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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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Pilot Peak, Wyoming

Categories: History, Park environs
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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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Montana’s wolves on National Public Radio

Categories: News, Wildlife
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Since wolves were delisted from the Endangered Species list in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming, all three states have developed plans to drastically cut back their wolf populations. Idaho wants to eliminate 60% of theirs, and the other states have large quotas, too.

Last Saturday I heard a short segment on Weekend Edition, where the voices and the scenes described took me back to my Montana childhood—even though I always lived in town. It began with the news that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service claims the scientific research is insufficient to make a national decision about wolf delisting. Take a listen and note a great idea near the end. Can you really teach cattle to herd or group up like bison?

I have one small complaint: the Native American Indian name still used for the beautiful mountain range to the east of Yellowstone should be pronounced ab-SAR-o-kas, not ab-sa-ROKE-as.

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Dynamic Earth: Yellowstone geology doesn’t stay the same

Categories: Science, Thermal features
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Yellowstone Treasures‘s geology writing strives to keep up—

If you were to contemplate nature’s many facets and how quickly things change over the seasons and the years, you might think that you can at least count on the rocks and the mountains to stay the same. Wrong! Geoscientists will tell you that even mountains have their own dynamics. But their rate of change is much slower than humans can easily grasp in their relatively short lifetimes. Nature shapes the land we live on over centuries and millennia, but the rate at which geoscientists learn about it using new methods, ideas, and equipment is constantly accelerating.

Wanting to keep track of all this activity as it pertains to Yellowstone Park for the updated fourth edition of my guidebook, I was delighted when my old friend Dr. Jo-Ann Sherwin offered to bring us up to date about Yellowstone’s geology. I’ve known Jo-Ann ever since she was an outstanding student, whose advisor during her Brown University PhD research was my first husband Bill Chapple. She was the first woman to earn a PhD in their geology department and has gone on to a long career in research and teaching. She also lives in Idaho Falls, convenient to the west side of Yellowstone.

Jo-Ann reviewed the entire book and made numerous suggestions. She also rewrote large portions of our geological history essay, “The Stories in Yellowstone’s Rocks.” Our goal is to make our explanations accurate but concise and as clear as possible without any technical writing. Here’s a short sample from our essay that draws upon recent research into the source and age of the water for the park’s thousands of geysers and hot springs (hydrothermal features):

What makes the different hydrothermal features do what they do? Basically, the great volume of groundwater is heated by very hot rocks quite near the surface at Yellowstone.
There is a very large amount of old groundwater, at least 60 but perhaps greater than 10,000 years old, just above the magma below Yellowstone. The source of this water may have been the glaciers that covered the area or rain and snow in the surrounding mountains, 12 to 45 miles (20 to 70 km) distant. Present-day rain and snowmelt seep down and mix with this old water, become warmed to the boiling point, boil into steam, expand greatly, and find a way to escape upward. Most of the features occur where faults are common, making it easy for the heated groundwater and steam to return to the surface.

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High pass road to Yellowstone much improved

Categories: News, Park environs
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I’ve only been over the Togwotee Pass between Dubois, Wyoming and Moran Junction a couple of times on my way to Yellowstone, but I know it’s a beautiful way to approach either Yellowstone or Grand Teton National Park. Now they’ve just [in 2012] opened a completely reconstructed stretch of U.S. Highway 26/287, and I’m eager to see it again. Construction work involved 38 miles of the road for seven years, but of course winters are long near a 9,544-foot pass, so they could not work all year.

Dubois is a western town, less than a thousand souls but an inexpensive place to stay, and they used to have a superb restaurant called The Yellowstone Garage (named for its predecessor in that piece of real estate).

The road over the pass, first built in 1921, helped open up the southern entrance to Yellowstone to visitors from Wyoming. Now there are several guest ranches nearby and places to camp and picnic. Road improvements have added wildlife and snowmobile underpasses and scenic overlooks with interpretive signs.
Besides mountains on both sides—the towering Absarokas on your north and Gros Ventres to the south—I point out in Yellowstone Treasures: “Spectacular striped hills, composed of alternating red clay stone and white tephra layers [rock erupted from volcanoes], line the road west of town.” Maybe I’ll get to go back there next summer.

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Just a couple more days

Categories: Bio, Park environs
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[2012] I’m about to take off for my favorite part of the world. But I want to tell you about another delightful place I’ll go and an experience I’ll have while traveling this month. The place is called East Rosebud Lake, where private cabins are clustered around a beautiful Montana mountain lake and a trail begins, taking you over the Beartooth Mountains to Cooke City on the edge of Yellowstone.

