Nature News from GYE Yellowstone #11 Aug 1, 2020

GYE Featured Image (transparent bkgrnd)

Summer is moving ahead quickly.  Most of you have read about a comet called Neowise (New Wisdom) that has been visible in the night skies.  Some of you have had a chance to see it!  Recently, a friend , Pat Musick, and I were able to make a fantastic journey into  a remote region in Yellowstone Park called Hoodoo Basin. We did see Neowise one night and ….Wow, another “trip of a lifetime” experience.

Neowise from Scott
Comet Neowise photo by Scott Carpenter

We had several water crossings from this point forward, so we changed out of our boots into water shoes, and back into boots on the other side.  Eventually, the trail narrowed and we entered the North Absaroka Wilderness area. North Absaroke wilderness sign.jpg small Following Sunlight creek, we made our first camp before we reached the park boundary.  The next day we finally climbed higher and higher, through oceans of wildflowers and snow patches, to arrive on top of the crest of the Absaroka Mountain Range and into Yellowstone National Park’s Northeast border.  What a sight as we looked out across the expansive mountains and headwaters of the Lamar River.

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Packs at YNP border sign photo by Pat Musick

On our way to camp that day we watched a grizzly bear who was running from us, another 2 grizzlies playing on a snowfield (they appeared to be siblings in their first summer away from mom), saw a heard of elk and passed through a unique geological region with odd shaped spires and pillars that have eroded out of the Absaroka volcanic rock.

snowmelt into water

Up at this elevation, many snow patches hung on from winter and one could see the melt process as water flowed from the corners on its way to the cycle of life that water supports. (see GYE nature news #10)

We arrived at camp early evening, but with the long days we still had plenty of light to set up tents, prepare an evening meal and hang our food.  These nights the sky was clear and dark and appeared as though someone had thrown a bag of glitter that is still traveling through the light years!  The next morning we made our way to the base of Parker Peak, crossed a large snowfield and slowly made our way up a ridge to the top of  the mountain.  Again, it seemed as though we could see forever.   From the northeast corner of Yellowstone, we could see over to the Northwest corner.  The Gallatin Range of Mountains, Electric Peak, and Mt Holmes were visible.

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Pat photographing the landscape 




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Gardens of wildflowers surrounded us as we snacked

Again, we looked out across the basin and 2 more grizzlies on a hillside far away were visible with binoculars.  This time it was a mom and cub of the year which was playing on the snow as mom was foraging.   It is truly wild and big country out here.   The next day and a half we wandered and explored.  We found a few different groups of elk and a number of places with evidence of early people.

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Obsidian chip and grinding stone/ photo by Pat Musick

Signs included bits of obsidian that had been “worked”, piles of rock that had been moved around, and even grinding stones where they had most likely been working with Obsidian found in other parts of Yellowstone to make tools, spear points and arrow heads.   It is breathtaking to sit here looking across at this big place and imagine people in these very spots hundreds of years ago doing the same thing!.

On our walk back to the campsite, we spotted many more flakes of obsidian along the way.  This was a busy spot at one point in time.  The area I am describing is not the source area for this obsidian. Yellowstone’s obsidian outcrops are found primarily inside the “caldera” that exists within the park.  The caldera is what would be left of a collapsed volcano.  In this particular place, most of the caldera rim has been obliterated through continual lava flows pouring from fractures that existed around the rim of that volcanic collapse for 400,000 years or more.  It was also carved by subsequent glacial periods.  Today one does not see a big crater in Yellowstone, but evidence throughout the park of the most recent supervolcano that occurred in this area 640,000 yrs ago.  Obsidian is found throughout the Americas.  Early people quarried and traded obsidian extensively.  Yellowstone obsidian has been found in the Indian mounds in Ohio and as far south as the Mexican border.  The Yellowstone region was a destination for early people to gather, work and trade this valuable trade item.  A study done at the Idaho National Laboratory has shown a technique called “X-ray florescence” can show the geographic origin of individual flakes or artifacts by matching characteristics found in specific regions.

That evening, after quick rinse in the stream, washing out dirty socks, a camp dinner and a final cup of tea we soaked up the utter silence and found ourselves at peace with tired bodies and filled hearts.  Sleeping under a clear and star filled night is the best sleep one can experience!  The nest morning, after breakfast, packing up tents and camp, we were on our way back to the park border.  We took time to explore the hoodoos of Hoodoo Basin.  A hoodoo is a tall irregular spire of “soft” rock, often capped with a harder rock.

