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

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Giving thanks nine ways

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male grouse display Yellowstone

Male dusky grouse displaying in Yellowstone National Park
(Click for larger image)

While Yellowstone has no wild turkey, there are several kinds of grouse and other similar birds in the back country. You might like this photo on Flickr by nature photographer Diana, of a female spruce grouse she saw at Dunraven Pass in the park.

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, and taking a cue from Janet’s Acknowledgments and Best Sights of Yellowstone pages in Yellowstone Treasures, Updated Fourth Edition, here are some of the people and places we are thankful for:

  1. Artist Point, an incomparable view of the Lower Falls and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River
  2. our geology advisers, Bruno Giletti and Jo-Ann Sherwin, along with our other team members
  3. the Geyser Observation and Study Association and other supporting organizations
  4. Great Fountain Geyser, whose tall and exciting eruptions are safe to witness at close range
  5. Inspiration Point, with its outstanding view of Canyon colors
  6. Old Faithful Inn, the immense hundred-year-old log building that rivals its namesake geyser in beauty and interest
  7. the park rangers who protect Yellowstone and educate visitors
  8. the Yellowstone Heritage and Research Center
  9. you, our readers, who have kept us going since 2002!

Photo credits: The dusky grouse is an NPS photo in the public domain.

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Guest Post by Rita Reining, a nature lover and outdoor enthusiast. She can often be found hiking the hills around her home in Oakland, CA and serves as a docent in the Natural Sciences Gallery of the Oakland Museum of California.

When my friend Ellen and I decided to sign up for Wolf Week—a five-day course presented by the Yellowstone Association at the Lamar Buffalo Ranch the last week in March—I had no idea of the adventure that was in store.

After dinner on our first evening the instructors gave out a picture and a short bio of a wolf living on the North Range of the park to each pair of participants. Each couple presented their wolf information to the group. We learned about the 11 different packs in the park, but we concentrated on the eight packs that currently call the North Range home. The specific wolves we learned about all have radio collars. The wolves generally don’t have names but are known by their number. Also, we learned a little of the genealogy of the wolves, many of whom are descendants of the Druid pack which were the original wolves introduced to Yellowstone in 1995. We felt a bit better acquainted with specific wolves and the packs that we might encounter.

The next morning (and for the following two mornings) we were up at 5 AM in order to be on the bus to start looking for the wolves before sun-up. We drove to the Little America area where we came upon a group of people with spotting scopes focused on the Junction Butte (JB) pack about one-half mile away up the hillside enjoying the remains of an elk brought down a couple of days earlier. We quickly set up our scopes to observe our first wild wolves of this trip. It was so exciting!

As we watched them, I was surprised that their behavior was quite sociable. When we arrived, the big gray alpha male, 911M, was eating. A bit later the alpha female, 970F, and then two other females settled in to feed. No snarling or fighting such as I had expected. When it seemed that all had had their fill, the pack began to howl. First one, then another, then everyone. Each wolf has its own tone and voice. It was an exhilarating chorus. From across the way, more howling was heard. This was by the Prospect Peak pack (PP). The JBs evidently did not want to interact with the PPs and they ran up the hill and disappeared over the ridge.
Wolf March 2015 by Rita Reining
There are several groups of dedicated wolf watchers. First there are those who are associated with The Wolf Project, consisting of teams who follow all the packs in the park. Then there are the rangers, photographers, bloggers, and local residents who are out every day recording and reporting what they see. All seem to be connected by radio, and we relied on this communication every day in order to follow the wolves.

Thus, we learned that there was wolf activity in the Lamar Valley. This time we watched a gray pup of the Lamar Canyon (LC) pack busy at an old bison carcass. Soon the black alpha female, 926F, walked by, stopped for a moment by the carcass and continued on her way, followed by another black pup.

We followed 926F and her six pups’ activities during our wolf week. The picture above was taken by Jane Morse, a fellow participant, and this wolf looks very much like 926F. The stories about 926F made our observations all the more interesting.

