Sunset on the Madison

May 20, 2014

Photo after photo, I come increasingly to understand why my oldest brother, Jerry, wanted to spend his life and eternity in the Yellowstone.

Wholly apart from the thermal “features” and geological wonders, the area is just smashingly beautiful day in and day out, in even the mundane areas away from the celebrated features.

Here’s a part of the Madison River, just flowing through its streambed, at sunset.

Yellowstone National Park's Twitter feed:  Spring sunset on the Madison River. pic.twitter.com/8nZSxJvBeZ

Yellowstone National Park’s Twitter feed: Spring sunset on the Madison River. pic.twitter.com/8nZSxJvBeZ


Happy 142nd birthday, Yellowstone National Park!

March 1, 2014

142 years ago today, @YellowstoneNPS became America's first national park. RT to wish them a very happy birthday! pic.twitter.com/drka6iq0Tc

Tweet from the Department of Interior: 142 years ago today, @YellowstoneNPS became America’s first national park. RT to wish them a very happy birthday! pic.twitter.com/drka6iq0Tc

Ken Burns called the National Parks probably the best idea America has had.

Certainly a great idea — really born on this day, 142 years ago, with the designation of Yellowstone National Park.

Yellowstone NP contains the world’s largest collection of geysers. It is the heart of the largest, nearly-intact temperate zone ecosystem on Earth as well, contained in 3,468 square miles (8,983 km²), a laboratory and playground for geologists, geographers, botanists, zoologists, and almost anyone else who loves the nature and the wild.

Only 142 years old?  In the U.S., we have more than 300 units in the National Park System, now, including National Historic Places as well as the best of the wild.  Around the world, how much land has been saved, for the benefit of humanity, by this idea?  Not enough.

What’s your favorite memory of Yellowstone? What’s your favorite feature?

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Great Fountain Geyser in Yellowstone, the first U.S. national park, erupts every 9 to 15 hours, shooting water up to 220 feet high.  Photograph by Michael Melford

From National Geographic: Great Fountain Geyser in Yellowstone, the first U.S. national park, erupts every 9 to 15 hours, shooting water up to 220 feet high. Photograph by Michael Melford


Flags flying on Memorial Day, 2013

May 27, 2013

Certainly you’ve remembered to put your flags up for Memorial Day.

This is what it looks like at Officers Row, at Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park:

Flags on Officers' Row, Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone NP

Yellowstone National Park “On this Memorial Day, American Flags are proudly displayed on Officers’ Row in Mammoth Hot Spring as we remember those who gave their lives in military service to our country. (dr2)”

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Sounds of the Yellowstone in winter will haunt you, lovingly

February 14, 2013

This is a heckuva research project: What is the sound ecosystem of the Yellowstone?

Film from Yellowstone National Park:

The film was produced by Emily Narrow for NPS, with financial assistance from the Yellowstone Association.

From NPS:

Published on Jul 13, 2012

Many people come to Yellowstone to see the fantastic landscapes. Wise visitors also come to experience the amazing soundscapes. This video provides some insight into the value of natural sounds in wild places and how the park is monitoring those sounds as well as the sounds created by humans.

Nothing matches the sound of a western river, to my mind.  I love the sound of the tumbling waters, and it was on one of those roaring creeks that we scattered the ashes of my Yellowstone-loving oldest brother Jerry Jones.

Poster for Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming/...

Classic, vintage poster for Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming/Montana, USA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Other sounds will captivate you.  The rush and gush of the geysers, and the gurgle and plop of heated pools rivets you for a while.  Once you hear the chuff of an interested grizzly bear, you don’t forget it.  And while it can be scary if you’re relatively alone on the trail, the howl of the wolf tells you about the wilderness in a way no other sound ever can.  The honks of the geese, the trumpets of the swans, the grunts of the bison, the scolding of the many different squirrels and chipmunks, the slap of a trout jumping out of the river — these are all worth making the trip.

After you go, these sounds will lovingly haunt your life.  You’ll smile when you remember them.

I hope you can go soon.  (I hope I can go, soon.)

Sad note:  Only 1,553 people have watched this video since last July.  Can you spread the word a bit?

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Eagles! We reduced DDT, and the eagles recovered

January 28, 2013

Love this photo, from the great folks at Yellowstone National Park:

Chris Daniel photo of a bald eagle in Yellowstone National Park, in the snow

From the Yellowstone NP Facebook site: An adult bald eagle perched along the Firehole River on New Year’s Day, near a trumpeter swan that it had either killed or was scavenging. Adult bald eagles usually remain in or near their nest territory throughout winter provided they have access to sufficient prey. Photo courtesy of Chris Daniel. (kd)

It’s a reminder of progress we’ve made in environmental protection.

While bald eagles may not have been the most endangered animal protected under the Endangered Species Act, or any other law, they became the most famous.  In the late 18th century Congress voted to designate the bald eagle as our national symbol.  At the time, the continent was still lousy with the creatures.  But from the arrival of Europeans after 1492, eagles had been hunted mercilessly.  By the early 20th century it was clear the animal was bound for extinction, like the great auk and other species (see here for technical information on the auk).

