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Filtering by Tag: Yellowstone

Country Roads

Hannah Jaicks

             The past week or so has been an odyssey or, rather, a number of them.  So far this summer, I've managed to put over 2,000 miles on my rental car (AKA the Aloha mobile--I'm sure I make many kids playing the license plate game very happy with that Hawaii plate).  I like to talk to people in person, and many of the individuals I speak with live in various cities and towns around the state.  Thus, it's been typical for me to have to drive upwards of two hours one way to meet with people.  I don't mind really, and it's hard to complain when my travels have taken me from Helena to Yellowstone to Bozeman and a bunch of towns in between more than twice (each) this past week alone.  I spend the drives organizing my thoughts and questions on the way to the interviews, and on the way back I tend to think back on the conversation to process everything.  I audiorecord my interviews for later analyses, but I still like to immediately reflect on everything I just heard.  Most of the time, it helps orient my field notes and ideas for my own work in a way that I hadn't anticipated.  That being said, I still have plenty of time alone with my thoughts, and I've exhausted every podcast episode of Nerdist and This American Life.  Hence, I've taken it upon myself to get really good at singing along to the local country music stations in my best Tim McGraw voice while I weave and bob through the hills of the southwestern Montana region.  Pretty sure I provide the truckers passing me with hours of entertainment when they see me singing my lungs out.

Queen of the Mountain

Big Sky Country means big rainbows

            As a researcher with a keen appreciation for the idea of place attachment, I myself am increasingly attached to the mountains of Montana, and all of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem really.  On my first adventure down to Yellowstone this past week, I spent some time with a wolf researcher from the National Park Service.  We trekked out in the morning with his two kids- the best two helpers you'll ever meet- to see if we could find the two wolves in the unnamed pack near South Butte in Yellowstone.  We toted our gear up the hill- spotting scope, radio telemetry equipment, and binoculars, being mindful not to surprise any bears along the way.  No bears, but we came across a wolfkill (a cow elk) from the spring.  Nothing but bones and the pelt left.  We managed to find (hear) the alpha female quickly using the radio telemetry, but we couldn't spot her in the dense area of trees where her den is.  So instead, we admired some elk off in the distance, and we talked at length about the work I've been out here doing.  Here's the thing, very few of my interviews end up being one isolated conversation.  Many people out here want to know more, or have me join them in their field to see things from their perspective.  I take them up on their offer every time I can.  What better way to get to know someone than out with them doing what they care about?

Early morning elk in the mist

Getting greeted in Gardiner

Elk carcass

           After my foray into Yellowstone, I drove back up to Bozeman, and then I was off to Helena the next day to sit in on the monthly Commissioner's meeting for Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks.  I spent the car ride talking with someone who was also attending the meeting, and he helped me understand a lot of the processes in decision-making and governance that are at play here in the region- state, federal, etc.   It was helpful and a nice way to get a better understanding of some of the policy processes that are a tangled web of confusion at times.  Plus, it was a break in my usual routine of singing like a lunatic on the highway, and it allowed me some good opportunities to stare out at the mountains becoming all the more amber as August progresses. 

             Back from Helena, I spent the weekend around Bozeman organizing my...gasp...Table of Contents, which my advisor and committee members have been wanting me to do for some time now as a way to focus myself.  To quote my advisor, 'Are you writing a library or a dissertation, Hannah?' Another researcher out here, a few actually, really helped push me to do my TofC because in writing down an outline, it also forced me to clarify my own standpoint.  As I've mentioned, standpoint and understanding the lens by which you look at an issue is a big deal to me.  It clarifies things for yourself, and it also gives a more robust argument to your analysis because it indicates a degree of self-reflection.  So, I feverishly wrote that up in between visiting a college friend at Music on Main, saying goodbye to my friend who left for grad school, and celebrating with my housemate and his family at a BBQ on Saturday.  He'll want me to add that his soccer team won their league championship too, because they're awesome.  So, there was ample reason to be celebrating.

            After that, I left early Monday morning to return to Yellowstone for some more interviews and a visit with the wolf-watching community.  I foolishly stayed up until midnight playing pool (like a boss I might add) in Gardiner only to have my alarm go off at 4:30am the next morning.  Few things can get me up at that hour, save for the promise of a beautiful sunrise and a chance to see some wildlife.  I was lucky enough to get to experience both.  I wove my way up into the Park as a proud owner of an Annual Park Pass to Grand Teton and Yellowstone, and I waited patiently for the bison to cross the roads as I made my way over to the Lamar Valley.  I arrived right as the sun was rising, and I finally got to see some wolves.  First one black pup popped its head out of the hillside, then two, then three, and then a gray pup.  Suddenly, I was unconcerned with the early wake up call, and I just enjoyed getting to see these animals that I talk about all the time.  I would post pictures, but the ones of the wolves are all fuzzy because I was strung out on coffee and adrenaline.  The pictures at the end of this post will all be from my travels, but I'll hopefully get some better ones of wolves before I leave.  The rest of the day continued on as such, and I met with people who wake up this early every morning (earlier, really) to experience this rush.  Tired and delirious, I left the group and went on to Silvergate, Northeast of the Park, where I would spend that night.  I didn't anticipate that there would be no wifi (I sound like a New Yorker right now), so I spent the afternoon in the Visitor's Center of Cooke City-a nearby town-using their wifi to send emails and coordinate the next day's interviews.  I barely made it to nightfall before my eyelids where dragging themselves shut, so I succumbed to my tiredness and fell asleep-only to repeat much of the same the following day.  Lucky me, right?

