The South Kaibab Trail makes a steep descent from the Grand Canyon’s South Rim to the Colorado River. The difference in elevation between the top of the trail and its bottom is nearly a mile. On its way down to the interior of the canyon, the trail frequently cuts a thin, serrated line along the edge of the canyon’s steep walls. At a few places, the trail stands hundreds of feet above the canyon floor. A freak gust of wind, a misstep, or a tumble along those precarious segments of the trail could easily send a hiker over the precipice to his/her death on the rocks below. Continue Reading »
[Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming] In the winter months, when deep snow covers the sagebrush plains, hilltops, and scenic river valleys of Yellowstone National Park, bison abandon their trails and smaller traces and instead travel upon the park’s plowed asphalt highways. The animals have adopted the use of human highways for a simple reason. It is much easier for them to trek down a cleared, snow-free highway than it is to trudge off-road through several feet of snow. They expend far less energy moving from point A to point B, or from grazing site to grazing site. It is also safer for the big wooly mammals to move atop the paved highways. They can run faster from pursuing predators on the hard-surfaced roads. Plus, shy predators, such as wolves, are less likely to get close to the roadways for fear of coming into contact with homo-sapiens and their gawking, intrusive behaviors. It is likely that the plowed roads have increased the winter survivability rates of the park’s bison herds.
The Yellowstone River begins its 692-mile-long journey to its confluence with the Missouri River on the snow-covered sides of Younts Peak. Younts Peak is a mass of rock towering over the Teton Wilderness of northwestern Wyoming. From the steep heights of the mountain, snowmelt and rainwater dash downward into the South Fork and North Fork of the Yellowstone. On the northwestern edge of the big mountain, these two streams join to form the Yellowstone proper. Here, at its origins, the Yellowstone runs clear and icy cold as it cuts graceful bends through alpine meadows and dark-green pine forests. The far Upper Yellowstone (as the river here is known), and the region through which it passes in the Teton Wilderness, are part of the most remote piece of territory in the contiguous United States.
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Historically, Yellowstone Lake supported a population of cutthroat trout estimated at up to 3.5 million fish. In the middle 1990s, that population had declined to 2.5 million. Most recently, fisheries biologists believe the lake’s cutthroat population is now between five and ten percent of its 1995 level, or approximately 125,000 to 250,000 native fish. The culprit in the decline of the cutthroat trout is another trout, the lake trout, a non-native species likely introduced to Yellowstone Lake in the 1980s. No one is certain how the lake trout found its way into Yellowstone Lake. It may have been dumped illegally into the lake by an ignorant fishing enthusiast who hoped to create a lake trout fishery where one had never existed before. It is also possible the fish entered the lake during the Great Yellowstone Fire of 1988. Helicopters equipped with water buckets pulled water from Yellowstone Park’s numerous lakes to douse the many blazes. Crews may have inadvertently lifted lake trout out of Lewis Lake and then unknowingly carried the lake trout eggs or fingerlings into Yellowstone Lake when they went in to refill their buckets there. However the fish found their way to the deep, cold caldera lake, it is now apparent to all that they have thrived there. Lake trout have fed for decades on cutthroat trout. Biologists estimate that an adult lake trout can eat on average 41 cutthroat per year. The National Park Service wants to reverse the decline of the Yellowstone Lake cutthroat.