Life in West Yellowstone

Seeking Mushrooms

Early in the morning I was driving through a Yellowstone thunderstorm, looking at newly bloomed wildflowers pounded into the ground, listening to a certain Sammy Hagar song on a constant loop, when a call came in from West Yellowstone, reeling me back.

My friend was on the line: “[Name withheld] said the mushrooms are out.”

I had tried hunting for them, but ended with nothing.  “Where are they at?”

“I don’t know,” my friend said.

Long silence.

“Well let’s go find them,” I said.

The next day was a classic Montana morning. Green and moist and sunny with the darkness washed away, we drove into the forest and saw a raven land with a mushroom in its mouth.

“That’s a good sign,” my friend said.

It sure seemed like it, so we got out to search, but were fooled again.

We kept driving, stopping, searching. And the next thing you know, in the midst of glistening pine trees, the odds changed. Morels.

While “dividing up the cake”, each taking home half, 10 a.m. showed up, and it was time to open the store. Morel hunting had to end, as it was time to get on with life.

A pretty good day. They are out there, and with a little luck, I’ll find morels again.

Montana morel mushroom

Montana morel mushroom


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Opening Day 2011 For Yellowstone National Park


Yellowstone Canyon - opening day, 2011
Yellowstone Canyon – opening day, 2011. Click for larger view.

The park is looking as good as ever on this first day of the 2011 summer season. The main road from West Yellowstone to Canyon is clear of snow, though most of the turn-0ffs are still blocked.

The buffalo are looking mighty skinny after the long, snowy winter. Their coats are in excellent shape with thick, full hair and I’m sure they are staying warm.

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Tonight’s West Yellowstone Sunset

Tonight's West Yellowstone Sunset

Tonight's stunning sunset in West Yellowstone, Montana. Click for larger view.

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Winter Vista View From Refuge Point

Winter Vista View from Refuge Point near Hebgen Lake, Montana

Winter vista view from Refuge Point near Hebgen Lake, Montana. Click for larger image.

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Snowshoe Trip To Refuge Point

Madison River on Refuge Point Snowshoe Trail

Madison River on Refuge Point Snowshoe Trail. Click for larger version.

There’s definitely not a shortage of snow in West Yellowstone this winter and that means some beautiful snowshoe trips are possible. These are some shots from a recent trek on the Refuge Point snowshoe trail a few miles outside of West Yellowstone near Beaver Creek.

Some quick tips if you do this:

Wear Warm Gloves

Bison Fiber Gloves on a Montana snowshoe trip

Bison Fiber Gloves on a Montana snowshoe trip.

I wore my my bison fiber gloves and they were ideal in the 20 degree weather. I do think if it were around 0 or below, I’d need to put an outer glove on and use these as an insert. The gloves got wet from the snow, but the nice thing about buffalo fiber is you can wring it out and put them back on.

Bring A Camera That Lets You Stitch Photos
There are wide vistas on this trip and one picture isn’t enough to capture it all. Most of the newer digital cameras now have “stitch” mode where you can take two or more shots and then combine them into one picture. Be sure to do this. All of the wide shots in this post are two or three photos stitched together.

Snow Pants Are Vital
When I did this last year I wore jeans that immediately became wet, and then very cold. Snow pants keep you dry and warm – the North Face ones I got from REI are probably the best purchase I’ve made recently.

Snow Shoes
I know there are better ones, but if you are an occasional snowshoer, the ones from Costco are at a good price and work just fine.

David Barnes snowshoeing on the Refuge Point trail.

David Barnes snowshoeing on the Refuge Point trail.

Refuge Point Snowshoe Trail near West Yellowstone, Montana.

Refuge Point Snowshoe Trail near West Yellowstone, Montana. Click for larger version.

Snowshoe Tracks and view of the Gallatin National Forest in winter.

Snowshoe Tracks and view of the Gallatin National Forest in winter. Click for larger version.

Snowshoe Trekkers on the Refuge Point Trail.

Snowshoe Trekkers on the Refuge Point Trail. Click for larger version.

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Sunday morning Montana highway

Sunday morning Montana highway

Highway 287 on a Sunday morning, about 30 miles south of Choteau, Montana. Click for larger version.

Cloudy and cold Montana morning on the drive back to West Yellowstone – just cloudy enough to make the sun look like the moon.

