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

All posts tagged bears

Where Can I See Animals in Yellowstone Park?

Categories: Flora and Fauna, Trip planning, Wildlife
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Many visitors to Yellowstone go with the primary goal of seeing wild animals. And some go only to view the wolves of Lamar Valley with spotting scopes and binoculars.

Back before the first edition of Yellowstone Treasures was published, and thinking it might be helpful to such visitors using my guidebook, I worked with my mapmaker, Linton Brown, to place animal and bird icons in likely places on our fourteen maps that show the park’s roads. The idea for this came from my model, the Haynes Guides, which my family used when I was a child. Here’s a sample of the maps in Yellowstone Treasures.

Screen Shot Map 21sm

A critical but helpful Amazon.com reviewer, Benjamin Day, wrote in 2015: “ . . . your dinner hour is the dinner hour of the animals, and low light is the best time to see the extraordinary animals that live here.” He also suggested the guidebook could include “a driving tour along the Madison, or the Lamar Valley, or Hayden Valley, near sunset, when we experienced the most amazing Elk, Bison and Grizzly shows.”

The trouble is that Yellowstone is not a zoo and the charismatic megafauna (as some tongue-in-cheek naturalists have dubbed the big animals) may roam anywhere they choose. The vast majority of park territory is not near the roads, but I had seen animals without going into the backcountry during my many visits to the park. I asked Linton to put icons in those locations. Much later, I was amused when another reviewer commented how he had enjoyed using the guidebook, and said, “she even shows where the animals are”!

No guarantees, but using our maps may give you a better than average chance of fulfilling your dream of seeing bison and elk. With luck, you may even see bears, bighorn sheep—and my favorite, the beautiful pronghorn antelope.

Screen Shot_Pronghorn

In our fifth edition we cannot add driving tours for animal “shows,” as Mr. Day suggested. That would take pages and pages, and it’s already a big book. But we can direct you to use and enjoy our maps.

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Priceless Yellowstone bear video shot by National Geographic team

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In case you haven’t seen it yet, take a look at this! It even has a surprise ending. . . .

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Plans for the Yellowstone grizzly

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Grizzly bear on Swan Lake Flats, Yellowstone

Grizzly bear on Swan Lake Flats, Yellowstone

Grizzly bears have been in the news in recent years. First, because human-bear conflicts have been more numerous, including a total of six deaths of people since 2010. Managing these conflicts and the bear predation on cattle means about twenty grizzlies are intentionally killed or removed to zoos per year (see this database if you are interested). In 2016 the news is that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to take them off the Endangered Species list by the end of the year. The National Park Service put together an informative page about the history of efforts to help the Yellowstone-area grizzly recover, including listing it and delisting it, plus explaining how to minimize encounters with bears and ensure your safety if you do accidentally come close to one. You can find the article here: “Grizzly Bears and the Endangered Species Act.” The most recent delisting was in 2007, but a court ruling overturned that and put them back on the threatened species list in 2009.

Here’s a quick list of safety points, courtesy of the NPS. When backcountry hiking, you can reduce the odds of being injured by a bear by following these five rules:

  1. Hike in groups of three or more people.
  2. Stay alert.
  3. Make noise in areas with poor visibility.
  4. Carry bear spray.
  5. Don’t run during encounters with bears.

The grizzly bear population has made a remarkable recovery, to about 700 individuals in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. So why is delisting controversial? Some are worried about plans for hunting in the surrounding states of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. For a March 20, 2016, article that quotes the state governors on the subject, see “US seeks end to Yellowstone grizzly protections” on the Explore Big Sky website.

Do you have an opinion on this subject? Isn’t this photo beautiful? Write your informed comment below.
—Editor Beth

Photo by Jim Peaco for the National Park Service, June 2005.

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What is meant by “Greater Yellowstone”?

Categories: Flora and Fauna, Park environs, Wildlife
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Back in 1872, when Congress was wise enough to set aside a large area of “useless” land and name it the Yellowstone National Park, the main purpose was to reserve the remarkable geothermal features and their surroundings “for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.” This phrase was later inscribed on the park’s North Entrance Arch. Park boundaries were set to correspond to obvious natural features and partially along lines of longitude and latitude.

Protecting wild animals was not a big concern in 1872, since there seemed to be a great many of them. But it soon became apparent that they needed protection from overzealous hunters. Concern for the buffalo (now usually called bison) was great. They were rapidly being wiped out, largely because of government policy that rewarded buffalo hunters richly. Native American Plains Indians depended upon the buffalo for their very livelihood, but U.S. officials wanted the tribes to settle on reservations and make life safer for Eastern homesteaders.

Bison herd in winter, by Bruno Giletti, "Yellowstone Treasures," page 343

Bison herd in winter, by Bruno Giletti, “Yellowstone Treasures,” page 343

Even before bison were nearly driven to extinction, people who cared about preserving wildlife and the western lands from rampant development moved to set aside more land for special protection. In 1891 the Department of the Interior created the Yellowstone Park Forest Reservation (now part of Shoshone National Forest), paving the way for today’s 155 national forests.

