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Posts about Yellowstone animals, insects, and wildflowers and other plants.

“The Wild Lab” of Yellowstone Park

Categories: Flora and Fauna, Science, Wildlife
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Today I’m thinking about Yellowstone’s animals, the “charismatic megafauna”—an expression that makes me smile. And I’m anticipating being able to present my first-ever guest blog, by my friend Rita Reining. Rita took part in a late season wolf-watching seminar this winter given by the Yellowstone Institute. Their next winter’s classes are not yet listed but will be up by August or September.

YT174 copy
Wolf picture from “Yellowstone Treasures,” page 351

Awaiting her article, I’ll pass on some thoughts inspired by a Science Magazine article, “Lessons from the Wild Lab,” March 20, 2015, pages 1302–7.

A video circulating on the Web a few months ago attributed recent changes in Yellowstone’s environment to the reintroduction of gray wolves, beginning in 1995. The video seemed to claim that the observed changes, all the way through the animal and plant kingdoms to the re-channeling of rivers, were due to predation on elk by wolves. However, according to writer Virginia Morell from Yellowstone, scientists disagree as to whether or not the coming of the wolves was the only trigger for observed changes “in species from elk to coyotes to willows to bison to beavers.” She cites cougars, grizzly bears, and drought as partners in the park’s transformation.

Wolves and cougars were both extirpated by the early 1930s. Coyotes, however, have been protected from 1936 on—a discrimination in the ruling that I have never understood, since these smaller canids can also prey on animals as large as deer or (very occasionally) elk and have even been known to attack humans.

In addition to the larger predators, Douglas W. Smith, the Yellowstone Wolf Project leader, who has studied wolves for more than three decades, says that smaller predators and humans should be factored in to the great depletion of the elk herd since wolves came to the park.

Here are a few megafauna statistics from Morell’s article:

Elk:
1994, more than 19,000 in the northern range of Yellowstone
2008, just over 6,000

Cougars (known in the park):
1972, almost none
1995, estimated at 15 to 20
2015, estimated at about 35, a “natural experiment,” according to Morell, “but they are
rarely seen and do not howl”

Bison:
1997 (after slaughter of 1,000), about 1,600
2004, over 4,000
2014, 4,900

Beaver colonies:
2014, 12 (but the
park website
) gives 112 beaver colonies in 2011.)*

Wolves:
1994, none
2013, 95 in the park; 34 on the northern range

Human visitors:
2014: 3.6 million.

– – – – –
*From the NPS Yellowstone website: “The increase [in beavers] has occurred throughout the park and is likely related to the resurgence in willow since the late 1990s, at least on the northern range, and possibly in the park interior.”

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Why not plan a fall trip to the park?

Categories: Flora and Fauna, Trip planning, Wildlife
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aspens in autumn

Aspens turn golden in the fall.

Does it make sense to visit Yellowstone in the autumn months? Of course! Fall is short but wonderful in Yellowstone National Park. The month of September and part of October make up Yellowstone’s autumn; because of the high altitude, after about mid October there are likely to be more snowy days than warm ones.

Autumn is when the bull elk are bugling their unearthly sounds to assert their dominance over the area (and over the cows), bears are coming to the lower altitudes to forage for the foods they need to gorge on before hibernation, and the aspen trees are turning golden. Best of all, the visitors have thinned out remarkably.

Planned road construction

But this year you really need to take two road closures into account when you plan your trip. It helps to look at the maps I link to at the bottom of this post to see how much of a detour you may need to take.

Road closure no. 1

The road linking Old Faithful with West Thumb and Grant Village will be closed for the season starting 6 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 2, so the bridge at Isa Lake can be removed and replaced.

This road closure will require visitors traveling between the South Entrance and Old Faithful or West Yellowstone to detour through Fishing Bridge Junction and Canyon, increasing the travel time by approximately two hours.

Despite the closure, visitors will still be able to drive south from Old Faithful as far as the trailhead to Lone Star Geyser and north from West Thumb Junction to access the DeLacy Creek trailhead.

Road closure no. 2

In addition, the road from Mammoth Hot Springs to Norris will be closed due to construction from 11 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 14, until 7 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 30.

During this closure, travel between Mammoth Hot Springs and Norris will require a detour through Tower Junction and Canyon, a drive of approximately 90 minutes. Visitors traveling between Mammoth Hot Springs and West Yellowstone should plan on the trip taking approximately two and a half hours.

See “Construction Work to Result in Yellowstone Road Closures after Labor Day” on the National Park Service website for more.
—Editor Beth

CREDIT: The photo is by Leslie Kilduff.

