Monday, June 25, 2007

S Park Ave - Ski Hill RD

We stopped a few days at our place here in Breckenridge Colorado, partly so Mary Ann could take some flower pictures, partly for a home-owner's meeting, and partly so we could have a stable address for a few days so our mail could catch up to us. The condo, on a second floor corner unit looking over S. Park Avenue and Ski Hill Road, is a homey place and we've lived her for six weeks at a time in previous years.

Then, with no warning, Mary Ann's laptop developed a hard drive glitch and would no longer boot. Oops. I just realized I'd left all my diagnostic and repair disks at home. Using our external hard drives, and using my laptop in 'Target Disk Mode', I managed to boot her system off my disk and saw that her files, for the most part, were still visible. I saved everything I could, but we'll probably have to go to Denver to get an install disk before I can bring her system back to life.

Until then, I set up an account on my laptop for her to use. Unfortunately, that means I have to sneak onto the system when her back's turned. The mail arrived, and while she has it all spread out on the floor, sorting and filing, I went out on the porch and watched the sunset and the intersection below. Despite the fact that it's nearly the most active intersection in town, it was nice to watch the traffic and the pedestrians. The corners hosted a half-dozen large flower pots, and as the light faded, and the sunset lit the clouds with a wonderful golden glow, the street lights came on, also with a golden light.

A life-long resident of Breckenridge, a red fox, came down the street and entered the intersection. He paused in the middle of the road, as if to look at how the place was doing, then moved on, and up the hill and behind another building. Probably I'll see him again before we leave.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Cut Off

Although we've been on the road for since April 25th, which makes it nearly two months, we've always been able to scare up an Internet connection. Unfortunately, today we left West Yellowstone and drove through the park down to Colter Bay in the Grand Tetons.

It's a lovely campground here, but the season has started, and we had no choice of campsites. The satellite dish works well most places, but parked right up against a stand of tall pines right to the south of us makes it impossible for the poor controller to find a lock. While I'm hatching schemes to find an alternate parking place for a few minutes, long enough to download our email in the morning, at the moment, I'm stuck off-line.

Our most common fall-back is using Internet over Cell phone, but that only works in Sprint digital areas, and my ancient Sanyo has a black bar saying 'Analog Roam'. It works for voice, but none of the fancier features work that way.

I wonder how severe this craving for connection gets. I seriously doubt I'll be able to stay in contact while flying to Africa and camping out on safari. Certainly I won't have a daily connection.

I've already started planning some backup schemes. While most activities can be put off a few days if necessary, I've become spoiled to nearly constant connection. What would fail without it?

At home base in Hutto, I have a Mac Mini that should be on-line constantly. This trip was a trial run for a system that would store up my usually real-time activities so that I could tap into them when I can make the connection. That should cover things like my daily comic strip fix, or checking the statistics on my website, but it won't handle things like posting blog entries. I'll have to think about that one.

One More Excuse

Yesterday, after working many hours on revising my latest novel, a YA time travel story that happens along the banks of the Mississippi in Illinois, Microsoft Word crashed on me again, and this time I wasn't able to recover the last hour or so of work.

Microsoft Word v.X for Mac is my primary writing tool, but it has a predictable crash after several days of constant use. I'm sure I blogged about this before, but this time, I lost more work than usual and I just that much closer to changing to something else.

I have two reasons I haven't changed to some other word processor. When I resolve those two, I'll switch in a flash.

I have numerous macros and style sheets that I've written to automate many of my writing tasks. My new word processor must have the ability to support named styles that I can invoke with a keystroke, and I need some kind of scripting language support so that I can do things like globally swap out one set of styles (like for manuscript work) for another (like for a reviewer copy) or selectively wordcount the current chapter.

