Thursday, May 31, 2018

Yellowstone, Day One Memorial Day Weekend, 2018

Each year we try to make a trip to Yellowstone, specifically the Lamar Valley. Living only one hundred and seventy miles away it takes us about four hours to make the drive. The first part of the drive is easy as the speed limit is only fifty-five though the winding and scenic Snake River Canyon. Once we reach Grand Teton National Park, (52 miles), the speed limit varies from thirty-five to forty-five to protect the animals that cross the road.
We didn’t see any bears as we passed through Grand Teton Park, but upon entering Yellowstone and reaching the Hayden Valley, Renita spotted a sow and cub Grizzly bear across the Yellowstone river. The valley was full of buffalo and elk, and the grizzlies were eating grass, although they do actively hunt elk and bison calves!
Our friends George and Val pulled up and George told us they had spotted another grizzly bear, a boar, further down the road.
George and Val had purchased a small camper and joined us in our annual Yellowstone bear and wolf quest.
It wasn’t much further until we reached our camping spot at Canyon Village. The campsites themselves are in what we call a black forest and there was still quite a bit of snow around, but not as much as last year. The reason we stay at Canyon Campground is that it’s the closest place we can find that is open and near the Lamar Valley.
After setting up camp, we all piled into George and Val’s truck and spent the rest of the afternoon looking for wildlife. As we approached Tower junction, an obvious bear jam was taking place! Finding a place to park we walked back to where a black bear sow and her three cubs were feeding. Mama bear would first send her cubs up a tall tree, so she could fill up with grass.
Being up the tall ponderosa pine tree protected the cubs from any boars that may be around, (the boars were kill the cubs to bring the female into estrous). Occasionally, she would call the cubs down the tree and she would nurse them, before sending them back up to safety.
We had also heard that there were more black bears past Tower Junction and returning to the car we passed the junction and only drove three miles before spotting another black bear! This time it was a lone boar also feeding on grass, bears are omnivorous, and will eat anything, including grubs, moth’s bulbs, grass elk, buffalo and deer, (okay you get the idea).
Wanting to show our friends the location of the Slough Creek wolf den, we returned to Tower junction.
Reaching the Slough Creek Turnoff, we saw that there were several groups of cars parked in the wolf viewing spots. Reaching our favorite stand, we were lucky enough to see a dark wolf surrounded by pups, and George also spotted a grey wolf streaking towards the den.
It had been a long day and so we returned to our campsite. The next day we had decided to spend the day wolf watching. The first day had been a wonderful day as we had spotted five black bears, three grizzlies, and two wolves! Clear skies

Monday, May 21, 2018

Our Best Day Yet with the Bears of Grand Teton National Park, 793, 399, and a Black Bear in a Meadow

