Yellowstone Reports

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High In The Rockies

Alpine Community
by Dan Hartman

Aug. 5, 2012

Here we are in the dog days of summer. To beat the heat and crowds Iíve been spending a lot of time in the Beartooths. Usually I find a spot up in the rocks out of sight of the highway and see what materializes.

Usually after a few minutes pika will start emerging from their rock tunnels. With suspicion they watch me carefully before venturing out to start their daily duties. Some scurry to stands of grasses for a bath in the morning dew. Others begin gathering sedges and tiny alpine flowers to add to their grass piles.

Across the steep gorges, mountain goats climb the shear cliffs in search of browse. A few days ago two young billies worked their way up to a snow field where they romped and slid in the soft white. Then today I was photographing a pika when a mountain goat kid suddenly appeared just above. In the next few moments he was joined by three more kids and four shaggy nannies. For an hour we hung out together. One nanny was especially curious about the pika that continued to gather grass.

A weasel appeared at my feet. Instantly all the pika vanished. The weasel popped in and out of the rocks around me, then moved off across the rocky slope. A large marmot climbed a rock and watched until the little predator disappeared. It was twenty minutes before the pika emerged again. The goats worked their way down to hidden ledges below me. I could hear rocks falling but could no longer see them. The whole mountainside suddenly erupted with pika alarm calls as a prairie falcon glided by.

Itís not wolves and grizzlies roaming the valley for elk and bison, but to me itís just as rewarding. This high alpine community has many secrets to reveal for anyone willing to exude a little patience.


View slide show

Nanny And Kid

Relaxing On A Ledge

Nanny Watching A Pica

Pica Gathering Grass

Carrying Grass


Alarm Call

Long-tailed Weasel