I've checked out a couple of versions of OpenOffice, and that brings up the second problem. It's ugly. I work on a Mac. I can't afford to pretend to work on Windows just to get my writing done. I hear that someone is going to do a real Mac port of OpenOffice, and I await the day.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Moving West

Today, after 20 nights in Yellowstone, it's time to move, to West Yellowstone. After four days at Pebble Creek, where we were very tight on electricity (no generator policy) I have mixed feelings. For one thing, I'll be able to fire up all the computers and save some files to my backup system, but lightly traveled Lamar Valley was very soothing to the spirit. And I'm typing this blog while driving down Gibbon River while heading for Madison junction.

It seems I've encountered a massive road block, several miles thus far and no end in sight. But it does give me the opportunity to rest the laptop on the steering wheel and work, in between the times the vehicles all creep forward. twice now I've just put the RV in park and gone back to take care of things, one to tie down a swinging closet door, and again to collect my laptop.

I'm not in a hurry, so for me, it's a pleasant time. I have the window open listening to the river, and people watching is always fun. The Colorado-tagged Sonata in front of me, with four occupants, dropped down to three for a while as the lady in the passenger side front seat got out with her camera to hike ahead to see what the problem was. Unfortunately, the car caught up with her and now she's back with her friends. Luckily for her, because she tried that several miles back and she'd be worn out by now, with still no hint as to the cause of the block.

I suspect, due to past history, and the brown streaks on the pavement, that it's buffalo. We'll see.

Wave to the fly-fisherman in the river, but he ignores me. I suspect he'd rather be looking at unspoiled nature rather than an endless string of frustrated drivers.

We're at an s-turn in the road and it's interesting to see how the sapling pine trees are growing up the face of the cliff, their trunks permanently bent to match the contour of the rock.

Now at the top of Gibbon Falls. ( sets laptop aside, puts RV in park, goes back to refrigerator to get a diet coke. picks up the broccoli that falls out of refrigerator, turns off dome light in bedroom, returns to drivers position.) The car in front of me pauses, and that same lady hops out to go take pictures of the falls from the overlook. She needn't have made a dash of it. A stroll would have done as well. I could have done the same, but I left my camera in the Jeep with Mary Ann.

This morning, as we broke camp, she took the Jeep and all her photo gear to spend the day stopping for bear-jams and intending to take pictures of the Harlequin Ducks at the rapids on the Yellowstone River. I urged her to take the Jeep alone, because although many people do it, I'd hate to try to stop in the traffic to see the animals while driving this 30-foot RV. No, my idea of a RV Yellowstone trip is to leave the RV at the campsite for days on end and do all the sightseeing with the pull-toy, our Jeep Wrangler. That's what we've done, and it's worked just fine.

I'm now down at the base of Gibbon Falls, and I do wonder about the obvious alternate road I can see blocked off to the side. Up at the top, there was a bridge-out sign, but I can't tell if this is an old road that was damaged, or a brand new alternate route past the falls that just hasn't been completed yet. There doesn't appear to be any work being done on it and the grass is growing up in the gravel. Maybe I'll look it up when I have internet.

Actually, I probably could raise the dish and get on-line, but the Motosat unit was never designed for internet connection while moving, and although we are creeping along so slow it could probably work, I can just imagine those poor little servo motors going whirr, grrr for all their worth as the D3 controller tries to maintain a connection every time the road bends.

And one thing about a moving road block like this one, you always have hope that just around the next bend, you'll finally reach the trouble, and soon will be past it. There has to be that hope, or more people would pull over and play in the river, or turn around and take the extra long route the other way by Old Faithful.

I just passed a rock face that had obviously been ....

Sorry, I lost my train of thought. The traffic picked up, much too fast to type and drive at the same time. I put the laptop aside and soon we were up to 15 mph. Around another bend, there was a ranger, in one of those traffic-cop type cars, pulling on his yellow-vest and waving 'speed up, speed up' for all he was worth. I was afraid he'd get arm-strain.

Soon the traffic was up to 30, and by the time we reached Tuff Cliff we were at 45. I saw another park ranger vehicle, but no sign of buffalo, vehicle accident, or any other likely source for the trouble. Oh, well, I guess I'll never know. But I don't like driving that fast, not through Yellowstone, so I pulled over at a handy pullout and brought you up to date. As soon as the traffic settles down to normal, I'll head out again. Until then...

