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

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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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Dead Indian Pass

Categories: History
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Yellowstone Treasures tells you a lot about the history of the Yellowstone area. If you ever travel to the Northeast Entrance via the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway, you’ll drive over Dead Indian Pass. You may wonder,

Why Was This Route Named Dead Indian Pass?

The marker at the summit of the Chief Joseph Highway attributes the name Dead Indian Pass to an incident in 1877 involving the Nez Perce tribe and the U.S. Army. Chief Joseph led his people that year from their home in Idaho, across Yellowstone and the Absaroka Range, then down through Clarks Fork Canyon, a route considered impassable by the pursuing army. One Nez Perce was killed in the area, but about seven hundred members of the tribe successfully evaded the troops. The group attempted to flee to Canada but was eventually forced to surrender to the army not far short of the Montana-Canada border. Where their route is known, an occasional marker now points out the Nez Perce National Historic Trail.

The Nez Perce story is commonly accepted as the source of the old name for this pass, but another conflict occurred near here the following year. Col. Nelson A. Miles surprised a camp of Bannock Indians, killing and capturing many of them. Also, one of the Bannocks was killed and buried here by Crow scouts. 1878 was the last year of troubles between Native American Indians and the U.S. government in and around the national park.

—from Yellowstone Treasures, updated fourth edition, pages 195–96

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Trip report: Back to the park from Heart Mountain

Categories: Park environs, Trip Reports
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Steamboat Hill

Sunlight Gorge

Overall, our side trip to Heart Mountain this summer was very worthwhile, reached by taking U.S. Highway 14A thirteen miles northeast of Cody and turning left on Road 19.

A bonus added to this excursion was that my friends and I returned to the park by way of the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway, across the beautiful 8,071-foot pass over the mountains and into the Northeast Entrance to Yellowstone. The pictures show scenes along the road: Steamboat Hill on the left and Sunlight Gorge on the right. Friend and colleague Suzanne Cane was my wonderful 2013 photographer.

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Yellowstone news of early winter: report on skiing and wildlife

Categories: On the Web, Trip planning, Wildlife, Winter
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Things are off to a slow start this year [2009], with snow cover just sufficient to open the roads to over-snow vehicles on December 15. As of Dec. 27, Old Faithful and the West Entrance had 15 inches of snow on the ground, the East Entrance had 14, and Mammoth only 3. The new official (but temporary) plan allows 318 snowmobiles and 78 snowcoaches to enter Yellowstone per day.

Jim Holstein, a Yellowstone tour guide, reports that although skiing at Big Sky north of Yellowstone is great, he is anticipating a very slow January in the park itself. Even the wildlife are staying in the upper elevations, and it “has been the slowest start for wildlife that we have had in the Northern Range in the 19 years I have been guiding.”

Just outside the East Entrance, one of the oldest downhill ski centers in the U.S., dating from the 1930s, has re-opened after having been closed since 2004. There’s where you can catch the lift at the Sleeping Giant Ski Area, or you might go across the road to use the cross-country trails at Buffalo Bill’s summer home, Pahaska Tepee.

Inside the park, visitors can now cross Sylvan Pass. As of December 22, after rangers used howitzers to help prevent avalanches from blocking the 8500-foot (2600 m) pass, it was opened to over-snow vehicles and ambitious skiers. Winter use of this entrance has created controversy for years due to the high cost of keeping it open for relatively few visitors.

Here is good winter news for Yellowstone’s beleaguered bison: Horse Butte near Hebgen Lake just west of the park will be permanently closed to cattle grazing. In recent winters “bison have been needlessly hazed from Horse Butte back into the park with helicopters, horses, ATVs, and snowmobiles. A lot of time, resources and your taxpayer dollars are unnecessarily wasted along the way,” according to Matt Skoglund in his “Guest Opinion: Gallatin National Forest presents gift to Yellowstone bison.”

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Thinking about a public transportation option for Yellowstone

Categories: Transportation
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An online forum message posted earlier this month [July 2009] on the New West website led to an extended discussion of how public transportation around Yellowstone and the Tetons could be managed.

Michael Pearlman began it, citing the propane-powered buses that shuttle visitors in Zion National Park and writing in part, “The public could also adapt to using public transportation in the Greater Yellowstone area during peak season, if it was offered. I’m not talking about traditional diesel-spewing school buses. I envision both parks embracing alternative fuel sources and green technology. Perhaps plug-in electric vehicles could be used, or the Park Service could work with emerging technology companies to showcase clean options. . . .”

Pearlman proposes: “In Yellowstone, buses could leave from West Yellowstone and make a loop following the interior roads of the park, allowing people staying in West Yellowstone motels, Old Faithful Inn and Yellowstone Lake Lodge to get out of their cars and take a bus to Old Faithful and the Upper Falls. In fact, I’d go further and completely ban private vehicles from Dunraven Pass, allowing only the bus service. You’d likely see a reduction in wildlife harassment within Yellowstone as well.

“Bus service in both parks could be operated by an outside concessionaire, but ideally, the cost of the bus ride would be included in park entrance fee. Even if there’s a small charge to passengers, there should be a strong incentive to use the service that should include access to areas where private vehicles are not allowed.”

I countered with the following post (slightly altered here):

I’m basically in agreement with Michael Pearlman’s plan for reducing the cars in Yellowstone and the Tetons, but something more is needed to create a plan that is both more effective and more palatable to tourists.
First, cars should not be banned (as some proposals suggest), since many people, especially locals, need to pass through or cannot easily use public transportation because of disabilities or because they are traveling with small children.
Second, what is needed is a really efficient shuttle service between Old Faithful and Norris Junction—or to cover the one hundred miles all the way north to Mammoth Hot Springs. This should be free or very inexpensive, perhaps financed with incentives to those who use it, such as asking families entering the park to pay ten dollars more for their park-entrance fee, for which they would receive a voucher good for shuttle travel. The schedule should provide a shuttle every twenty minutes in each direction, allowing people to get on and off at the thermal attractions all along the way.
As someone else pointed out, leaving cars in gateway communities would pose a burden to those towns, but some of that may be necessary, perhaps in paid parking lots or garages, part of whose profits could go toward support of the shuttle system. Other cars could be left in the existing in-park parking lots for people staying inside the park.

One knowledgeable person asked how many buses (or shuttles) it would take to run such a system. In doing a rough calculation, in which shuttles run every 20 minutes from 9:00 to 6:00 and take 3 hours for each run, I came up with about 20 vehicles (and perhaps twice as many drivers) needed to provide the service on the west side of the park.

Here’s the good news, according to Tim Young, who supplied this: “The future is closer than you think – an innovative Regional Transit option is underway, and it won’t cut into those that still choose (or must) drive.
“A Regional Transportation Co-Op has received $535,000 in funding from the Idaho Transportation Dept. via Stimulus ARRA funds. Led by the Yellowstone Business Council, with partners around the Greater Yellowstone, leaders will be gathering in West Yellowstone this week to map out the next steps.
“Look at the YBP website for more details – and get on board!”

I hope the park service, which has been tossing this subject around for years, will come up with a plan suited to the special needs of this very large area. It should eventually include visitors to the Tetons and should be appropriate to twenty-first century standards of green efficiency.

I’m about to leave for my favorite park, where, among many other things I”ll be doing, I’ll be celebrating the fact that this is the seventieth summer since I first lived in Yellowstone by spending July 25 and 26 (11:00 to 6:00) in the lobby of Old Faithful Inn, where I’ll be signing copies of Yellowstone Treasures for anyone who happens by.

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