Monday, September 20, 2021

A trip Hunting agates on Wiggins Fork and crossing Union Pass, Part 1

Quite a few years ago, we had gone for a drive to the Green River Lakes, north of Pinedale, Wyoming. At one point our son had mentioned that a road that turned left from the lake road, took you to Dubois. Since then, I had always wanted to take that road over Union Pass.

This trip, along with a day agate hunting on the Wiggins Fork, was on the to do list for this summer. As my birthday neared Renita suggested that we should spend two nights in Dubois, Wyoming and take a day trip to Wiggins Fork, and a second day crossing Union Pass.

Now we had been to Wiggins Fork before and so we knew the way to the confluence of Wiggins Fork and Frontier Creek.

It starts out as a good, paved road and crosses Horse Creek turning into a forest service road. It is actually a pretty good road, as four-wheel drive roads in Wyoming go. It’s a beautiful drive along the east flank near Yellowstone National Park.

Arriving at the trail head we were greeted by the sight of numerous hunting camps and even got to watch as three stings of mules plodded by, laden with supplies for back country camps.

There were even other agate hunters searching for the petrified wood, some of which is agatized.

The wood was covered by a pyroclastic flow, (if you don’t know what a pyroclastic flow is, (look it up and think of what happened to the people of Pompeii) and formed a mold of the exterior. The organic material turned into gas from the heat leaving a hollow cavity which was than filled with silica rich water. It often formed silica lines but sometimes, formed prismatic agates.

When these are polished as thin sections, and held up to the sun, their beauty becomes apparent, (I had been given a slice of iris agate three years before and just got around to polishing it this summer. Our goal on this trip was to find some of this agate)!

We found a good spot to park, put on our waders, and crossed the first braided section of Frontier Creek. Renita and I have different rock hounding techniques, she slowly checks out every rock and I move along at a good clip looking for a rock with the telltale exterior.

I left her with bear spray, and I headed across the braided sections. At one point I had to pass through willow stands and finally reached a few pine trees. Being aware that grizzly bears inhabit the area, I moved out of the dense foliage and slowly walked downstream looking for petrified wood.

My high hopes were quickly dashed, and as I searched and searched, I finally found a few pieces of the replaced wood. Greeting Renita, she showed me a beautiful piece she had found soon after I had left. Hers was much better that anything I had picked up! Returning to the truck she decided to take a break and eat lunch while I headed back out.

There were three other agate hunters in the area and two of them had found their own agates. One of the agate hunters told us years ago, the agates had been plentiful! As usual at popular spots, its quite a bit harder now to find good specimens.

After taking with them and seeing their finds, we headed back to Dubois for a nap before dinner and planning the next days drive over Union Pass. Clear skies (end of Part 1)


Sunday, September 12, 2021

Too close for comfort, sometimes you get a surprise!

We told our friends about our six-bear day and so two days later they joined us when we returned to the park. Of course, we never saw a bear, but we did see a new bird for us, a green tailed towhee! We now have three hundred and fourteen birds on our life list, since we retired.

The smoke moved back in, and we stayed inside for the next four days, until a front moved in with rain. It was followed by clear skies, and we headed back to the park. Our friends couldn’t make it, so we hoped for another good day of bear watching.

Arriving at the park we took our favorite road and before long we ran into a bear jam. This time the bear was up a berry tree right next to the road! A Bear management team member was directing traffic and one lane of the road was closed. We drove by and then turned around hoping for a better view.

Sure enough, the third time was the charm and we got a good shot of the bear as it pulled down a branch full of berries, giving us a picture of its face. Passing the jamb, we decided to continue on and hike on a closed road where we have spotted bears before.

Starting the hike, we ram into three excited people who told us that they had spotted a sow with a cub. None of them had bear spray and we did mention to them that bear spray was a great idea. They returned to their car, and we continued on making stops on the edge of an overlook where we could see trees full of berries.

