In Yellowstone, if there are bears near a road, there will, unfortunately, be people too close to the bears.
It must be an unwritten rule of some kind. Why else would people violate the posted rules, not to mention common sense?
Safely Viewing Wildlife in Yellowstone (National Park Service)
Do not approach bears or wolves on foot within 100 yards (91 m) or other wildlife within 25 yards (23 m). Keep a safe distance from all wildlife. Each year, park visitors are injured by wildlife when approaching too closely.
- Use roadside pullouts when viewing wildlife.
- Use binoculars or telephoto lenses for safe viewing and to avoid disturbing them. By being sensitive to its needs, you will see more of an animal’s natural behavior and activity. If you cause an animal to move, you are too close! It is illegal to willfully remain near or approach wildlife, including birds, within ANY distance that disturbs or displaces the animal.
While we’re dealing with the not-so-bad-heat of a mild summer, in a few months, we may be wanting warmer weather.
After visiting Fort Fetterman on July 10, 2010, our next objective was to find Ayers Natural Bridge.
I had the GPS unit set for shortest distance instead of fastest time and, unfortunately, the shortest distance settings took us down a route that wasn’t!
After we had gone through a farmyard, the “road” degenerated into a rutted, muddy path that was getting progressively worse. I was on the verge of looking for a place to turn around when a farmer who set out after us on a four-wheel ATV caught up and told us that the track we were on wasn’t a road. Apparently, we weren’t the first to be directed through his land by their GPS device.
When we made it to Ayers Natural Bridge, we found it was the centerpiece of a very nice county park. We had a picnic and spent about an hour in the park.
Unlike most natural bridges formed by water, Ayers Natural Bridge still spans the stream that cut through it. In May 1920, the bridge and surrounding 150 acres of land was donated to Converse County by Andrew C. Ayres for use as a free park, which bears the same name as the formation.
The arch over the creek was occasionally visited by emigrants on the Emigrant Trails, but it wasn’t an easy undertaking.
Mathew C. Field – July 12, 1843: Rode off in advance of the camp with Sir Wm., to visit a remarkable mountain gorge – a natural bridge of solid rock,over a rapid torrent, the arch being regular as tho shaped by art – 30 feet from base to ceiling, and 50 to the top of the bridge – wild cliffs, 300 feet perpendicular beetled us, and the noisy current swept along among huge fragments of rock at our feet. We had a dangerous descent, and forced our way through an almost impervious thicket, being compelled to take the bed of the stream in gaining a position below. We called the water Bridge Creek! (Wyoming State Historic Preservation Office)
Ayres Natural Bridge
On our first full day in Wyoming on our 2010 trip, we visited the site of a 19th century U.S. Army post, Fort Fetterman. Little remains of the fort today other than a restored officer’s quarters and an ordnance warehouse. The site is now a Wyoming State Historical Park.
Fort Fetterman (historical marker)
The federal government established Fort Fetterman on July 19, 1867. Situated on the south bank of the North Platte River at the point where the Bozeman Trail left the river and turned north, the fort’s purpose was to protect emigrants and control the Sioux and other tribes who resented the miners and settlers passing through their lands. The Bozeman Trail, which passed through the northeast quadrant of present day Wyoming, pierced Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapaho hunting territories. By 1866 warfare broke out between Indians and whites along the Bozeman Trail. In response, the government built a series of army posts: Forts Reno, Phil Kearny and C. F. Smith. The most dramatic episode of “Red Cloud’s War” occurred December 21, 1866 near Fort Phil Kearny. The Sioux and their allies killed Captain William J. Fetterman and a detachment of 80 men. Fort Fetterman, constructed the following summer, was named in honor of the fallen captain. In the summer of 1868, the government’s peace commissioners abandoned the northern posts and yielded the Bozeman trail as part of the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868. The army did not evacuate Fort Fetterman, however, which experienced only minor skirmishing throughout the conflict. The 1873 Post Commander described the fort: “this being one of the most remote and … one of the most uninhabitable posts in the Department …”. The two sides remained at peace until the Sioux War of 1876 when the army launched three expeditions under the command of General George Crook from Fort Fetterman. The military abandoned Fort Fetterman in November 1882, selling many of its buildings. The old post became the nucleus for a hell-raising cattle town. Eventually that, too, declined when Douglas was founded in 1886.
The pronghorn is a species of large plant eating mammals whose range extends over much of the western United States and into both Canada and Mexico. It is the fastest land mammal in the Western Hemisphere, built for evading predators by running. Often cited as the second fastest land animal in the world, second only to the African cheetah, pronghorns can sustain high speed longer than cheetahs.
By the 1920s, hunting pressure had reduced the pronghorn population to about 13,000. From a high probability of extinction, conservation efforts in the 1920s and 30s, including habitat protections and hunting restrictions, have allowed pronghorn numbers to recover to an estimated population between 500,000 and 1,000,000.