You could see the ear tag on the female bear! A park interpreter said it was bear 793, nicknamed Blondie, along with her two yearling cubs. They were feeding on the grass, along Pilgrim creek, and were a nice safe distance, about one hundred yards, (which is the minimum safety margin).
Our friends George and Val had arrived from Colorado and we suggested we all take a break from setting up and go look for bears. Passing through Jackson we decided to stop for sticky buns, before driving into the grand Teton national Park. Right away Rents spotted a possible bear, but the traffic was heavy, I was being tail gated, and so we had to drive to an intersection before I could turn around.
By the time we got back the animal had disappeared and so we continued our drive. A little further we stopped and glassed a line of willows, where we had spotted a large male bear the previous year. There were elk and buffalo around but no bear, and so we turned left at Moran Junction, and continued north toward Pacific and Pilgrim Creeks.
We passed the Oxbow area and Willow Flats, where Val spotted a moose, but we were looking for bears and so I didn’t turn around. Passing Jackson Lake Lodge, we finally reached a traffic warning sign where motorists were cautioned that mother bears and cubs were in the area.
Reaching Pilgrim Creek, we could see that a bear jam was taking place and parking some ways away we hustled to the crowd only to learn that a mother bear and her yearling cubs, had just moved into the trees and were no longer visible. Starting to drive away Renita noticed that a new bear jam had formed and so we parked before walking to the crowd, who were watching a black bear feeding in a grassy meadow.
Walking back to the truck we saw a new jam was staring to form and all were pointing the cameras and binoculars toward the area where 793 had entered the woods.
Hurrying to the Pilgrim Creek Road, we joined the crown and there was 793, a bear nicknamed Blondie feeding on grass with her two yearling cubs! They were this year’s cubs, and all three bears seemed unconcerned with the crowd of people.  
As they fed, the mother bear would occasionally talk to her cubs, as if she were telling them that they were safe.
Every now and then, a cub and the mother would look up and smell the air to make sure that all was fine. The mother was probably more concerned with any male bears in the area as they will kill the cubs to bring the sow into heat.
The highlight of the time was when one of the cubs sniffed an electric pole before standing on its hind feet and using the pole to scratch its back, (we all know what its like to have an itch that you can’t reach).
Deciding to move on we left the crowd and drove to Sergeant Bay Picnic area, where bear 399 had been reported to have been spotted.
Undisturbed by any bears we had a nice lunch, and next drove north to Leeks Marina and the Arizona Picnic area. Turning around we saw that two cars had stopped and were taking photos. I was just able to pull in and Renita and Val walked over to the cars where the people said that 399 and her cubs had tried to cross the road.
Looking south I saw a bear rise from the ditch and yelled at Renita to hurry back to the truck! Bear 399, one of the most photographed bears of all time, and her two-year-old cubs were trying to cross the road. A bear jam developed, and two foolish people popped up out of their sunroof to take images. Not only were they blocking the sow from her cub but the bear could have dragged them from their car, (Bears are faster than horses in a short charge and she became visibly upset).
A person behind them kept yelling at them to get back in their car but they didn’t seem to pay any attention. Years ago, 399 had attacked other foolish people and the park service had sided with the bear, leaving her alive.
There were no park rangers present and the jam kept getting worse before the cub crossed back to its mother and all three moved a little south.
The female really wanted to head towards Jackson lake and so they made a third attempt, crossing the road and heading into the trees, (399 had lost a cub two years ago, when it had been struck by a hit and run motorist. She had been seen dragging her dead cub into the thick trees).
The jam ended, and we drove south. We had spotted seven bears, one black bear and six grizzlies. It was our best day ever and that includes our trip to Alaska! We did look at Willow Flats and drove the Pacific Creek road but didn’t see any sign of more bears.
Renita took a turn driving and we looked for moose and bear along the Moose-Wilson Road. We never saw any, but we did see some colorful birds. A yellow warbler, two gadwalls, two rufous hummingbirds, and a Barrows goldeneye, ended our day!
The scariest part of the day wasn’t being so close to the bears. It was watching the bears crossing the road, they made it safely, and seeing how foolish people were to be out of their cars. If you ever see bears stay at least one hundred yards away, and if they get closer, GET INSIDE YOUR VEHICLE! Clear skies.

Ps Never feed wildlife! A fed bear is a dead bear as it will no longer fear people and will eventually be destroyed.
pps Wyoming is going to hold a grizzly bear hunting season this year and some idiots are bragging that they hope to kill bear 399, if she leaves the park. She has produced thirty cubs and at age twenty one is the most famous bear in the park Google her for more information.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

