Yellowstone Reports

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Skull Hike

Back To The Woods
by Dan Hartman

June 19, 2012

Park Collins and his volunteers from Statesville, North Carolina were here Saturday. There group of boys ranged from high school to college age.

We decided to explore the country behind Jct. Butte on down to the river below. Quickly we discovered this would be a skull hike as we came across one old skeleton after another. Once we left the open timbered slopes to venture out into rolling sagebrush to inspect a wolf den. As the photos show, we had a good time.

Iíve got the week off work wise so I hiked into some areas Iíve wanted to check out.

Cindy and I had been searching for a great grey nest some 20 miles east of our cabin. We were unsuccessful and as nesting time was growing short I thought Iíd give it one more try.

I went in at dawn and climbed the steep slope that led to a high valley dotted with aspen trees. If the nest was nearby Iíd surely hear feeding sounds or maybe come across a perch tree littered with white wash. The dew was heavy and I was soon wet to my knees. A small brook split the grassy meadow. Douglas and spruce trees covered the steep slope that led to the ridge above. It was here I figured I would find the nest. Back and forth I meandered, hooting every now and then. No response.

The sun was getting high when I gave up the search. On my way back down I passed by the old beaver dam Iíd found last month. Looking around a bit I came across the lodge. It was hidden in the bushes but still held itís dome shape.

I drove up to an aspen grove tucked in the foothills of the Beartooths. Walking through the white forest I started locating cavities. At one low well woven hole, I settled down to see if a blue bird might appear. While I waited quietly, I began noticing a low mumbling sound coming towards me. Presently out popped two blue grouse chicks followed by the hen. They paraded by me to disappear once again in the under brush. Spring must have been hard on the little family as youíd expect her to have 8-10 little ones.

A wren slipped out of a cavity. I moved on. Flickers nestlings complained from another hole. A male blue grouse boomed from a low branch.

I drifted to the upper part of the grove. An old aspen snag has a blue bird nesting in it every year. It was gone. A prescribed burn had taken it.

It felt good to roam the wood again. Iíve been taking groups hiking, but itís not the same as being by yourself, going at your own pace. Noticing the little things.


View slide show

Bison Skull

Group Photo

Elk Skull

Bighorn Ram Skull

I Don't Know

Checking Out An Old Wolf Den

Very Old Beaver Dam

The Lodge (it could use a coat of paint)

Grouse And Chick

Fly Catcher Nest