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I had the opportunity to visit Sitka, Alaska for 32 hours a couple weekends ago. The first exciting moments of the trip were when we almost missed our flight because of a mishap at the bagel stand where Kelle was getting her breakfast. She had left her luggage (along with her phone) with me, and I had no idea where she was when they did the final call and announced our names. After running around yelling for her throughout the cafeteria and bathrooms, I spotted her sprinting toward the terminal. Turns out some guy was angry because he was shorted $5 or something, and they had to shut down the cash register, causing a group of people to almost miss their flights. I thought for a second I was really going to have to decide whether I continued on the flight or missed it to wait for her! Glad it didn’t come to that! Of course after we got on the plane we waited another 40 minutes before we departed. I’m sure glad they put all that stress on me that we only had four minutes to board! At least we didn’t have another crazy eye situation like in Anchorage…
There is only a direct flight from Seattle in the summer months (heavy tourist season), so Kelle and I connected through Juneau. If you ever take that flight, be prepared to only have the ability to turn on your electronics during the flight for about 5 minutes before they tell you to turn them off because you are starting your descent.
Flying anywhere in Alaska is beautiful if you are lucky enough to travel when the sun is up and the sky is clear. Coming back into Juneau you can even see Mendenhall Glacier. I had no idea how close it was to the city, and I had never seen a real glacier before. I recently watched the documentary Chasing Ice, and have a whole new fascination with them. Someday I hope to see them closer, and hopefully witness the calving. After watching the documentary, I’m starting to realize I better hurry up and fulfill that bucket list item before their gone.
If you’re interested, the film captured the largest glacier calving ever filmed. A chunk the size of Manhattan broke of the Ilulissat Glacier in Western Greenland. Check out the clip here!
Sitka was of course beautiful, surrounded by pristine mountains. A city in the Southeast, it sits on the water’s edge, and houses rested on the many small islands that could be seen from the road. Sitka is only accessible by plane or boat, so why not keep the pattern going for your home?
I’m not going to lie — I was expecting Sitka to be a small, rusty fishing town full of people a little rough around the edges. There were of course many fishermen and pilots, but the buildings have character, there is a pretty good choice of restaurants and bars, and the homes are beautiful. I hadn’t thought about the popularity of this place in the summer with all of the tourists coming through on cruise ships.
As most women know, The Proposal, a 2009 film starring Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds, was largely based in Sitka (although most of the filming was done on Boston’s North Shore). However, though most of the filming wasn’t done there, someone had obviously scoped out the town and gotten to know some of the locals before shooting (or they had an insider consultant!), because the character of Ramon is all too familiar to those who live there, or to visitors who stayed at the Westmark Hotel. Kelle and I were lucky enough to have picked the right hotel to stay in, and wander into the hotel’s Raven Dining Room. There we were approached by Ramone, an amazingly charming Hispanic transgender cocktail waitress, who looked at me and psychically knew I needed chardonnay. Our friend, Mike, confirmed that she was the person they based the hilarious character played by Oscar Nunez off of for the movie. Mike explained that all the locals adore Ramone, and there are people from all over who, when they are in Sitka, stop by the restaurant to see her. I wish I would have had the guts to get a picture with her! But alas, you’ll just have to imagine.
My trip to Sitka was short, but beautiful – both the people and the surrounding landscape. Every time I visit I understand why people move there, and why people want to live the sustainable lifestyle. Alaska is a place I believe everyone feels connected to the Earth and wildlife. You just can’t help it. You take one breath of the fresh air, and feel so small surrounded by towering mountain ranges. We learned on the trip that Brooks Range, a mountain range north of Fairbanks, is the same size of California, if that gives you some perspective. Every time I leave I end up wanting more. Hopefully my next visit isn’t so brief.
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There are many journeys we take in life. For some of us, perhaps the most significant is that of pregnancy and childbirth. My sister Andrea Henderson, LM, CPM, IBCLC, has just opened her own practice in Bothell as the only licensed midwife who is also an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant in Washington State. Northshore Midwives & Lactation Consulting is a unique and special practice offering comprehensive care for women throughout pregnancy, birth and postpartum, as well as providing personalized and holistic care as a lactation consultant. Each patient can expect to receive all care from one provider, she schedules a limited number of births each month to maintain her ability to provide the highest quality care for each of her clients, and the practice is sustainable, committed to minimizing waste products.
During your prenatal-care you can expect:
- Initial prenatal visit
- Routine visits
- Every 4 weeks from your initial visit to 28 weeks
- Every 2 weeks from 28 weeks to 36 weeks
- Weekly from 36 weeks to 41 weeks
- Every 2-3 days from 41-42 weeks
- Visits lasting 45-60 minutes
- The same tests that you would have access to in a physician’s office, such as genetic screening and gestational diabetes
- Thorough information about each screening and test so that you can make an educated decision based on informed consent
- Ultrasounds will be offered early in your pregnancy, at around 20 weeks and again at around 41 weeks
- Blood draws done in office
- Pap smears and infection testing
- Family planning counseling
- Nutritional counseling
- There is a midwife on call, available to you 24 hours a day, every day of the year
She provides birth care, including natural birth and water birth, at your home or at a free standing birth center, including; Eastside Birth Center, Center For Birth and Cascade Birth Center. She will provide you with exceptional care wherever you choose to have your baby and you can expect to receive safe and loving treatment throughout your time with her.