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Janet celebrates her 75th anniversary in the park, part 4

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ranger station museum Old Faithful 1953My sister Joan was a life-long games person, becoming a fine contract bridge player and a tournament Scrabble player in her later years, besides making games out of every chore in her life—including the routines she recommended to her piano pupils. She could make a game out of anything, including something as simple as balancing on the logs that surrounded the Old Faithful Ranger Station and Museum. We would collect state names on license plates to see if we could find at least one car from each of the then 48 states. And we played lots of card games and board games, too.

As often as Mother would allow it, we would go into the museum to mosey around and talk to the rangers. One of the rangers called us “Dimples.” Perhaps he was the same one who gave us a copy of Cubby in Wonderland by Frances Joyce Farnsworth and signed it “From Ben Lundquist, 1942.” We loved that book and its sequel, Cubby Returns. Some years ago I read those books to my grandsons.

I remember the specimens of park rocks in the museum and the samples of plant matter such as the cones and needles from the different evergreens of the park. There were a few small stuffed animals. I think there was a large bear, too, but I’m not sure about that. I would have stayed well away from it.

I also remember the model of a geyser, but I don’t think I ever saw it working. (I have read somewhere that Jack Haynes built a geyser model, and perhaps it is still in the archives. But I have found a reference (in Yellowstone Nature Notes, July 30, 1926) to models made by Chief Naturalist Ansel F. Hall and placed at Old Faithful and Mammoth. [See my September 13, 2010, post on this blog for the exhibits you can now find at the new Old Faithful Visitor Education Center.]

In back of the ranger station and museum was an amphitheater with a screen (now part of the huge west parking lot). I don’t remember the pictures shown on the screen or the subjects of the rangers’ talks, but I do remember well the sing-alongs that always ended the evenings. I know we sang “Home on the Range” and “She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain,” and many others.

Our local world was bounded by the Inn, the bunkhouse, the museum, and the geyser, but I remember that a favorite place where Joan and I played was around the bridge over the Firehole River behind the geyser. To this day I am strongly attracted to that spot, and I always spend a little time there early in the morning when I visit Old Faithful.

More from Janet’s memoirs in the last post of this series . . . .
CREDIT: The photo of the Old Faithful Museum is from the Haynes Guide, 1953.


The full article “Celebrating an Old Faithful Area Seventieth Anniversary,” was published in August 2009 in The Geyser Gazer Sput, Vol. 23, No. 4, pp. 5-8.
Janet wrote a longer version of these memoirs at the instigation of Park Historian Lee Whittlesey, and they are now preserved in the library of the Yellowstone Heritage and Research Center in Gardiner, Montana.

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What to say about an idyllic three days in the Lamar Valley enjoying and learning more about Yellowstone wildflowers? Even in seasons without so many flowers the valley is one of my favorite places anywhere.

Whenever I’m there, I can never get enough of the changing light as you look up the valley to Saddle Mountain and its neighboring peaks or across the river to Specimen Ridge. But this green early summer with bison grazing everywhere is really special.

Also special in every way was the Yellowstone Institute class called The Art of Wildflower Identification. Instructor Meredith Campbell is not just knowledgeable about botany and a fine artist. She is wonderfully qualified to patiently teach us about keying in Rocky Mountain wildflowers as well as about some techniques of drawing and using color. We were using a little booklet that asks us specific questions about the leaves and flowers and (sometimes!) leads us to identify the one we are looking at.

This was my third time for taking this class, but the second was seven years ago, and I need lots of review. Special for me this year were the other members of the class, who included the current Mammoth Clinic doctor (also trained as an architect and capable of lovely flower drawings), several caring people who work for the park service or for the Yellowstone Association, and others with interesting backgrounds and reasons for being there. They were particularly kind to me as by far the oldest class member.

It hardly mattered that it rained on and off for the first two days and the third was sunny—but when we went partway up Mt. Washburn seeking subalpine flowers, we encountered a strong cold wind. You never know what to expect in the mountains.

I am hoping I can soon add a Lamar Valley picture to this post, one taken by Kathie Lynch, who spends so much time studying Lamar wolves that her license plate is “YNP WOLF.” She writes interesting reports about the park’s wolves on The Wildlife News.

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In a few days I’ll fly to Idaho Falls for a brief visit with a friend before I drive to the Lamar Buffalo Ranch in northeastern Yellowstone for my Yellowstone Institute class. This is a class called The Art of Wildflower Identification, taught by Meredith Campbell. I’ve taken the class twice before and simply loved it.

We start with the elementary botany of flowers, and since for me it’s always quite a few years between these classes, I can use all the review I can get. Meredith also shows us some techniques for drawing with our colored pencils. Then we’re off for three days in various outstanding fields of flowers that she’s found in advance.