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Hoodoos photo by Pat Musick

It forms as erosion peels away layers at a time and eventually forming something like a “totem pole”. One thinks of Bryce Canyon with the word Hoodoo.  There they form in the red and cream color sedimentary rocks of the Colorado plateau.  They are found in volcanic regions as well and are certainly “bewitching” as their name implies.

The dusty trail left lots of evidence of who had passed before. Elk, Moose, bear tracks were abundant. Today, though, we saw bison tracks (which I would not have expected).   As we climbed closer to the park boundary, it became more evident that bison (the American buffalo) had traveled here recently.   What a sight to see approximately 50 bison down from the ridgeline in a grassy bowl resting before containing their journey.

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Bison just outside boundary of YNP following old buffalo trails Photo by Pat Musick


Every backpacking journey I’ve ever taken has left me feeling stronger, richer and more grateful for the diversity and beauty of planet earth.  In this uncertain time, with a very uncertain future, this is where one can feel grounded and grateful.  It’s fun to share this with you.

For now, I’m back in Big Sky, cleaning and packing preparing for a move south about 50 miles. You all know moving is not an easy task, but so often I reflect back on something experienced last week.  Those are the memories that keep me focused.

You can contact me at and see this blog as well as past blogs at

Happy Trails to all of you, Leslie

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Leslie at boundary photo by Pat Musick





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Welcome to Nature News from GYE #10 July 13 ,2020


Water…Cannot think about Greater Yellowstone without recognizing its significance as source of water for the entire lower 48 states and beyond.  At an average of 8,000 ft., Yellowstone Park has a tremendous average snowfall.  More than 20-30 feet can accumulate in different regions of Yellowstone, but that varies tremendously with location and elevation.

Beartooth Snow
snowpack on opening day of Beartooth Highway

The SW corner of Yellowstone Park receives huge amounts of snow.   During ski trips in this area, I have personally seen more than 12 feet of snow accumulated! However, throughout the ecosystem elevations of 11- 13,000 feet exist.  In these areas, huge winter snows occur.

This is significant as most of the moisture in GYE is a result of snowmelt.  The abundance of snowmelt impacts groundwater and surface water.  This includes water that feeds the geyser basins.

If one looks at the geography of GYE, the continental divide (CD) splits the watersheds to the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean in SW Yellowstone. On the east side of the CD, sits the headwaters of the Missouri river (The Gallatin, Madison and Jefferson rivers join about 30 miles west of Bozeman).  From there the “big muddy” flows 2341 miles before it joins the Mississippi.

Lower Falls of Yellowstone
Lower Falls of Yellowstone River in Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

The Yellowstone River (longest unregulated river in lower 48 states) flows into the Missouri over 500 miles after it flows out of Lake Yellowstone.  The Yellowstone River flows north through the park, through the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and a few other canyons, eventually to the east and joins the Missouri up in NE Montana.

yellowstone watershed


The headwaters of the Snake River, which flows 1000 miles from its source to the Columbia river, lies in Yellowstone Park in the Southwestern corner on the west side of the Continental Divide.   One of the headwaters of the Colorado river (the Green River) , which flows eventually through the Grand Canyon of the Colorado and eventually to the Gulf of California, is at Green Lake in the Wind River Mountains.


In my wanderings, I always am astonished when I see a teeny spring emerging from a hillside, or a dense forest landscape.  These small sources of water eventually trickle down to the streams, which flow into the smaller rivers and eventually, one of the mighty rivers I mentioned above.   It all starts with one drop!

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Snowflake Springs of Gallatin River
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Gallatin River









Geysers occur as a result of superheated (from a hotspot which has created the Yellowstone Super volcano) water, under pressure, that is forced through a volcanic rock (rhyolite) which has a hardness strong to support an intricate “plumbing system”. All of these factors together create the perfect environment for geyser activity.    We all recognize Yellowstone Park as geyser-land of the planet.  That is, in part, due to the tremendous water sources in this area.

castle geyser

                                                 Castle Geyser upper geyser basin


One more very important role of water I cannot leave out of the Yellowstone water story is the life that exists here with this abundant water.  Vegetation, plants, animals, birds, fish, microbes, insects, and much more thrive with the abundant water sources in the Yellowstone Ecosystem.