On the fourth peek over the edge, I noticed movement on my right side. It was a black bear boar, a big one that we had seen the week before. It had just topped the ridge next to me and I had no warning. It was so close that I yelled at Renita to stop and get her bear spray ready.

Slowly backing away from the bear, I stopped and watched as it took off running away, it had been way too close. It reached an opening, and I was able to get a couple of pictures. My camera's autofocus had failed and I had to manually focus for each shot.

The bear disappeared into some brush, and we headed back to the car talking about our close encounter. We still weren’t done there as a cow moose was feeding in the pond.

We also got to see its calf which made a quick appearance before going into hiding in some willows. It was lunch time and so we drove to a trailhead where Renita had spotted grizzly bear tracks.

After eating our lunch, we hiked up the trail looking for sign of bear but didn’t spot anything. Talking it over we decided to check out another spot before returning to the first road we had taken. As we drove down the road three members of the bear management team were watching a tree. It was also along the road and as we drove by, we could see leaves shaking.

One of the volunteers told us that there were three bears in the brush, but all could see were black spots and I couldn’t get a clear shot. It really didn’t matter; we had had another great day in the park and had encountered five black bears. Clear skies



Friday, September 3, 2021

Six Black Bears in a day at Grand Teton National Park, our personal best!


The smoke here has been really bad. The sun rose in a gross red parody of its yellow self and sets in a deep red, In the above image you see a paraglider near Teton Village, that Renita took through the windshield).  We usually stay inside but it was reported that the road in the park was closed because of grizzly and black bears and so we made a quick trip to the park.

Its berry time and that’s one of the best times to spot bears as they ignore people while they are feeding on berries, trying to put on fat for their winter hibernation. When we arrived at the park the road was closed but while we turned around the road closure sign had been moved and the road had just been opened!

Heading up the road we spotted three bears descending down the hill. It was a black bear sow and her two cubs, and they quickly reached the berry trees and started to feed, (the sow did anyway). The cubs were coys, cubs of the year and one climber a tree for safety while the other played on the ground.

Because of their small size they were hard to see, in the photo you only see three black spots, it was the best I could do of the bear family).

We decided to head further down the road, and we soon came upon two stopped cars. There were bushes moving and turning around we saw why. It was another black bear pulling down the bushes to feed on the hawthorn berries. It was hard to get a clear shot, but I managed to when we rolled down a back window.

Four bears in a day is a great day but we weren’t finished. Parking at the pond, we got out our bear spray and headed down a well-worn trial. At one spot a warning sign had been posted reminding people of the presence of bears and strongly recommended bear spray. We both had our own cans of bear spray and so we hiked along the trail looking both ways in the hopes of spotting another bear.

Not having any luck, we returned only to see a large crowd of people and a park interpreter looking towards us. There was a black bear boar feeding about thirty yards away! That is way too close for comfort, so we stopped got our bear spray handy and then slowly moved past the large male bear.

It was a good decision as the bear ignored us and then walked to the sign, we had just passed and started to eat berries. If you get too close to a bear, slowly move away, and don’t run! Most of the time the bear ignores you and even runs away. In a small percent of the time it will huff, stomp its feet, stand up, or even do a bluff charge. This bear wanted berries and didn’t care about us.

Returning to the car, we drove to Jackson Lake. As we passed the chapel a woman was peering into the trees and told us she had just seen a black bear. Parking past her, I got out and found a narrow opening in the trees. As we watched the opening a black bear suddenly ran across the opening. Something had frightened it. We hoped to see a wolf or grizzly bear but nothing else appeared and so we returned to the car.

It had been a great day with having sighted six black bears! It was by far the best black bear watching day we have ever had. Next year the park is going to rebuild the narrow road we had been on, and it will be closed all year. Clear skies and when in bear country always carry bear spray!

Sunday, August 22, 2021

A trip to Fossil Butte National Monument


While working the Cody Show we received an extremely disturbing call. Our friend Val told us that her husband George had passed unexpected. He did not die from covid, but instead from a common disease. When we returned, we learned the sad details.

