GRANITE PEAK PUBLICATIONS: Books accompanying travelers to the Park since 2002

Pilot Peak, Wyoming

Pilot Peak, Wyoming

View of Pilot and Index Peaks, accompanying the guidebook section on the Beartooth Highway.

View of Pilot and Index Peaks, accompanying the guidebook section on the Beartooth Highway.

Just outside the Park’s Northeast Entrance are a prominent pair of peaks in the northern Absaroka Range known as Pilot and Index. You can get a great view of them from a short side road off the Beartooth Scenic Byway, which covers the 70 miles (113 km) from Red Lodge, Montana to the entrance. “Pilot, the pointed one, is a glacial horn; four glaciers carved its pyramidal shape” (Yellowstone Treasures, page 195). Read more about the beautiful Beartooth Highway in the guidebook, pages 190-195.

The first ascent of Pilot Peak was on August 12, 1932, by Hollis Mees and Robert McKenzie. They amazingly did the climb without climbing gear. It’s now known as a difficult climb because of the loose rock. You can see footage of Mees and McKenzie’s ascent in this video:

By the way, we have been collecting some interesting Yellowstone videos, mostly of geysers, on our YouTube channel here:
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCF0XW_RT5rtr4vJ3MVoaDoQ/feed

–Beth Chapple, Editor

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Vic Sawyer Builds Models of Yellowstone Hotels

Our children and grandchildren are eagerly anticipating Santa Claus and his helpers, some of them hoping to get a dollhouse or a train set with wonderful buildings along the track. I’m a grandma who never got a dollhouse or a train set, but last summer I got to see a truly unique “dollhouse” being constructed and learn how it’s done.

As I was visiting with people who came by my author’s table in Old Faithful Inn last August, one especially interesting man who works at Old Faithful in the summer stopped by to talk. He told me he was the manager of the nearby Haynes Photo Shop, totally renovated last year by the Yellowstone Foundation. This historic building now showcases the photographic work of father and son, F. Jay and Jack Haynes, and informs visitors about the good works done by the Yellowstone Foundation.

My new friend’s name is Vic Sawyer, and he offered to show me the scale model he is building in a small shop set up in the Haynes Photo Shop’s back room. The model he is now working on is of the huge and elegant historic Canyon Hotel, built in 1911 but torn down by the owners, the Yellowstone Park Company, in 1959–60 to maximize their profit on the nearby recently built Canyon Village motel-like units. Since Vic has not been able to locate the plans for the Canyon Hotel, in 2014 he can only work from pictures and perhaps some verbal descriptions. Ironically, as of this past summer the Canyon Village units are being torn down and replaced by small lodges.

Vic Sawyer and model

Vic has a fabulous and unique hobby. He showed me pictures of the first model he built, that one of Lake Lodge. He has not yet settled on where he might exhibit these remarkable models, but his first one is now being stored by friends a long way from Yellowstone. For that model he made most of the furniture as it now looks in the real Lake Lodge, using masking tape painted with acrylic paints to look like leather upholstery. He found the tiniest possible incandescent lights and bits of clear plastic for windows.

He has not yet settled on where he might exhibit these remarkable models. His “dollhouses” are 1:300 to-scale models built of thin sheets of wood, and the furniture is of tiny bits of various wooden objects (like popsicle sticks, coffee stirrers, tooth picks, broom straws, and the tiniest twigs), then carefully painted. The Canyon Hotel model, he told me, will have LED lights.

Vic does beautiful, painstaking work, and I was delighted to meet him and get to see what he’s up to. I’m eager to see the completed Canyon Hotel and wonder when he will tackle Old Faithful Inn!

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Yellowstone Park Opens to Over-snow Vehicles Today—But Wait . . .

Today, December 15, is when the winter season officially begins in Yellowstone. This means you should be able to travel in snowcoaches or with commercially guided snowmobile groups starting now.

But the snow cover is so limited between West Yellowstone and Old Faithful, that the National Park Service is allowing “only commercial snowcoaches with rubber tracks or large oversnow tires” on that stretch of park road, according to today’s Jackson Hole News and Guide.