The temperature was 7 degrees and my car slid along the icy highway several feet before finally stopping to let me get the picture.

This is three sequential shots taken with my Canon G-10 and stitched together in Photoshop. Location was about 30 miles south of Choteau, Montana on Highway 287.

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Animal Heads, Elk, Wolves, Deer and other Random Notes from the Road

A few notes from recent travels in Montana, Wyoming and South Dakota …

Darby, Montana: I spent 20 minutes talking with Jimmy The Hat Man and what a quality hat maker he is. He has a brass contraption that straps onto your head for taking the perfect measurement. Impressive. Previous clients include George W. Bush and Miss Rodeo Montana.

Elk Hunt Numbers in Darby, Montana

Hunt Numbers in Darby, Montana

Darby, Montana: apparently these elk hunt numbers are down. The locals say the wolves ate them all. They also told me rumors of wolves eating the stomachs out of pet dogs. One thing is for sure in Montana – everyone has a wolf story.

west side of Jackson, Wyoming: as I headed for Jackson from West Yellowstone I missed a right turn in Ashton, Idaho that caused me an hour delay, which frustrated me. Back on my way and about to enter the pass into Jackson, there was a barricade. The gas station clerk said there had been an avalanche – one hour earlier.

Thermopolis, Wyoming: good hot springs here, though I still rank ones in Alberta and Chile higher. While doing an evening soak in 30 degree weather twelve deer wandered into the yard. Very peaceful to sit in steaming water and watch the deer graze.

Thermopolis, Wyoming: After the soak I headed inside for dinner and was blown away. Every available square inch was covered by the head of an animal. African animals, Wyoming animals, unidentified animals. Must have been 200 of them. Amazing. If you are going to decorate with animal heads, this is how to do it. Go all the way.*

Thermopolis, Wyoming: I met a lead singer for a bluegrass band and tried to think of a bluegrass song. John Denver is NOT bluegrass. What about “Dueling Banjos”? “Yes,” she said, “but you don’t want to play that one at a bluegrass festival.”

somewhere on an eastern Wyoming highway: I saw a road-kill deer on the side of the road. Nothing too unusual, but someone had cut off its head. A headless deer!

I had a table at the Yellowstone Ski Festival and told some people from Wyoming about this. They explained that while this isn’t regular behavior for Wyomites, this deer probably had a very good rack.

Custer, South Dakota – Interesting fact from a veternarian: did you know antibiotics don’t work well at all on buffalo? This is good because ranchers have no choice but to treat them decently so they don’t get sick in the first place. Contrast this with cattle raised in conditions where they are basically guaranteed to get sick, but the antibiotics let them survive until slaughter.

Rapid City, South Dakota: I was in the area and decided to see Mount Rushmore. I paid $10 and, in 5 degree weather with bitter 30 mph winds, marched through the line of state flags to see this national treasure. This is what I saw.
Mount Rushmore

Mount Rushmore

*I currently have a very nice buffalo shoulder mount available to get your collection started. Email me about this.

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New Boots

My friend’s rainbow trout was about to shake itself off the hook, so I jumped into Hebgen Lake to grab hold of it. Moments later water seeped through a hole and surrounded my right foot.

This had been going on for a month, including an uncomfortable ice fishing episode when the foot submerged in semi-frozen water, and finally I decided it was time to fix things by visiting the local outfitting experts.

My first stop was Free Heel and Wheel. I handed over the boot and it was taken to the back room for an examination. The verdict was that shoe goop wouldn’t work because the hole had become too large.

Next I talked to a guy from Idaho who went along on this fishing trip and he said he always uses duct tape to patch his boots. This made sense to me and I taped it up before going on a photo shoot, but the tape became wet and slipped off after an hour. I have a tendency to walk in streams and once again came home with a wet, soggy right foot.

Then I went to Bud Lilly’s Trout Shop, where I explained the entire history of water seepage, prior attempts at fixes, and various suggestions of what to do next. I received clarity in a couple of sentences: “Stop trying to fix that boot. Just go to Walmart and get another pair.”

This turned out to be good advice because Walmart in Billings had boots at half-price and I got my new ones for $10.