I made the turn towards West Yellowstone, and the weather turned dark. Before long, I was driving in a mix of rain, snow, and tiny hail. By the time I reached the park exit, there was significant ice on the windshield, and the non-paved ground was more white than not.

And instantly I was out of the park, and back into ... I guess you call it civilization. Time to wind through the town and hunt for a place to spend the night.

Can I just turn around and go back?

Thursday, June 14, 2007

A Bike Ride Down Lamar Valley

I am not a cyclist. The total mileage I've biked in the last ten years is likely still in the double-digits, and my previous bike is rusting in the storage shed.

But I knew that if I were to get any exercise, it had to be something I liked. With Africa approaching, I knew I needed to get in better shape, so on a whim, I went by Buck's Bikes in Round Rock and declared my needs. The salesman pointed me to a bike with fat tires, a cushiony seat, and shock absorbers, with the idea that the more appealing it was to bike, the more I'd do it.

And I did get out a couple of times before this latest trip began. I was undecided whether to bring it along on this trip, but Mary Ann seemed to approve, so the bike rides the carrier on the back of the Jeep, which then rides behind the RV. Getting used to one more thing back there was easy, and since the carrier had spaces for three bikes, we began using it to carry her heavy tripod as well. Not long later, she strapped on a lawn chair as well.

While at Tanglewood, I rode a couple of times, but not as much as I had intended. Then came the relocation to Rocky Mountain National Park, and I had the sudden urge to ride from the top of Glacier Lake down to the campground at Moraine. It wasn't the brightest move. It was cold, and I didn't have gloves. My hands were painfully cold as I whipped down the road, using the brakes almost exclusively. And then I fell, and bloodied up my knee. I made it back to the campground, but that put an end to my bike rides for about three weeks.

Today, I was feeling the urge again. My knee hadn't bothered me in a few days and again I had a nice road to ride, from the campground at Pebble Creek downhill (mostly) for about 9 miles to where ever Mary Ann set up to watch for wolves.

But this wasn't a ride-the-brakes downhill. It was more of a put it in the top gear range and keep pedaling. I didn't take gloves, because it wasn't that cold, but I did take my jacket because of the light sprinkles. It was overkill and I rode hot most of the time.

The road down Lamar Valley was perfect for riding. The traffic was a lot lighter than city streets, and everyone is already expecting to slow down for animals. A lone biker is just one more specimen to drive around. (I even had one guy take my picture.) You have to be aware that shoulders are non-existent and hazardous, but given that, the pavement is smooth and the scenery can't be beat.

My first stop was at Soda Butte. As many times as I had driven this road, I kept wanting to stop for a closer look at the nearly dead travertine formation and if I did it was many years ago. I took off the jacket to cool down and tracked down the trickle of the spring that remains. It was interesting to see so many shod horse prints in the trail. I'd never seen horse and riders at that location, but certainly there are horse trails in the area.

Next point of interest was near the beaver lodge in a branch of Soda Creek, just before it joins with Lamar River. We had seen the beaver on an earlier pass through, but most times, just the lodge was visible. This time, I was looking at the nearly stagnant water and willows on the opposite side of the road, checking to see if there were any fish in the dark waters. Suddenly, and to my surprise, there was Mr. Beaver himself with a willow branch in his teeth. I stopped and backed up the ten feet, but he was shy and retreated into the willows until I left.

Not long after, I saw cars stopping for buffalo. Uh-oh. Three buffalo hardly constitute a huge traffic problem in a car, but those mountains of muscle and horn look a LOT more dangerous when it's just myself alone on the bicycle. I can hardly outrace a mouse, not likely these. The cars passed, finally, leaving me alone, waiting until they were clear of the road. Finally, I wove over onto the wrong side of the road for maximum clearance and eased by, making no false moves. The closest one watched me pass, but probably sensed I was hardly a threat on a good day.

