Friday, November 30, 2007

"This Noble Race of Animals"

A Rocky Mountain trapper - What Osborne Russell probably looked like, based on his descriptions of a typical trapper and mountain man.

I've been reading the journals of a trapper of the 1830s and 40s, Osborne Russell, who spent much time in what is now Yellowstone National Park. He laments the decline of the buffalo, even during that long-ago period: "The vast numbers of these animals which once traversed such an extensive region in North America are fast diminishing. The continual increasing demand for robes in the civilized world has already and is still contributing in no small degree to their destruction, whilst on the other hand the continual increase of wolves and other 4 footed enemies far exceeds that of the buffalo. When these combined efforts for its destruction are taken into consideration, it will not be doubted for a moment that this noble race of animals, so useful in supplying the wants of man, will at no far distant period become extinct in North America."

Today's Yellowstone herd, which exceeds 4000, is descended from a tiny group of surviving buffaloes.

In an 1835 journal entry, the trapper writes about an area in Yellowstone, the magnificent Lamar Valley, where this fall I saw many buffalo and elk, a couple of coyotes, a wolf, and a grizzly: "There is something in the wild romantic scenery of this valley which I cannot nor will I attempt to describe, but the impressions made upon my mind while gazing from a high eminence on the surrounding landscape one evening as the sun was gently gliding behind the western mountain and casting its gigantic shadows across the valley were such as time can never efface from my memory but as I am neither Poet Painter or Romance writer I must content myself to be what I am, a humble journalist, and leave this beautiful valley in obscurity until visited by some more skillful admirer of the beauties of nature who may chance to stroll this way at some future period."

Russell's written record of his experiences with the land, weather, wildlife, and Native Americans is a treasure.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

A Native American Viewpoint at Yellowstone - Listen Carefully

A hunter from the Salish-Kootenai tribe speaks to Buffalo Field Campaign volunteers about the current bison hunt on the Montana borders of Yellowstone. Tribal members are allowed to hunt the Yellowstone bison for a limited time in accordance with a treaty. There are no other wild bison in Montana.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

An Evening with Red Chief

Spent four hours last evening with the ornery little guy. Much fun. Cooked dinner for him, watched "A Charlie Brown Christmas," and hung Christmas decorations. And I whipped him two out of three matches in arm wrestling. Grandpa rules!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

How Many More?

Another season of hunting down the last of America's continuously wild buffalo, the Yellowstone herd, began November 15. I don't care what anyone says, this is not right. The hunt is justified, say its supporters, because the herd could transmit the disease brucellosis to cattle. Yet, there has not been a single documented case of this. If a buffalo roams outside the park boundaries, into the killing fields of Montana, chances are good he will get in the cross-hairs of a telescopic sight of some trigger-happy fool who would boast of a wild buffalo kill. if the hunters of Yellowstone buffalo must satisfy some macho ego or get a thrill of shooting something, hunting bin Laden is recommended. I'll help buy the ammo. There is buffalo meat at the grocery store. Mowing down a wildlife heritage, animals that Yellowstone visitors appreciate and delight in seeing, is just pathetic. I wonder what those same visitors would say if they saw some clown pumping lead into these magnificent animals. There has been a flood of outrage, yet the hunt continues. I tremble these days when I get an e-mail from the BUFFALO FIELD CAMPAIGN. They tell it like it is, and I can always count on them. Regarding the buffalo hunt, a resident near the park said it all: "We have seen enough blood in the snow." The Yellowstone herd is special. Just let them roam.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Buffalo Tamer

My companion Kathy, aka the Dairy Queen, aka Wolf Woman. We have dreams of doing fieldwork for the BUFFALO FIELD CAMPAIGN at Yellowstone and for the YELLOWSTONE WOLF PROJECT.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Tom in the Tetons: A Lasting Impression

Borrowed photo because this critter was MIA.

Atherton Creek in Grand Teton National Park. This was moose country, but Bullwinkle was nowhere to be found. I stayed here for quite a while, though, admiring the awesome beauty of the area.

With the Grand Teton mountains as a backdrop, buffalo are ready to surround me.

The log chapel.

