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Archive for June, 2016

Bison, America’s National Mammal

YS Bison alone 2

YS Bison close upTatanka.



It does not really matter what this magnificent animal is called.  It will still be a powerful wild creature that embodies the American Spirit, bringing to mind both the wild freedom and destruction of the American West.  And now, it holds special status as the official National Mammal of the United States of America.  On May 9, 2016, President Obama signed the National Bison Legacy Act.  This new elevated status is meant to emphasize the bison’s cultural and economic significance in American history.




IMG_1279Ancestors of the current American Bison have been traced to a land migration from Asia thousands of years ago.  Although smaller than those ancient beasts, today’s bison have been a part of America for hundreds of years.  As recent as the early 19th century, the bison numbered in the multi-millions and ran free over much of North America.  These formidable animals were integral to the lives of many Native American tribes, providing not only spiritual imagery and stories but also food, clothing, fuel, tools, and even shelter.  This scene from Dances with Wolves shows a buffalo hunt as it may have happened those many years ago.

Then settlers and hunters moved across the country and killed roughly 50 million bison often for their coats or for sport, leaving the corpses to rot.  Some of the slaughter was intentional as an action to decimate Native Americans, given their interdependence with the herds.  By the end of the 19th century, the enormous herds had been reduced to a few hundred surviving animals.

In 1883, Teddy Roosevelt traveled to the Dakota Territory for a bison hunting trip.  After several years and a changed outlook, Roosevelt became committed to preserving what was left of the bison.  In 1905, he was instrumental—along with others—in forming the American Bison Society, which developed a bison breeding program through the then New York City Zoo (now the Bronx Zoo).  In 1913, the Society donated 14 bison to the Wind Cave National Park (South Dakota), starting major bison re-population efforts that continue today.

IMG_1128Today bison live in all 50 states, and herds are being re-introduced in Mexico.  American numbers have increased to a total of nearly 500,000 animals, but most of these show evidence of inter-breeding with cattle so are considered semi-domesticated.  Currently, many bison are raised for their meat, which is slowly growing in use and popularity.  About 20,000 truly wild bison remain on various preserves and public and native lands.

IMG_0740As of 2015, Yellowstone National Park was home to the largest wild herd of almost 5,000 animals. This herd has the special distinction of being direct descendants of the original herds that have continuously inhabited the area since ancient times.  This herd’s lineage can be linked back to 23 bison that escaped the slaughters of the 19th century.  Most other free-ranging herds had to be re-introduced to the various farms and nature preserves they now inhabit.


Postcard Art by Paul Goble

Postcard Art by Paul Goble

IMG_1212This year, I visited Yellowstone National Park and witnessed these formidable beasts in action. I was there in the spring so saw family groups that included “red dogs,” the term used for the light golden-colored calves.  There were also a few isolated bison wandering the fields, a typical activity for younger males that leave the family groups once they reach about two years of age, joining together eventually in small all-male bands.  The male bands rejoin the groups of females and juveniles, forming large groups during the late summer mating season.  After a nine-month gestation period, cows give birth in the spring.  Most cows have single births, and the new born calf weighs about 50 pounds.



During the mating season, males battle for mating supremacy, but these bouts rarely turn dangerous.  When I visited the park this spring, I saw what I assume were two “teens” practicing this battle behavior as they played in the field.  Later, two frisky calves even practiced the behavior.  These videos are not the best—sorry.  [I did learn that I should invest in a tripod if I am going to videotape activities when the camera is set to the highest magnification.]


What impressed me the most about the bison I was able to observe on this trip was their sheer physical prowess.  These animals are the largest mammals in North America, so it is no wonder they appeared massive and powerful.   An adult male bison stands 5 to 6.5 feet tall at the shoulder and can weigh over a ton.  Females stand 4 to 5 feet tall and weigh up to 1,000 pounds.  Both males and females have the characteristic sharp, curved horns that typically reach lengths of two feet or more.  Their coat is so dense that when snow accumulates, it rarely melts since it never makes it below the surface.


I sure would love to run my fingers through that dense coat.