If I were so lucky as to be going to the park this winter, I would make my plans for mid January through the end of February, when snow conditions are much more likely to be good. Here’s where you can read about my unforgettable January 2012 luxury winter trip.

Of course, you can also make all the arrangements yourself through Xanterra (307-344-7311) or a private concessionaire.

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Does Yellowstone Need to Raise Entrance Fees?

Since 2006 a family’s private passenger car has been able to enter Yellowstone and the Tetons combined for a $25.00 entrance fee. If you return several times in a year, you are better off to buy the $50.00 annual pass for both parks. Seniors (62 and older) are able to purchase a $10.00 pass good for their lifetimes, a bargain for sure, what with the increasing lifespans of today’s seniors.

Now the National Park Service is proposing the following fee schedule:
1- to 3-day pass to Yellowstone only for $30.00
1- to 7-day pass to both Yellowstone and the Tetons for $50.00
Separate annual passes for each park for $60.00.

Eighty percent of the money derived from entrance fees goes to the park where it is collected, while twenty percent goes to the general NPS fund, mostly used for parks where fees are not collected. There is also an annual national park appropriation from Congress, which for many years has been inadequate to cover even routine expenses, such as park personnel salaries, utility bills, and the like.

Looking at what the “extra” money from entrance fees goes for in Yellowstone, most of it is desperately needed for maintenance of buildings and roads, now used by over three million visitors each year. More money for Yellowstone can also mean that the park can continue and expand the fight against the lake trout, those huge fish that have been decimating the native cutthroat population so many park animals depend upon.

NPS is accepting comments on their website (not by e-mail or fax). You can read the entire fee change document there. Use this link to comment on it. You have through Saturday, December 20th, to comment. Click on Entrance Fee Proposal and then in the Comment Now box.

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Yellowstone Gems We All Own

    Post Two on My Favorite Hot Springs

Yellowstone Park is blessed with gems you can see but not purchase. Yet they are priceless. The ones I’m thinking of are Emerald Spring and Emerald Pool.

Most deep hot pools are blue, because their water absorbs all colors of sunlight except blue, which is reflected back to our eyes. Emerald Spring at Norris Geyser Basin, however, is lined with yellow sulfur, so when combined with the blue of the water, that gives us green.

Screen Shot_EmeraldSpg

This spring has a somewhat acidic pH, and its temperature has varied from around 181ºF to 196ºF over the years. Its frequent turbulence comes from gases like carbon dioxide, but on occasion it has heated up enough to erupt as a geyser. In fact, in 1931 its nearly constant eruptions could reach 60 to 75 feet, according to geyser expert T. Scott Bryan.

Much larger and even more beautiful is Emerald Pool at Black Sand Basin, near Old Faithful village. Its color comes not from a sulfur lining but—being too cool to act as a geyser (about 144ºF to 156ºF) and not acidic—yellow bacteria can grow happily here. This accounts for its gorgeous green color and yellow surrounding bacterial mats.

DSC_0501

Park Historian Lee Whittlesey tells us in his Yellowstone Place Names that Emerald Pool was named by members of the Hayden Expedition during summer 1872, just after Yellowstone became the world’s first national park. An 1894 writer called it “the most beautiful thing in the way of wonderland water I have ever seen” and pointed out that its rim looks like “rough-grained gold,” making it “an emerald set in gold.”

Black Sand Basin has got to be my favorite easy walk. In less than a mile of walking you can enjoy a welcoming geyser (Cliff Geyser), which may be erupting as you get out of your car, then Rainbow Pool and Sunset Lake to the north. Save the crown jewel, Emerald Pool, on its own short boardwalk, for the last.

