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Science for Parks conference, part 3

Categories: News, Science
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3. NPS Science Advisor, Dr. Gary Machlis

The YouTube video of Gary Machlis’s talk in the final session of last week’s conference (3:10 pm, Friday) is not for the faint of heart. (For just his talk, titled “The Future of Science and the National Parks,” go to 28:24 minutes into the link provided above.)

I wrote in my notes: “This guy is brilliant”! In this instance he was talking to people, almost all of whom have a science background of some kind, but there is important and understandable take-away here for anyone willing to pay attention to what he has to say.

Gary E. Machlis has recently been appointed the first-ever science adviser to a National Park Service director. We can hope that Director Jon Jarvis will be able to take his advice to heart. Machlis is also Professor of Environmental Sustainability at Clemson University, a South Carolina public university ranked highly among science and engineering schools. And he has written and co-authored numerous books about parks, biodiversity, and related topics. His most recent is Warfare Ecology, the historical effects of violence and warfare on places such as World War I Slovenia or many parts of Africa.

Dr. Machlis provides a stellar example of how to organize a lecture of just over twenty minutes and yet plant important ideas that will take root in the minds of his audience. He begins with a mention of a 1942 book (C. C. Furnas, The Next Hundred Years), full of predictions such as that the technological limit for a wireless receiver will be a two-pound backpack. Go figure.

Machlis’s own predictions for what is “just over the horizon” in technologies that will be useful to park managers include quantum biology that will help explain how birds migrate; new ocean research platforms like the newly launched USS Neil Armstrong, designed for ocean research; “CubeSats,” tiny satellites that can gather date wherever they are; and citizen science that he foresees will involve young people up to high levels of serious participation.

Also totally new to me is the idea of “de-extinction”: cloning and re-creation of extinct species, which could involve major ethical decisions. And there was much more.

Near the end of his talk, Machlis brought out the statistic that 87% of scientists believe that human evolution took place over time, while 32% of the general public believe this. But he ended on a definitely upbeat note, showing a picture of the young girls who won awards a few days ago at the White House Science Fair.

SciFairGirls_2015-04-02 at 11.07.15 AM
Screen shot of Science Fair winners and Barack Obama.

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

Yellowstone’s Mammoth Hot Springs

Categories: Thermal features, Trip Reports
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A thermal area in the park that attracts me strongly and that I think is underrated in general is Mammoth Hot Springs. Nineteenth-century visitors were sure it would sometime soon be turned into a spa or sanatorium, but fortunately that didn’t happen.

Before soaking in the hot pools became strictly forbidden, lots of people did it. Park hotels did not provide hot showers in those days. Belgian travel writer Jules Leclercq visited in 1883 and experienced “supreme satisfaction plunging into a basin whose waters were an exquisite 30ºC [86ºF]. My bath was a meter deep. The siliceous efflorescence that lined the interior walls seemed like velvet cushions. . . .” until he noticed water in a neighboring basin suddenly rising. It happened that his clothes and towels were in that basin. “The proximity of the hotel consoled me in my misfortune,” he concluded.

Lacking a volunteer organization such as the Geyser Observation and Study Association that keeps good track of the geysers in and around the Old Faithful area and Norris, Mammoth-lovers mostly have to find out what is happening there for ourselves. Mammoth’s springs and the terraces they create are always changing. The ones I found most active this August were Grassy Spring and its very new (probably as yet unnamed) neighbor; Canary Spring; and Narrow Gauge Terrace.

In the twenty years I’ve been observing it, the hot water activity in Canary has gradually migrated from close to the hillside just below the Grand Loop Road out to the north.

Canary Spring 2009

Canary looked like this when I was there in 2009.


The terraces Canary is building are amazingly high and beautiful. Here’s what I saw on the morning of August 15th 2014:

Near the steps leading down to Canary is a good place to observe how newer springs can begin to form terraces by depositing a thin layer of calcite ice on top of still, level pools of hot water; with time tiny delicate terracettes form around the pools. Eventually these will build up to be impressive terraces, too—and the boardwalk will have to be moved again!