IMG_1237As I spotted bison throughout the national park, they always seemed to be eating.  Actually, they do spend 9 to 11 hours a day grazing on grasses and shrubs.  But do not be deceived by their placid, calm demeanor.  They are considered unpredictable and at times even irritable.  They can run for long distances, reaching speeds up to 40 miles per hour.  When they roamed free, they were considered savage and more dangerous than a Grizzly Bear.



DEath in Yellowstone book coverLee. H. Whittlesey wrote the book Death in Yellowstone: Accidents and Foolhardiness in the First National Park.  One chapter is devoted to the death and destruction caused by bison, especially when tourists get too close, somehow forgetting these are indeed wild animals.   As of the second edition’s reprinting in 2014, there were only 2 deaths from bison since 2013, but the potential is always there.  Rangers constantly warn, “Keep your distance!”


I am sure I will return to Yellowstone again and again, mainly to see these magnificent animals.  Thankfully, they are no longer endangered and will hopefully continue to stay safe now that they are America’s National Mammal.  Of course, free-ranging herds can be seen at other locations besides Yellowstone:  There are herds at Wind Cave National Park (South Dakota, about 350 animals), Antelope Island State Park (Utah, 700 animals), the Henry Mountains (Utah, 500 animals), and the National Bison Range National Refuge (Montana, 400 animals).  Also, every September, tourists can watch a Buffalo Round Up of more than 1,000 animals at South Dakota’s Custer State Park.  These places are all going on my must-see list!



Bison is the term most often associated with these magnificent animals, now.  It is the more scientifically correct term, and it comes from the Greek meaning ox-like animal.  Bison was first recorded in use in reference to the American Bison in 1774.  The term buffalo seems incorrect because there is not a hereditary link between the American animal and the true buffalos from Asia and Africa.  However, the term buffalo comes from French fur trappers calling the American animal boeuf, meaning ox or bullock.  The conversion of boeuf into buffalo dates to 1635 when its usage was first recorded.  Given this information, either term is equally correct.  Personally, I really like the Sioux word tatanka!

YS Bison alone 1

Have you ever seen these wondrous animals in the wild?  Do you have a favorite wild animal you have seen or hope to see in the wild?

Grand Teton National Park

GT and YS mapGT mapGrand Teton National Park, sitting only 10 miles south of Yellowstone National Park, was originally created in 1929 by Herbert Hoover, preserving 96,000 acres.  In 1943 Franklin Delano Roosevelt created the Jackson Hole National Monument, preserving the unique features of the adjacent valley.  John D. Rockefeller donated public lands—lands that he had purchased over the years to save them from development—to the federal government in 1949.  In 1950, the three areas—Grand Teton, Jackson Hole, and the Rockefeller acres—were combined together under the name Grand Teton National Park, now covering 310,000 acres.  Today, it is one of the most popular national parks, visited by 3.2 million visitors in 2015.

GT Grand Teton view from road 2

The first time I visited Grand Teton National Park was in 1993, but it really was not my destination.  I was heading toward Yellowstone and passed through Grand Teton because the road passed right through it.  To say the rugged mountain range surprised me is an understatement.  I was driving along and—boom!—the mountains were just right there. One of my first stops was the Teton Point Overlook that showcased the entire mountain range.

My Glued Together Panorama from Before Photoshop

My Glued Together Panorama from Before Photoshop, Teton Point Overlook

The Grand Teton Range, the youngest sub-range of the Rocky Mountains, is impressive.  What makes this range stand out is how it juts straight up from the valley floor, rather than ascending gradually through a range of foothills.  The tallest peak is Grand Teton, reaching 13,770 feet above sea level.  There are eleven other peaks, each one reaching close to 12,000 feet above sea level. Surrounding these peaks are numerous lakes and rivers, such as the Snake River and Jackson and Jenny Lakes. Remnants of glaciation are evident, including at least a dozen u-shaped valleys scoured into existence by ice-age glaciers.

Grand Teton Mt Names

On part of that long ago drive, I took the Teton Park side loop past Jenny Lake and then looped back towards Jackson, Wyoming, stopping at Oxbow Bend Overlook and Sleeping Indian Overlook.