Now we skip ahead one century plus a year after Yellowstone Park was designated. In 1973 concerned thinkers and planners convinced Congress to pass the Endangered Species Act. By then, bison were thriving but the grizzly bears were not;

Grizzly bear, Courtesy of NPS, "Yellowstone Treasures," page 344

Grizzly bear, Courtesy of NPS, “Yellowstone Treasures,” page 344

local agencies also found by the 1970s that cutthroat trout, pronghorn (also called antelope), whitebark pine, and quaking aspen trees were of special concern. An area of about four million acres with Yellowstone at its center was christened the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. In 1986 the federal government recognized Greater Yellowstone, when a joint congressional committee report outlined shortcomings in interagency coordination and concluded that the area’s essential values were at risk.

Exact boundaries of the GYE are hard to define, and they  keep changing over the years.

Exact boundaries of the GYE are hard to define, and they keep changing over the years. Map from Greater Yellowstone Coalition website.


The National Park System now describes the GYE thus:
• 12–22 million acres; 18,750–34,375 square miles (Sizes, boundaries, and descriptions of any ecosystem can vary.)
• States: Wyoming, Montana, Idaho
• Encompasses state lands, two national parks, portions of five national forests, three national wildlife refuges, Bureau of Land Management holdings, private and tribal lands
• Managed by state governments, federal government, tribal governments, and private individuals.

In addition to government agencies like the Interior Department’s National Park Service and the Forest Service (part of the Department of Agriculture), a number of nonprofit agencies work to help preserve Greater Yellowstone; National Wildlife Federation, Defenders of Wildlife, and the Greater Yellowstone Coalition are three of them. Two prime concerns of all these entities are climate change and providing corridors for wildlife migrations.

Another spectacular mountain area farther north is the Crown of the Continent, an initiative spearheaded by University of Montana geography professor Rick Graetz with the assistance of his wife Susie Graetz and others. Covering the area centered upon Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, it extends some 250 miles from Alberta, Canada south along the Continental Divide into central Wyoming.

A stated goal of this coalition is to maintain “wildlife corridors [that] may mean the difference between a robust grizzly population and one needing continued human protections, particularly in an age when movement will be essential for both grizzlies and other species that might need to head north to weather the impending climate storm.”

Educators and governmental agencies in this entire area are stressing the interconnectedness of the ecology of this beautiful mountainous area all the way from Alberta, Canada to west-central Wyoming. I was interested to find that western North America is not the only part of the world pondering this question. An Australian website states: “Wildlife corridors can range in size – from small corridors created by local communities to large corridors that stretch across many different landscapes.

“For example, a small corridor might be an area along a creek that has been revegetated by a local community group to link two patches of forest. Native animals could then move more freely between these forests to find food, shelter and opportunities to breed.

“Large-scale corridors might span tens or hundreds of kilometres across multiple landscape types and jurisdictions. Typically a large-scale corridor would require collaboration between a wide range of groups working in partnership to manage them.”

A puzzle I have not been able to solve in my research into the two U.S. entities is whether they would wish to connect the Crown of the Continent with the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, since there’s a large part of Montana between them where many people live. Grizzlies and wolves are not compatible with what we consider civilization. Perhaps just making more people aware of the beauties of the two areas, the threats to the species we share them with, and how we can help preserve them is enough for now.

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Bear safety

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Grizzly bear from page 344 of Yellowstone Treasures, 4th ed.

Grizzly bear from page 344 of Yellowstone Treasures, 4th ed.

In a recent press release about preparing for fall, Yellowstone National Park rangers remind us that the park is bear country. Here’s their advice.

In the fall, grizzly bears and black bears usually move to higher elevations to feed on whitebark pine seeds, and consume the calories they need to sustain themselves during winter hibernation, but they may be encountered along roads or hiking trails throughout the park. When hiking or backpacking, remember to travel in groups of three or more, make noise on the trail, and be alert for bears. All hikers should always carry bear spray so that it is readily accessible—not inside a pack—and know how to use it. Bear spray is proven to be highly successful at stopping aggressive behavior in bears. It is sold at bookstores, gift shops, outdoor stores, and service stations inside the park, as well as in many stores in the surrounding communities. New this year, bear spray is now available for rent at Canyon Village in a kiosk near the Canyon Visitor Education Center through late September.

Park regulations require people to stay a minimum of 100 yards (the length of a football field) away from bears and wolves at all times. If you see a bear along the road, move off the road and park on the shoulder or in a pullout and stay in your vehicle to watch the bear. Use your binoculars, telescope, or telephoto lens to get a closer look at the bear rather than approaching the bear.

