Nature News from GYE #51

July 21, 2023

Dog days of summer are here….Ancient Greeks noticed that Sirus, they called the “dog star” as it is the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major, appears to rise alongside the sun in late July. They believed the combined power of these stars is what made this the hottest time of year. And it is heating up!

Buffalo jam! photo by Jacob Frank/ NPS

It’s been a long hiatus since the last GYE post. Snow has mostly melted from the high country. The “green wave” of vegetation has moved up in elevation and lower elevations are JUST drying out now. That means animals are moving higher and we see less sign of critters along the roads in Yellowstone. We still see plenty of bison IN the roads, however, and it can cause traffic to come to a stand still.
Despite the decline in moisture wildflowers are still beautiful and some pics I’ve taken recently will be at the end of this post!

Introducing the Yellowstone Shortline Trail

I often ride my bike on a recently completed 9 mile stretch of a “rails to trails” route that follows the old Oregon Shortline tracks (pulled out in the early 70s). Locally it’s called the Shortline Trail and it starts in the center of West Yellowstone at the old Union Pacific Train Station. The trail follows the historic path of the railroad line from West Yellowstone to Reas Pass at the Montana-Idaho border. This is such a great resource for West Yellowstone. It preserves the historical integrity of how this place came to be, offers everyone great access for non-motorized recreation and it’s really beautiful!

The “old line” runs along the South Fork of the Madison River, with opportunities to see a variety of bird life and other wildlife. This was once the route taken by travelers aboard the Yellowstone Special and the Yellowstone Express, seasonal passenger trains offered by Union Pacific’s Oregon Short Line Railroad. For many passengers, this would have been their first impression of Montana while on their way to visit Yellowstone National Park. This trail offers users the opportunity to see what passengers saw many decades ago. The introduction of the railroad to the area is the reason the town of West Yellowstone exists today. West Yellowstone has outlived the railroad, but this town will never forget the significant influence the railroad had and continues to have on the area.

This project is part of a greater idea called the Greater Yellowstone Trail. This is a planned trail going south from West Yellowstone, through Idaho, east to Wyoming, and then north to Grand Teton National Park. The Greater Yellowstone Trail Concept Plan formalizes a vision for a world-class regional trail system along the unique and diverse 180-mile corridor. Wow, can you imagine what opportunities this will offer!

Approximately 70 miles of the Greater Yellowstone Trail follows the routes of two abandoned railroad branch lines originating in Ashton, ID. From Ashton they depart from from the main Union Pacific Line. The motive to build these 2 spur lines was to attract tourism to Yellowstone National Park and for regional agricultural business.
The Ashton to West Yellowstone branch was completed in 1908 and connected passengers and freight to West Yellowstone, MT. This line was approximately 54 miles in length and followed the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River east from Ashton upstream to the Warm River confluence. It then climbed up to the Island Park Recreation Area for 38 miles and crossed the Continental Divide into Montana at Reas Pass (6,834 feet). From here, to West Yellowstone is the Shortline bike trail route I just described. This route was one of the primary tourist routes to Yellowstone National Park. This was well known to require a monumental effort to clear the tracks of snow (drifts up to 30 feet) so trains could make it to West.

Spring snow clearing along the tracks, Yellowstone Historic Museum

Season’s first trains arriving
Yellowstone Historic Museum

Read more about this significant period of time and perseverance to build an access to Yellowstone:

Some photos along the Trail:

South Fork of the Madison River (Rick Schaven)
Some of the trail is still dirt

From a recent ride

Bear Tracks
Continental Divide between Montana and
Idaho, Reas Pas

Below are some wildflowers from this summer:

Green Gentian Frasera speciosa (tall green plant)
Indian Paintbrush Castilleja miniata ( red flower)
and more!

Colorado Columbine – Aquilegia coerulea

Blue Flax Linum lewisia and Blue Larkspur Delphinium sp

Old Man of the Mountains or Alpine Sunflower Hymenoxys grandiflora

White Bog Orchid Habenaria dilatata


Leaving you with a photo when the sun came out after an evening rain:
My best to you, Leslie

One Comment

  1. Fain Zimmerman

    So Beautiful!!

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