I was determined to see at least one moose in the Yellowstone area, and by all accounts the best place to see one was at Grand Teton National Park, which is just south of Yellowstone. The last full day of my trip was spent at Grand Teton, but I could have easily spent an entire week there. Just unbelievable beauty. I stopped at a visitors center and asked where I could best see moose. I was given five prime locations, these by men who knew the area well. While driving to and from the areas, I had to stop while a large batch of buffalo crossed the road in front of me. I looked behind me and more buffalo had entered the road and stopped. Wonderful. I was surrounded by buffalo who had no intention of quickly leaving the road because there was no other traffic. I was isolated. No other car was in sight. Finally, most of the herd left the road. The gig was up: the buffalo were in collusion with area moose, delaying my moose "hunt". The moose were there all right, but my seeing them was just not to be as I drove all over the area and stopped at several locations and waited in vain.

The next day as I was leaving the Tetons for home, I noticed a log building off to the side of the road. A sign said it was the Chapel of the Sacred Heart. A quaint building set by a beautiful lake and the Teton mountains, I decided to take a break and walk around the chapel grounds. Now, I'm not a religious person, but I decided to see if the chapel was open. A sign told me that the season for services in the chapel was June 1-Sept. 30, but the door was open this second week in October. I walked in and by the entranceway was a sign: "Dedicated to the victims of 9/11." Choked me up. It was eerie in the chapel as sunlight poured in, yet it was quite cool in the unheated building. As did all the magnificent wildlife and scenery in the area, the silent chapel left a lasting impression with me.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

The Buffalo Roamed, but Where Were the Antelope?

A pronghorn antelope at Yellowstone: I didn't take this photo because these clowns were hiding from me.

Bighorn sheep frolicking on a steep, rocky slope. Mentally unstable creatures, no doubt.

The battle of the Little Bighorn: Mama bighorn sheep and kids had stopped traffic on a Yellowstone road when I snapped this photo. A fun sight.

This might have been the largest buffalo I saw at Yellowstone, and I saw hundreds. This big guy was in a roadside ditch in the Lamar Valley voraciously downing watery roadside "salad." Judging by the size of his gut, the dude might have mowed the entire valley.

I don't know if anyone heard, but I had discouraging words to say about the antelope at Yellowstone. Geez, I see all kinds of wildlife, but one of the star attractions avoided me - the pronghorn antelopes. I asked a park ranger, "Where are they? I've been looking everywhere." Ranger says, "At this time of year they're at the northern boundary of the park, and some may be in the hills beyond the park." So, I drive to the northern area of the park, see no antelope, then drive out of the park and into no-man's land, but the little pronghorn piss ants are nowhere to be seen. I give up the search and head back down south when I see people stopped on the side of the road, a sure sign that some good wildlife is around. They are looking up at steep rocky slopes at those crazed mountain climbers, the bighorn sheep. These critters are climbing all over rocky ledges, defying death, at least to me, and staring down at us, daring us to come up and try it too. They were much fun to watch.

STILL TO COME: Frustration in The Grand Tetons: Taken hostage by wild buffalo while hunting all over creation for Bullwinkle

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Hail to the Chief

Red Chief Subdued: The Serious Ethan

Red Chief Released: The Not-So-Serious Ethan

We interrupt our Yellowstone coverage to bring you heroics of Red Chief. Last week the Princess told me about a call she received from Red Chief's school principal. Immediately I thought, "Uh oh." No, she said, it's good. Seems the Chief's kindergarten art teacher fell and hurt her head in the classroom. While other students sat motionless, the quick-thinking Chief hurried out of the room to the principal's office to tell of the incident. The principal was very grateful and thanked the Princess. The chief obviously wasn't too big headed about the incident when he casually told the Princess only late last night that he was singled out in a school-wide assembly and recognized on stage for his quick actions. Just another day in the life of Ethan Oliver Rice. I'm extremely proud of the little dude.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Mystic Buffalo

I had what I would call some just plain weird experiences at Yellowstone, and this is one of them. I hiked a trail to beautiful Mystic Falls (upper photo), and while hiking back on the same trail I came upon a lone buffalo completely blocking my path. There were no other buffalo or humans in the area, just me and this big guy. It was as if he had been placed there because he wasn't visible on my hike to the falls and I wasn't gone long from the spot where he stood. Now, why did he choose to stand on a narrow trail when he could have stood anywhere else on the hillside? Because he wanted to annoy me, I guess. Or send a message. Whatever, he stood on the trail for a while, not moving an inch, and was turned sideways just like the photo above, which I took a little later after he had taken his sweet time moving off the trail. I had to go way around him through some thickets. I guess this photo proves that he was not an apparition, but at first sight it sure seemed like he was. More Yellowstone adventures coming.