Happy wildlife watching, and stay safe!
—Beth Chapple, editor at Granite Peak Publications

Photo credit: Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Yellowstone National Park

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What are the different species of mammals in Yellowstone Park?

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On the website Quora.com, someone recently asked about the mammals one sees in Yellowstone Park, so I tried my hand at an answer. I’m not a real animal person, being more enamored with things that stay in one place like geysers, hot springs, flowers, lakes, waterfalls, and mountains, yet I have personally seen all but the rarer animals in my many visits to Yellowstone.

The big mammals—sometimes called “charismatic megafauna” with tongue in cheek—are the bison (around 4000 currently), the elk (8,000 to 10,000), the moose (very scarce, and more often seen in neighboring Grand Teton National Park), and both grizzly and black bear (several hundred of each).

The gray wolf population is hovering around 100. Mule deer are much more common than white-tailed deer. Then there’s the pronghorn (commonly but incorrectly called antelope)—my favorite animal for being so beautiful, graceful, and fast. Their population fluctuates around a couple of hundred seen in northern Yellowstone, as are bighorn sheep.

Pronghorn

Pronghorn

Coyotes are very common, less so the red foxes and mountain goats (the latter considered to be migrants to the park). Mountain lions, bobcats, and especially lynx are there but almost never seen.

Small carnivores you might see include badgers, river otters, and raccoons. Then there are the most common rodents: yellow-bellied marmots, Uinta ground squirrels, muskrats, red squirrels, and the tiny pikas or coneys. Beaver have become more numerous in recent years.

Pika

Pika

And this is just a sampling. There are many smaller mammals like voles, mice, bats, and shrews.

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What’s New, Fun, and Interesting in Yellowstone This Summer?

Categories: Geysers, Trip Reports, Wildlife
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Entering Yellowstone from the North Entrance may be a little tough going and not aesthetically pleasing for most of this year [2015], since there’s a humongous construction project going on to completely revamp the entrance area at the little town of Gardiner. But five miles and a thousand feet up the road to the south is Mammoth Hot Springs, and, in addition to seeing the springs along the Upper Terrace Road, I recommend spending an hour or so at the redone Albright Visitor Center. It has excellent hands-on dioramas of all of the park’s bigger mammals and kiosks for park orientation on the first floor. In the basement level, completely accessible with a new elevator, are great historical displays and the restrooms. For more about this see the Yellowstone Insider’s recent article.

One of Upper Geyser Basin’s most popular sites is the wonderfully regular Riverside Geyser. It almost always erupts every six to six-and-one-half hours. Here is the eruption I caught on my all-too-short visit to the park in mid June.


You can hear (1) a geyser gazer transmit by FRS radio the time of eruption to the Old Faithful Visitor Center, (2) the excited crowd,(3) the swishing of the main eruption, and (4) the rumbling of the side spouter that always accompanies Riverside’s eruptions. It always erupts quite a bit longer than this little video, which was edited for Granite Peak Publications by Jens Paape.

You can reach Artemisia Geyser’s beautiful pool and formation in one of two ways.Artemisia Geyser One is by walking beyond Riverside Geyser about half a mile up what used to be the main road and is now a rather rough trail past Morning Glory Pool (page 95 in Yellowstone Treasures) or by parking at Biscuit Basin and crossing the road to reach the other end of the trail from Morning Glory Pool. Up the hill in the distance in my picture is Hillside Springs, which old-time stagecoach drivers called Tomato Soup Springs.

I did not see any grizzly bears on this trip, but there are now enough of them in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem so that visitors are seeing them quite frequently. The national media covered the recent very unusual event where a grizzly climbed on the hood and sides of an occupied car, leaving some scratches but giving the occupants of the car the thrill of their lifetime and their own video.

One thrill of this visit for me was being assigned for three nights to what has to be the best room in the Old House of Old Faithful Inn (Room 229). It was inside the farthest east of the five dormer windows that span the third floor front of the inn. Two mornings I awoke to a swishing sound, opened the side window, and there was Old Faithful Geyser erupting for my private enjoyment!

For fishermen and others interested in what is happening with the fish in Yellowstone Lake these days, take a look at the Great Falls Tribune’s story about the good news regarding the struggle against illegally introduced lake trout.

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For wolf devotees and other wildlife lovers

Categories: On the Web, Wildlife
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For a small investment, you can watch from afar the comings and goings of Yellowstone Park’s wildlife. This is a worthwhile website with reports by real naturalists and experienced wolf-watchers.

Besides the almost daily reports, you can also find pictures of the animals and birds the naturalists are seeing. Spring is a great season to be watching all this! And it’s a time when—for personal reasons—very few of us are likely to be there. In fact, these weeks are also not the best time to visit most of the park, because not all roads and facilities are open yet, and because the weather is usually quite iffy until mid June or so.

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Navigating around yellowstonetreasures.com

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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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Why not plan a fall trip to the park?

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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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