After your baby is born you can expect:
- Complete well-child care for your newborn for the first two weeks of life
- Home visits for the first week after birth
- Office visits between 1-4 weeks after birth
- Final office visit between 6-8 weeks after birth
A lactation consultation includes:
- Complete medical history for mom and baby
- Complete physical assessment
- Nursing observation
- Infant weight check before and after feeding
- Practice with latch, positioning, hand expression and pumping
- Education and answers to all questions
- A written plan to help you through this challenging time
To top it off, they are a preferred provider for most insurance companies! If you are trying to conceive, or are already pregnant, you can meet with her for free! In addition to Bothell she serves the following areas:
Seattle, Shoreline, Edmonds, Mountlake Terrace, Lake Forest Park, Mill Creek, Brier, Kenmore, Lynnwood, Mukilteo, Everett, Lake Stevens, Snohomish, Monroe, Sultan, Bellevue, Kirkland, Redmond, Woodinville, Sammamish, Duvall, Carnation, Mercer Island, Renton, SeaTac, Kent, Issaquah, Snoqualmie and North Bend.
For more detailed information about her midwifery services, lactation consulting, testimonials, and to learn about Andrea’s background, visit http://www.northshoremidwives.com/index.html.
Looking back over my week in Yellowstone, I feel very fortunate to have been able to see the park at a time when there were no crowds. Immersed in the beautiful surroundings of Yellowstone, almost completely alone in the peace and quiet of the wilderness, is a very special experience. The statistic I heard is that Yellowstone gets 3 million visitors in the summer, and only 100,000 in the winter.
Throughout the course of the trip, I found myself taking a lot of photos of trees. I guess that isn’t surprising. Whenever I’m in national parks I find myself drawn to them (like here). Especially in the winter, though, they are so dramatic and beautiful. In Yellowstone there is a phenomenon called “Ghost Trees.” Because of all the geothermal features of the park, hydrothermal mist accumulates on tree branches.
There is also “Ice Fog,” where ice crystals float through the air giving an illusion of fog. I saw this the day we were in the Lamar Valley during -15 degree weather, and didn’t really understand what it was. It was as if the air was sparkling and carrying the light with it. The snow there is also so dry you can’t build a snowman. The whole park was haunted with this magic, and though there was so much cold and death, it was so captivating and peaceful.
I was also thankful to have seen as many amazing animals as I did. I have a new found love for bison and their enormous snowy faces. Regal, but playful. They are so beautiful! In Native American cultures they are regarded as sacred and represent unity and strength, and of course they are a symbol of the American “westward journey.” And speaking of American symbols, I can’t get over how many Bald Eagles I saw.
Though we didn’t see wolves up close, I felt their presence there, and having learned so much about their affect on the ecosystem, I can appreciate the beauty of them even more. And really, the trip taught me to look at all predators in that light. They are needed to keep our planet in balance. We are really the only predators that are tipping the scales. The fact that we are finally realizing this gives me some hope that it isn’t too late.
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Mar. 1 & Mar. 2 – Jackson
Well, the group was supposed to depart today. We had heard some warnings of a storm coming earlier in the week, but we didn’t think it would be to the degree of what occurred overnight. Jackson got about 15 inches of snow overnight, and it was snowing so hard when I woke up, there was no way they would have been able to clear the runway at the airport. Luckily one of the members of the group was at the airport and was able to inform us of what was going on, as all the airlines of course waiting until the very last minute to inform anyone of delays, and eventually cancellations. Our group knew before anyone else that the airport had closed, so at least we didn’t have to go to the airport and wait around for our airlines to finally own up to the re-routes and cancellations. I was able to secure a flight out tomorrow morning on Delta.
What was interesting in this case was to see how different levels of service occurred depending on how people reserved their flights. Those who reserved with a travel agent were able to get a hold of someone on their emergency weekend staff almost immediately to re-schedule their flight. Those who reserved straight through their airline (including me), were probably on hold for 45 minutes to an hour waiting to talk to someone, and then once we finally reached them it took about another 10 to 15 minutes to figure out another flight. And finally, those who reserved through a “cheap travel” sight, such as Expedia or Orbitz, had an almost impossible time trying to re-schedule, and had to get help from other guests talking to agents directly. Keep that in mind for future travel!
Since our group knew our flights had been cancelled first (many of us got an automated call that our flight was cancelled AFTER we had already rescheduled), we were able to secure the first rooms at the hotel, so we didn’t have to search for somewhere to sleep. We made the best of the fact that most of us wouldn’t be able to fly out until tomorrow (some until Tuesday!). We all went to The Museum of Wildlife Art nearby, a world-class museum.