Then, I began seeing clusters of vehicles parked beside the road, with people and scopes out for wolf-watching. Is Mary Ann with that group? No. Oh, well. Pedal on another mile. More watchers. Is she there? No. Repeat.

Finally, there was a lone Jeep at the top of a hill, and after working my way to the top in low gears, I saw it was her. Whew. Nine miles and not a single injury. I strapped the bike on the rack and settled down to slowly cool off. For me, it was wonderful. I wonder if I'll have a chance to try it again.

A Short Guide to Watching People Watching Wildlife

In Yellowstone, there are a large number of people cruising the limited roads watching the animals from pullouts. If your goal is to see the beasts, sometimes the best strategy is to watch the people. Here is a very short guide to make sense of the clusters of people often seen beside the road.

Someone has stopped beside the road. Why?
They might have seen something! Yes, but they might just be enjoying the scenery, or stretching their legs.
Are they looking at something with binoculars, or spotting scopes? A good sign, but also an indication that the animal of interest is some distance away.

Someone has stopped right in the traffic lane.
They just saw something, probably close. Unless it's a fleeting event, this is the first step in an 'animal jam' where people are pulled off the road whether there's a pullout or not, and traffic slows to a crawl.

A cluster of vehicles has pulled off at the same pullout. While it could be a sighting, you need to look closer. Are people talking to each other and holding coffee cups, or are they all looking in the same direction with binoculars and spotting scopes? If there are a lot of scopes on tripods are they looking in the same direction, or are they fanned out. They will tell you whether they are waiting for an animal to move into the area (fanned) or whether they actually see it (same direction).

If you see that a cluster of vehicles, but the people have all climbed up on a hill beside the road, suspect that they're watching wolves. Sometimes it's necessary to get above the sage and rolling meadows to see them.

Lawnchairs are a giveaway. Seeing one or more vehicles with their occupants parked out in their lawnchairs in front of tripods is a strong hint that you've found someone sufficiently experienced that they expect their animal to show up at that location, and they are content to wait until they do. A chat with them might give you more ideas what to expect.

Learn to recognize the difference between a spotting scope, and a 'big lens' on a camera. It's the difference between animal observers, and animal photographers. A large number of big lenses, all lined up together means that a particularly rewarding animal is in the area. If the heads are down over the cameras then it's happening right now.

With these simple guidelines in mind, you can make the most of your viewing time, and avoid accidentally causing an animal jam just because someone stopped to have a sandwich. But if you have the time, it's well worth it to learn to identify the animals yourself, without joining a 'jam in progress. It's a nice feeling the first time you start your own bear-jam because you saw it first.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Buffalo Sign

In the old westerns, an indian scout would drop to his knees and search the dirt closely for sign of the animal or enemy he was searching for. Well, with buffalo (American Bison) it hardly takes that much effort. For one thing they're big and black and stand out well for miles across the valley. But even when they're not in sight, they leave evidence, and I'm not just talking about those cow-patties they leave.

In places were buffalo are common, hardly a tree exists without a bright yellow bare patch on its trunk. I've seen them do the deed a number of times, Those horns on their head are for more than self-defence. They can strip the bark off a tree, shredding it into strips for a light snack. And they don't have a sense of environmental ethics either. Quite a number of the trees, after a couple of encounters with those horns, are completely girdled, and die.

Another common sign of buffalo presence, at least here in Hayden Valley in Yellowstone, is a place they ford the Yellowstone River. At a few places, you can see a dozen dirt tracks that go down to the river and come up on the other side. Watching them cross, you get one more sense of their relentless presence. They walk down into the water until it nearly covers them, swimming a little in the middle, and then walking out on the other side, as if nothing as trivial as a river would slow them down.

And of course, if a river won't phase them, certainly a road full of traffic is nothing to disturb them. They cross when they please, and vehicles just wait.

Monday, June 11, 2007

The Heroes of Warm Creek

I'm not a reporter. We had parted ways long before I had the thought to blog about it. Too bad. I'd love to include their names, hometown, all that stuff. But like I said, I'm not a reporter.

