March 16, 2006

Prairie Dog

Rather than respond to the question he actually posed, Connor's post yesterday for some reason inspired me to dig up a photo from last summer's western roadtrip. Maybe next time I have a slow week I should do a series of recap photoblogging from that trip.

A prarie dog at home in one of the villages in Wind Cave NP, in the Black Hills. I don't know about Denver's urban dogs, but out here, you have to move exceeding slowly to get this close to one. 2005:08:19 10:49:18
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October 18, 2005

Sox Sellout, Yellowstone Wolves, Etc: Random Linkage Week in Review

In theory, wolves are keeping elk away from the bottoms, allowing willow saplings to regrow, completely altering the stream-bank ecology. Kind of like this elk casually grazing along the (willow-free) Firehole River. 2005:08:23 11:35:14

Oh, geez, it's been almost another week since I posted.

While I don't usually link to the Chicago Tribune because their links expire so quickly, this is too funny not to post: it took just 18 minutes for White Sox World Series tickets to sell out. The article seems mostly to feature tales of frustrated geeks who believed their technical prowess would somehow give them an edge in the online sales. And not one quote from anyone who succeeded in legitimately buying a seat. Guess those folks are lying low.

Last week we had a big teleconference, and I convinced our collaboration to just pick one of my optics design proposals already and go with it. One can look at this is a couple of ways. 1) Now I'm officially responsible for designing something that needs to get built with zillions of dollars of NASA's money. Oh great. Or, 2) Now I'm only in charge of one-and-a-half designs instead of four, which means I have time to start worrying about my upcoming oral exams instead. Oh great.

The New York Times has an article on Yellowstone's changing ecosystem, which I can appreciate, having recently been there. Turns out, reintroducing wolves is driving marked ecological changes in Yellowstone country. The gist of the article is that returning an apex predator to the area has all kinds of cascade effects. Grazing herds (namely, elk) are redistributed to higher and safer areas, which allows saplings to survive, yielding lowland tree regrowth, thus more stable and cooler streams, thus more and larger fish, beaver, and songbirds. More downed carcasses provide food for more bears and other scavengers, but the competition for space drives down the coyote population, meaning more rodents, and thus more foxes and raptors. Ecologists emphasize that it's too early to tell what the long-term effects of the reintroduction will be, or to what extent changing weather patterns could also explain these changes. Nevertheless, at first blush this suggests a distinct trend back towards the Yellowstone of Hayden or Roosevelt, if not precisely the one that Colter saw.

So what's up with this elk I saw? Turns out, wolves are really quite averse to the company of humans, and the Firehole River runs right along one of the main park roads. If elk are more afraid of the wolf packs than of the tourists (pretty reasonable, actually), this could set up a very weird wildlife management dynamic.

Now you all know that bicycles are my primary mode of travel over intra-urban distances. Here in Minneapolis that's generally encouraged, although I do draw puzzled looks in mid-winter. Back in Chicago no prodding seems necessary; I'm told the summer Critical Mass rides are drawing upwards of 3,000 riders now. But over in Israel, getting everywhere by bike was considered positively eccentric, something only the poorest laborers resort to. The other day, Ha'aretz reported (in part by omission) just what I'd suspected to be true: Israel is still firmly in the biking is a surprisingly fun pastime stage, and it hasn't yet occurred to the population at large that one can actually go places with the things. Which is odd, considering the outrageous cost of owning and operating a car over there.

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August 26, 2005

Schematic of a Road Trip

Before delving into the specifics of observation and nuance, it would make sense to present the broadest possible outline of the past couple of weeks. So the following constitutes the short answer to the question, where have I been? The accompanying pictures are presented in click-to-enlarge style.

Tuesday, 16 August: Embarkation

The Mitchell, SD, Corn Palace. 2005:08:16 16:04:00

Having acquired a small rental car and minimal provisions, my Dad and I strike westward Tuesday morning. There's not a tremendous amount to see on I-90; highlights include the Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD, and a 50's-themed ice cream parlour. We stop for the night on the banks of the Missouri, camping near where the Lewis and Clark expedition stopped.

Wednesday, 17 August: Side Trip the First

Sunflowers are one of the major crops in southern SD. 2005:08:17 13:32:42

Wednesday we leave I-90 to drive through the Lakota Sioux reservations, including Wounded Knee, site of a 19th century massacre and a 20th century seige of Sioux Indians. Next, north to the Black Hills were we make camp in Wind Cave NP.

Thursday, 18 August: Wind Cave

A large passageway in Wind Cave. 2005:08:18 15:51:08

Thursday we decide that the Wind Cave area has enough sites of interest to merit spending a day there. The day includes a Mammoth excavation, the Wind Cave, and the monument of Crazy Horse, which is absurdly grand.