An area not shown on the Yellowstone Association pamphlet map at all but described in Yellowstone Treasures is my other favorite at Mammoth, the extremely active lower terrace formation at Narrow Gauge Terrace. Deeply ensconced in tall trees, the growing terraces are almost impossible to photograph well. It was very dark there in 2009, but my friend Suzanne Cane got a very good shot in June 2013.
Narrow Gauge Terrace 2009

Narrow Gauge Terrace by Suzanne Cane in 2013

This year, the active springs and color from them cover about 300 degrees of a circle. My Narrow Gauge notes: “Building a throne for itself. One large dead tree fully knocked over at south end. No sound here but the musical bubbling at several pitches from various outlets.” Magical!

More about my geyser day

Categories: Geysers, Trip Reports
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riverside geyser firehole river

Riverside Geyser (2004)

While I waited for Grand on August 12, 2014, several geyser gazers mentioned that Riverside Geyser was due around 1:30 pm, so I thought (although I hadn’t brought a lunch)—why not stay out in the basin? So on I went to relax in the shade at Riverside and catch its 1:55 pm eruption—a little less rewarding than sometimes, because the wind was blowing the water and steam back at the geyser cone. It couldn’t create a beautiful drape across the river, as I’ve seen many other times. [This ten-year-old photo shows a faint rainbow, something else to look for when you visit. –Ed.]

Just as I approached on the long walk back up the paved road (the former Grand Loop Road), Castle obliged me with my fourth major eruption of the day at about 2:25 pm.

But that was not all! After some sustenance and a rest, I took off again for the early evening eruption of Great Fountain. A few minutes after establishing myself with a book on the viewing bench, my neighbors on the bench and I struck up a conversation. Nine-year-old Emma from Portland wanted to tell me all about her many trips to the park and environs and to pick my brains about what I knew, so the book was put away.

I timed the first overflow of Great Fountain at 6:38 and knew we still had at least 45 minutes to wait, so I asked Emma if she’d like to walk back along the road to see Surprise Pool and Firehole Spring. She asked her father’s permission, and off we went. Like me, she was mesmerized watching the big white bubble of steam rise over and over in Firehole Spring and sometimes burst at the surface. And I had to scold her father for never stopping there on the way to Great Fountain.

Nevertheless, Emma had a one-up on me, when she said she’d been to Oblique Geyser—and I haven’t. I’m more inclined to call it Avalanche Geyser (see “A Yellowstone rock in the Smithsonian, Part II“—but I’ve never been there.

Great Fountain began its significant bursts at 7:21. Never having seen it erupt on the same day as Grand, I had never noted the contrast in their eruptions. Grand pushes up its water higher and higher and continues with constant jetting until it all disappears down its big hole. But it’s always worth waiting a few minutes, because as on this day, it can return with one (or sometimes more) great spoutings; on this day, the second was higher than the first, as I caught on my second video:

In contrast, Great Fountain begins rather tentatively (and may have a blue bubble at its base, but not this time). It seems to die back, then surges up again numerous times. I watched for only 20 minutes but suspect it went on longer.

And so to rest, with visions of spouting waters to last me another year.

CREDIT: The photo of Riverside Geyser was taken by my son-in-law Niklas Dellby on August 5, 2004.

Geyser Day 2014

Categories: Geysers, Trip Reports
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Since I never tire of watching Yellowstone’s geysers, this year I gave myself all of one day, August twelfth, for chasing the best eruptions. I was richly rewarded.

Starting early, before the Old Faithful Visitor Education Center opened and posted its predictions, I took a chance that there might be an early morning eruption of Great Fountain Geyser that I could catch, but sitting at its shapely formation for 45 minutes, I saw only small bursts and had to conclude that I had missed it.