The Northeast exit from Yellowstone is reached by traveling up Lamar Valley from Tower Junction. Lamar is an old glacier carved valley, with old moraine hills and shallow lake depressions at the low end. Traveling up the valley, it opens up to wide, sage dotted plains frequented by buffalo, elk, and yes, wolves. As you continue up the road, the valley narrows, and the mountainsides grow higher and much steeper, evidence of the glaciers that carved them.

Soon enough, you're in a tidy mountain valley, having left Lamar River behind at the beaver lodge, and following Soda Butte Creek. Although you'll still see elk, and bear, there are also many more deer, and the occasional moose munching through the willows.

We'd pulled into the Warm Creek picnic area, where the little waterway joins the larger Soda Butte, looking for moose. We'd seen one there the other day. But no luck. Turning around we looked back the way we'd come, and saw a couple of cars stopped in the road, a sure sign of an animal sighting. The first thing I do when I see a 'jam' is to look at which direction the people are looking. I whipped up my binoculars, not to look for the animal, but to see what the people were doing.

They were looking down, at the side of the road. Mary Ann asked what I saw. I thought they were looking at a small mammal, like a marmot or a badger. We drove over, slowly, and discovered that it wasn't a mammal at all, but a Great Gray Owl, on the ground, just a few inches from the pavement.

Mary Ann hopped out with her camera. I parked the Jeep and brought the tripod. But we quickly learned that this was an injured Great Gray. The first people to discover it had thought it was dead, but it lifted its head and startled them. That's when they began working to save it.

I don't know who they were. There was a mother and two girls, maybe 8 to 10 years in age. Maybe there was another lady with them, but I don't know if she was part of their group or someone else who stopped. But by the time I walked up with the tripod, they had begun organizing things. They directed traffic, including keeping people a safe distance from the injured and stressed owl. The two little girls were waving cars on, just like they'd seen rangers doing at other animal jams, getting people to move on when they stopped too close to the bird. One of the passing people was sent off to the ranger station to notify them of the problem, both the injured bird, and the traffic jam that was building up.

The smallest girl came up with a red paper cup. "The Owl is looking at the water. I think we should give it some water." I looked, and she had indeed noticed that although the bird couldn't move from its position, it could turn its head and occasionally looked over at the trickling spring that was only a few feet away. However, her mother wisely told her to wait and leave the bird alone and let the ranger handle it. It was a massive bird, with sharp hunting claws, and although her heart was in the right place, now wasn't the time to get it a drink of water.

Getting the rangers notified and waiting for them to arrive took quite a while, but this little family was committed to doing the right thing for the injured bird. Finally, the rangers arrived and took over the task of moving the traffic. One of them examined the bird and radioed in the findings. As Mary Ann and I prepared to drive off, the word came back. Someone in Gardner was on the way to pick up the magnificent owl and put him into rehab -- the best possible outcome. The heroic little family was going to stay put, and wait with the bird until the rescue came.

And that's where we left them. I wish them well on the rest of the journey, and I hope those two little girls remember the incident for the rest of their lives. They really did good work.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

How Close is Too Close?

We rounded the curve at the top of Mt. Washburn and saw it. Four cars stopped, people looking to the right. I pulled rapidly off on the shoulder. Looking down, less than 10 feet away was a grizzly bear. Mary Ann grabbed her camera and began taking pictures out the window. He moved past, and once he'd gotten a little farther, we crept out of the Jeep, and she kept on taking pictures.

A couple of oddities appeared. His face was red from either fresh wounds or old injuries, and he seemed to favor his right foreleg. Every car that passed found a way to stop, and many pulled over into the viewpoint just a few yards away. But the bear was headed that way as well. He was quickly surrounded on two sides by people with cameras. He was well aware of everyone, but his primary task seemed to be digging for grubs.

By that time, he was a bit farther away from us, perhaps 30 -40 yards, but he was just about a dozen feet from the people in the parking lot. I wasn't comfortable, particularly with all the children gawking down at the large, injured bundle of muscle and claw. I kept it to myself, but noted that Mary Ann was in a great position to photograph the massacre if the grizzly took exception to all the attention. I wondered aloud just how many people could hide in the bathroom.