Jenny Lake

Jenny Lake

Jenny Lake

Jenny Lake

Cascade Falls

Cascade Falls

Oxbow Bend

Oxbow Bend

Mount Moran

Mount Moran

Lupine with the Grand Tetons in the Distance

Lupine with the Grand Tetons in the Distance

Arrowleaf Balsamroot

Arrowleaf Balsamroot

View from Oxbow Bend Overlook

View from Oxbow Bend Overlook

Sleeping Indian Formation

Sleeping Indian Formation

Later during that same trip, I took the monorail ride available from Teton Village near Jackson, Wyoming, to see the glorious peaks from an aerial view. 

Elk Antler Arch in Jackson Town Square

Elk Antler Arch in Jackson Town Square

Monorail for Aerial View of the Grand Tetons

Monorail for Aerial View of the Grand Tetons

Some Aerial Views of Peaks within the Grand Teton Range

GT Arieal view 1

GT Arial view 2

Hanging Ice Glacier U-Shaped Valley, Mount Moran

Hanging Ice Glacier U-Shaped Valley, Mount Moran

Snake River

Snake River

This year, my main goal for my Nature Trek was–once again—to visit Yellowstone National Park.  This time, as part of the trip, I planned to spend several days exploring Grand Teton National Park as well.  Unfortunately, a day of snow in Montana as I was first heading into Yellowstone via the west entrance forced me off the roads and mountain passes, requiring an adjustment to my itinerary. I no longer had an extra day to spend at Grand Teton National Park.

But I still wanted to view these magnificent Grand Tetons again!  Thus, as I left Yellowstone out the south entrance, I traveled U.S. Highway 191, heading to Jackson, Wyoming. This route is also known as the John D. Rockefeller Memorial Parkway, named in 1972 for Rockefeller’s significant contributions to national parks, including Grant Teton National Park.

The scenic route showcases mountains, grasslands and wildlife, reminiscent of the area over a hundred years ago.  It was a late spring afternoon.  As the light was growing dim, I stopped at various pullouts and overlooks to capture some shots of the mountains that at times seemed to hide as the road twisted and turned along the route.

Along the John D. Rockefeller Memorial Parkway

Along the John D. Rockefeller Memorial Parkway

Along Jackson Lake



On the Road Again

On the Road Again

Willow Flats Overlook




Oxbow Bend Overlook




Elk Ranch Turnout



Teton Point Overlook



The Cathedral Group

Middle Teton, Lower Saddle, Grand Teton, Gunsight Notch, Mt. Owen, Teewinot

Middle Teton, Lower Saddle, Grand Teton, Gunsight Notch, Mt. Owen, Teewinot


I can hardly wait until I get a chance to come visit the Grand Tetons again.

Are there some places you hope to visit again, again, and again?







75 Years Ago Today

On this day 75 years ago, Dorothy Birkemoe and Raymond F. Ross were married in Chicago, Illinois. 

wedding 1

wedding 2

wedding 3

They are my parents, and I miss them dearly.  Mom died in November 2012 and Dad in February 2014.  I expect they are together in heaven, celebrating this anniversary.  Me?  I am reminiscing through many good memories as my nod to celebrating with them.  I even bought a bouquet of yellow roses—like Mom carried in her bouquet.

Today, if you are able to visit with your parents or grandparents, give them an extra hug for me.  I sure wish I could still reach out and hold Mom and Dad in a big old bear hug.  But I think they know I am thinking of them.  “Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad.  I love you!”


Thanksgiving 1938

Thanksgiving 1938

on bike

Mom with Dad in uniform



Not Long After Moving to California

Not Long After Moving to California

Mom and Dad back yard

25th Anniversary, 1966

25th Anniversary, 1966

Mom and Dad by roses

Whale Watching out of Ventura

Whale Watching out of Ventura

My Apartment in Chatsworth

My Apartment in Chatsworth

50th Anniversary, 1991

50th Anniversary, 1991

MD with Me restaurant

Free Valentine's Day Dinner at Home Buffet, If Could Prove Been Married 50+ Years! They Loved It!

Free Valentine’s Day Dinner at Home Buffet, If Could Prove Been Married 50+ Years! They Loved It!

