Design a site like this with
Get started

Teepee Rings and the Spirit Wind

Someone gave me one of those mid-range expensive weather stations, the kind with an indoor readout that talks with an outdoor unit.  It also talks to a satellite for date, time, and moon phases.  There is a feature on it that tells you a forecast: an arrow up or down, sun or clouds.

This morning I looked at the forecast on the readout.  It featured clouds and the arrow was down.  Ten minutes later W___ called and asked about a hike today.  I looked at the readout and the arrow was up.

Frankly, that about says it all for Wyoming weather.  JB, my 84 year old neighbor, tells me the old saying is “If you don’t like the weather in Wyoming, wait 10 minutes.”  I think my digital weather station feels like its riding a bucking bronco sitting on my window sill forecasting mountain weather.

W___ and I decided to meet down the mountain and go for a hike out near the mouth of the Clark’s Fork river.   The Clark’s Fork barrels down the canyon from the Beartooths, carving a deep gorge over a mile deep in places from the high plateau where I live.  Chief Joseph led his people through here, pursued by the army, fleeing to Canada.  The reason he knew the area so well was because the Nez Perce had been coming here every fall to hunt buffalo.  By 1840, the buffalo had disappeared from Idaho.  The Nez Perce had to decide to either change their diet or migrate yearly to Wyoming to hunt.  They used traditional trails through the park and into the Great Basin of Wyoming.  Clark's Fork of the Yellowstone River

Today was incredibly windy.  The winds were traveling at breakneck speed down the canyon.  Sometimes gusts blew me off my feet.  Huge clouds of water blew like ghosts off the river.  W__ said it was a ‘spirit wind’.

We park at the end of a dirt road that once was a Ranch.  W__ tells me that about 12 years ago there was a large drug operation at the ranch, the owners were busted by the Feds, and because it was a Federal operation the ranch became federal property.  Eventually the state took the ranch over.  Now, its just old buildings boarded up.  We walk around in the hurricane force wind.  The main house is all boarded up, but several cabins are still open.  Most are filled with packrat items, but others have old signs and refrigerators in them.  One is filled with rolls of carpet.  The ‘drug ranch’ sits on the flat sagelands, next to the river, with old Cottonwoods surrounding it that some previous owner planted.  Its a perfect movie set.  The story goes that one of the druggies got out of prison early and went back to the ranch in the night to dig up drug money that they’d buried there.  Koda’s running around like crazy after jack rabbit scents.  I humorously instruct him to ‘Look for the money, Koda.”

The river, once roaring and wild, settles down here at the mouth and swings gently along a wide, broad plateau. We walk much further down the old dirt road, off the ranch, and towards the mountains.  W___ points out the numerous teepee rings.  At first I can’t see them well.  They’re old and the rocks are deeper in the dirt than ones I’ve seen before.  I kind of have to squint, unfocus my eyes and let my mind flow.  Soon, I’m spotting them too.  Their openings are to the east.  A few even have old fire rings in the middle.  We’re at the end of the plateau where W___ tells me the rings are large.  I ask him why some of the teepees are smaller and some are larger.  “I’m just guessing here, Old teepee rings.  Can you see them?but my theory is that the larger rings were for families that might have stayed longer; whereas the smaller teepees were temporary hunting parties.”  I like to try and imagine the community spirit that once was here, bustling with excitment and activity for the fall hunt.  Its in sharp contrast to the drug ranch of secrecy and isolation.

Yet all that’s left of both of them are a few signs, a desolate area, and a fierce wind–a ‘spirit wind’.  Newer teepee rings in the Bighorns


Where the Buffalo Once Roamed

I took the research students over to the dead coyote today.  The guys have quite a bit of experience, between their schooling, hunting and trapping, I thought they might know what had killed it.  They had no qualms about touching it (which I had as I am always wondering about diseases I might catch).  Since they touched it, turned it over, felt its coat–I did the same.  They also thought it looked really healthy, and said its coat was perfect.  The guys discussed the coyotes leg for a while and if that could have been made by a trap.  The upper part of the leg was exposed to the bone.  After much debate, the guys felt that neither a trap nor a snare could make that wound.  It was too high for a trap and too low for a snare.

T___ felt the coyotes’ ribcage and noticed several broken ribs on one side.  Since the coyote was lying next to a field where the elk come nightly in large numbers, he guessed the coyote, a male, might have been feeling especially hubristic, trotted through the crowd of elk, and got a good kick where he then bled internally.  The gnawing might have come after he was dead.

I took a walk with Koda in the afternoon up on Riddle flat.  The elk have been swarming around there–laying everywhere, eating everything.  Koda found several stray legs scattered around.  The other day on the flat, I bent down and picked up a buffalo horn, a smallish one, probably a calf’s.  Buffalo haven’t been in my valley in over 150 years.   The horn was so old it looked like layers of bark, peeling, with lichen on it.  But it has a point at the end and, being a landscaper, I know wood when I see it, and this ain’t wood! I thought that was just fine; an unexpected and wonderful rare find.  That was just 2 days ago.