Then the Park rangers arrived, and began ordering people back. Camera-toting tourists must be the most difficult beasts to manage. This ranger at least had people skills, and soon people were re-locating their vehicles and moving back from the edge.

Officially, 100 yards is the limit for approaching the bears, but the ranger was more concerned with moving people to safe postions and coaching them on what to do if the grizzly headed their way than handing out citations. We left shortly thereafter, with about 2 gigabytes of bear photos.

Driving around Yellowstone

Yellowstone is a big park and relatively empty of people, except on the figure '8' loop road that is the only way to travel through the landscape (hikers excluded). Just to get a sense of the scales involved, I clipped the two following images from Google Earth, both taken at 50 miles altitude. While the full loop isn't marked, I made the clip to just cover the road system. Up at the top is Mammoth Hot Springs and the north end of the park. The Yellowstone label at the bottom of the image is at the Old Faithful complex. We are camped at Fishing Bridge RV campground. The parts of the road that weren't plotted at this altitude can be inferred by those 'i' informational icons. The center stroke of the '8' is where the loop constricts in the middle of the park, between Canyon, and Norris Geyser Basin.
The Dallas, Ft Worth Map is actually a little larger, depending on how you define the metroplex, with a LOT more people.

But there is a significant difference in driving the loop around Dallas/Ft. Worth and driving Yellowstone. The roads in Yellowstone are two lane paved roads, with top speed limits of 45, except near the junctions where they drop to 35 or 25. And, even on the 45mph stretches, it's not advisable. Many people are more interested in the sights than in getting to the next stop fast, so 30mph traffic is very common.

And then there are the animal jams. If a grizzly bear is seen near the road with her cubs, everyone stops. Traffic constricts to one lane at best, and all eyes are on the bears, not on the other cars. People stop in the lanes or do their best to pull over.

If a buffalo herd decides to cross the road, all traffic stops. A buffalo isn't impressed by your puny little metal box and isn't likely to make room for you. By the way, it's a $50 fine if you honk your horn.

Given all this, we've been here nearly two weeks and on average have looped the park every day. I visit the gas pumps daily. But the only gripe I have is with the people who've never really driven in any place except mazes like Dallas. They tend to ride your bumper and distract from the real reason why we're all here -- to see the grandeur beside the road.

Friday, June 08, 2007

A Bear-y Good Day

And yes, I'm ashamed of the title. With the snow last night, the road over Mt. Washburn was closed, so our trolling-for-wildlife headed from Canyon to Norris and then North to Mammoth Hot Springs. About midway between Norris and Hot Springs, we ran into a rapidly developing Bear-Jam, with the two rangers giving contradictory orders. Mary Ann got a photo, and then was told to go back to the car. She was steamed, because of perceived unfair treatment, but when we drove off, we got another sighting of the grizzly and she was able to get additional shots.

On to Mammoth, we proceeded to Tower Falls, intending to eat there and to view the Great Horned Owl nest in a broken tree, visible from the parking lot. Unfortunately, there was little to no food at Tower, so we drove back (prompted in great part by the report Mary Ann had of an even better Great Horned Owl nest next to the Administration building. And it was, with mother and two chicks, right in the middle of town.

We ate and then drove back down the western side of the Yellowstone Great Loop road. Mary Ann wanted to check on the Coyote den she'd photographed before, so we headed that direction, but not before stopping to see a Red Fox climbing a hill, and then Mary Ann noticed a herd of elk acting spooked. Stopping to check, yes, there was another grizzly.

After bear-watching again, we finally arrived, only to find that the Coyote mother had just recently relocated her collection of 9 active youngsters a few hundred feet north of the original den, in a location a little harder for predators to see. Mary Ann set up on the roadside with the other photographers and spent an hour or so taking their pictures, and helping other viewers locate the active little pups. I spent most of the time adding the second-to-last chapter of my current time-travel novel.