Mom and Dad valentines day






One of Their Last Visits Together

One of Their Last Visits Together


United States Population:  133,402,471

Franklin Delano Roosevelt Starts Third Term as President

Unemployment Rate:  9.9%

Japan Attacks Pearl Harbor and USA Enters World War II

“Manhattan Project” of Intensive Atomic Research Begins

New York Yankees Win World Series over Brooklyn Dodgers, 4-1

U. S. Savings Bonds Go on Sale

Bob Hope Entertains Soldiers in First USO Tour

National Gallery of Art, Washington, D. C. Opens

The Carving of Mount Rushmore Completed

FILMSCitizen Kane, Dumbo, Sergeant York, The Maltese Falcon, Dr, Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, How Green Was My Valley (Best Picture Award)

Wonder Woman Comic Begins Publication

Teflon Patented, First Aerosol Can Produced, Cheerios Introduced

POPULAR SONGS:  “Bewitched, Bothered & Bewildered,” “Deep in the Heart of Texas,”  “I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire,”  “Chattanooga Choo-Choo,” “I Got It Bad and That Ain’t Good,” “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy”


Weekly Income for 40-Hour Work Week $60     First Class Postage Stamp 3 cents      Bread about 8 cents/Loaf     Milk about 54 cents/Gallon     Pepsi & Coke about 5 cents/Bottle     Coffee about 5 cents/Cup     Eggs about 20 cents/Dozen     Hershey Candy Bar about 5 cents/Bar

Those Blooming Saguaros

IMG_2660Saugaro NP Rincon & West 144I would bet most everyone has seen a Saguaro Cactus, at least in pictures.  It is an iconic image of old time westerns, even though it does not grow throughout all of the southwest.  A great place to view Saguaros is in the Saguaro National Park, outside Tucson, Arizona.  Driving through this national park is an incredible experience with its open vistas and extensive cactus forest.  But it is the Saguaro Cactus itself that is so amazing, especially when it is in bloom.



Saugaro NP Rincon & West 286


For me, some of my amazement over the great Saguaros comes from knowing the basic facts about this wondrous plant:

The Saguaro Cactus is the defining plant of the Sonoran Desert, which runs from Mexico into Arizona and small sections of California.  Its blossom is the state wildflower for Arizona.


This cactus is grown only from seeds, not from cuttings.

Saguaros grow very, very, very slowly.  At 10 years old, a cactus may be less than 2 inches tall.

Saguaros can live to be 200 years old, reaching heights of 40-60 feet tall.


The largest known Saguaro is Champion Saguaro, and it is 45 feet tall with a three-foot girth. The tallest Saguaro ever measured was 78 feet tall before it blew over in a wind storm in 1986.

A Saguaro with no branches is called a spear.

Saugaro NP Rincon & West 069

The branches start growing once a plant is about 75 years old.


Saugaro NP Rincon & West 235

Once a Saguaro dies, its woody ribs can be used to build such things as fences and roofs.



Saugaro NP Rincon & West 249

The whole life cycle of this magnificent cactus rests on its flower and pollination cycle.  Each plant can have hundreds of flowers, which bloom in late spring, generating red fruit throughout the summer.  Each fruit contains thousands of seeds.  The flowers are pollinated by insects, birds and even bats.



IMG_2975Saugaro NP Rincon & West 085I have visited the Saguaro National Monument as well as the Tucson Desert Museum many times over the years, always enjoying the Saguaro Cactus.  However, I never managed to visit when the Saguaros were in bloom.  This year, I finally noticed the details shared in a brochure that stressed that the blooms were most prevalent in May—not earlier in the spring—and that one needed to be there early in the day to see them at their best.  It seems each blossom is short-lived, initially blooming after sunset and closing by noon the next day.



When they are in bloom, they are gorgeous! 






Oh, I Love A Cloudy Sky!

IMG_9814I love vacations where I drive the open roads.  Being under a gorgeous solid blue sky is always remarkable, the epitome of a good sunny day.  As Vincent Van Gogh says, “I never get tired of the blue sky.”  Of course, not every day is greeted by a wide open blue sky.