To finish up about my new boots, I’ll talk about being in Bozeman two weeks ago. In the morning the region woke up to a spring snowstorm and I put them on while doing errands. Later in the day I decided I needed a bunch of supplies and headed north for the 1.5 hour drive to Bozeman.

While there I thought I might as well check out the food co-op, which I had never visited. It was filled with people in very expensive mountain/outdoorsy clothes.

I noticed in myself a feeling of discomfort, and a couple things flashed into my mind. The first thought was of a local woman who says whenever she goes to Bozeman she can spot West Yellowstone people because they are wearing flannel and great big boots.

Then, keeping my eyes steady on the Montana bison meat selection, I forced myself to recall what I had on. It was my red flannel shirt, with no less than black long underwear peeking out of the collar, and of course my totally-unnecessary-in-the-situation new boots.

So while the boots are comfortable enough to forget they are on, maybe that’s a drawback, at least if you find yourself in places where it isn’t the style.

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New business venture

I ran into my regular car mechanic a couple of weeks ago at Wild West Pizzeria and told him about my then-secret expansion plans.

He said, “I always look forward to summer to see the crazy things people come up with.”

But I don’t think he was talking about me.

The big announcement is that I’ll be running a hot dog cart next to my store (which of course will also be open). These will be the finest hot dogs in the area, and if you mention the blog I’ll even give you a discount.

I’ve gotten some snide comments about this, and last night one of the town council members voted to keep me out of business, but 3-1 is still a victory, so I’ll be setting up in late May or early June.

Of course I’m biased, but I truly believe a hot dog stand can provide a really good meal. I studied at Hot Dog University and am trained in the Chicago-style method.

Is this low-class? Is it something that enlightened societies should ban?

Here’s what famous chef/author and street-food conneiseur Anthony Bourdain says:

Sneer at hot dogs all you want. A well-made wiener is a thing of beauty.

My plans are to live up to this standard and provide a valuable, tasty, and memorable meal during your visit to Yellowstone National Park.

P.S. I’m still working out the exact menu, but when talking it over with my Hot Dog U professor he advised, in a defeated tone, “you’ll probably have to offer ketchup.”

He was more realistic than Bourdain, who on this controversial topic warns his readers: “if you put ketchup on your dog I will [expletive] kill you.”

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Making Wolf Print Casts

The afternoon started with straightforward plans: that evening my neighbor and I and others would be listening to a couple of area folk singers at Wild West Pizzeria, but in Yellowstone the changing conditions mean you have to be flexible.

My cell phone rang and it was my neighbor: “Can you be ready a half hour earlier? Wolf prints a few miles outside of town.”

No problem at all, and soon three of us were heading west of West Yellowstone to take a look. From what we could piece together, two adult wolves and two younger ones had walked down the muddy road the day before.

Wolf print

Wolf print next to dollar bill for sizing

We followed the prints until they veered off into a field, and then retraced our steps to find the best ones, eventually spotting two that were next to each other.

The light was declining quickly, no one had bear spray, and the band was getting ready to play, but there was still time for my neighbor to make a mold.

The first step was to clean the print of tiny pebbles by blowing it with compressed air. Then we mixed the Plaster of Paris with water and poured it into the prints, gently smoothing it over the entire area.

At that point there was nothing to do but wait for the plaster to set, so we headed into town to listen to music for a couple of hours.

Even though the moon was only one day short of being full, it was still dark because of the cloud cover as we made our way back (no street lights for miles in this part of the country). Bear spray in hand we walked down the road, found the cast and gently lifted it from the ground. Mud and rocks were still attached, but otherwise it looked good and just needed to be cleaned.

The cast made it much easier to see the details of the wolf print, and it looked bigger than what we saw in the mud. It gives you a new perspective.

Cleaning the wolf print

Cleaning the wolf print with compressed air

Mixing the Plaster of Paris

Mixing the Plaster of Paris

Creating the mold

Pouring the plaster into the wolf print

Lifting the cast

Lifting the dried cast

The wolf print

The finished wolf print. Just needs to be cleaned off.

I’m not sure if this can be done inside of Yellowstone National Park – the best thing would be to talk to a ranger first. But otherwise, it’s easy to get the material from the local hardware store and then keep your eyes open for animal tracks so you can bring home a unique memento. And also remember to keep your schedule flexible.

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