About ten days before we arrived in Yellowstone, the LC alpha male was killed by the PPs. (The highest cause of wolf deaths is by other wolves.) The larger PP pack encountered the smaller LC pack. The reason for the PP aggression is unknown, but as they were advancing on the LCs, all the LCs ran away except the alpha male. He stood his ground as the PPs edged closer, and then he turned and ran away in the opposite direction from the rest of his pack. Unfortunately the PPs caught and attacked him, leaving him for dead. 926F came back and lay by him as he died.

Now 926F had become the leader of the LC pack, consisting only of a pregnant 926F and her six yearling pups. She was solely responsible for getting food for herself and her pups. Wolves only begin to learn to hunt after their first year. 926F will need a new mate. All the wolf watchers were concerned for the future of the LC pack. 926F would be denning soon to have her new pups. Mother wolves do not leave the den until the pups can be left without her for a short time. Usually the alpha male stays near her, and he and other members of the pack bring her food. The LC wolves were in danger of starving, since the yearling pups were useless as hunters.

The next morning we saw a deer carcass in the ditch by the road. It had been hit by a car the night before. Here was a free meal, and 926F walked right by a small herd of bighorn sheep to get to the carcass. But she ran off when the rangers came to move the carcass away from the road for the safety of the wolves as well as to avoid a traffic jam. As soon as the rangers left, a golden eagle, some magpies, and a coyote returned to the carcass. But, 926F wasn’t going to let the lesser beings take food away from her and her pups, so about noon she came and dragged the carcass into the woods.

On the final morning in the field we went back to where we had last seen 926F. We had only just left the bus when we heard her howling. Shortly, her pups joined in. The howling had the bighorn sheep across the road on high alert, but we couldn’t spot any of the wolves. About a half hour later, we saw them crossing the ridge under a cliff. A lone bull elk was standing at attention on an outcropping as they passed by him within 100 yards. The pack seemed to ignore him. Two elk were on top of the cliff, on alert, scanning in opposite directions. Just then we saw one of the pups approaching the elk. Both elk turned and faced the wolf. The wolf got to about 50 feet from the elk, stopped, backed up a couple of paces and gave the elk a wide berth as he walked around them. Then we saw him walking toward the elk from uphill. He more or less repeated his previous approach from below, then walked away. Maybe he was just practicing for future hunts. This was the closest we came to seeing any real drama on this trip.

The pack was moving west, so we went west to the other side of the ridge. We spotted the pack bedded down at the edge of the woods. After a while they began to move around. I watched as one of the pups laid on his back in the snow rolling back and forth, just like my dog does. Making wolf “angels”?

Then 926F must have given some signal. She started moving west again at a determined pace with the pups following. We watched until they were out of sight.

All too soon our week at the Lamar Buffalo Ranch ended. We left Yellowstone hoping to sign up in the future for another exciting and interesting course with the Yellowstone Association. Also, I was wondering what the future would be for 926F.

Post script for 926F: Shortly after my visit, four adult males from another pack joined the LCs. The wolf watchers were optimistic that 926F would choose her alpha male from one of them and, with the yearling pups, have a sustainable pack. It was not to be. As of a month after I left Yellowstone, I learned that 926F was now alone. Her yearlings were gone and so were all four of the males. The last I heard, 926F had not yet gone to den. She is very lean but has managed so far to survive on her own. Her saga continues.

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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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New Junior Ranger activity book

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Many of the national parks have a program that allows children ages 5-12 to become junior rangers by jotting down the animals and features they see in an activity book and attending ranger talks and walks. Now Yellowstone has just published a new one.

National Park Week

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In my last post I left out the fact that this week is National Park Week. It runs from April 19th through the 27th. This year’s theme, National Park Week: Go Wild! gives parks an opportunity to showcase what makes them significant, special, or unique.

In addition, many of the parks are designating one day this week to the Junior Ranger Program, which encourages America’s youth to explore, protect, and learn about our National Parks. As far as I can ascertain, Yellowstone has not planned a Junior Ranger Day this year, probably because the park has just opened after the spring break of about six weeks and because schools in the area are in session.