Still, delighted to find that my FRS radio worked even nine miles from Old Faithful, I heard that Fountain Geyser (in the Fountain Paint Pot area) had started erupting at 9:12, so I got there as quickly as exceeding the speed limit (just a little) would allow. I was in time to witness the latter part of Fountain’s eruption, which continued until 9:48. Jet Geyser was spouting in all directions, and little Twig Geyser contributed, too.

Red Spouter’s northern vent was acting as a very loud fumarole, and the southern vent was boiling vigorously, showing that the water table is relatively high for this late in the summer, thanks to ample rainfall. A clever new sign at the Paint Pot gives us the “Recipe for Mudpots.”

Fortunately, I had arrived at the parking lot before the 10:00 am crush, when tour buses and the majority of private vehicles make parking next to impossible. (The same was true this August at Norris Geyser Basin.)

Being able to phone the Old Faithful V.E.C. for geyser predictions this year proved its value: I learned from calling (307) 344-2751 (x2) that I might get back to Upper Geyser Basin in time for Grand Geyser, whose four-hour window was given as 9:15 am to 1:15 pm. Sure enough, arriving at Grand at 11:23, I had only a half-hour wait. Just after the second Turban Geyser eruption that I witnessed, Grand began and gloriously lived up to its name. Its two bursts spanned about fourteen minutes, and I was able to record some of the high points on my iPhone. This was one of the highest and most exciting Grand eruptions I’ve seen in recent memory.

Continuing interest in the Anthropocene

Categories: On the Web, Science
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Since I find it quite fascinating, I may be following up on my January 22 through February 4 series on the Anthropocene for a while yet. For other people who would like to know more about this still rather unfamiliar word and its implications, webmaster/daughter Beth has found a short and succinct video.

And for people who are willing to invest twenty minutes or so watching a mini-lecture from the point of view of a Swedish anthropology professor, try this.

Then, as if we didn’t have enough syllables in the word already, there’s a long technical article on Science Direct with a new twist, The Palaeoanthropocene.

More tips for a great vacation

Categories: Trip planning
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6. Be aware that Yellowstone’s roads are slow, often full of potholes, and that some are currently undergoing construction.
7. Plan to be on the roads early and late in the day. Avoid crowds by traveling on the main roads between 10 am and 5 pm whenever possible.
8. Take binoculars or a spotting scope as well as your camera, especially for animal watching.
9. Prepare the kids: watch videos, read from Yellowstone Treasures and other books about the area or about the animals, tell them how different it will be (wild animals, staying outdoors, no TV). Let them do some of the planning.
10. When at Old Faithful Village, be sure to see the Visitor Education Center and check at their ranger desk for eruption times for the five predictable geysers in addition to Old Faithful Geyser. Seeing them and beautiful hot springs near them can be really rewarding.

More about the Burns TV documentary

Categories: On the Web
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On the National Parks Traveler website, a former park superintendent discusses some interesting issues about the parks that were not covered in Ken Burns’s fine TV documentary aired this past fall. Read his post.

I agree with much of what Rick Smith says. However, he couldn’t begin to cover national parks from all angles even in the twelve hours allotted for the episodes. Burns’s emphasis was history and the contributions of people who aided the parks’ creation, and he covered those aspects very well.

There is a small fallacy in former superintendent Smith’s paragraph about other countries reserving protected areas. He writes:

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature reports that there are now over 100,000 established protected areas in the world, not all of them national parks, of course, but all established to preserve and protect natural and cultural resources. These areas cover approximately 11.63% of the world’s terrestrial and marine areas. Yellowstone was the first such area created in the world. . . .

If you include all types of national reserves such as national monuments and seashores, Yellowstone was not the first area protected and set aside. Back in 1832, the Hot Springs Reservation in Arkansas was created by Congress, granting federal protection of the thermal waters. Yellowstone (established in 1872) was the first to be called a national park.

2010