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American Dipper by Pat Musick








For as long as I’ve been in this area, it never ceases to amaze me how much the watershed of GYE impacts so much of this country.  We can never take clean, fresh water for granted.  Hope you can all spend some time outside this week.


Leslie Newsletter

You can contact me at and see this and past blog posts at      Leslie

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Nature News from GYE #9



GYE Featured Image (transparent bkgrnd)


Nature News from Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem #9,    June 27 2020

The weeks are passing, light is long and vibrant.  Colors resonate depending on time of day. Phenology of species happens in the time honored continuum.  As we approach the end of June, flower species have either disappeared or they are now seen at higher elevations.  Today on my walk I saw some blooms that are finally in all their glory and some new blooms not yet seen since last year at this time.

Anemone (or windflower)Anemone

Many species of the genus Anemone are found in different habitats.  They lack true petals, but have colorful petal like sepals which can be creamy to pink, sometimes even bluish in color.  When the plants fruit and go to seed, the appearance is an almost -fluffy “seedball”.anemone-multifida-seed ballsmall

Upland Larkspur (Delphinium nuttallianum) can grow in moist meadows and open coniferous forests . Delphinium is derived from the Greek word “delphin” or dolphin perhaps from an imaginary resemblance of the flower to the sea mammal! You can see the spur on the flower, hence the name larkspur (perhaps it looks like a spur on the foot of a lark).

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Showy Indian paintbrush (Castilleja sp.)  This genus of flowers can be deceiving.  What looks like the flower are actually showy toothed bracts that are anywhere from crimson red to salmon to fuchsia pink depending on elevation, soil types or even hybridization.  The actual flowering part of the plant is a greenish, smaller, spikey tube which can appear hidden in the bracts. Some believe the hummingbirds and Castilleja may have evolved together.  The flowers are full of nectar.  Indian Paintbrush smallThe bright colored bracts attract the hummingbirds and with their long bill they can easily extract the sweet nectar.


 Leopard Lily (Fritillaria atropurpurea)

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Chocolate Lily is another name for this hard-to-see flower.  The flowers appear brownish to purple.  The bulbs are edible and some tribes collected these.  Today it is discouraged because they are rare.  They have an unpleasant fragrance and are (not surprisingly) pollinated by flies.


Yellow Bells (Fritillaria pudica)   One of my favorite late spring flowers.  Meriwether Lewis remarked in his journal that the bulb was eaten by early people he encountered.  At times they would be missed with the bitterroot bulbs.  Again, the collection of these is discouraged and they are best enjoyed for their beauty. Yellowbell small Bears and ground squirrels would prefer to eat them than be inspired by their beauty, however!









Bitterroot (Lewisia redivivia)   are finally blossoming this time of year.  Bitterroots start their growth late in the year with a very inconspicuous rosette of small fleshy leaves.  In the spring, they come back (redivivia) to life.  In time a very small bud appears.  It takes some time in the dry sandy soil, where they are typically found, for the bloom to finally open in all their glory!  This is always an event that locals will talk about and let each other know when it’s time to go find the bitterroot blooms!  They are found in the same areas every year.  Named for Meriwether Lewis, who brought a sample back from the expedition he co led with William Clark, he mentioned the significance of this plant as a food source to many tribes in the Northwest.   Bitterroot is the Montana State flower.


Stages of the Bitterroot


 Pussytoes   (Antennaria sp)

Many different Antennaria are found and they can reproduce without pollination so many different races form, which leads to confusion in identifying individual species

They vary from white to pink.  Pussytoes

The heads of the flowers are actually bracts, which is a modified leaf and they remain on the plant for a very long time.  It’s delightful to imagine the resemblance of these beauties to “pussytoes”.







 Yellow Columbine (Aquilegia flavescens)

Often the Yellow Columbine, with spur-like yellow petals, will have pink tinged sepals. Sepals along with petals together form a showy flower. Sometimes they are green, and sometimes they are colored as in this Columbine.Columbine 2 small  Columbine are found in wet meadows or stream side habitats.  Some say that Aqua (water) legere (to draw) is the derivation of this genus because of where they grow.   Some say the genus is derived from the Latin word Aquila (eagle) as the spurs resemble the talons of an eagle.