The National Museum of Wildlife Art Collection features more than 550 artists and over 5,000 catalogued items. Dating from 2500 b.c. to the present, the collection chronicles much of the history of wildlife in art, focusing primarily on European and American painting and sculpture. Our collection of American art from the 19th and 20th centuries is particularly strong, recording European exploration of the American West. The collection covers various genres including explorer art, sporting art, Romanticism, Realism, Impressionism, and Modernism. The Museum also includes a wide variety of media, such as oil, bronze, stone, acrylic, watercolor, gouache, pastel, pencil, lithography, photography, and charcoal.
It was a beautiful museum, filled with pieces I would love to have in my own home. My favorites included a wall-sized photo of a bison called Chief by Robert Bateman; and the beautifully bold colors Carl Rungius used in his paintings of American Black Bear and On Northern Heights.
There was also a very interesting exhibit that showed paintings describing endangered animals. In 1974 the grey wolf was declared endangered in The Rocky Mountains. Successful conservations efforts in the U.S. has made it so that wolves now occupy about two-thirds of their former range worldwide. As in America, wolves were once abundant throughout the forests of mainland Europe. During the 19th century and continuing into the post WWII era, a cull almost wiped wolves out in central and northern countries. In 2013, scientists in Holland concluded that a mysterious creature found dead by the side of the road was the country’s first wolf in 150 years.
Approximately 30 million bison once roamed the Great Plains. By 1810 the American bison had disappeared east of the Mississippi thanks to the settlers, and the remaining herds were systematically slaughtered as the settlers moved west. In 1886, conservationist William Hornaday estimated less than 540 bison remaining in Yellowstone or in zoos. Thanks to his efforts, Congress passed the National Park Protection Act in 1894. (As learned earlier in the trip, unfortunately it doesn’t extend to outside the park.) President Roosevelt helped found the American Bison Society, instrumental in today’s population at about 500,000 commercial population, 30,000 in conservation herds, and 15,000 wild.
Though I didn’t take a photo of artwork of the Pronghorn sheep, I figured I would add a few facts about them as well. They deserve a little credit being the second fastest land mammal in the world! During the Lewis and Clark Expedition, it is thought that there were about 35 million in the interior of North America. Between 1870 and 1880, they were slaughtered by the thousands for their hides, and by the 1920s, their population had been reduced to about 13,000. This prompted conservationists to establish safeguards, where their numbers are now between 500,000 to 1,000,000. Their subspecies, Sonoran, Peninsular, and Mexican, are still considered endangered.
They also had an exhibit dedicated to John Clymer, which is relevant to me because he was born in Ellensburg, Washington (near Yakima, where I’m from) in 1907. He sold his first painting when he was only 16 to the Colt Firearms Company. After high school he moved to Vancouver B.C. where he worked as an illustrator and attended the Vancouver School of Art. He became renowned in Canada, and traveled much throughout the provinces, Alaska, and the Yukon. At 58 he decided to focus his work on documenting events that occurred on the American frontier, including wildlife.
During all the chaos in the lobby of the hotel this morning, I had to keep charging my phone between calls, and unfortunately forgot my phone charger near one of the chairs. Someone “accidentally” took it, leaving me with a dead phone when we returned from the museum. The hotel didn’t have any extras, so I had to brave the storm to find a new one. Let’s just say that hotel desk didn’t give me the best directions on where to go, and once I finally found one and trekked my way back, I had been gone for about 45 minutes. I had found a cheapish one at a gas station about six blocks away, and though it charged my phone overnight, it didn’t work after that. Sigh.
That evening, a few of us relaxed with some wine in one of the common areas of the hotel. It had been a great trip, and it was OK with us to end it with a relaxing evenings. Friendships were made over the week, and I think having the time this evening away from the entire group solidified that we will someday meet again.
The next morning, I enjoyed a final breakfast at The Wort before transferring to the airport. A couple more flights were cancelled early this morning, but luckily they weren’t mine or anyone else’s in our group. A few of ours were delayed, but we were just feeling good about being able to leave. Once I boarded my little puddle jumper to Salt Lake City, it sat on the runway for an hour waiting for other planes to land or depart. Unfortunately I was sitting next to someone with no regard for personal space, and was jamming his elbows into me, putting his legs in my foot area, and shifting all around in an attempt to sleep. Luckily the actual flight was only about 30 minutes.
I had a couple hours in Salt Lake City to grab some lunch and find a phone charger that worked. I was a little annoyed that I had to purchase yet another charger, but at least I could test it out first before buying.
On the Delta flight from Salt Lake City to Seattle they put me in first class, the very first row! That is one thing that I have to say about Delta, they upgraded me to Sky Priority and gave me a first class ticket since my flight had been cancelled. That was very appreciated, as I was so exhausted from this week I was able to sleep comfortably with room for my legs and a chair that reclined so far I could actually fall asleep without my head falling to my shoulder.