             After I got back from Yellowstone, I did another round trip to Helena to carry out a few more interviews. I made it back to Bozeman in time to sit in on the public hearing about the possible Wolf Stamp and its potential to be implemented by Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks.  This explanation is a big oversimplification (apologies), but essentially it's a way for nonconsumptive users (aka non-hunters) to invest in the state game management department with funds that will go (ideally) to nonlethal control and conservation of wolves.  Again, this is a big oversimplification, but as you can guess, this proposal is not without controversy.  I sat in on the meeting to listen to the different perspectives, and it gave me an opportunity to see some of the (frustrating) political processes in action. Three hours later and without going into detail, it was an informative opportunity to understand how community members can and do engage with one another over these issues. 

             The last stop on my adventures this week has been to return to Yellowstone for one more visit before I leave for the summer (though I've already planned trips for the fall...thank goodness!).  From here, I'll do some more traveling around to look for wildlife and talk to some folks.  It's hard to think of a better way to spend my time than to come to Yellowstone at the tail end of my travels along Montana's country roads.  Enjoy the photos!

Research, Outdoor Adventures, and Yellowstone

Hannah Jaicks

       Taking a break from my daily schedule of interviewing, hiking, and exploring, today seemed like a good day to check in.  Having been out here in the GYE for a little while now, I'm amazed that I still find myself surprised and elated with what I encounter on my various travels.  I've been bouncing from town to town doing interviews with people from different backgrounds, trying to make sure I hear from as many different perspectives as possible.  It's certainly a challenge for me to constantly put myself out there.  As a bit of an introvert who draws energy from time alone every now and then, I've had to step outside myself and really make sure that I devote 100 percent of my attention to every person or critter I encounter.  It matters to me that I do this because I care quite a bit about these challenges and conflicts over human-nonhuman predator coexistence.  I think the most striking thing that I've had come out of my interviews so far is the importance of building relationships with the people I speak to.  So often politics, science, and power dynamics prevent or mar relationships, so the very least I can do is attempt to genuinely connect with my participants.  These people know far more than I do about these issues, so it's in my best interest to listen closely.  More times than not I end up leaving an interview buzzing with an energy about everything I've just heard.  Add to the fact that every day I'm here is better than the last, and you'll be unsurprised to hear that I'm head over heels for this place.  I can't think of anything better than spending my time with remarkable people, carrying out my research, and exploring an area that is home to magnetic wildlife.  Someone is going to have to push me back on the plane at the end of the summer, because I'm unlikely to leave willingly.

           It's not been all work and no play, though I don't feel like what I've been doing can be considered 'work' since I enjoy it too much.  My first weekend in Bozeman, my housemate (or friend putting up with me for the summer while I couch surf) took me and a bunch of others up to Lava Lake for a hike on a sunny and clear day.  We made our way over there early in the morning and hiked our way up the mountain while playing movie pong.  My cultural references of Twilight and She's All That allowed me to secure my place as a total loon, and we made it to the lake by lunch time.  Being a total wuss, I crawled (actually, fell) into the lake while the rest of the crew jumped off the cliffs above me.  It was cold, so my swim lasted a total of 30 seconds.  We dried off and ate our lunches, looking out at the lake nestled in the evergreen forest around us.  It was a beautiful day, made better by our quick hike back down and leisurely night on the roof of the Crystal Bar in Bozeman, watching the sunset. 

           I spent the rest of the week doing interviews and observations, having dinner with friends, and adventuring around Bozeman.  I managed to catch an old John Wayne movie at the Ellen in town on its weekly 'Wild West Wednesdays,' go to a bonfire, and catch up with some old friends from my fieldwork last summer when I was in Jackson Hole, in between interviews and research of course.  On a whim, I ended up getting to go to Yellowstone on Sunday to go for a hike at Mount Washburn.  It was a long day, but one of the best.  I woke up early and we made it to the Roosevelt Arch at the northern entrance of Yellowstone by around 9:30 am.  We stopped briefly in Gardiner to take a look at the old western town, and we played tourist by taking a bunch of photos by the Arch. We then made our way past Mammoth Hot Springs and dove further into the Park.  We had planned to go to see the Petrified Tree near the Lost Lake Trail Head, but we noticed a bunch of people stopped along the side of the road.  So, we pulled over and got out to stretch our legs and see what was up.  To our surprise, there was a black bear breaking apart a sizable tree trunk in search of some food.  Tucked in the valley near the trail head, we watched as the bear leisurely cracked open the trunk (something that a human would need an axe to even make a dent in) and ate.  It was a quite the juxtaposition- a black bear breaking open a dead tree, while reclining in a field of purple wildflowers.  Having such an exciting start to the day, we were even more pleased to come across a coyote on our way up Mount Washburn.  We were probably less than half a mile from the observation deck (10,000+ feet up), and suddenly a coyote walks out onto the trail about 40 yards in front of us.  Then it was 30.  Then 20. Then a few feet.  I was so struck by the animal's attention to whatever it was stalking, that I didn't think to move out of its way until it was right next to me.  Thankfully, the coyote just kept on going, unconcerned with the tall creature with the blue hat and long braid snapping a picture and jumping out of the way at the last second.  We reached the top, taking a break to look out and see the entirety of Yellowstone and then some (from the Thunderer to Grand Teton National Park to a far off forest fire 50 miles away from Mount Washburn).  Tired, dusty, and hungry, we made our way back down and wove through the park as the sun was starting to set.  We didn't make it to Boiling Springs this time for a swim in the river, but all the more reason for me to go back (and get more field observations in too!).  Passing back through the Arch, I thought about my own research and what was to come next.  Yellowstone has an electric quality about it.  You can't go there and be unaffected.  In one day, I had seen more than I had anticipated, and it left me wanting more. 

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