You’ve joined me on a journey through some of the wildflowers that are blooming at this time in SW Montana.  These are the treasures that accent our days and bring great delight!

May you find ways to get outside and fill your heart with all that nature has to offer.

You can contact me at and see this and past blog posts at      Leslie






GYE Nature News #7

GYE Featured Image (transparent bkgrnd)

Nature News from Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem #7, June 19 2020

Nature News #7 is a story is about the interesting connections between 2 species that have intrigued humans through time, wolves and the ravens. Both of these species have sophisticated social systems and interactions with their own kind.  Both have complex Raven and Wolf, courtesy of Vermont deadlinevocalizations and ways they communicate.  Both learn very quickly, and through time, wolves and ravens seem to have learned how to tolerate and even welcome the other species in their lives

Wolves were re-introduced to YNP in the mid-90s and as their population rebounded, there is now a balance that fills out the entire compliment of species that existed before the park was created. Ravens have continued to thrive in Yellowstone, but they did not forget the wolves and very quickly after reintroduction we started to see the cooperative and impish behavior between both of those species.  Ravens have been called “wolf birds” because of these relationships.  When I am looking for wolves, which can be difficult to find, I am always looking for Ravens as a clue that might indicate the presence of wolves.  Many of us who spend lots of time in and around Yellowstone and wherever wolves are found often discuss the amazing and often times entertaining behavior of Ravens in the same breath as discussing wolves.  Ravens, and many of their cousins (Corvidae), are known for their intelligence and ability to learn and adapt.  They have been observed using natural tools, figuring out puzzles and have a vast variety of sounds and calls.  Ravens pair bond for life and can live up to 5 decades.

Wolves in Yellowstone live much shorter lives averaging 4-6 years.  They risk their lives every time they need a meal hunting for prey.  When they aren’t hunting, however, it’s fascinating to watch wolves and their interactions with one another.  Ravens will follow wolf packs to find a carcass to scavenge.


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Wolves at a carcass w Ravens, Terry MunsonHowling-Wolf-And-Raven-Envious-Of-The-Night-Sky-Waits-For-Star-Fall-From-The-Heaven-Tattoo-Design (1)

Sometimes they will harass the wolves in an almost play like behavior. Ravens will dive at and harass wolves or peck their tails to try to get the wolves to chase them.



The wolf and the Raven have a complex connection.  In “Wolves and Men”, Barry Lopez wrote: “The wolf seems to have few relationships with other animals that could be termed purely social, though he apparently takes pleasure in the company of ravens. The raven, with a range almost as extensive as the wolf’s, one that even includes the tundra, commonly follows hunting wolves to feed on the remains of a kill.


In “Mind of the Raven: Investigations and Adventures with Wolf-Birds,” zoologist Bernd Heinrich notes that Ravens lead wolves to their prey, alert them to dangers, and are rewarded as they scavenge the carcass.  He writes,

“Ravens can be attracted to wolf howls. The wolves’ howl before they go on a hunt and it is a signal that the birds learn to heed. Conversely, wolves may respond to certain raven vocalizations or behavior that indicates prey. The raven-wolf association may be close to a symbiosis that benefits the wolves and ravens alike.  Ravens have been observed alerting wolves to vulnerable prey. At a kill site, the birds are more suspicious and alert than wolves. The birds serve the wolves as extra eyes and ears.”


Wolves and ravens have long been connected in folklore and fact. The Nordic God Odin is often represented sitting on his throne, flanked by his two wolves Geri and Frei and two ravens Huggin and Munin. Tales of hunting interaction involving wolves, ravens and humans figure prominently in the storytelling of Tlingit and Inuit, Native American tribes of the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, with the ravens appearing as form-changing wise guys and tricksters, taking advantage of both humans and wolves (this information is from

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Terry Munson

A wolf will always follow a raven to food
And the raven is always glad to lead
Later then, the wolf will include
Protection for his friend in need


This relationship goes back through the centuries and is a big story.  For now, this is just a
morsel of information that may trigger your interest in watching some new research in Yellowstone about this relationship.  For more information you can go to the NPS website

or go to a neat local personality’s website who teaches about animal communication and relationships.