Yet today I backtracked home across the other end of Riddle flat, bent down again and picked up another Bison horn, much more massive than the other one.  J___ was coming over for dinner.  His family homesteaded in this valley since 1915.  He was born on the mountain, his mother trying to get to Cody and never making it.  He’s even shown me the branch of the tree he was born under–he’s got it hanging in his home.  (Note:  Was I ever jealous of that.  I want a tree that I was born under!)  I got home just as J___was walking up to my door.  “I’ve got something to show you” I have to yell really loud when I speak to J__ because he’s 84 and hard of hearing.  I pulled the Bison horn out.  “That’s a Buffalo” he confirmed.  “I’ve found them all over.  They haven’t been here for a really long time.  I’ve even found whole skulls. I found one that had a bullet in it and one that was Indian killed.”  I asked how he knew the Buffalo skull he’d found had been killed by Indians.  “It was hit over the head.  They always took the brains out to eat.”

Bison Horns with matchbook for size

Finding that Bison horn, peeling, almost petrified, was like finding a little bit of left over magic–magic that might be called our North American Dreamtime.

Coyotes and Wolves

W___ says we’re having a ‘false spring’.  It was in the high 50’s today. “Don’t get too used to it” he told me.  For a Mediterranean girl like me, the 50’s are the new 70’s!  The solar and dryness made it downright hot.  Still, the snow cover makes for great tracking.  I’ve been learning about tracking for several years, and even was in a tracking club in California where, of course, they don’t have wolves and bears.

I decided to go hiking up Elk Creek.  My neighbor put down a horse last week and right away I saw tracks of two wolves.  (Note:  Tracks below are wolf and the smaller ones coyote for size.  My 85 lb. dog, Koda, would have tracks more in keeping with the coyote!  See that photo below) Wolf and coyote tracks I followed them for a while until they went down a steep wooded slope.  But later picked them up and, along with coyote tracks, they were headed straight for the dead horse.  Seemed like they weren’t too interested in much of the horse though, as just its organs were gone and the rest of the carcass remained intact.  Even the birds weren’t on it.

Yesterday I found a dead coyote.  It was in an area where lots of elk graze every evening.  I couldn’t find any sign of a kill, even though wolves had passed through the area not too long before.  Its front leg was exposed down to the bone.  I wondered if it had bleed to death from a trap although I couldn’t find any sign of a trap either.  I took some photos and plan to show it to the ‘elk boys’, the students who are doing the elk studies out here.  They’re very knowledgeable plus they are both hunters and trappers.  The other day when I lead them to two elk kills I found near Game and Fish, they were explaining how to age a kill, what to look for to determine what killed the animal, and what animal parts the lab needs for various stats such as age, health, and diet.

Seeing that coyote reminded me of a fellow I ran into last spring at the small campground down the valley.   This man had raised a coyote.  He knew a fellow that had killed a coyote with pups, so he took one of them.

coyote“They say you can’t raise a coyote, but I did” he told me. “The coyote used to disappear for days or a week at a time.  Sometimes other coyotes would come around and howl, trying to entice the baby out to join them, and sometimes she would.  But she’d always come back.  It was four years before I could pet her.  She’d  sleep against my leg, but wouldn’t let me touch her.  Finally, after four years, she’d let me love her. Smarter than any dog I ever had.”

“I was working with Fish and Game building a road.   My boss on the project would come up and we’d talk across in our trucks.  I didn’t like this man.  He was always down on the work I was doing, which was good work.  And the coyote didn’t like him either.  We’d be talking and when we’d finish and drive away, you know how you have your arm laying on the window.  Well, the coyote would nip at his hand when we’d pass, every time.  And she didn’t do that to no one else.  So that warden started keeping his arms inside.  One day I was working way up on the mountain and here comes the warden.  I don’t know how that coyote recognized him, but she did and she started chasing him down the mountain.  The warden ran down and into his truck and got away as fast as he could.  There was something wrong with that man and the coyote sensed it.”

I went back to look at that coyote again today.  Nothing was eating it.  I felt bad for it.  I’ve seen that coyote many times.  I feel like I’ve lost a neighbor.

The Shepherd

During the elk capture, the ranch hand from the Dude Ranch down the road offered his meadow for us to watch from.  He’s a real character with some funny stories.  I asked if those were his cattle grazing on forest service land in the summer way down towards the end of the valley.  He told me they were.

“The hunters come with their weed-free high quality expensive hay for their horses.  They leave it out in the backcountry and our cattle eat it.  Then they get angry, so I just give them some of our hay, grown here.  Not such good quality you know.  Its a good deal for me.  Then the Ranger comes and says ‘Hey, is that certified?”  And when they say it is, the ranger says ” Where’s your tags?'”  I laughed just thinking about that.