Friday, 19 August: Turning North

Every national and state park of any size in this area has its own buffalo herd. I approve. 2005:08:19 11:14:05

On Friday, we head north out of the Black Hills, by way of Mount Rushmore (kitschy) and Deadwood (kitschier). This day takes us into Wyoming, ending at Devils Tower or the Bear Lodge, depending on who you ask.

Saturday, 20 August: Northern Side Trip

The USGS calls it Devils Tower. The local tribes have always called it the Bear's Lodge (or similar). 2005:08:19 18:35:35

Leaving our friendly local igneous intrusion, we head into Montana to visit Little Big Horn. The plan was to head across into the Big Horn Basin, but it's getting late. So we backtrack and stay in the Big Horn mountains.

Sunday, 21 August: Basin Hopping

This Yellowstone elk got tired of being stalked by photographers, and decided to show off instead. 2005:08:21 20:42:29

Fresh out of the Powder River Basin, we cross the Big Horn today. A stop at the great medicine wheel is in order (Where The Eagles Land in the native languages). As the day ends we roll into Yellowstone.

Monday, 22 August: Yellowstone Country

The Lower Falls of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River. This park is given to drama, but it is frequently deserved. 2005:08:22 12:52:37

Monday we drive the upper Grand Loop. This parallels the Yellowstone River for much of the way, so we stop for many waterfalls. Also, wildlife and geology abound. After sunset we squint as Old Faithful erupts by twilight.

Tuesday, 23 August: Hydrothermal Day

Deposits of sulphur and other minerals, thermophile bacteria mats, and the like give Yellowstone its colorful reputation. 2005:08:23 13:17:30

Tuesday we drive south through the geyser basins, then continue on to the southern exit and down the length of the Teton Range. Camp is the southern tip of Grand Teton NP. We make a side trip to the Jackson Hole public library so Dad can dump accumulated spam emails.

Wednesday, 24 August: Blowing Town

The so-called Cathedral Group contains the three tallest peaks in the Teton Range, and about half of its dozen or so glaciers. 2005:08:24 11:30:03

Since I fly out of Denver early Thursday morning, Wednesday we must cross many miles. Like 500 or so. Leaving the Tetons, we hop from Jackson Hole to Pinedale and make a quick run through the Museum of the Mountain Man. Then it's across the flat basins of southern Wyoming, turning south at Cheyanne, and hitting Boulder at sunset. Dinner with a poet Dad is publishing, then a few hours in an airport motel mostly spent repacking our gear into checkable luggage.

Thursday, 25 August: Flying

And as the sun rises we return the car in Denver, lug our tired selves into the airport, and go our separate ways. And here I am, back in Minneapolis.

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August 25, 2005


Have descended from the mountains once again, grizzled and gruff, with many maps and hundreds of photographs in tow. These will be communicated to you, dear readers, forthwith. However, today will be mostly spent dealing with unpacking, with backed up email, and such mundanities. Posts will post when they post.

An announcement that will shock several: I have been compelled to acquire a cell phone. If anyone from the department wants to give me a ride to Roseville to pick it up, IM me. Thanks.

That is all.

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August 16, 2005

Last Post

Until we hit a net cafe of some kind, that is. See y'all in a few days.

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August 14, 2005

Taking Off

Dinkytown is blessed with a number of places to eat a decent Sunday brunch buffet. The Loring Pasta Bar gets points for having perhaps the most ecclectic offerings of the lot. Mmm, mussels and carrot cake for brunch. 2005:08:14 12:50:45

Sigh. It had to happen, eventually. After a year and a half of going without, I'll be taking classes again in the fall. Nothing strenuous, mind you, as my advisor's issued dire warnings about how he's paying me to do research, not homework. But, the course credits won't earn themselves. So since there's a couple of weeks of summer left, and because I've barely seen my Dad since Christmas, and since all of my Western camping has taken place south of, roughly, Denver, it's time for a road trip.

Tomorrow Dad flies in. We stock up, rent a car, and strike out Tuesday morning. The plan is to make our way across the northern plains up into the mountains, take a right at Yellowstone, and end up in Denver ten or twelve days from now. Then we return the car, he flies to a conference in California, and I come back here. It's a good thing we travel light, as everything we bring will have to become airline luggage on the way back.

Normally my luddite tendencies kick in on trips like this, but my father's in the middle of projects just now. So he encouraged me to bring along a laptop so we can search for wireless signals. And come to think of it, we may well have an easier time finding net cafes than good cell reception. So, I just might manage to post here during the trip, depending on what we find. No promises, but we'll see. Either way, lots of good (i.e. not all of the highway) photos when I get back.

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