However, you can learn how to take part in the Junior Ranger Program in Yellowstone when everything will be open later this spring—see my February 28th post for details about road closures and openings.Junior Ranger program badge

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Arizona trip report, May 2012

Categories: Bio, Janet Chapple's Other Writing, Trip Reports
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Just to let my readers know I’m still around, I’ll summarize the high points of the trip my husband Bruno and I took in the first half of May to Arizona. The impetus for the trip was the graduation of my grandson Zeno Dellby—in computer science from Arizona State, Tempe.

The day after the graduation, pilot Beth took me for a flight-seeing ride north of Scottsdale. It’s always a treat to fly in a Cessna 172 with her.


Leaving the Phoenix area we spent a couple of hours at their Desert Botanical Garden, a beautiful place on a not-too-hot day in May.

Three nights on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon took me back there for the first time in 29 years. The last time I was there, I hiked to the bottom, stayed at Phantom Ranch, and back up the next day. Never again! Bruno took some nice shots, but I was disappointed by the amount of haze we had in all our views of the canyon, dulling the colors of the billion-year-old and more geological formations. It’s largely caused, as the rangers and others explain, by industrial pollution from as far away as China. The night we heard a ranger lecture about the geology was when the full moon was at its perigee, or closest point to the earth. No picture, but what a gorgeous sight!

Onward to meet friends at the Museum of Northern Arizona, in the outskirts of Flagstaff—an excellent small museum about the geology, archeology, and art of the area. Then on to get a glimpse of Oak Creek Canyon and Sedona, where we took a Pink Jeep Tour to the Honanki ruins (12th-13th century cliff dwellings) and enjoyed staying in an outstanding B&B (the Creekside Inn), not to mention doing some great eating there and elsewhere on the trip!

All-in-all a fine respite from working on books about Yellowstone. More about those later.

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It’s been an unusual winter at Old Faithful Village

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[2011] Carolyn Loren, a Yellowstone Park interpretive ranger who keeps excellent tabs on the geysers and is spending this break at Old Faithful—when almost nobody is there and the roads have not yet been plowed—posted this today, answering questions others had asked her.

The benches at Grand, Riverside and other spots are completely covered as of now. It’s March 24, though, and it’s getting above freezing most days. I should also say that bison walking on snow then walked on two Riverside benches, crushing them. They’re the two directly opposite Riverside. They’re toast. As for carcasses, I don’t see how the Geyser Hill carcass can go anywhere; the ones near the outbound road should be mostly eaten by opening [day (April 15)], but there will be more between now and then. Law enforcement will probably open and close as they feel they need to. There should be plenty of grizzly food lots of places in the park, though.

For those readers who have not yet had a chance to visit Old Faithful’s Upper Geyser Basin and see the geysers erupt, I’ll explain her post a bit. Grand and Riverside Geysers are two of the wonderful predictable geysers in the area, where people often sit for an hour or more waiting for eruptions. I’ve personally waited for Grand for an hour and a half or more in sub-freezing temperatures or blistering sun, but it’s always worth the wait.

Carolyn had recently reported as many as nine carcasses of animals that died of starvation near Old Faithful this winter, up from seven, as I mentioned in my March 16th post. She is pointing out that the law enforcement rangers will keep people away from the relevant areas, if the carcasses are not consumed by scavengers before the park reopens.

It’s a wild place. Natural processes are allowed to run their course whenever possible here.

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Snow bikes

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Behold! Another mode of transportation I didn’t know existed: a snow bicycle, in particular one made by Surly Bikes. This is not a commercial, and I know very little about bikes, but it seems like an interesting idea to me. Here’s what I read about it:

Recently, 53-year-old Rick Buchanan was turned away when he tried to lead a group of snow cyclists into Yellowstone National Park.
Tim Reid, Yellowstone’s chief ranger, told Buchanan that the bike is not an approved means of winter travel, therefore, the group could not ride in the park. Under Yellowstone’s winter management plan, one can only enter the park by approved snowmobiles, snowcoaches, cross-country skis, or snowshoes. But the snow bike has actually been gaining popularity in the past 5 years.