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Connecting a Hot Spring Microbe and a Criminal Trial

Thinking my blog followers might like to learn about the interesting connection between a microorganism found in Yellowstone Park and a notorious criminal trial twenty years ago—recent enough that some of you will have followed that trial—I’ll repeat here something I wrote last spring for another website.
– – – – –
One thing leads to another. So let’s play Connect Initials and Years. Specifically, let’s examine how a microbe found in Yellowstone National Park (YNP) related to evidence from a sample of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) in the most famous criminal trial of the late twentieth century.

1966: Indiana University professor Thomas D. Brock (TDB) and undergraduate assistant Hudson Freeze collect a tiny organism from 73ºC Mushroom Pool in YNP. The bacterium, named Thermus aquaticus (TAQ), is subsequently found to thrive in the laboratory even in boiling water and is deposited with the American Type Culture Collection (ATCC).
Brock_MushroomPl [Photo of Brock at Mushroom Pool by Janet Chapple, 1996]

1975 and 1977: Doctor Frederick Sanger of Cambridge University and colleagues publish two papers that made DNA sequencing in the lab much less laborious than it had been previously—and for which he won his second Nobel Prize (in 1980).

1983–84: Researcher Kary Mullis and team at Cetus Corporation, Emeryville, CA, buy a sample of TAQ for thirty-five dollars from the ATCC. From this they purify an enzyme known as Taq polymerase. It proves to be so stable, even when repeatedly heated and cooled, that it can be used to conduct repeated reactions and produce a large amount of DNA from a minuscule example, a technique called a Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR).

For demonstrating this improved PCR technique, Mullis shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Cetus and later their successor company Hoffmann–LaRoche made hundreds of millions of dollars in patent rights and licenses.
Screen Shot 2014-04-14 at 7.58.31 PM [Computer-rendered view of a random DNA double-helix by Geoff Hutchison
From Creative Commons.Freely shared with attribution; no derivatives.
from Creative Commons
]

1986–96: DNA sequencing becomes more and more important in several fields of endeavor, among them archaeological research, proof of paternity, prenatal health, the origins of species—and forensics. DNA evidence was used for the first time in a U.S. criminal court in 1987. However, note here that not until 1996 did the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) announce the reliability of DNA evidence.

1994: A National Institutes of Health (NIH) website points out that “The DNA Identification Act of 1994 authorized the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to expand a pilot project into a national DNA database, the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), as a tool for solving violent crimes.” Thus, this national database had just been authorized in 1994 and was not fully functioning until 1998.

1994–95: Football star O. J. Simpson (OJS) Screen Shot 2014-11-17 at 5.04.52 PM [from Wikipedia Commons, 1990]
is the defendant in a widely televised eleven-month-long trial for the murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her companion Ronald Lyle Goldman. The prosecution presented DNA evidence to the jury. However, (quoting the Crime Museum website): “A major hurdle that the prosecution team failed to overcome was the lack of knowledge and understanding regarding forensic science, specifically DNA.” And, “This inability to understand key evidence made the evidence essentially useless; even some seasoned lawyers found the scientific testimonies to be incomprehensible. It is reported that the DNA evidence showed that the chance that some of the blood found near the bodies came from anyone but Simpson was one in 170 million. The chance that blood found on Simpson’s sock could be from someone other than Nicole Brown was one in 21 billion.”
The trial verdict was Not Guilty.
At the time of this high-profile trial even such responsible entities as the NAS and the FBI were unsure or did not yet fully appreciate the implications of DNA evidence. Thus, a murderer was not convicted.

Early 2000s: Taq polymerase becomes only one among a number of DNA polymerases that are used in sequencing reactions.

2014: Twenty years after the OJS trial, would a jury decide differently?

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Western art in Cody

Just found out via Twitter that the Whitney Western Art Museum of the Buffalo Bill Center for the West in Cody, Wyoming, has recently acquired a new painting by John Mix Stanley. What’s special is that more than 200 of that artist’s works were destroyed in a fire in 1865, so not many survive. Another bit of news is that the museum will gather about 60 works by Stanley for an exhibition called Painted Journeys: The Art of John Mix Stanley, which will open June 6, 2015. If you are interested in American art of the West, make plans to enter or leave Yellowstone Park by the East Entrance this summer!