Big Horn Sheep, Bombardier, Charles J. Wort, Dornan's, Elk, Elk Refuge, Fire, Flagg Ranch, French-Canadian Trappers, Grand Teton National Park, Horses, Jackson, Jackson District Boy Scouts, Kepler Falls, National Register of Historic Places, Old Faithful Snow Lodge, Pronghorn Sheep, Sleigh Ride, Snow, Sparring, Sun Salutations, The Silver Dollar Grill, The Wort Hotel, Tourism, Wildlife, Wine, Winter, Wyoming, Xanterra, Yellowstone National Park, Yoga
Feb. 28 – Old Faithful to Jackson
I was so happy to be able to sleep in to the glorious hour of 8:00 am this morning. We have had a series of early mornings, as you may have already read, and I’ve been making myself get up about 15 minutes earlier than I usually would to get myself through a couple sun salutations. I really should make myself do this in normal life. It wakes my body up, gets my blood flowing (especially needed during days of mostly sitting), and prepares me mentally for the day.
We departed the Old Faithful Snow Lodge in one of Xanterra’s (Yellowstone National Park’s concessionaire) historic bombardiers. They were built in the 50s and 60s to handle the massive snowfall the park sees in the winter (and today was an excellent test!). They are interesting vehicles, like yellow Volkswagens on steroids. There are two front seats, and everyone in the back area sits around the outside of the vehicle facing inward. The bombardiers have many gauges, none of which would tell you the speed you are going. And boy was it loud. I would advise anyone planning to ride in these to bring ear plugs (though they did have some on board if you needed them). However, I have to say it was a fun experience traveling in one. Our driver was the Mammoth Hot Springs accountant, a tall, lanky guy in his late 20s with a small mustache that reminded me of someone from the 1930s. He could barely keep his arms still while driving the beast, and I couldn’t help to think to myself if these drivers get carpel tunnel or something. He was upbeat and funny, and kept having to stop the vehicle to get out, scrape the windows, re-set the unwieldy windshield wiper.
We stopped by Kepler Falls on the way down, and once more for a restroom break. We arrived at Flagg Ranch, just a little ways past the south entrance of Yellowstone, to switch vehicles. From there to Jackson the roads are paved. We had a little time at Flagg to stretch our legs after the two hour drive, sit by an inviting fire place, meander the gift shop, and even get some coffee at the convenience store.
Once our luggage had been transferred to a mini bus, we all hopped on and traveled down through Grand Teton National Park. Someone happened to see a moose lying under a tree from quite a distance, and we were able to stop and look at her through our binoculars. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t conducive to seeing the mountains, and we could really only see the base of them as we drove through. We stopped for lunch at a little place called Dornan’s, where they also have the best wine selection in Jackson attached to the restaurant.
Funny story about The Grand Tetons: the name means “big breasts,” named back in the 1800s by lonely French-Canadian trappers who hadn’t seen women in awhile. Learning French is really coming in handy in learning American history.
Before heading to our hotel, the driver took us down a country road near Jackson where wildlife is usually seen. I’m so glad he took the time to show us, because we came upon a huge herd of bighorn sheep. They were crossing the road in front of us, so we got some fantastic photos of them running and playing close by, and one even walked right next to our vehicle, stopped, and looked back at us. We also were able to spot some pronghorn sheep (who are excellent camouflagers, we could barely see them!), and some elk in the distance.
We checked into The Wort Hotel, a historic property built by homesteader Charles J. Wort in 1941. Although gambling has always been illegal in Wyoming, it was tolerated for tourism entertainment at large resorts. The Wort Hotel was one of those, and they eventually had to move underground, but were eventually ceased once attention was brought to the area post-war. The Silver Dollar Grill is a famous facet to the hotel. It was added in 1950 when a German cabinet maker used 2,032 uncirculated Morgan Silver Dollars to build the bar. It was rebuilt in 1981 after a tragic fire (luckily they saved the bar!). They have since won several prestigious honors, including being added to the National Register of Historic Places, a Four Diamond AAA rating 2008-2013, one of Conde Nast Traveler’s Top 50 North America Ski Resorts, named “One of America’s 54 Greatest Inns” by National Geographic Traveler, and “Best Small Historic Hotel in America” 2013, among others. Needless to say, it was pretty nice.
Several members of our group wanted to check out the sleigh ride into the elk refuge that is available there, and so we walked to the Visitor’s Center and waited for the next available ride. 5,000 elk migrate from the higher elevation areas down to the valley in Jackson during the winter months. The reason the refuge came to be is that, for awhile, elk would migrate with no place to go for food since people settled in the area. Elk were starving by the thousands before the government put together the refuge to give them a place to go. Since the natural food source is still minimal, the government provides alfalfa pellets for them. The refuge, along with Jackson District Boy Scouts, holds a large antler auction each May to raise money for the boy scouts, and also money for the feed they give the elk each winter.