Ben Franklin complained the eagle was a dirty carrion eater, in a smart and funny polemic favoring the American turkey as the national bird.  Franklin couldn’t know how hunting and in-breeding would suck the nobility out of even wild turkeys over the next 200 years, until species protection laws and hunters pushed governments to invigorate stocks of wild turkeys again.  Compared to the eagle’s troubles, though, the turkey’s genetic torpor and limited habitat was almost nothing.

Americans tried to save the eagle.  After 1890, and during the run on great bird feathers that excited the fashion world and led to the senseless slaughter of millions of America’s most spectacular birds, we passed a federal law against hunting and shooting eagles for sport or no reason.  It was a toothless law, and the decline of eagle populations begun in the early 16th century continued unabated. Migratory bird treaties, providing more legal heft to bird protection, didn’t help the eagles either — not enough of them crossed borders, at least not that hunters and law enforcement could see.  The Bald Eagle Protection Act of 1940, kicking into action in 1941, provided teeth to eagle hunting restrictions, and hunters stopped shooting them so much.  Between 1940 and 1950, eagle populations stabilized, with a good bunch in Alaska, and a few nesting pairs spread from Oregon to Maine, Lake of the Woods to Florida Everglades.  There were so few eagles, and they were spread so far apart, that most Americans could not see one without major effort and travel.

Bird watchers noticed trouble in the 1950s.  Young eagles stopped showing up for the Audubon Christmas bird count, and at the Hawk Mountain migration counts.  Adults went through the motions, migrating, hunting, building nests, laying eggs for all anyone knew, and hatching young that had been seen, sometimes, to fledge — but then the young birds died.  Between leaving the nest, and returning to mate up and breed, the young birds simply disappeared.

Research showed deeper trouble.  On careful observation the birds were seen to be frustrated in hatching and raising chicks.  Sometimes the eggs wouldn’t hatch.  If they did hatch, the chicks died.  The few who lived to fly out, died soon after.

Rachel Carson called attention to the trouble in her 1962 claxon call on pesticide and chemical pollution, Silent Spring (50 years ago in 2012).

Doctor Science at Obsidian Wings wrote a paean to seeing bald eagles in the wild, with a brief and kind mention of this blog. You should go read it there.

Protecting birds?  The Steve Milloys, CEIs, AEIs, Heritage Foundations, CATO Institutes and other dens of smug cynicism and bad citizenship have it all wrong.  It’s not about power for environmentalists.  It’s nothing so cheap or mean.  Heck.  Often it’s not even about protecting the birds so much.

It’s about protecting our own dreams, and places we have to inspire those dreams.  Frederick Jackson Turner postulated that there is something mystical and magical in a frontier that helped form the American character and make us hard-working, smart, and noble.  He was right, of course.  Those frontiers are not simply frontiers of settlement in the wilderness anymore.  We have to work to find them, to declare Alaska the “Last Frontier,” or government reform and Cold War enterprise as the “New Frontier.”  But we still need frontiers.

Eagles still soar there.  Wherever eagles soar, in fact, we find those frontiers, those places to dream and inspire.  The Endangered Species Act isn’t about saving animals and plants.  It’s about saving our own souls.

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Endangered western forests: The Yellowstone

October 10, 2012

Additional CO2 and warmer weather will help plants, the climate change denialists say.  That’s not what we see, however.  Turns out CO2 helps weeds, and warmer weather helps destructive species, more than it helps the stuff we need and want in the wild.

For example, the white-bark pine, Pinus albicaulis:


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From American Forests:

With increasingly warm winters at high elevations in the West, a predator that has stalked forests for decades has gained the upper hand. It is mountain pine blister rust, an invasive fungus. Combined with mountain pine beetles, which kill hundreds of thousands of trees per year in the Greater Yellowstone Area (GYA), the environmental health of the Rocky Mountains and neighboring regions is in danger. To make matters worse, the species most susceptible to these two threats, the whitebark pine, is also the most vital to ecosystem stability, essential to the survival of more than 190 plant and animal species in Yellowstone alone.

First debuted at SXSW Eco, this video tells the story of our endangered western forests and how American Forests and the Greater Yellowstone Coordinating Committee are working toward their restoration and protection for future generations.

Learn more: http://www.americanforests.org/what-we-do/endangered-western-forests/

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Whitebark Pine

Whitebark Pine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Whitebark Pine. Français : Tige et cônes de Pi...

Whitebark Pine, cones and needle cluster (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Whitebark Pine Français : Un cône de Pin à éco...

Whitebark pine’s distinctive, almost-black cone. (Photo: Wikipedia)


Moonrise at Mammoth Hot Springs

August 22, 2012

Department of Interior erupts at Instagram again:

Moonrise over Mt. Everts, Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone National Park - Dept of Interior photo

Moonrise over Mt. Everts, near Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone National Park – Dept of Interior photo

Department of Interior tweeted that the photo was posted at Instagram — no other big details:

A full #moon rises over Mt. Everts near Mammoth Hot Springs in #Yellowstone National Park.

With more than 300 properties including the “Crown Jewels” of the National Parks, with employees carrying cell phones, it must be an interesting job to pick one photo to post on Instagram on any given day.  I wonder who makes the selection.

(I wonder whether anyone will glance quickly, and misread “Mt. Everts” as “Mt. Everest.”)

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