A Mothers Day Picnic in Grand Teton National Park

We left Rapid City and drove to Casper, Wyoming. Spending only one night there, we next drove to Rock Springs where we stopped while a strong low-pressure area moved in. Winter weather advisories and winter storm warnings were posted and so we ended up spending three days camping at the Sweetwater County Fairgrounds.
After three days of rain it finally cleared, and we headed west and north through Kemmerer and Cokeville, before reaching our place for the summer. It took us three days to open the Bighorn fifth wheel, two days to move stuff, with a day off for a bear expedition into Grand Teton National Park.
Renita packed a lunch and we first drove to Jackson where we fueled up, (diesel is up a dollar a gallon from last year, yikes). Entering the park, we passed three mule deer bucks, all were starting to grow this year’s antlers and from the massive size of the deer they will have impressive racks.
A little further we stopped for the obligatory picture of the Tetons and we also glassed the far benches,(benches refer to the raised areas on both sides of western rivers. They indicate the past floodplains from thousands of years ago). Hundreds of elk were spread as far as we could see, usual for this time of year, although most tourists never see them.
The goal for today was to spot as much wildlife as we could, enjoy the scenery, and if we were really luck spot a bear. Before crossing Buffalo Creek, we stopped and glassed the willows, as last year we had spotted a grizzly bear, 9pictured above is the Cunnigham Cabin). The area was full of elk and buffalo so there must have been some apex predators nearby, but we didn’t see any.
Just before crossing Pacific Creek a large message sign said that sows and cubs we are crossing the road and so we slowed down even further trying to catch sight of any bears. At Willow Flats we pulled off but only saw elk. This is an area where elk calving takes place and so it’s a prime hunting spot for grizzly’s as they prey on the young.
A famous bear, bear 399 had been spotted a few days before but we never saw her or her two yearling cubs. Our next spot was at Pilgrim Creek, another favorite bear spot, but the only thing we saw were other bear watching hopefuls.
Deciding to sit a bit we spent the next two hours parked. A pair of mountain bluebirds came to entertain us but no bears, (we learned alter that a mother grizzly and two cubs entertained crowds just a mile north of where we stopped). Another person told us of the bears but when we arrived the bear trio had already left.
Returning past Pilgrim Creek, we saw three vehicles stopped and there was our bear of the day! It was a large black bear and quite a way away but at least we had spotted our first bear of the year! It didn’t hang around very long and so we headed to the Oxbow Bend. The only excitement there were two sets of kayakers and a float raft, (and of course a large herd of elk).
Not staying very long Renita suggested we drive up the Pacific Creek Road. There in the middle of the road was a huge pile of bear scat. Stopping to study it we saw that the large bear had been feeding on elk or moose, as the scat was full of hair.
Sometimes you get to see a grizzly and sometimes you only get to see fresh sign, but at least you know you are in the right area. Driving further up the road we found barriers across the road to Emmy Matilda and Ocean Lake. This is another area where the bears hunt the calving elk.
Running out of time we headed back to Jackson. Renita wanted to shop at one of her favorite stores and I checked out the fossils at a local store. It was time to head home. We had saw a bear and so it was a special day! Now it’s time to finish unpacking before we head to Yellowstone for four nights of wildlife viewing, (any maybe another day trip into the Tetons as we are only fifty miles away). Clear skies

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

The Black Hills, Rock Hounding for Teepee Canyon Agate

We left Iowa, heading for the Black Hills. The first day’s drive was a long one, but Renita took a turn behind the wheel! It gave me a chance to take a nap and relax from the constant monitoring of tires, oil pressure, engine temperature, transmission temperature, and fluid level, that makes sure that everything is ok.
We drove to Mitchel, South Dakota, where we found an inexpensive campsite, thank you Passport America, and of course went to Cabela’s. We needed to buy two things, sleeping bag liners for Yellowstone and I needed a new raincoat as mine no longer keeps me as dry as I would like.
The next day we continued our trip towards Rapid City. It has been a while since we drove across Interstate 90 and as we neared the Missouri River the large statue of Sacagawea came into view. We had already passed the rest area exit and so we had to settle for some quick images from the front seat of the truck.
The drive was uneventful, and my highlight was when Renita took another stretch behind the wheel. We have made the drive across South Dakota so many times, (we lived in eastern Wyoming and drove to Iowa each year to visit our parents), that the endless highway stretch seemed to go on and on.
Arriving at Rapid City we stayed at another Passport America campground, again at half price. The next day we had plans to go rock hounding at Teepee Canyon and visiting a few rock shops on the way back. Packing a picnic lunch, we first stopped at a rock shop in Keystone where I purchased the worst made fossil assemble I have ever seen.
The reason I purchased it was, so I could dissolve the glue and recover the fossil ammonites form the bondo, (car body repair filler). These were relatively unique South Dakota fossils that were found on private land and would allow us to make jewelry from them for legal sale, (we can find them ourselves and collect them, but we cannot sell them, however our children can sell them as part of an estate sale, stupid).
Driving to Tepee Canyon we noticed the mining that had taken place since our last visit. Because the agate nodules are in-situ, people were able to lay claim and mine the hard rock. Because it is open pit mining they don’t have to reclaim their mess!
We walked along the same road way hillside where we have found agates for the past forty years and still found a few good pieces. Driving to a closed road. We parked along the highway and after lunch hiked in.
Not seeing any claims markers, we climbed the hill side to take a closer look at the previous mining.
A year ago, we had watched a movie on fortification agates, which included some footage on digging techniques. You could see where huge slabs had been mined and unearthed and left in overburden piles as the miners had uncovered the agate bearing layers. You could also see where people had dug nodules and then cracked them on large slabs, leaving then as they did not contain any agate.
All of this had taken place after the arson set Jasper Fire of 2000, as it had uncovered the agate layers and a mini agate rush had taken place. We wondered if the convicted arsonist is still in prison, (she got twenty years)?
Returning to the truck we drove back to Custer. A fatal motorcycle accident had just occurred, just before we arrived, and the victim still lay alongside the road, (please wear a helmet). A State Trooper and Park Police were already there so we said a prayer for the person as we drove by.
Our last stop of the day took us past the Crazy Horse monument. We have passed by this ongoing carving for forty years, (I took students on field trips for thirty years as I taught high school and college geology classes,) and we could see changes since the last time we were here. The detail of the hand and arm is being formed along with some roughing out of the horses’ head.
Our last stop was at one of our favorite rock shop, The Rock Shed, in Keystone. Renita and I found some much needed ruby in fuchite and gold and blue tiger iron. Now we have a lifetime supply and of course we won’t have to buy anymore, lol).
Today we are heading west with our goal being Casper, Wyoming. The wind is supposed to pick up today and so we are getting an early start. Now that we are back in the area we lived for thirty years we feel like we have arrived home. If all goes well, we will be in our summer home by this weekend!  Clear skies.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