It almost solstice 2020

The 45th parallel is a circle of latitude considered to be halfway between the equator and the North Pole.   This bisects the very northern part of Yellowstone Park and our part of Montana.  On the summer solstice, daylight at this latitude is 15 hours and 37 minutes.  On the winter solstice daylight is 8 hours and minutes. Below is a photo of a sign on the Gardner River.  A few miles downstream (to the north!) the Gardner flows into the Yellowstone river right on the northern boundary of the park.

45th_Parallel_Bridge_Gardner river


Photo Credit: Tom Nicholls

Happy solstice wishes to everyone!

You can contact me at and see this and past blog posts at      Leslie



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Welcome to Nature News from GYE #6 May 28, 2020

It’s that time of year when it’s sunny and 60 one day and snowing the next day!  Many of my 40+ years in this region we’ve seen snow on Memorial Day and 4th of July and this year was no exception.  It snowed much of Memorial Day weekend.  Weather in the mountains is erratic and the results are dramatic. In Yellowstone Park sits a huge body of water, Yellowstone Lake.

The lake has 140 miles of shoreline at about 7700 feet in elevation, and an average depth of 130 feet (and over 400 feet deep in some parts of the lake). Notice the hot springs on the Shore of Yellowstone Lake.  This is just one example of the volcanic history of the lake.yellowstone lake in winter w west thumb

The surface of the lake freezes by Christmas each year, despite hot vents arising deep from the bottom.  Anticipated each spring is timing of “ice out” (the ice coming off the lake.)  This year it was May 21.  At the same time, snow levels are dropping, more open ground is greening and life is emerging.  Visible are young bison, elk, bear cubs, wolf and coyote pups .  Some nesting birds like the Common Loon, White Pelicans and Osprey are just arriving.Pelican feeding young - Copy


Also at this time, fisheries biologists are putting boats in the water to manage a non-native fish to these waters, Lake Trout.  These trout are native to the Great Lakes, Alaska and Canada, and even in some parts of Montana.  And yes, they are fun to catch and eat, but they don’t belong in Yellowstone Lake.   They were first documented in Yellowstone Lake in the mid-90s and it was recognized they had been illegally introduced.  These large, deep-living trout prey on the more shallow dwelling, native cutthroat trout.  They also compete with the Cutthroat for some of the food sources traditionally eaten by “Cuts” creating a “double edge sword” that has impacted Cutthroat trout populations, which became perilously low.

These native populations are pivotal as they keep the circle of life turning.  Species like cuthroat trout - CopyCutthroat trout that impact the lives of many others, are called Keystone Species.  As their numbers drop, other species have to adapt or disappear.  Examples include River otters, Grizzly bears, Mink, Common Loon, Osprey and dozens of other species that have depended on shallow living Cutthroat trout as a food source.  Lake trout live at great depth and cannot substitute as a food source.     Since the late 1990s almost 3 million Lake trout have been removed from Yellowstone Lake by park suppression methods.  Biologists monitor both species and have seen indications of a decrease in the population of Lake trout and increasing abundance of Cutthroat trout.  It is unlikely Lake trout can ever be completely removed from the lake, but by managing and keeping their numbers low, Cutthroat numbers can continue to rebound and once again, fill that needed niche.

More Grizzly Bear News

Located south of Yellowstone Lake,  Grant Teton National park is the home of a  very “famous” bear who is a “darling of photographers”, Bear 399.  She has become quite well known over time as has had 17 documented cubs, including 3 sets of triplets.  This year, at age 24, she has 4 cubs.399s 4 cubs (Photos are from 399s Facebook page)       Most Grizzly bears don’t make it to that age, let alone emerging from hibernation with cubs of the year.   Well known and respected photographer, Tom Mangelsen has followed her through her lifetime.  “I had a hunch a large litter was in store, because when she lumbered toward her den last fall she was slinging a grizzly gut 2 inches from the ground.  399 and her 4 cubsThis is the third time she has come into view May 18.  Whenever she has cubs of the year, she waits and comes out that day!” one of her triplets, tagged as Bear 610, had twins in 2011.  If you’d like to read more about this well -bear, Tom Mangelsen and Todd Wilkinson together published a book “Grizzlies of Pilgrim Creek, An Intimate Portrait of 399”.

Get outside when you can!   Leslie

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Photo Credit: Jowayne Curran

News coming from Denise soon!!