We were lucky to make the last group. We took a school bus to the sleighs, and hopped in the back of one pulled by two lovely horses, covered ourselves with blankets, and were on our way with our guide, Meredith. The elk were everywhere. What an experience! We got to see bull elk up close, even sparring! It was definitely something you see on the Discovery Channel and don’t expect you will ever see in real life.
The experience lasted about an hour before we headed back to the hotel in time to freshen up before dinner. We had a beautiful last meal in a private room, with some delicious courses to choose from. Boy, was the food rich! Good, but I really need to learn how to pace myself when I’m not used to eating that way. You would think I would have learned from Tuscany.
Artist Paint Pots, Artist Point, Bison, Coyotes, Eruptions, Fumaroles, Geothermal, Geysers, Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, Hayden Expedition, Hot Springs, Lower Falls, Lower Geyser Basin, Madison, Mammoth Hot Springs, Mud Pots, Obsidian Cliff, Old Faithful, Painting, Roaring Mountain, Snow Coach, Thomas Moran, Upper Falls, Upper Geyser Basin, Winter, Yellowstone National Park
Feb. 27 – Mammoth to Old Faithful
Another early morning ensured that we got from Mammoth to Old Faithful in time to see the geyser erupt twice before sun down. We piled into a snow coach and made our way south, stopping a couple times for photos when we saw some coyotes, took a look at Obsidian Cliff, Roaring Mountain, and of course slowed for Bison crossings. We eventually got to the Canyon where we stopped and walked around three different view points: the upper falls, Artist Point, and lower falls. Artist Point is where the famous paint was done by Thomas Moran, a member of the Hayden Expedition of 1871. This painting, and many of his others, were essential in convincing the United States Congress to establish Yellowstone as a national park. Grand Canyon of Yellowstone is currently hanging in the Smithsonian.
And also compare with the photos of the Grand Canyon in this post.
We continued our way south and stopped to eat our sack lunch at a rest stop at Madison, and then made another stop at Lower Geyser Basin. This is the only area that demonstrates the four geothermal features of the park: hot springs, mud pots, geysers, and fumaroles. Boy, they look different in the winter! Some of the features look even more interesting than the summer. For example, the paint pots are usually dried up in the summer, but with the snow melt, they look like an artist’s palate (hence the name “Artist Paint Pots”). However, depending on the wind, it is difficult to see the beautiful colors of the hot springs because of all the steam. Also, the fumarole that usually is whistling in the summer is also wetter because of the snow melt, and resembles a bubbling mud pot in winter.
Some bison were nearby in the geothermal area, and were also standing near Old Faithful Geyser once we arrived a short time later. It turns out the have no nerves in their feet, so they can’t feel the cold of the snow or the warmth of the ground in the geothermal areas. This is good so that they can rest on the warm ground, but can also be dangerous, because they might step in a hot spring not realizing it is hot, or even break through the ground where scalding waters are below, creating a new hot spring. It is common to see bison with burn marks on their legs. We saw a baby bison that looked like it had a broken leg. The ranger nearby was surprised it had made it this long, but that the adult bison could protect it from predators by surrounding the baby in times of danger.
The first time we saw Old Faithful erupt, it was one of the smaller eruptions (the height varies), but we could see it well because the wind was blowing the steam away from the eruption. We then went on a walk with our guide around the Upper Geyser Basin, where we saw a bunch of interesting formations. Even from summer two years ago they looked very different from what I remembered. Check out photos from summer here.
The paths were a little dangerous, as the boardwalks were covered with about a foot and a half of snow, and you couldn’t always see where the side of the boardwalks dropped off to the ground below. Sometimes people would miss the invisible line of the boardwalk boundaries and step in snow clear up to their thigh. Surprise! I wouldn’t necessarily recommend people with any knee injuries to do that loop in the winter. But if you can, you definitely should!
We made it back around to see the geyser go off one more time. Some snow ball fights ensued on the way back to The Old Faithful Snow Lodge, where we had a bit of time to get ready for dinner. The lodge is beautiful—one of the newer lodges built when the old lodge unfortunately burned down (the photo above is The Old Faithful Inn, the most historic hotel in Yellowstone and one of the largest log structures in the world—unfortunately not open in the winter months). At dinner I chose some of the vegetarian options, and they weren’t great. Luckily, like Mammoth Hot Springs, they offered gigantic desserts!
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Feb. 26 – Lamar Valley
Early morning wake up call, as we needed to depart the hotel by 7:00 am. Sunrise is at about 7:10 am, and the best time to see wolves is in the early hours. Unfortunately that was not our experience.
On our way to Lamar Valley, we passed by some beautiful frosted trees against a crystal clear blue sky. It was a beautiful day, and a frigid morning. The forecast didn’t prepare us for the 10-15 below that we experienced. My toes were even colder than standing on 4th Ave for the Seahawks parade. I had tried to put the toe warmers I bought in my shoes—no luck. Put my hand warmers in there—not warm. Luckily someone had full foot warmers that stick onto the bottom of your sock, and those did the trick. But even with those, I had to make sure to keep my feet moving. I told our guide, and he says it has to do with your body, and since I always have chilly toes, I wasn’t surprised that I was suffering. However, you would think $21 socks would keep your feet a little warmer.