–posted by Beth Chapple, editor

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Is It the End of Night for Our National Parks?

“There goes another one!” Joan pointed out, as we lay on our flat porch roof in Billings, Montana, watching the August meteor shower. It was 1947, and in our small town we could see millions of stars and pick out several constellations. Sometimes we could even see the Milky Way.

Now it’s 2014, and even in Yellowstone this past summer, I could barely find the Big Dipper. Was it that our entire atmosphere is polluted, or was there now too much ambient light even at Old Faithful and Mammoth Villages to enjoy the stars?

Listening to a National Public Radio broadcast the other day, I became absorbed in the story of what has happened to the night skies in America in the past few decades. NPR was interviewing author Paul Bogard about his book The End of Night: Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light. Use “Look Inside” for Chapter 9 on the Amazon website for light pollution images, a sample of what’s in the book.

I’m going to have to read this book, since I fully agree with the reviewer Bill McKibben, who wrote on Amazon: “The most precious things in the modern world are probably silence, solitude, and darkness–and of these three rarities, true darkness may be the rarest of all. Many thanks to Paul Bogard for searching out the dark spots and reminding us to celebrate them!”

Take a look at our nugget that includes what the author of a classic Western novel wrote about
experiencing the night.

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Wolves are “just like us”!

YT174 copy

Yellowstone’s wolves are always in the news. Back in late 2012 the Obama administration lifted federal protection for wolves in Wyoming. In the year following, trophy hunters killed 62 wolves. An unknown number were shot or trapped. Then, on September 13 of this year, federal judge Amy Berman Jackson returned Wyoming wolves to Endangered Species Act protection. Wyoming’s congressional delegation has now pledged to go to Congress in an effort to get wolves again delisted in the state.

As the legislative ping-pong game continues, Doug Smith, Yellowstone wildlife biologist and leader of the Yellowstone Gray Wolf Restoration Project, has fascinating things to say in a 23-minute Iowa Public Radio interview about the history of wolf re-introduction in the park and the present state of wolves.

Tempting you to listen to this excellent interview, I’ll mention a couple of highlights of Doug’s remarks.

Although the next official count will take place in mid winter, current Yellowstone wolf numbers are at approximately 130 wolves in 11 packs.

In discussing the ongoing argument about Canadian wolves being introduced, thus bringing in a different subspecies from those that historically lived in and around Wyoming, Doug explains that over the decades when no wolves lived there, no exchange of genes could take place due to geographic isolation. He states that there are now 5 subspecies in North America, not the many more claimed by some people.

Doug points out that Yellowstone is now returning to “ecological functionality”—big words for the balance achieved in the environment by returning wolves to the park.

He completely empathizes with the ranchers in the ring of land that circles the Greater Yellowstone public land, where wolves now live. Unavoidably, preying on their livestock is a big problem, but ideas to cope with this are multiplying.

Replying to a listener’s question about attacks on humans, he stresses that wolves are afraid of humans and/or “can’t figure us out because we walk on two legs.” He suggests that the big, bad wolf stories may be based on some historical attacks but could well have been referring to rabid wolves.

Doug will be giving a talk at Iowa State University’s Memorial Union, 8:00 pm on Monday, November 3. In his interview he lists an impressive list of human traits found in wolves: they are monogamous, good parents, territorial, and communicate by body postures and many quiet vocalizations—as well as howling. And he concludes, “They’re just like us!”

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Roads closing for winter break in Yellowstone

All Yellowstone Park roads except the all-weather road between Gardiner and Cooke City in the northern part of the park will close Monday, November 3, 2014, at 8:00 am. And just in time, too: On Sunday and Monday, October 26 and 27, there was up to one foot of snow in some places and a few drivers were stranded until snowplows could reach them. A dusting of snow remained at Old Faithful in late afternoon on Tuesday (10/28), as I just saw on the Old Faithful streaming webcam.

December 15th will be the day most roads will be ready for snowcoaches and snowmobiles.

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