My hope is that the park authorities will get in step with this new possibility and begin allowing them into the park during the winter season.
For more details, see “Snow Cyclists in Yellowstone.”

2011

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This time I want to write about three separate subjects that only relate to my recent [2010] trip to Yellowstone because they center on people in the park.
First, I want to publicly thank Yellowstone’s Park Historian, Lee Whittlesey. He has been encouraging to me about all my projects relating to the park and has helped me immeasurably to find what I’ve needed and to understand a great many things. I’ve gone to him with questions ever since 1995, when I began research relating to Yellowstone. This month he supplied a strong shot in the arm to the project my colleague Suzanne Cane and I have been working on for over two years, a translation of Belgian travel writer Jules Leclercq’s beautifully written 1886 French book called La Terre des Merveilles or The Land of Wonders. His help and enthusiasm are propelling us forward. What an amazing guy he is!

Next I’ll mention the delight I felt when, by chance, I got to meet USGS geologists Bob (“Chris”) Christiansen and Jake Lowenstern while waiting for Fountain Geyser to erupt. These two were presenting interesting geological remarks to a small group of people that turned out to be a field trip from the group Geologists of Jackson Hole. When they were about to leave I got up the courage to introduce myself and my husband Bruno Giletti, and they were both most cordial. These are two of the most important contemporary researchers into Yellowstone-related geologic questions, and I have known about them for many years, so it was a pleasure to finally meet them.

Lastly, at Mammoth Hot Springs in previous summers I’ve been able to consult the rangers’ logbook to learn what the various springs and terraces have been doing since the last time I was there. Now, I learned, there is no longer a logbook, and, as far as the rangers at the information desk in Albright Visitor Center could tell me, no one is keeping track for the park of where there are new springs, which ones are most active in building the travertine terraces, or any other current data about Mammoth’s remarkable features. If this is so, it is really a shame. I suppose it is directly related to lack of sufficient funds to have enough park service personnel to do all the things that should be done, and this type of study is a low priority. But the geysers all over the park have their own non-governmental group called the Geyser Observation and Study Association, with some 250-300 members. What about these unique hot spring terraces? I would love to be able to help personally with reviving the data collection on thermal features at Mammoth. Maybe in the next life. . .

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A few personal notes

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12 Sept. 2010: Back from Yellowstone for a week now, I have lots of things to write about and will start with a few personal experiences and observations, some of which might be instructive to other visitors.

This year we opted to drive from our home in California rather than flying and renting a car. It’s always nice to have your own car in the park, but, besides not having to cope with the expense and hassle of flying, it’s pleasant to see how our 2004 Camry loves to go 75 and 80 miles per hour on those Nevada and Idaho highways—we got over 37 miles per gallon on one tank of gas!

For me, having spent my first eighteen years in Billings and environs, going back to that part of the country is a great opportunity to enjoy old friends as well as the places I love. I met two of them at Lake Hotel and participated in a joint birthday party for seven who graduated from Billings Senior High School in the Class of ’53, with a luncheon held at Red Lodge. At East Rosebud Lake in the Beartooth Mountains, I took part in a rededication ceremony, unveiling in its new location the 1929 plaque that named Mt. Inabnit for my maternal grandfather.

During my two weeks in the park, I saw no bears this year, but at Old Faithful Village I had a near-adventure with a herd of bison. In the late afternoon one day, eight or ten of them were browsing near the lower general store as I returned from walking in the Upper Geyser Basin. A rain-and-lightning storm was just starting, as a law-enforcement ranger was making an attempt to deflect the bison from the path. The ranger had driven his patrol car part way up the paved path toward Castle Geyser. He suggested that those of us walking back toward the Inn should make a big detour across the meadow and take the outer path toward the gas station. Fortunately, the bison did not come that way, so meeting them head-on was averted. Another routine day’s work for the ranger. . . not so routine for me.

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