Clouds come and go, adding depth and variety to the sky above.  It is the wonder of the ever-changing sky that makes a IMG_9980country drive so inspiring.  There is also the paradox of a cloudy sky.  On the one hand, the clouds suggest mystery, change, complexity, wonder.  There is a spiritual element to watching a cloudy sky transform itself throughout the day.  Then, on the other hand, the clouds represent science, serving as a living example to air currents and water cycles.  There is an awareness of how life works if we study how clouds move and change over time.


One of the best things about my most recent Nature Trek was being on the road every day for three weeks.  Each day’s drive was enhanced by watching the wonderful sky as it transformed itself throughout the day.  There is nothing so wondrous as a cloudy sky!










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“The sky is an infinite movie to me.  I never get tired of looking at what’s happening up there.”    K. D. Lang

 “I always believe that the sky is the beginning of the limit.”   M C Hammer

 “We think too small, like the frog at the bottom of the well.  He thinks the sky is only as big as the top of the well.  If he surfaced, he would have an entirely different view.”  Mao Zedong


“Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize:  a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black curious eyes of a child—our own two eyes.  All is a miracle.”    Thich Nhat Hanh

“Go forth under the open sky, and listen to Nature’s teachings.”   William C. Bryant

“I always start a painting with the sky.”  Alfred Sisley


“The sky is always there for me, while my life has been going through many, many changes.  When I look up to the sky, it gives me a nice feeling, like looking at an old friend.”  Yoko Ono

“Every time someone tried to explain to me there are limits to what one man can do, I pointed to the boundless sky and said, ‘There is the limit.’”   Jaiprakash Gaur

“There is the sky, which is all men’s together.”   Euripides

“Clouds do not really look like camels or sailing ships or castles in the sky.  They are simply a natural process at work.  So, too, perhaps, are our lives.”  Roger Ebert


“The enormous lake stretched flat and smooth and white all the way to the edge of the gray sky.”  Laura Ingalls Wilder

“The sky is filled with stars, invisible by day.”  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


“Excuse me while I kiss the sky.”   Jimi Hendrix

“There is one spectacle grander than the sea, that is the sky; there is one spectacle grander than the sky, that is the interior of the soul.”    Victor Hugo

“i thank you god for this most amazing day, for the leaping greenly spirits of trees, and for the blue dream of sky and for everything which is natural, which is infinite, which is yes.”   e. e. cummings

“The sky is the daily bread of the eyes.”    Ralph Waldo Emerson


“Thank God men cannot fly, and lay waste the sky as well as the earth.”    Henry David Thoreau

“The sky is the limit.  You never have the same experience twice.”  Frank McCourt

“You must not blame me if I do talk to the clouds.”   Henry David Thoreau

“A cloud does not know why it moves in just such a direction and at such a speed. . . It feels an impulsion. . . . This is the place to go now.  But the sky knows the reasons and the patterns behind all clouds, and you will know, too, when you lift yourself high enough to see beyond horizons.”   Richard Bach


“The air up there in the clouds is very pure and fine, bracing and delicious.  And why shouldn’t it be?  It is the same the angels breathe.”    Mark Twain

“To see the Summer Sky is Poetry, though never in a Book it lie—True Poems flee—“    Emily Dickinson

“When scattered clouds are resting on the bosoms of hills, it seems as if one might climb into the heavenly region, earth being so intermixed with sky, and gradually transformed into it.”    Nathaniel Hawthorne

“May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view.  May your mountains rise into and above the clouds.”   Edward Abbey

“A pessimist sees only the dark side of the clouds, and mopes; a philosopher sees both sides, and shrugs; an optimist doesn’t see the clouds at all—he’s walking on them.”   Leonard Louis Levinson


“Those clouds are angels’ robes.”    Charles Kingsley

“We’d never know how high we are, till we are called to rise; and then, if we are true to plan, our statures touch the sky.”   Emily Dickinson

“Be still, sad heart!—and cease repining; behind the clouds is the sun still shining.”   Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

“When you realize how perfect everything is you will tilt your head back and laugh at the sky.”    Buddha



This post is my response to the Daily Post One-Word Prompt: Sky.

I have shared posts about my love of clouds before.

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