I have hiked only a part of the trail, but my grandfather Fred Inabnit hiked many times in those mountains even before there were real trails. He and hardy groups of hiker/climbers that he organized and led from southern Montana went as far as they could with horse-drawn wagons and later cars in the early 1900s. Then they backpacked, with what we’d now consider crude equipment, into the mountains for many days at a time. They must have subsisted mainly on the fish they caught, because they couldn’t buy freeze-dried meals in 1910!

One of Fred’s goals was to find a way to the top of Montana’s highest mountain, Granite Peak. He never made it himself, but some of his colleagues found a route that took them up there. However, when he died, a group of his friends successfully petitioned the U.S. Board on Geographic Names to name a mountain for him. So this brings me to what I’ll be doing on August 26th.

Two years ago I helped to rededicate and unveil the plaque that had been placed at the foot of Fred Inabnit’s mountain. The plaque was brought down and is now attached to a large boulder in the meadow near the East Rosebud Trailhead. This year the Forest Service has completed an interpretive sign to place next to the plaque, so of course, we need a little ceremony to unveil it! That’s what I’ll help to do next week. A wonderful excuse to stay a couple of days at the place my grandfather loved and called “a little bit of Switzerland” after his native country.

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Absaroka-Beartooth Front

Absaroka-Beartooth Front. Photo ©2011 Dave Showalter/ iLCP.

When my husband Bruno and I accepted an invitation to a downtown San Francisco reception given by the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, we thought it would be fun to meet some people involved with this organization and learn more about what they do. Walking into The Matrix one evening last week—the only rainy week we’ve had this winter in the Bay Area—we were greeted by friendly people, not just by barkeeps but by GYC board member Charlotte Vaughan Winton and very tall, bearded Executive Director Mike Clark.

The Matrix is a Marina District jazz club owned by Judge William Newsom, father of the former mayor of San Francisco and present Lieutenant Governor of California Gavin Newsom. We were in good hands, and Judge Newsom was most generous with free drinks and hors d’oeuvres.

The serious part of this gathering was to explain to us what and where the Absaroka-Beartooth Front is and why it needs protection. The slide show given by Northwest Wyoming Director Barbara Cozzens did not provide a map but did include interesting pictures of the rare high-elevation meadows, mountain views, bighorn sheep, and unspoiled terrain. The area is roughly defined as the area of public lands just east of Yellowstone Park in Wyoming, a good deal of which is on the Shoshone National Forest.

Shoshone National Forest is in the process of updating its management plan this year. They need to find a balance between the pressures of interests advocating industrial and motorized use of the area and people and organizations who believe in trying to manage the land and wildlife with the long view toward conservation for future generations.

Threatened by rural land development and oil and gas drilling projects, the Shoshone and nearby lands are “one of the wildest places remaining in the lower 48 states,” according to the GYC website,

The Front hosts the full complement of native Yellowstone wildlife, including large herds of all of North America’s big-game species—pronghorn, elk, mule deer, moose, bighorn sheep and mountain goat—as well some of the highest concentrations of grizzly bears and wolves outside of a national park. Genetically pure populations of Yellowstone cutthroat trout inhabit the region’s pristine, free-flowing rivers and streams.
This area also supports a number of significant big game migration routes, including one of the longest-known elk migration routes in North America, with animals migrating over 60 miles from the southeast corner of Yellowstone National Park to the region’s public and private lands.

A map and much more information is at: http://greateryellowstone.org/issues/lands/Feature.php?id=300.

2012

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Yellowstone Wildflowers in July 2011

Categories: Flora and Fauna
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moss campion and pasque flower

Moss campion and Pasque flower

During the time I allowed myself to stay in and near Yellowstone last month, I spent several days learning more about wildflowers in two Yellowstone Institute classes. One beautiful day we went up the Beartooth Highway, the switch-backed climb to almost 11,000 feet that Charles Kuralt called “the most beautiful road in America.”

Stopping our van only twice, our instructor John Campbell helped us find and identify at least forty-five different species of small to tiny flowers. These hardy flowers have only seven or eight weeks to poke through the still-hard ground, open their flowers, and create seeds in a typical summer. I always marvel at how each type of flower has a different anatomy along with appreciating their colors and shapes.

Another picture taken during the class: a view of the landmark Pilot and Index Peaks of the Beartooth Range, my friend Masa in the foreground.
Pilot and Index Peaks

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A few personal notes

Categories: Bio, Transportation, Trip planning, Wildlife
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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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