Friday, February 26, 2010

(no) bobcat love

A bobcat has been spotted over the past several days at Biscuit Basin. We haven't had much luck at Biscuit, having skied there many times trying to spot wolves and/or the bobcat, but we decided to try our luck again.

On Wednesday evening we skied out there around dusk, and waited. And waited. No bobcat for us, just a herd of bison who were anxious for us to be on our way...

The bobcat was probably sitting, hidden, in a tree, waiting for us to leave so he could prance around.

That evening we were invited to a luau at one of the ranger's houses. The menu: Kalua pork, coconut shrimp, sweet potatoes, and CUPCAKES. Heaven on a plate!

To take his mind off the absent bobcat, Steve decided to participate in a few employee Olympic events. The Snow Lodge Winter Olympics span one week and involve such events as the buffalo chip toss, snowshoe long jump, and the dart biathlon.

Steve participated in the luge:

While he (sadly) didn't medal in the luge, he did win a bronze medal in the three-legged ski race (that's him in the bright yellow hat).

Now if only the food at these Olympics could rival what they serve in Vancouver...sigh.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

solo ski day

On Sunday I hitched a ride to Madison with a friend who works at the warming hut there. It was freezing when I woke up--it was -22, without any windchill factor--and her snowmobile wouldn't start. We zipped off after it finally started, and it was so cold that the plastic face shield on my helmet was completely frosted over the entire way to the junction.

I planned to use the warming hut as a base, snack a little, ski a little, repeat. I was still thawing out, drinking hot chocolate, when one of the guides from West offered to drop me off at the top of Firehole Canyon. I grabbed my boots and skis, and hopped onto his bus. There were six people with him, out for a day tour of the park, and they weren't quite sure what to make of the girl who hopped on and then hopped off in the middle of nowhere.

On the way up, we passed two bald eagles, and the guide pointed out this cave that he called "Bigfoot's Cave"--I'd never noticed it before, and he said there are always bones there (these look like elk bones.)

I took my time skiing down the canyon, so that I could stop and take a few pictures along the way. The sun was out and it was (finally) starting to warm up.

There was no one else out, and it was completely still and quiet, save for the sound of the river.

As I came around the final turn I saw a coyote making its way along the river bank. By the time I managed to get my camera out my backpack he had moved on along the river, jumping over fallen logs.

Before I skied back to the hut, I stopped at the Gibbon Meadow overlook;

after a few minutes of standing still, a bald eagle flew overhead.

After a quick lunch, I took off with a ranger to check out animal tracks in the snow on a short loop she created out the back of the hut/ranger station. While we were strapping on our skis, a coyote darted across the meadow below us. As we took off, he watched us, we watched him, until he finally darted past us and went on his way.

After skiing with her for about 45 minutes and studying tracks in the snow, I took off on my own. I started by following her ski tracks, then took off through the Madison campground, where the snow came up over my knees as I tried to break trail. After I broke out of the snow and left the campground, I skied along the Madison River and caught up with the coyote again, who was mousing along the bank.

I made it out past Harlequin Lake and then decided it was time to turn around and head back towards Madison junction and the warming hut.

As I came back towards the campground, a herd of elk were grazing near the river,

and I had to detour around them by skiing up the road. A group of snowmobilers were stopped, watching the elk, until they decided to watch me instead--a couple of them even took pictures of me. I'm sure the photos of the crazy skier lady will make for some fun vacation memories.

Monday, February 22, 2010

trip north: part 2

After lunch on Tuesday, we jumped on a snowcoach and took the bumping, three hour ride to Mammoth. We got in around 5:30, but we didn't stop there. We warmed up our car that had been sitting for about a month and headed north 50-some odd miles to Livingston, MT.

All this to make it to the 2nd Street Bistro for our first real meal in weeks. The restaurant, which serves a fantastic array of upscale comfort food, did not disappoint. Our starter of fresh shrimp drowned in a warm-greek dressing with kalamata olives, cherry tomatoes and creamy feta was amazing. For our entrees, Wendie went with the meatloaf pizza that she had read so much about, while I couldn't resist the same dish I had the last time we went to 2nd St., the penne-bechamel macaroni and cheese that comes with a half a roasted chicken on top. Both were excellent and left us happy and fueled for big day in the Northern Range on Wednesday.

We woke early to make it out to the Lamar Valley to see if we could spot some animals (see previous blog), and then stopped at the Bannock Trail

and strapped on our skis for a little pre-lunch jaunt.