Our guide was able to spot a wolf a few miles away at the top of a ridge (I seriously don’t know how these guys can spot wildlife from so far away—they all look like specks!). But before anyone could get a look, he ran down into a valley. We all rushed into the van to get a better look, and were able to catch a glimpse of him. Small, but we saw him.
We were also graced by the presence of Rick McIntyre. The most dedicated Biological Technician for the Yellowstone Wolf Project, he hasn’t missed a day of Yellowstone wolf watching in over 10 years. He uses radio telemetry to determine where the wolves are (many have collars, put on by the NPS). Once he locates the wolves, he records their behavior. So, if you want to find wolves, you should first find Rick McIntyre.
He told us amazing stories about wolves that only someone who studies them every day would know. It is like a wolf soap opera out there. If I could remember the wolves’ numbers I would attempt to recount some of the tales, but God knows I’m bad with names… and since they involve numbers, forget it. All I can tell you is that there is a love triangle going on with the alpha male that was left from the Lamar Valley Pack that was destroyed when the rancher shot the alpha female a few years ago. A couple ladies have their eye on him, and even an alpha wolf from another pack that already has a man! It is so dramatic!
We weren’t able to spot any others in the area. However, we saw some more bighorn sheep and got a pretty close look at some bull elk later in the day.
Another opportunity to see a wolf came at another stop after our picnic lunch, but again it was so far away we could barely make it out. We also stopped at the carcass we saw yesterday, only to find a couple Golden Eagles picking away at it, as well as magpies. Our guide concluded it was a bison who had died of natural causes, as the wolves didn’t seem to know about it. And, since it is so cold, the carcass barely smells, so the wolves wouldn’t be able to find it.
Some interesting wolf facts:
- Wolves can eat up to 20 lbs of food in one feeding (where we get the term “wolfing down our food”).
- Wolves are more like people than any other mammal. We are territorial, social, and family oriented, and will fight to the death over our land and objects.
- A few years ago there were approximately 175 wolves in the park, but now the population is down at around 80.
- Wolves also go through years where they suffer with mange and parvo, and there were a few years that most, if not all, of the pups in a tribe would not survive.
- A Yellowstone wolf’s average lifespan is 4-5 years old. They usually die protecting their land from other packs.
- Wolves, as well as all dogs, have sensory spots on the base of their tails. That is why they often have a different color there on their coats, or slightly different hair texture in that area. This is also why they smell each other’s “butts” when they get to know each other. They are actually checking out each other’s sensory spots.
- Wolves feed their pups by regurgitation. It is the instinct of all puppies to lick his/her owner’s face, as it is the sign for “feed me.” If you were to puke when they did that, they would eat it.
We learned a billion other things about them, but those are what stick out in my mind this evening.
We arrived back at Mammoth Hot Springs at the top of the boardwalk, where our guide told us about the estimated 60,000 year-old formation of limestone that makes up the springs. What happens here is that rain water or snow falls through fissures in the ground and hit rock that is heated by the magma underneath. The water returns to the surface at a boiling temperature, along with Carbon Dioxide, and spills over the ground, causing limestone buildup. The colors created are from bacteria that can live in extreme conditions.
Nearby is also a hot spring cone named The Liberty Cap. It took hundreds of years to form.
At dinner, I still couldn’t touch meat. I know I won’t be able to give up hamburgers, so vegetarian probably won’t work, but I think at this point I’ll be eating A LOT less meat. We will see how long that lasts, but as of right now I’m pretty much disgusted when I look at it.
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Feb. 25 – Bozeman / Mammoth Hot Springs
Today was an overload of information. I feel like we touched on almost all subject possible when discussing the wolves in Yellowstone, other wildlife, and the caldera. Oh—and the story of Lewis and Clark, which I am already pretty well rehearsed being from the Pacific Northwest, but always a good story to hear again and again to absorb more of the specific details.
Our guide’s rendition of the Lewis and Clark expedition was much better than mine could ever be, but here is a short blurb:
President Thomas Jefferson wanted to find out if there was a water route to the Pacific Ocean. Jefferson knew the Lewis’ very well, as their plantation was near his own. He decided to appoint Meriwether Lewis on a secret expedition into the unknown to find this out. At the time, not all the land belonged to the government, but to Britain and the Native Americans. Luckily, during the six month time period when Lewis was in Philadelphia brushing up on his natural science and First Aid, Jefferson convinced congress to agree to the Louisiana Purchase for $8 million, which made it so the expedition would not have to be secret anymore, as we wouldn’t be crossing through others’ land (until they reached the Rockies).