We met George and Val in Texas and later traveled to their ranch in Colorado. They were the best fly fisherpersons we have ever watched, and they taught us so much about fly fishing for trout that the information dramatically improved our catch, (We release all of the native fish).

Val sold her place here in Star Valley and as she and her daughter in law moved her rv back to the ranch we followed them to help with any unforeseen problems, (everything went well). The route took us past Fossil Butte National Monument, and we decided that when we returned to Star Valley we would stop and see if there were any new exhibits.

On arriving at the monument at first things looked the same, but a new outside exhibit showed how fossil collectors removed slabs containing fish fossils before preparing them in the lab, (if you look closely, you can see the backbones that tell of a fish covered in sediment).

Entering the museum, it was obvious that there had been lots of changes, (besides having to wear masks). The first thing we noticed was a new hologram display that showed how the different fish swam.

By pushing a button of a fish fossil, the fish would appear as a hologram and another display would tell of the number of each of that species type found each year.

Where before a large display had contained huge fossils of fossil palms, it had been expanded and contained many of the other plant fossils found in the lake and along the shoreline. 

Fifty-two million years ago, the climate had been warmer, similar to the climate along today’s Gulf Coast, (don’t forget that our continent drifts each year).

Turtles were common along with caimans and some of the turtle fossils showed holes where the reptiles had tried to eat them, (look carefully at the picture, and you can see the puncture holes).

Fossil mammals were also displayed along with fossil bats and birds that were similar to what we see today.

As with all the museums we visit we made a donation, and also bought tee shirts.

 It had been a nice diversion on the way home and apropos to our friend’s memory. Arriving home, we have since been hit with several days of heavy and much needed rain.

We do hope to take a trip involving camping, fossil collecting, and fly fishing. We had hoped to make this trip with our friends, but they will be in our minds and hearts. Clear skies

Monday, August 16, 2021

A Drive to Grand Teton National Park, along Falls Creek Road


It’s been a while since I have written, mostly because we haven’t spent much time outside. The reason, of course, is that the forest fire smoke has made the air quality so bad that its not safe to be outside or exercise. There was a brief respite last week and so Renita and I were able to do our walks, watch the Perseid meteor shower, and even take a drive to Grand Teton National Park.

The Perseid Meteor shower put on its yearly display, and I did go out to do a meteor count early on August.  12th. I could see all the stars of Ursa Minor and even the Milky Way, so the seeing conditions were near perfect. From 4:10 to 4:27 am I saw nine Perseid meteors and six non Perseids. Doing a little math gave me a count of thirty-two meteors per hour. Not bad but nowhere near the peak.

We have always wanted to take the Fall Creek Road to Wilson. It doesn’t save any time, (a little maybe because of all the road construction), but we had read in the paper that bears were spotted south of Wilson which is where the Falls Creek Road is located.

The first six miles of the road were rough. The best way to describe it as a washboard surface that pounded our truck as we slowly drove upstream alongside Falls Creek. Occasionally a rock stood up and was too be avoided as it could damage a tire or an oil pan on a low riding car, (we were in our truck).

Six miles in everything changed as the county had just finished paving the next eleven miles! It’s a series of curves, one after another and the drive is slow due to the many turns. The road was also filled with people on bikes enjoying the smooth surface and easy ride.

Finishing in Wilson, our next goal was to go into the park and check the berry situation. The bears have had a tough go of it due to the extended drought but after entering Grand Teton National Park, we spotted hack thorn trees filled with berries.

Spotting a moose, we stopped and watched as it fed in a pond, before we walked along a trail past a bear warning sign.

There were quite a few walkers and so we felt safe. One person told us that a back bear had been feeding on the berries, but we never saw any bear sign. Renita, (my fearless pioneer woman), is really good at spotting tracks and scat, while I am constantly looking for live animals. She also listens for breaking branches and has alerted us on past hikes to a nearby bear. (My hearing aids are not as good as her ears). We spotted several pine siskins eating the berries and one posed for a picture.