An ancient path, the Bannock Trail is thought to be the remnants of a thoroughfare used for hundreds of years by Native Americans as their main artery to the hunting grounds in the area of what is now Yellowstone. For that reason, the trail actually exits the park and heads out to Cooke City, MT.

After munching on a couple of pieces of cold meatloaf pizza, we started out fording a small brook that runs parallel to the larger Soda Butte Creek

then passed through a couple open meadows.

As it always seems to do in the Northeastern part of the Park, it was snowing quite a bit as we entered a heavily wooded-area and climbed up a gradual hill that overlooked what I think is Warm Springs

About a mile and half into the ski, we left the park (and Wyoming) and headed toward Silver Gate, MT. Having already seen our moose in Silver Gate, we didn't go all the way into town. On our way back, we re-entered the Park,

and cruised back downhill to our car.

From there we cruised through the Lamar and past all the coyotes to the Yellowstone River picnic area where we decided to make lunch.

My culinary skills attracted the attention of a wily raven that sat on a tree limb about two feet over my head, waiting for me to leave something for him to steal. Luckily, having heard all the stories of these birds pilfering lunches from unsuspecting snowmobilers, I successfully defended our vittles.

While we were waiting for the noodles-in-a-bag to "cook", we hiked up to the river overlook. Thanks to our lack of snow the uphill climb wasn't too bad and before we knew it we were overlooking the huge canyon that the Yellowstone's water has been gauging for thousands of years.

We each took our turn peering over the edge

before retreating down the hill to eat.

Due to the lack of snow our plans to ski some other trails had to be scrapped. So after some more wildlife watching we headed into Gardiner for some real food at the K-Bar. We (or at least I was) were excited to get to watch some Winter Olympics while eating our hamburgers (actually a bison burger for me -- lookin' at 'em all day made me hungry).

Disappointed we were when we looked up at the TV and realized our Olympic experience was going to consist of an hour of watching curling (there is a reason it almost rhymes with boring). Still, by the time we left, we were, just like everyone else in the bar room, sucked in, offering suggestions to the TV and complaining about the Americans' lack of skill.

From there we headed back to Mammoth. And though we had another gut-jarring three hour ride back to Old Faithful at 8am the next morning, we at least had memories of good food to get us through our final three weeks of EDR grub.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

trip north: part 1

We had a great two days up North, but I'll leave this post to the animals...

We set off for Mammoth at 2:00 p.m. on Tuesday (our Saturday) via the luggage coach. We had a great trip up: we saw 3 (separate) large herds of bison, a few elk, 3 coyotes, and 2 bald eagles.

We woke up bright and early on Wednesday morning and made a beeline for the Lamar Valley. We passed several elk and bison on the way, and just past Slough Creek campground we encountered this guy on the side of the road (note his research collar).

As we followed slowly behind him, he'd zig-zag from the road,

to the shoulder

and back to the middle of the road again. Pretty soon we ran into these three bison on the road,

and he decided it would be fun to chase them.

He chased two off the road, but the third bison turned the tables on him and chased the coyote off into the sagebrush.

Then I made Steve pull over so I could fire off a couple of shots of this bison in the morning light.

About a mile down the road we had another coyote cross the road in front of us,

and as the valley opened up we saw two more coyotes crossing the frozen Lamar River. We stopped at a pull-out and watched two of the Druid wolves feeding on a carcass; as we stood there, the rest of the pack, somewhere in the trees and out of sight, began to howl. This is a sound we'll never tire of hearing.

Near the confluence, there were three bighorns hanging out in their "usual" spot.

We headed east, out the Northeast entrance, and into Silver Gate. We were determined to find a moose for my Uncle Donn, and sure enough, we spotted one. Well, make that three! They were all together, feeding in the trees just off the road. It was snowing heavily at this point, and we were able to watch them from the car for a few moments before they disappeared into the trees. It's amazing how fast they can move in deep snow--in an instant, they were gone.

Coming back through the park, we spotted this bald eagle just off the road, near the Buffalo Ranch.

We saw the Druids again, feeding on a different carcass, just above the Lamar River. Below them, a coyote was feeding on the remains of a carcass that was frozen in the river, which he then had to defend from another passing coyote. Just then, we heard the howls and yips of a pair of coyotes further on down the river. In case you're keeping track, that brought the day's coyote total to 9!

Heading back towards Mammoth we ran into this guy, who had an itch--and a way to fix it.

That's the spot.

What are you looking at?!

We passed a herd of cow elk

and a few bulls as well.

There was also a herd of pronghorn antelope feeding on the plateau near the park boundary/Gardiner.

All in all, a great day to be out.