"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

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.