Soon the snows will be upon us but last week I was lucky enough to catch the fall colors in and around Jackson. I attended the annual Greater Yellowstone Coalition meeting, always informative and fun. I boarded the dog (no dogs allowed on Teton trails) and left a few days early. The conference used to be a weekend affair, but the last few years has been reduced to just one full day and evening.
Traveling through Yellowstone on Tuesday, the day was hot and all the wildlife, except a few bison, were well hidden and resting. Gros Vente campground was one of the few still open, and even about 1/3 of that was closed. Its puzzling that the two Parks choose to close so many campgrounds as early as September when the weather usually is fairly mild through even mid-October and the visitors are still packing the area.
My friend and I took a short evening walk around the campground and the nearby Gros Vente river. Especially at this time of year, moose abound and its easy to have a sighting let alone one or two running through the campground. A large bull with a tremendous rack was stopping traffic just a mile down the road by the river.
Tucked among the rocks and willows was a curious scientific set-up: a microphone with a recording box set up with a solar unit. Not sure what study they were doing but it looked suspiciously like the ‘wolf howl’ machine I’ve seen in Sunlight. But maybe they were studying coyotes around the campground, because that night, tucked in my tent around 11pm, I heard howling and response howling really close. In fact so close, that pretty soon I heard sniffing around the outside of my tent. I figured a coyote was smelling Koda smells (who of course wasn’t there tonight but had been inside of that tent just a few weeks prior). It was a strange and curious incident.
The next day I took a wonderful hike up to the mouth of Death Canyon from the parking lot of the newish Rockefeller compound.
About ten years ago Rockefeller donated his home to the Park with the stipulation that only a small parking area be built which would limit the amount of hikers at any one time. There is no overflow parking. I’ve been up the one mile hike to where Phelps Lake and the former buildings were, but never past that. The large and beautiful lake sits at the base of Death Canyon, a steep, massive drainage that is very inviting despite its name.
We hiked around the lake, up to the canyon entrance, then headed north around the base of outcropping where a waterfall cascaded down. Huckleberries overflowed and distracted us from the hike. We ate our fill on the way in and out. The aspens in this area hadn’t yet begun to change.
The next day I headed up to Taggart and Bradley Lakes. Just a tiny bit north of Phelps Lake, all the plants including the aspens were aglow in their fall beauty. I assume there are tiny micro-climates in these various canyons and that was why just a few miles north this area was ablaze in color while Phelps was not. The hike is a nice 6 mile loop and I made it a bit longer by continuing up towards Amphitheater Lake. Several days later I approached Amphitheater Lake from Lupine Meadows trailhead, a trail more forested with conifers–Douglas and sub-alpine firs–than aspens.
The GYC meeting was full of information, focusing on climate change. Without going into all the details and speakers, you can read the final report here on climate around our area and what’s happening after all the data is analyzed. This data comes from actual weather stations set up around our area recording climate information for the last 100 years. As is usual with climate change information, the future for the area looks troubling at best and makes the need for corridors north/south and east/west even more important. In fact, the keynote speaker, Doug Chadwick, author of The Wolverine Way (which explores the research on Wolverines being done in Glacier National Park) called for just that kind of broader coalition between the Crown of the Continent and the Greater Yellowstone Area. In order for these large predators to survive, they must have room to roam. The future implores us to embrace new paradigms for the survival of so many species, from the Pika to Bighorn Sheep to Grizzly Bears and Wolverines. We need to start thinking bigger, much bigger. Room to roam is the very next step we need to embrace. The Yellowstone to Yukon idea needs to mature from dream to reality in so short of time.