Charles Belden, a Wyoming photographer and rancher, was one of many who worked to save the pronghorn from extinction. A 1910 MIT graduate, in 1914, Belden “became manager of the 250,000-acre Pitchfork Ranch west of Meeteetse, Wyoming and married the daughter of the owner, Louis G. Phelps, a Montana banker and cattleman. In 1922 Belden became co-owner of the ranch with Phelps’ son, Eugene Phelps. At one time, it ran 25,000 head of cattle and was said to have the largest aggregation of pronghorn antelope in American.”1 By the 1930s, there were so many pronghorn on the ranch that Beldon began efforts to relocate them. “In some instances he used his airplane to fly them to zoos along the East Coast.”2
One delivery was very different.
“Although most of the passengers for the Hindenburg’s return flight were currently waiting at the Biltmore Hotel in New York, from which they would later be ferried down to Lakehurst by DC-3, two “passengers” were already at Lakehurst by the time the airship arrived. Charles Belden, of the Pitchfork Ranch in Wyoming, had flown into Lakehurst earlier that day in his own private airplane. Known as “The Antelope King”, Belden would regularly relocate pronghorns from his ranch to zoos across the United States via airplane. On this day, he had brought two baby pronghorns to Lakehurst. The little antelopes would be carried across the ocean in the belly of the Hindenburg on her return flight, and taken to their new home at a zoo in Hanover, Germany.”3
1 Encyclopedia of Frontier Biography by Dan. L Thrapp, page 89, University of Nebraska Press, 1991
2 More Pronghorn than People, University of Wyoming Heritage Center
3 The Hindenburg’s Seventh North American Flight, Projekt LZ129, Notes on the passenger Zeppeline, LZ 129 Hindenburg
Bright white sand.
Vast blue sky.
Off in the distance, stark mountains.
Starkly beautiful – and deadly at times.
Alkali Flat Trail (National Park Service)
There is no shade or water along the trail, and summer temperatures can exceed 100 degrees F (38 ° C). Heat-related illness is common in warm weather and can be fatal. Hike during cool times. Carry food and at least two quarts of water. Rest, eat and drink when tired. Drinking water is available only at the Visitor Center. The white sand reflects sunlight. Protect all exposed skin from sunburn. Protect your eyes by wearing sunglasses. We recommend that you do not hike alone.
On Tuesday, August 4, a French couple, with their 9-year-old son, set out on an afternoon hike into the searing desert at White Sands National Monument. They started out on the Alkali Flat Trail at about 1 p.m., with two full 20-ounce water bottles. The high temperature for the day was 101°F.
Be Safe in the Desert (White Sands National Monument trailhead sign)
In the desert, temperatures can vary up to 50°F in one day. Always bring an extra layer of clothing to be prepared for changing weather conditions. Take a minimum of one gallon of water per person per day and snacks. Because the sand reflects sunlight, use plenty of sunblock and wear a hat and sunglasses. Talk to a ranger for additional safety information.
About a mile and a half into the hike, the mother, Ornella Steiner, began feeling ill, stumbled, and aggravated a pre-existing knee injury, according to the son, Enzo. She decided to head back to the car, while the others continued on, but she only traveled back a couple hundred yards before collapsing.
Patrolling rangers found Mrs. Steiner’s body. Trying to figure out why she was on the trail alone, the rangers examined her mobile phone. Finding photos on the phone of her son and husband at the park’s entrance, rangers mounted an immediate search. In a little less than an hour, Enzo was discovered alive, but his father, David Steiner had died. The pair were slightly off the trail and had only progressed about a half a mile past the point where Mrs. Steiner turned back.
Both images in this post are from our visit to White Sands National Monument on October 13, 2011. We didn’t take any part of the Alkali Flat Trail as it was quite late in the day by the time we got that far into the park and we had already done a couple of short hikes. Only one of the two, Dune Life Nature Trail, a 1 mile loop trail, actually went out into the dunefield. Even though it was autumn, late in the day, and a short trail, I’m pretty sure we took water.
We have, at times, not taken water with us on a trail when we should have, or not taken enough, but never in extreme conditions like those present on August 4 at White Sands. Usually, our error has been in going further down a trail than we had planned. Most of the time, though, we have more than enough water for the whole hike.
We have found it amazing, at times, when we are out on some of the trails over a mile or two in length and see folks out there who are obviously not prepared. No water or little water. Flip-flops and sandals over terrain that warrants sturdy footwear. Skimpy clothing when it’s glaring hot – or when it’s quite chilly.
The Steiner tragedy at White Sands was preventable. Perhaps some will learn from what happened, but, somehow, I doubt many will.
Bright white sand.
Vast blue sky.
Starkly beautiful – and deadly.
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