Friday, May 22, 2009

First week at Jellystone

So, if you all thought I was hard to reach last summer, think again. I have no cell phone service yet again, so my apologies for the lack of communication this past week (and for the entire summer). The dorm in which I live in does not have a house phone, but does, however, have a payphone. Unfortunately, messages can't be left on payphones. If you would like to call and attempt to reach me, just let me know and I'll email you the number. As far as internet access goes, I have to walk 1.5 miles into the town of Mammoth to access email and this blog. So, communication capabilities are pretty low.

Despite all of this, I am living in an incredibly beautiful place, and will enjoy being back in the "wildnerness" again. I live right on the outskirts of the town of Mammoth, which is a touristy historic place within the Northwest gate of Yellowstone. Many of these buildings are over 100 years old, as the place was first known as "Fort Yellowstone" and was commanded by the US Army. The real majesty of this town, though, is in its hot springs. I live about a mile from these gorgeous natural curiosities, and had a chance yesterday and today to explore them. Pretty photos will soon follow.
My first day in Montana and Wyoming was welcomed by numerous elk, bison, and a lone pronghorn. While unpacking my things, I happened to look outside my room window and saw this cute little creature:
The bison have just dropped their calves, so many of them still have a part of their umbilical cords still attached to them. After witnessing this calf, a larger bison came lumbering around the corner munching on grasses. This entire herd came to say hello just outside my window.Then around 8:30 pm, I was greeted by a wonderful sunset. I was thinking that, being that WY is moderately close to Alaska, it would have really long days too. But, the sun sets at a reasonable hour, and rises around 6:30 am.

On my second day, Kate and I rose at an early 5:30 am to head to the office by 6:30. Along with Todd (fisheries overlord) and Mike, my supervisor, we drove down to Yellowstone Lake to begin orientation and training. Usually, the drive to Lake is around 1 hour and 45 minutes. But, construction on the way caused our drive to extend to a lengthy 2 hours and 30 minutes. Though this diversion created some grumbles, I was glad to take the long route and witness the beauty of Yellowstone. About 1 hour into the drive, we came across a road jam to find that the commotion was centered on a large grizzly just 40 yards from the road. Of course, as fate would have it, my camera was in the bed of the truck, unreachable to my fevered grasp. Never fear, though, another convoy of fisheries folk following behind us stopped and took pictures, so I just have to get some from them. Just a half hour later, we were stuck in another jam, this time caused by a herd of buffalo. About 30 or 40 bison were just taking their sweet old time, trotting down the entire width of the road. A quick scan along some of car passenger faces had some people looking frightened, others snapping away without either hand on the wheel, and one man literally shouting and waving his arms, apparently hoping that such behavior will quicken their pace. About half way, we made a stop in the "town"of Old Faithful to use the facilities. I took a quick photo of Old Faithful in the meantime:

Unfortunately, we couldn't stay 90 minutes to see the eruption, but I'll see it another time.
The next photo I took especially for you, Dad and Mr. Anderson. I knew you would enjoy such things. For all those in confusion, this is a pile of bison poo. Looks almost petrified, don't you think? Most of them look like cow patties - one big mass of flat feces. I think a cow patty fight may be in order.

This is the fisheries crew. Although the faces are miniscule, I'm right around the center, Mike is behind me, and Kate is to the right of him. We make up the cutthroat restoration group. The rest of these folk are divided between gillnetting, water quality, and stream/lake surveying crews. After work that day, Brian, one of the fish biologists, took us to one river where Harlequin ducks reside. I wasn't able to get too close, unfortunately, so the ducks look really tiny. It was pretty amazing how they were able to keep up with all of the ebb and flow of the fast current. It looked like they were having a ton of fun diving down into the water.

Also during our stay out at Lake, we saw two coyotes. The treat was so brief though, so I didn't get a chance to take a picture. I first thought I was seeing a wolf, because I wasn't used to seeing such large, gray coyotes. The ones in Florida are so small in comparison.

This next photo is of my backyard. No, really. The landscape is so different than what I'm used to. The vegetation is pretty scrubby, with few trees lying in lower elevations (makes for answering nature's call pretty difficult). Many of the trees and plants here consist of lodgepole pine, blue spruce, juniper, and few wildflowers. The area is also largely brown, and surprisingly (for me, at least), many of the areas are still covered in heavy snow. Around Lake, snow drifts as tall as 10 feet or higher were seen all along roadways and within the woods. Everybody here says the snow is taking longer to melt this year. (I'm most likely going to have to snowshoe this next week as we start hiking in backcountry!) Though that is the case, this entire week I've been basking in the sun (no rain) in temperatures around 66 degrees. At night, it gets in the thirties.

I thought this mountain was super cool. You can see all of the water lines, reaching as far as the top of the slope.Opposite this stood Mammoth Hot Springs. To get better views of the area, the NPS installed boardwalks running all alongside of the springs, reaching as far up as 6,600 feet.

So, yesterday and today, I had some time to walk into town and check out these natural wonders. These springs are formed from the upwelling of water from underlying limestone. The water is naturally scalding (I tested it out today) and huge clouds of steam rise as the surrounding air is much cooler. The main chemical compounds that derive from the limestone-hot water mix rise up from the rock, creating calcium carbonate deposits throughout the entire area. The deposits are in the form of travertine, which forms the terraces of the springs. Unfortunately, I didn't bring my all-weather gloves to steal some travertine for the bathroom floor for you, Mom. You'll have to come prepared when you arrive in July. Anyway, what makes the awesome colors of orange, white, green, brown and an amalgam of others that are seen in these creations are these creatures called thermopiles, that live in the rock. They are some of the only creatures that can live in such an environment.

The spring facing the road is Canary Spring.

This next one (above) is the largest of the terraces, named Minerva terrace. The kinds of formations these springs create is absolutely astounding.

This here spring is the Cleopatra terrace. While walking throughout the numerous miles of boardwalks, I couldn't help but notice a smell of sulfur. There was a distinct, fart-like smell pervading my nostrils the entire walking adventure. (Take comfort in that thought, Dad, as it was like you were there right with me.) After reading one of the interpretative boards, I learned that the putrid stench was a result of hydrogen sulfide that was being released.

The picture above is of the town of Mammoth, looking down from one of the many boardwalks. When I was hanging out in front of Minerva Spring, I looked to the right of me and noticed these beauties relaxing on top of a dormant spring. The elk and bison around Mammoth are so acclimated to human activity, that they act fairly comfortable when in close proximity to people.Most of them look pretty ragged right now, as they are shedding their winter coats.

Along the hike home, I saw another sight, reminiscent of my days in Alaska: Elk poo! Looks really similar to moose poo, doesn't it?Remember what I said about dirty, inconsiderate hikers, Mom? See Exhibit A:

Saw some pretty flowers to make up for it, though.

I just had to take this picture.

Another shot of the sunlight hitting the vegetation.

Anyway, that's all for now. I haven't included any photos from my day in Mammoth today, but I will next time. Got to check off a yellow-bellied marmot and ground squirrel from the list!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Yellowstone Bound

How lucky am I, to boast that I have another adventure this summer in another absolutely stunning place. Starting at 8:30 tomorrow morning, I will be jetsetting to Bozeman, Montana to start my internship at Yellowstone National Park.

As of yet, I am unsure how often I will be able to update this thing, but I will try to keep you all in contact as much as I can. If you ever wish to mail me anything, email me and I'll let you know my mailing address.

Anyway, I just wanted to do a quick update and inform you of the vast ways you can contact me. Until then, I'll update when I'm out in cowboy country!