A Nation Divided, Cannot Stand....Visiting Springfield, Illinois

"A nation divided cannot stand!"  How true were Lincolns words then and how true those words still are, especially in these divisive times.
We have toured many of the great battlefields of the Civil War, but we had never gone to Lincolns Tomb or the Lincoln Museum. Gary suggested we might want to travel to Springfield, Illinois and that would also allow us to visit with our nephew Danny and his wife, Janelle. It was a great suggestion!
So, we left Grand Isle and drove north. We had wanted to take the Natchez Trace, we had already done that, but because of our crowded schedule we instead drove to Canton Mississippi and then on to Sikeston, Missouri.
After resting there for a couple of nights, we continued to Springfield, Illinois. There we set up camp at the Illinois State Fairgrounds. Janelle, Danny’s wife suggested we should tour Lincoln House, The Lincoln Museum, and then Lincolns Tomb.
The next morning, we drove to the visitor center where we got free tickets to tour his house. It was really a nice house, with a garden space and stable and it was obvious that he had come a long way from the one room cabin he grew up in.
The National Park Service has done an excellent job, restoring the inside and outside so that the house is exactly the way it was when the Lincolns lived there.
Much of the furniture is the original furniture and the parlor has chairs and a sofa, what we would call a sofa, that has been upholstered with a black horsehair and rayon material the same color as the original.
As we toured the house our guide, an extremely knowledgeable park service interpreter, (they are no longer called park rangers), took us room by room. The kitchen had a beautiful wood stove, quite elaborate for the time, and each room was filled with the latest technology of the time.
One of my favorites was the stereo viewer used to view three dimensional photos, which are still used today! We had to laugh when we viewed the privy, as the seats where constructed from barrels allowing the females to use the bathroom while wearing a hoop skirt.
After walking around and viewing the neighborhood we next walked the short distance to the Lincoln Museum. The museum was divided into three principal areas, theaters, a log house, and the White house. Each area contained many original materials. One of the placards talked of how Lincoln grew up in a one room cabin and we had to laugh as we live full time n a fifth wheel trailer that is about the same square footage.
The Theaters had two distinctly different movies and both where excellent and moving. The first gave a view of the discord that tore our nation apart, and discussed the slavery issue, (it was really a war about saving rich people’s money/slaves, the only state rights that couldn’t have been settled peacefully were the slaves). It further gave a litany of the battles and the numbers of casualties, over one million two hundred thousand. I wish all the fools that today talk of succession would watch this movie.
The second movie used holograms to talk of the material contained and the work being done in the presidential library, again I wish everyone could see it. Finally, we walked through the White House where two of our favorite rooms were a display showing the discord of Lincoln’s Cabinet, while discussing the Emancipation Proclamation, and a display of his wife, Mary and others original ballroom gowns and jewelry.
After lunch we drove to the Lincoln Tomb. He had been interred in a temporary tomb first, while his final resting place was constructed.  The outside of the actual tomb is one of the largest obelisks we have seen and the bedsides a statue of Lincoln with additional statures of soldiers and sailors cast from actual civil war cannons.
Inside, lies the final resting place of both Lincoln and his family. Lincolns remains are in tomb ten feet behind the huge marble monument.
Back outside is a small bronze bust of Lincoln. We were surprised to see people rubbing the nose, which was shiny, and we were told it was for luck. It is a smart way to keep peoples hands off the other exhibits.
We enjoyed our visit to Springfield and highly recommend it to all, thank you Gary (during our visit one of the park interpreters told us that over two thousand students were visiting, and we had to laugh as each teacher had their students wearing colored coded tee shirts, a wonderful way to keep an eye on the little cherubs)! Clear skies