Driving to the Jackson dam we drove by Willow Flats but didn’t see any sign of elk or bear. Turning north we next drove to Colter Bay to check out the lake’s water level. Colter Bay has been closed and all the moored boats had been removed. The lake is at an historic low.

As we glassed the dry bay a person next to us shouted, “look at the fox”, and turning we saw it casually trot past us before it begin to hunt for any careless ground squirrel. Finding a good vantage point, we saw that the fox had been collared. A radio collar on a fox means the fox has been fed by people!

Once it has been captured and fitted with a radio collar it is moved to a new location. If the fox returns and is fed again, it is recaptured and euthanized. While this may seem harsh it is a safety step to protect the visitors to the park. The rule is simple, a fed fox or bear is a dead fox or bear. They lose their fear of people, (a book I highly recommend is, Death in Yellowstone Park. In one case a woman was feeding a bear candy. Getting bored she said to the bear, “That is enough”, and turned her back and tried to return to her car, which was big mistake as bears don’t speak English).

From Colter Bay we drove out the entrance at Moran Junction and headed back home. It had been a good day of clear skies and we got a check mark form our Fitbit. That night the smoke moved back in from the California, Oregon, and Utah fires and new air quality warning have been reissued.

It’s supposed to get cold here, so we are hoping for rain to dampen the fires. So instead of saying clear skies, let it pour!





Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Hummingbirds, A Great Horned Owl, teaching a fly fishing technique, and making next years cabochons


The last two weeks have been filled with lots of indoor and outdoor activities. Mostly indoors as the smoke from the western fires has reduced the air quality so much that we need to stay indoors. Still recent rains have helped, at least temporarily, and so we have resumed our walking, worked on stones, and even got to teach two friends a beginners fly fishing technique.

The hummingbirds have been so enjoyable as we watch them feed and fight over the feeder. In fact, the fighting has been so intense that we bought two more feeders and spread them out. This made it harder for the dominant rufous male to keep the other hummers away. Now we have three males that each try to stake out and claim a feeder.


It doesn’t seem to be effective for them as they chase away others only to have other hummers sneak in for a drink. This has caused us to buy more sugar, in fact we have used more sugar this year then we have in quite a while!

Yesterday, while we took a walk around the park, a large owl flew above us and landed in a tall ponderosa pine. Trying to take images with a cell phone was less then satisfactory so we walked back home, got our good camera, and returned to the tree.

Surprisingly the owl was still there. While waiting for it to face us a couple walked over, and the lady said she could talk to it. She quietly hooted several times and it turned to look at us! We have never heard of an owl whisperer before, but we now have one in our park!

When we first saw the owl flying, we thought it was a Great Gray. There are rare but do inhabit the area. Once we got a good look at it, we saw the ears and realized it was a horned owl. It’s a beautiful bird but common here as it is across North America.

Our friends Fred and Becky had expressed interest in learning how to fly fish. On another day of smoke free air, we took them to one of our favorite streams and taught them how to make a roll cast. It’s a simple technique that catches fish and works quite well when the banks are lined with willow trees.

Becky quickly picked us the technique, she had stream fished in Colorado, but Fred struggled at first. He commented several times that he wished he had his Zebco reel. We never did spot or catch any trout as the steam was really low, but we did have several hits from mountain whitefish. They thanked us for the lesson, hopefully next year’s fishing will be better! 

Our shows are over for the year and now it is time to replace those we have sold and to work new stone. One of the new stones is Yellowstone Variscite. It’s mined from a claim on the east flank of the mountains. Just outside of the park. We hope to work some today and look forward to getting on the grinding wheels, (we make most of our cabochons using a Genie Cabochon Maker).

Once we have the stones finished, we will turn them into jewelry while we are in Texas! Clear skies