"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

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.