Lewis decided to make William Clark his co-captain in his journey, in case the expedition ever had to split up. Once in St. Louis, they chose a group of about 40 others to accompany them, including cooks, builders, translators, etc. They started their expedition in 1803, eventually running into a tribe where Sacagawea was giving birth, but needed help from a doctor. Luckily Lewis had heard that crushing up a rattle snake rattle and mixing it with water would help the pain, and he was right! He also thought Sacagawea was the cat’s pajamas, so he invited her along with the expedition, accompanied by her husband Charbonneau and her baby. Sacagawea would go on to save the expedition several times. Once by risking her life diving into rapids to save all the journals and documents that had been recorded when a raft flipped over; and another when they ran into Shoshone Natives who could have killed or stolen from them, but luckily Sacagawea was from the area and it turned out her brother was the new chief. An elderly woman also saved their bacon when they ran into the Nez Perce, as she had been taken at some point but ended up with a white couple who treated her with respect, and eventually sent her back to her tribe. She told her tribe not to kill the white people, as it would be bad luck to do so, and that white people are kind…
The Nez Perce taught them out to make canoes so they could get the rest of the way to the Pacific, where they arrived at a point near what is now Long Beach, Washington (where my and Matt’s family go for vacation several times a year). They were disappointed in the weather, and there were really no building materials they could use to build anything to get through winter, so they took a vote about whether to stay in that area or to cross over to Oregon. This was the first time in recorded history that a woman and slave were allowed to vote, as Lewis had also brought a slave named York. They voted to head back the way the came, so they left the Pacific Ocean, naming it Cape Disappointment.
They made it back with the exception of one fatality (of appendicitis) and were heroes, as no one thought they would make it back alive besides Thomas Jefferson.
Unfortunately Lewis was bipolar, and when he returned, he felt like he had reached the peak of his life. What could possibly top what he just did? (he thought) He slipped into an even worse state of depression and eventually took his own life. Clark, on the other hand, had much more success in his life, becoming the governor of the Missouri area and working for the Native Americans in the Bureau of Indian Affairs. He was very concerned with what would happen to them, as he knew their home and existence would change forever because of their expedition.
As for Sacagawea, most believe she died several years after the expedition, as there are no records of her. There is a grave for her in Wyoming. Her son, Jean-Baptiste, was taken in by Clark and was sent to Europe for school. Fun fact, Clark also had 8-10 other kids.
We also had a good introduction to the wolves controversy going on right now. In 1920, the wolves were hunted out of Yellowstone, as the forest rangers thought they would completely kill off big game, and therefore no one would come to the park. So, the National Park Service staff would go out hunting, poisoning, and trapping the wolves until there were no more in the area. In 1995, after bison and basically taken over the park, and the grasses were almost grazed dry, wolves were reintroduced to the park with realization that an ecosystem needs predators to keep the balance. Ranchers hated this, because it increased the opportunity for wolves to get to their livestock.
Watch this video on how wolves have changed Yellowstone since their reintroduction (thanks to my Aunt Kim for sharing!): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ysa5OBhXz-Q
It was interesting hearing the different statistics. The article our guide read to us from a rancher’s perspective said that he lost 12 calves in one year from wolves. However, our guide in the park told us that wolves accounted for .2% of livestock deaths.
Conservationists are trying to aid ranchers in non-life threatening ways of handling the wolves by paying for fences around their property with red flags, having riders on watch, and reimbursing ranchers for what they lose. However, the ranchers claim that they are constantly having to fix damaged fences, stay up at watch during calving season, and worry about their herds being chased by wolves and drowning or falling and being stampeded. Many also say they feel bad killing a wolf, but feel that they are protecting their property by doing so.
However, there are those who take sport in killing the wolves. Our guide in the park told us he saw bumper stickers around the park that had a wolf in cross-hairs that said “Smoke One Pack a Day,” and other horrible things. As of now, ranchers are allowed to hunt wolves if they are outside the Yellowstone boundaries. This has brought a wolf population that was at around 175 a few years ago down to under 100 wolves in the park. A few years ago, the Alpha Female of the Lamar Valley pack known as 832F wandered outside the park and was shot, which destroyed the entire pack. If an Alpha Male is killed, the Alpha Female can pick another mate. However, if the Alpha Female is killed, the entire pack disbands and must search for a new group, because they cannot decide who will be the next leader amidst her daughters.
Speaking of hunting outside of the park, Native Americans have a treaty for bison hunting outside of Yellowstone. That sounds like a reasonable agreement, since we came in and destroyed their homes and almost completely wiped out bison as a species. However, what is happening now is Natives are parking right outside the boundary of the park, and any unlucky bison herd that crosses that invisible boundary is shot immediately. Our guide was telling us that they do this, sitting in the parking lots in Gardiner, drinking beer in their trucks and waiting for them to cross. They will completely disembowel the animal right there and leave a pile of guts for the Fish and Wildlife crew to come pick up. It made me so sick to think about it that I might go vegetarian. I couldn’t even think about eating meat at dinner tonight, and got a little sick reading about the bison options.