After the coyotes, north again, in a race to get back to Mammoth to capture the owls in better lighting. So much for that idea. Just as we dropped out of the valley, into the canyon leading to the springs, we stopped to take pictures of the falls, but instead she was captivated by the raven's nest on the canyon cliff, with three little black young ones. Finally, as the light shifted, we went to Mammoth. The light was indeed better at the owl's nest, but only one little one was visible, and he was asleep.

Now, with light fading, we had to make the route back to camp. Mt. Washburn road was now open, with having had so much luck on the Mammoth to Norris road today, we returned that route. It started out uneventful, but as we approached Norris, there was a small herd of Buffalo, with three calfs, grazing right next to the road (with an appropriately scenic backdrop). "Big lens" she cried, hopping out to unlash the tripod from the bicycle rack on the back of the Jeep. I pulled the heavy lens bag (an 800mm Sigma) and she set up beside the car. She snapped several shots, but neglected to notice that the herd was heading in our direction. When one large beast with its large functioning horns came up close enough to touch, she crawled back into the Jeep, worried about her camera and lens right out there where a privacy loving buffalo could make it's political statement. But the beast had other issues to worry about, like grazing, and crossing the bridge. We moved on.

Reaching Hayden valley, we were closing in on a full day, and we were both tired. Then as the sunset was moving into twilight, there was another bear, right beside the road. I did a bat-turn, but the bear slid down the bank, and swam across the river. (But Mary Ann got the photos.)

Finally, turning into the Fishing Bridge area, there were small glowing eyes beside the road. A showshoe hare waited until we were close before scampering off. I complained, "Won't these animals leave us alone. We'll never get home."

And that was, roughly, our day, leaving out a half-dozen other sightings of various birds and a few other coyotes. The alarm clock is set for something horrible like 5 A.M., so I'd better close this entry and get to bed.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Seeing Stumps

We've been in Yellowstone for more that a week now, and before that, we were in Rocky Mountain National Park. This means that a large portion of the day we're constantly scanning the horizon for wildlife. After a while, you get trained to see colors, sizes and shapes that have a high chance of being something interesting.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of false positives as well. Driving up through Hayden Valley from Fishing Bridge to Canyon, there's an old tree stump that looks a lot, from a distance, like a coyote in the meadow. We've driven past it dozens of times, and every single one of those times, my eyes latch on to it, with my brain taking a few additional seconds to remind me that it's just a stump.

Another peril in Yellowstone comes from the 1988 fire, nearly twenty years ago. There are still great numbers of hillsides covered with dead trees, some with a new crop of pine growing up in place, some without. But as those trees fall over, their blackened root system upends and appears roughly the size and shape of a black bear. Lots more false positives to work through.

But in spite of it all, the real wildlife is out there, and bringing us new experiences daily. The highlight this morning was a Great Gray Owl, an impressive, massive bird. More photos will eventually come, but we're having internet connection issues and it's hard to get them uploaded.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

It's Not Me

I monitor Google Alerts about "Henry Melton" for several reasons. Sometimes there are reviews that I need to know about. Sometimes someone is looking for information about some story of mine. Often it's a way to make contact with people building their own library indexes.

But when I started getting alerts about some high school football player in Grapevine Texas, I knew I might have a problem. When he signed with the University of Texas and was part of the national championship team, I was certain of it. Up until that point, I was the top-ranked Google hit for "Henry Melton". Now I'm lucky if I get position on the first page. What's worse is that we both live in the Austin, Texas area.

At least when he makes a touchdown, people at church congratulate me for it.

I had hopes for this guy. When he first signed at UT, I tried to make contact, to offer a link from my to any page of his choice for people who discovered my website while looking for him, but the only email address I was able to locate was an empty well and I never got a response. It could well be that he just isn't interested in the internet.

Still, it was a rude shock to get an alert about his arrest. Believe me, I'm up here in Yellowstone, not partying down on Sixth Street.

We don't even look alike. I'm the guy with glasses.