GRANITE PEAK PUBLICATIONS: Accompanying travelers to the national park since 2002

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Links to interesting Yellowstone websites and news.

A quick heads-up on Yellowstone’s wolves

Categories: News, On the Web, Wildlife
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Exactly twenty years after gray wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone Park, Kathie Lynch has given us a wonderful summary of their present very healthy state in the park. This is spite of the unfortunate killing of several collared wolves, at least three of them alphas, in the three hunting seasons since they were removed from the Endangered Species list in Montana, Idaho, and (until September 2014) in Wyoming.

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Time lines

Categories: History, Janet Chapple's Other Writing, On the Web
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Jack Baronett wooden bridge

“Yellowstone Jack” Baronett’s bridge over the Yellowstone River


Inside the guidebook Janet shares many anecdotes about the human history of the Yellowstone area, from prospector Jack Baronett who built a wooden toll bridge in 1871 to tourist Hazel Decker who camped in her car for 52 days to observe Steamboat Geyser. In the road logs she discusses the evidence of prehistoric peoples and the recent discoveries scientists have made at the bottom of Yellowstone Lake using a submersible robot. She compiled a time line of many of the important events in the Yellowstone area and the world in a chapter of Yellowstone Treasures called “Chronology: Yellowstone Since 1800,” which takes readers from the Lewis and Clark expedition up to the present day.

But when she and I were creating the first edition of the book in 2001 it became necessary to cut pages from the manuscript and restrict the time line to the most recent couple of hundred years of human history, even though the geological history of the region goes way back before that. Her Geological Time Line, which you can read right here on this website, extends all the way from Earth’s formation 4.6 billion years ago, through the time the Absaroka Range volcanoes formed 53 to 44 million years ago, to the time 12,000 years ago when glaciers last covered Yellowstone. This last episode was the Pinedale Glaciation, evident throughout the lower Lamar Canyon.

Thanks for spending the time with us,
Editor Beth

Credit: Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Yellowstone National Park.

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Navigating around yellowstonetreasures.com

Categories: Geysers, On the Web, Wildlife
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You might like to know how to make the most of your visits to yellowstonetreasures.com, so I’ve decided to provide you with a sort of navigational post.

First, on the home page, by clicking on the white bar below the row of pictures at the top, you can move across the page and find seven different pictures. Then, clicking on any one of the pictures or on the descriptions below them takes you to a page related in one way or another to the home page picture. For instance, clicking on the elk gives you a detailed article about the resident elk herd at Mammoth Hot Springs.

Also on the home page, moving your cursor across the top yellow strip to click on Author Blog, you will find the page with our current posts (most written by Author Janet, but some by Editor and Publisher Beth). At the top right of this page is a search box where you can enter a word and come up with all the blog posts and pages (or nuggets) covering that subject here since May of 2009. I just put in the word “bears” and found 18 posts and 8 nuggets discussing grizzlies and black bears. A search for “geysers” brought up 28 posts and 24 nuggets.

On every single page of the website, you can find things another way by scrolling down and entering your search word in the Search box at the bottom right.

One further search aid you might find helpful while you are on either the main Nuggets or Author Blog pages, is the Categories and Archives boxes at the lower right.

Happy navigating in 2015!

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Connecting a Hot Spring Microbe and a Criminal Trial

Categories: History, On the Web, Science, Thermal features
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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

Categories: News, On the Web, Park environs
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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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Wolves are “just like us”!

Categories: On the Web, Science, Wildlife
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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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Rebecca and Ryan Means from Florida are gradually fulfilling an unusual goal. They’re hiking “on a quest to identify and visit the most remote locations in each of the 50 states.”

Not just enjoying the out-of-doors far from civilization, they have a mission. The essence of their philosophy is shown in Ryan Means’ answer to a comment last year on his website, remotefootprints.org: “The conservation problem arises when loud, fuel consumptive, destructive, motorized vehicles enter wildlands. The landscape gets scarred. Habitat and wilderness character get lost. Another roadless wildland gets fragmented. Then development usually follows. We are basically calling for an end to the era of road building (and sprawling development) in our great country, especially in public lands.”

They hike carrying heavy packs—Rebecca’s includes a carrier for five-year-old Skyla. So far they have written up their visits to remote spots in 23 states. They don’t always find solitude, but they do get far away from roads and navigable rivers. They especially loved Wyoming’s most remote spot, the Thorofare corner of Yellowstone, 21.6 miles by their reckoning from the nearest road, even farther by trail. The Means’s experiences on this trip have not yet appeared on their website, but their trip was mentioned on October 4, 2014 in the Rapid City (SD) Journal.

Reading this, I thought of one of the selections in my upcoming book (with the working title, Magnificent Playground: Early Yellowstone in Words and Watercolors). I was reminded of Barton Evermann’s 1891 commission to find how trout got into Yellowstone Lake. He visited and carefully described a phenomenal place called Two-Ocean Pass, just south of the Thorofare and the park’s border.

My own related delight is in finding places—even in the hills just above my noisy downtown Oakland—where stopping on a trail you hear no sound, unless it’s a distant bird or a trickling stream. It clears the head. And there are so many such places to be found in Yellowstone. . . .

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Heads Up: Free Park Admission

Categories: On the Web, Trip planning
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park entrance sign

As you enter the park heading south on U.S. 191, you are greeted by this sign and Black Butte.

This Saturday, September 27, 2014, is National Public Lands Day. That means that not only the U.S. national parks, but also lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service waive their fees to visitors so you can get out and appreciate the beauty of our parks and refuges for free.

Not only are fees waived, but thousands of volunteers help out on this day every year. According to the National Public Lands Day website:

In 2013, about 175,000 volunteers worked at 2,237 sites in every state, the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico.
NPLD volunteers:

  • Collected an estimated 23,000 pounds of invasive plants
  • Built and maintained an estimated 1,500 miles of trails
  • Planted an estimated 100,000 trees, shrubs and other native plants
  • Removed an estimated 500 tons of trash from trails and other places
  • Contributed an estimated $18 million through volunteer services to improve public lands across the country

The photo above, taken by Leslie Kilduff, can be found on page 33 of the guidebook’s fourth edition.

Three cheers for volunteers! And enjoy your Saturday in a park or refuge.
—Beth, editor of Yellowstone Treasures

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A Different Take on Yellowstone Wolves

Categories: On the Web, Wildlife
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Here’s a newspaper story from Twin Falls, Idaho, that was not what I expected but was fun to read.

And the picture reminds me that in 16 more days I will get to join the wolf-watchers in Lamar Valley!

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When planning to camp during your Yellowstone trip, you will find the chart of the 12 campgrounds in Yellowstone on page 365 of Yellowstone Treasures to be helpful. But keep in mind there are many more opportunities just outside the park, both private and public.

Beartooth Butte

Beartooth Butte

Six national forests either border Yellowstone National Park or are very nearby. In Shoshone National Forest, outside the East Entrance, there are 31 campgrounds. At the foot of Beartooth Butte lies crystal-clear Beartooth Lake. There you’ll find a campground with 21 sites, a picnic area, fishing, hiking trails, and a boat ramp. Shoshone was the first national forest in the United States. You can find out more and get a full-color visitor guide by calling 1-307-527-6241 or visiting the Shoshone National Forest website.

All the nearby national forests are clearly marked on the maps in the guidebook, and we include a phone directory for the ranger districts near the approach roads to the park.

—Editor Beth Chapple

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