On a happier note, we did see bison up close and personal today, and they are absolutely majestic. In the summer, they were shedding and looked a little raggedy. But in the winter, their coats are full, and they have snowy faces (that’s how they get through the snow, they bulldoze the snow with their heads, as the snow is often up to their bellies and they can barely walk through it). There are also many more on the road, as it is easier to walk on the plowed roads than in the belly-deep valleys. This is awesome for us, because we get to drive by them and look them in the eye! They are so amazing!
We were also lucky enough to see a large herd of Big Horn sheep up close on a nearby cliff, and a bull elk in perfect position on a hill. We stopped at a view point where we were hoping to see wolves. Our guide was able to find a carcass that was being munched on by several eagles about a mile away from us. We watched them go at it for a bit in our scopes, hoping the wolves would return to their prey. However, we only saw three coyotes come chase the birds away to have their turn. We hope to come back tomorrow in case the wolves are scavenging for what’s left. We didn’t see any wolves today, but there is always the chance of tomorrow!
We also learned a lot about the caldera itself. I’ve talked in previous Yellowstone posts about how Yellowstone is a super volcano that could wipe out life on our planet if it erupted (click here for that post, which gives more info). In fact, Matt and I happened to turn on a documentary the night before I left about possibly causes of an apocalypse, and Yellowstone was number one! Comforting.
I’ll save some other facts I learned about the wolves for tomorrow, because hopefully we will see some! Educational day for sure. And possibly one that has changed my diet (at least until tomorrow).
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Feb. 24 – Bozeman
For I think the first time ever, I had an afternoon flight from Seattle to my destination. It was pretty amazing. I slept in until about 8:00 am, and was able to finish packing without rushing and being half asleep. For the first time I took a Lyft car to the airport, which was less expensive than a taxi, but definitely more expensive than the train. Although, I was going to have to take a taxi or bus down to the train station anyway, and figuring out all that timing was stressing me out, I figured I might as well take one form of transportation to the airport, as it is one of the only days where that is possible (work days I ride my bike onto a ferry to get to work, and sometimes also take a bus somewhere in my commute).
The flight was uneventful, and when I arrived in Bozeman I hit the ground running. Pretty much as soon as I got there the group met in the lobby to head to The Museum of the Rockies. There we met in a room where there were some drinks available while we listened to our guide introduce us to the area and what to expect in Yellowstone in the winter. All the while I was mesmerized by the fluffy snowflakes that were floating to the ground outside. I love visiting places with snow (so much more than living in it)!
The Museum of the Rockies holds one of the largest and most important collections dinosaur fossils in the world. It is a world-renowned facility because of the work of Dr. Jack Horner, the curator for the museum and also the adviser for the Jurassic Park movies and Steven Spielberg’s series Terra Nova. It holds the most T-Rex specimens in the world at 13, including the largest T-Rex head in the world (which unfortunately is traveling in Japan at the moment, so we didn’t get to see him). However, we did get to see some amazing fossils of Triceratops, raptors, duck-billed dinosaurs, underwater dinosaurs, and so on that I can’t remember the names of but are absolutely amazing and for the most part, enormous. What I learned that I didn’t know before was how closely related dinosaurs are to birds. Birds are the closest animals we have to dinosaurs today. As far as we know, all dinosaurs laid eggs to birth their young, and many of them have similar skeletal structures, including the T-Rex. Did you ever notice how much a T-Rex foot looks like a chicken’s? Scientists have figured out how much body weight a T-Rex holds on its feet, and attempted to add the ratio of body weight on a chicken, and the chicken could barely walk. Though a T-Rex can smell something as far as 25 miles away, it would take a really long time for it to get there.
Did you also know that chickens used to have teeth? Jack Horner is has been able to mess with the genetics of chickens and “create” a chicken with teeth. He is currently trying to genetically work his way back to a T-Rex. After hearing about how poorly a T-Rex got around, and that they were actually scavengers rather than a real predator, I would be OK with T-Rexs coming back, as long as they were the size of a chicken. It would be kind of cute, actually… right?
The other collection that was the most impressionable to me was the Triceratops. They have a whole wall of skulls that they have found at different ages, so you can see the growth of the dinosaur. Eventually their frills (those big bones around their heads), get so thin that two big circles are left in the bones as an adult. We also learned that their horns aren’t for fighting or really for defense, as they have blood vessels that run into them and they could bleed out if they broke one off. One explanation is that they somehow help their body temperature.
There was also a display of a T-Rex femur that was taken from the Badlands, but was in such a remote area that no cars were able to get to it, so they had to have helicopters fly it out. But, helicopters can only carry something up to 2,000 lbs, and the femur was more than that, so they had to cut it in half to get it out! Holy femur!
All of this information is making me want to put together a diorama. I miss learning about these guys! Too bad all little kids don’t get a chance to come to a museum like this! I felt like a kid in a candy store. I definitely want to come back when I can spend at least a half a day looking around. In 45 minutes, we were pretty rushed, but it was still an amazing experience. Especially since it was after hours, and so quiet!
We headed back to the hotel and grabbed some grub at The Outback Steakhouse. I felt like I needed some red meat after seeing all those sharp teeth.