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Junior Curator Yellowstone Trip – June 25, 2012

June 26, 2012

Wolves. Many people come to Yellowstone just to see the wolf packs that call the park home. Over 10 packs amount to a total of about a hundred individuals. While this might seem like a lot, the wolf population has actually declined in the past few years due to a harsh winter and only a few surviving pups. Rival packs periodically clash and, occasionally, a wolf is killed. Despite this, we hope the population will increase over the next few years. Today, we went to Little America at the base of Specimen Ridge with Kira Cassidy-Quimby, a wolf expert who has worked with The Wolf Project for several years. Only a few minutes after arriving and opening introductions, we spotted three wolves: a female and two males. This appearance was greeted with great excitement for all, especially since the wolves were very active. It isn’t like wolves are an everyday animal and each encounter is something special. Later this evening, a member in our group spotted a lone female on a ridge at around 8:20 local time. The wolves might not stay out of sight the way some of the other animals do, but they have won a special place in all of our hearts.

Junior Curators in Yellowstone

Wolves are not the only attraction to Yellowstone, however. The bison that roam the park are another unique animal. Bison are easily some of the most impressive animals in Yellowstone. There is just something about standing a few hundred yards away from an animal that can potentially kill you. Throughout the day, they showed no fear of our group as we hiked steadily higher. Perhaps they may not be adorable like the ground squirrels, but there is a breathtaking awesomeness about standing in the company of these magnificent animals.

The geological features of the park make the wildlife here possible. Canyons such as the one we hiked along today are home to interesting birds such as ospreys and peregrine falcons, who use the cracks lining canyon walls as nesting locations. However, equally interesting is the method through which these canyons are formed. Millions of years ago, the area along which we hiked was a riverbed. Approximately 2.2 million years ago, volcanic activity filled in the riverbed with a layer of basalt. Over the course of time, chemical weathering caused by geothermal activity and the physical weathering caused by the river’s running water carved the riverbed down to its current elevation. This descent of the riverbed is recorded in the presence of the canyon. In a process called inverse topography, the former location of the riverbed now towers above the current river, while layers once far below the river and under the surface now form the current layers of the riverbed and the canyon floor.

Whether we are looking for wildlife or observing the geological history, Yellowstone is certainly a place full of endless possibility.

By Rachel H., Garrett, Rachel C., Matt, Nick, and Shelly

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