My valley runs from the main highway about 35 miles west and butts up against Yellowstone which is just over the Absaroka Mountains.  Problem grizzlies get dropped off there in the summer.  I’d seen his cattle way far back.  I asked if he’d had much cattle predation.

“Don’t have any.  Never have lost one cow.  The Fish & Game guys always ask ‘What are you doing? How come you have no losses?’ and I tell them “I don’t know why.  I don’t do anything.  Maybe it’s because the cattle are in the trees back there.”

Last summer several calves were killed on the other ranch towards the head of the Valley.  That rancher keeps his cattle mostly enclosed in one area, which is where they were predated on.  I suggested maybe it was a lot easier when you knew exactly where the cattle would be every day, like going to the refrigerator.

C___, the ranch hand, has 17 cows about to give birth and has been coming out every 2 hours in the night to keep the wolves away.  He’s shepherding them.  We asked if we could help birth the calves.  He said its easy.  He’d call us to help.  I hope he does as it sounds fun.

Ranch where cattle were predated upon

Ancient Wisdom

Winter is the most incredible time here in the valley.  There are just a few permanent residents.  Most of the human activity involves the students monitoring elk and wolves.   Sometimes there are helicopter captures and darting.  Yesterday I observed elk being darted for blood samples, fat content, and other indicators.  We’re on the ground calling up to the helicopter the elk locations by radio, while there’s a low flying plane above with the GPS coordinates.  The helicopter deftly flies in, keeping the elk from running either into the trees or into Wilderness areas.  The elk are running like crazy, trying to figure out which way to go.  When they go in one direction, the helicopter swoopes over them and they need to turn around.  They look like a flock of starlings turning in synchronicity.   This kind of work is only done twice a year.  Its tremendously expensive and requires a lot of coordination between many agencies.  The planes are government.  The helicopter is a private company with expert Kiwis, the best in the world.

Elk in my Valley

Continue reading “Ancient Wisdom”

The Dreaming

This winter I went to Australia with my son.  Its the perfect place for a California Landscape Designer to explore, as its just one of the five Mediterranean climates around the world.  I use a lot of the plant material from there, and to see these plants in their native environments is interesting and instructive.

I was in Australia for several months over twenty years ago, so this was my second visit.  I planned to go back to Sydney (I almost moved there 20 years ago), then venture up to the Daintree, the world’s oldest tropical rainforest and a UNESCO site (north of Cairns) and then to Atherton Tablelands wetlands retreat in a savannah ecosystem.  My son has a teacher from Australia who said “You MUST go to Uluru.”  I hadn’t planned to go there.  I knew about Ayers Rock for a long time.  It’s a long trek, by plane or otherwise, to see ‘just a rock’ I thought.  Besides, I live in a most beautiful place, surrounded by magnificent mountains and rock features, geysers and wildlife.  I’ve visited many deserts and spent a lot of time in Death Valley and Joshua Tree.  What could one rock in the middle of the country possibly hold for me?

My travel agent also brought up the idea, and since we were in Australia over Christmas and many places were shut down for several days, Uluru seemed like a likely ‘detour’ during that lull.  We were to be there for a day and a half and then drive to Alice Springs.  But the holiday put a wrench in the travel plans…ferries didn’t run, planes had restricted schedules, etc…so we spent an extra day in Uluru/Kata Tjuta area.  It wasn’t till later that I realized things had conspired to bring us there for a fuller experience.


Read the whole story

Welcome to Wyoming

Learning Telemetry, Learning about being ‘high-sided’ in snow and how to get your car unstuck.

I really like this quote from Finis Mitchell, a man who grew up since 1906 in the Wind Rivers, and was a fishing outfitter all his life.  Finis  stocked most of the lakes there, carrying them in by horseback.

Throughout this century I’ve roamed this wilderness, communing with nature, observing other creatures along with myself, merely desiring to live and let live.  Because of this aloneness, I’ve learned to love, not only those of my own kind, but all life within a wilderness; the birds, the beasts, the trees, the flowers, and the grasses of the land.  Only in wilderness, it seems, is man’s love so thoroughly and completely returned, so unselfishly shared.

I arrived here on Saturday, after driving out from the Bay Area.  I’m a real whimp when it comes to snowy roads and since Cody had a minor snowstorm on Friday, I waited till Saturday to go over the 8000 ft. pass to my cabin, choosing instead to stay in a warm house with a Cody friend.

The students who are studying elk and wolves in my valley had been staying in the cabin.  They cleaned it up real nice before I arrived and B___ will be staying here with me.  She’s temporarily hired on to follow ‘Spud’, the nickname the guys gave the Idaho wolf who’s traveled  all the way across Yellowstone to end up in my area.  He’s radio collared and she’s acting as his GPS, tracking him every 4 hours.  Apparently he’s been hanging with a female.  Maybe they’re going to mate. Continue reading “Welcome to Wyoming”