Here is a forget-me-not, a sample of the wonderful flower drawings by Mary Vaux Walcott in the 1920s (from page 352 in Yellowstone Treasures):

Mary Vaux Walcott watercolor of flower

—and my best effort at drawing a clematis during the 2007 class:

Clematis by Janet, 2007

Clematis by Janet, 2007

You can see why I need more classes!

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Muskrat in a kettle pond

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Can’t resist sharing this cute picture of a muskrat in a Yellowstone kettle pond with you. What’s a kettle pond, you may ask? Here’s what the Yellowstone Treasures glossary has to say: “A pond formed in a depression caused by the ground collapsing when a buried block of glacial ice melted. Also called kettle hole.” The melting snow of the caption to this National Park Service photo is just this past winter’s. The hole is much older.

You can find out more about how glaciers reshape the landscape on the illustrated pages 311-312 of the “Geological History” chapter in the guidebook.

—Editor Beth

What to do on this website

Categories: Flora and Fauna, Trip planning
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lance-leaved stonecrop

Lance-leaved stonecrop

Besides finding out about the Yellowstone Treasures guidebook and learning of news in the Yellowstone area on Janet Chapple’s author blog, what else can you do on this website?

If you have kids, you can explore what it would be like to travel with them to the park in “Taking the family to Yellowstone Park” and “Itinerary for a family trip.” And now there’s another activity for kids: go to the new “Color a Wildflower” page to find coloring pages for the flowering plants and trees that grow in Yellowstone. In fact, one of the ones you can print out and color is the stonecrop, pictured above. If you want to be sure your pictures are botanically accurate, you can even use the coloring guide for each page, which shows you which color to use for each part. It’s a great way to familiarize yourself with the plants before you get there!

CREDITS: The photo is by Bruno Giletti.

Enjoy the website,
Beth Chapple, Editor

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Alerts for boat owners and fisher-people

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My information on boating regulations comes from the Laurel, Montana “Outlook.”

In order to protect the waters of Yellowstone, all motorized and non-motorized watercraft entering the park’s lakes must now pass an Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) inspection on their boats as part of the watercraft permitting process.
National Park Service staff will also conduct daily required inspections, seven days per week, for all boats that launch from Bridge Bay, Grant Village and Lewis Lake boat ramps.

Information on boating and boat permitting in Yellowstone can be found at http://www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/boating.htm.
Information on AIS can be found at http://www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/fishingexotics.htm.

– – – – –

And from the National Park Service:

The park has updated its fishing regulations for the season which began on Saturday, May 25, with the goal of aiding the park’s Native Fish Conservation Plan. Native fish found in Yellowstone waters include cutthroat trout, mountain whitefish, and Arctic grayling; all of these must be released unharmed when caught. Anglers are reminded that they may use only barbless artificial flies and lures and lead-free sinkers when fishing in the park.

To help protect native fish species, the limit on non-native fish caught in the park’s Native Trout Conservation Area has been eliminated. This includes all park waters except the Madison and Firehole rivers, the Gibbon River below Gibbon Falls, and Lewis and Shoshone lakes.

Rainbow or brook trout caught in the Lamar River drainage must be harvested in order to protect native cutthroat trout in the headwater reaches of the drainage. This includes Slough and Soda Butte Creeks. Anglers are also reminded that all lake trout caught in Yellowstone Lake must be killed to help cutthroat trout restoration efforts.

2013

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Elk and wolves

Categories: Flora and Fauna, On the Web, Wildlife
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I really must pass this on and keep quoting it in the future, because it’s an article by a highly respected Bozeman writer, who has done a convincing study about the effect of gray wolves on the elk population around Yellowstone and beyond. There has been a lot of waffling about whether or not to blame the last few years’ shrinkage of the Greater Yellowstone elk herd on preying wolves. This looks at the issue from the point of view of hunting outfitters.
Here is food for thought:
http://www.bozemandailychronicle.com/opinions/article_dc2057ce-a135-11e1-9499-001a4bcf887a.html

2012

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Spring comes to Greater Yellowstone

Categories: Flora and Fauna, Park environs, Wildlife
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I recently found something that’s fun to watch, if you enjoy observing the unusual spring rituals of birds and animals. I’ve never seen this in person and probably never will, since it occurs in April, which is too early in the spring for most roads and facilities in the Greater Yellowstone area to be open. But still . . . Watch—and listen to—the greater sage grouse’s mating ritual at: http://www.yellowstonegate.com/2012/04/grand-teton-rangers-lead-morning-tours-watch-sage-grouse-strut.

The Yellowstone Gate website is a good place to learn about current events in and around Yellowstone and the Tetons. I was reminded that later this month is National Park Week (April 21-29, 2012), when park entrance fees are waived. However, only people who live close by can really benefit from this, since no hotels are open until early May, and the only campground open all year is at Mammoth.

2012

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