnesoooota Visitors

Last week I spent the majority of my time sitting in bison jams in Hayden Valley.  With the bison rut in full swing there was plenty of snorts, ground pawing and rolling in the dirt to entertain me while I sat and waited.  My commute from Mammoth to Lake was extended by nearly an hour due to these lookers of love but I have always enjoyed the rut so I tolerated the extra time.

Last Thursday my friends from Minnesoooota arrived.  Patrick and I met them in Red Lodge after driving over Beartooth Pass.  Since I have been here Lyle and Denise have had my Jeep in storage and hauled it out to me.  Wanting to go over the pass themselves we decided to meet them in Red Lodge and take the Jeep so that they could go over the Beartooth's without having to haul it behind them.   It was a five hour drive for us since we were met with jams in Hayden, and road construction over Dunraven and over the Lamar River.
Beartooth Pass
With a list of animals that they wanted to see I had Lyle and Denise follow me from Mammoth to Lake.  I had assured them that I would get them in a bison jam and that we would find some elk.  Mammoth is usually teaming with elk but we only managed to see a couple crossing the hill behind the store.  I was sure I would find them a herd.  Our first encounter after leaving Mammoth was a large black bear half way to Tower.  One animal checked off the list.  And that was about all we saw after that.  No jams in Hayden, just a handful of bison that were so far from the road that they were just brown specks on the hillside.

After dinner we decided to head out and find some wildlife.  With Patrick, Levi, Leah and myself in my car and Lyle and Denise in another we headed east of Fishing Bridge.  At Pelican Creek we saw a mother grizzly and her cub swimming for the road.  They then got on the road right next to Lyle and Denise, crossed the road and walked right next to my car.  Oh joy!  Another animal crossed off the list.  We then went to Hayden..........still no bison.
Grizzlies by Pelican Creek

Mama Grizzly and Cub

Lower Falls
Levi, Lyle, Denise and Leah

Waiting for Old Faithful

The next morning we headed out again.  We saw the Lower Falls, Norris Geyser Basin, ate at West Yellowstone and then headed toward Old Faithful.

Old Faithful

White Dome Geyser
Before we got to Old Faithful we stopped to look at some other geysers.  As we snapped pictures, and without notice, White Dome Geyser went off right before us.  Incredible luck!

We stopped at Grant Village for some shopping and headed back to Lake.  Before we got to the junction we saw a large group of people on a bridge.  It was a large bull elk, something Levi had been wanting to see.  Another animal checked off that list.  Now all that was left was a moose and a bison jam.

Heading out onto Yellowstone Lake for some fishing

Heading out onto the Lake

Fishing was another thing that Levi had wanted to do in Yellowstone.  Patrick took the gang out on the boat and headed for Grant Marina.  After letting Lyle, Denise and Leah off at the Marina to walk to the store Patrick and Levi set out for some fishing.

I met up with the others in Grant while Patrick and Levi fished.  It was not a lucky fishing day:  no fish and storms kept blowing in.  Levi was left off at the marina with his family and I drove them back to their car at Lake so that they could get to Billings that night.  Patrick had to sit with the boat for another couple of hours waiting the storms out before heading back to Bridge Bay Marina.  Storms on Yellowstone Lake are not something to take lightly.
It was a great weekend having good friends visit.  I enjoyed being a pseudo-tour guide and a tourist myself.  In fact, I have been here for over two years and this was my first opportunity to see Old Faithful erupt.  I was thrilled that they got to see some Yellowstone grizzlies, and a black bear to boot.  But no matter how hard I tried I could not find a bison jam so that they could experience that too.

I am now back in my real Yellowstone world: working and living here and making my Mammoth to Lake commutes.  On my first commute back to Lake I got into a huge bison jam.  Go figure.