Monday, June 3, 2013

A Tale Of A Bobbling Badger

That’s not a baby goose – that’s a badger!
Get out the binoculars! Get out the binoculars!
Drama unfolds on the Yellowstone River!
We are taking a break on a small bluff overlooking the Yellowstone River. I am enthralled by the rock formation on the other side. Hours earlier on another hillside we had paused to watch a rather large furry animal stretch itself out in a grassy meadow and chomp chomp chomp away on whatever was within paw’s reach. Four of us humans were out for an eight mile hike along the Garnet Hill trail in the Tower area of Yellowstone, chattering noisily and scanning the scene as we toodled merrily through the forest. 

Hey there’s a bear over there! It looks like it’s right off the trail!
See the black bear?  Through the trees?

A black bear of rather rotund proportions was moving leisurely about in a small grassy clearing, directly where we wanted to go. We stopped and stared. It sensed our presence and stared back at us. With bears, the nose knows all. Apparently, though, the eyesight of bears is about as good as humans (although I’ve never seen a bear wearing bifocals as a vision aid). So there we all found ourselves – four humans and one black bear, everyone squinting at the other through the thin cover of trees. 

So this is what those dang marmots were up to! 

We had come across a platoon of marmots at the beginning of the hike – the sneaky little rodents were everywhere! Popping up through the grass, scurrying across boulders, stopping shamelessly in front of us in the middle of the trail, hundreds of these brazen brown furballs had closed ranks behind us, sneering at us and laughing madly to themselves like so many wicked witches of the west. They had obviously been propelling us toward a get–together with this big fat smelly omnivore.

Have a nice little hike, my lovelies! HahaHohoHeehee Snort!!!
IMG_2940Yellow BelliedMarmot
"I've got friends all over this mountain..."
Since we didn’t want to turn back and face that horde of marauding marmots again our only choice was to contour up and around the hill, keeping what we hoped would be the Yellowstone–mandated 100–yard distance from Ursus americanus

By this time the bear had discounted us as a threat and stretched out comfortably in the grass, its huge hind feet pads skyward, its nose nuzzled deep in the dirt. I could almost hear its teeth grinding the vegetation and insects to shreds, could almost smell its breath pungent beyond imagination from never having brushed or flossed a day in its life.

Fascinated, we perched ourselves on the hillside and burned some daylight. 

Bear-watching along the Garnet Hill trail

OK enough of this wooly wildlife. This here Hill is named Garnet for a reason, and I’m going to find me some! 

Bye bye, bear!  Take care of yourself!

Whenever I find myself surrounded by three–billion year old metamorphic rocks I tend to go a little nuts. These Precambrian schists and gneisses of northern Yellowstone are no different. I caress and cuddle them. I call out to them. I swoon, I yodel, I sigh. People I hike with are used to this sort of behavior. In fact, they expect it and usually end up sighing and yodeling at the rocks, too. 

Nice gneiss!
Loving the metamorphic rocks!

Follow the trail to garnets.

These boots were made for walking on garnets.

Near our third snack–time site I pick up a chunk of schist from the middle of the trail. It is studded with some marble–sized garnets that have caught my eye. These are not gem–quality minerals by any stretch of the imagination – how would you be holding up after weathering the storms of change over nearly three billion years? 

These garnets were formed deep in the Earth’s crust under immense high pressures and temperatures (I once calculated the pounds per square inch (psi) pressures of some similar but younger rocks in the Beaver Dam Mountains of southern Utah and got 188,545 psi). Minuscule layers of paper–thin sheets of biotite are encrusting the garnets. Together these two fascinating minerals help tell a microscopic story of mountain uplift and decompression, rock ancestors ascending from possibly 25 miles beneath the surface of the Earth to eventually become the massive Beartooth Block of northern Wyoming and southern Montana. 

Because I am a Park employee I am allowed to collect the garnet schist and bring it back to Grant Village, knock it down to a size that will fit nicely into a display box, and set it out with the other rocks I have been collecting for our visitor center since last summer. My supervisor calls it my collateral duty. I call it living my dream with a collecting permit.

These red garnets are huge!

And so after our third snack of the day, with my precious specimen nestled neatly into my pack, we amble our way to the bluff overlooking the Yellowstone River and to our ultimate destiny with the previously mentioned badger/goose. 

Yellowstone River from the Garnet Hill trail

I am ripping my binoculars from my neck. Something bobbles, dives (sinks?) and then quickly surfaces. It looks nothing like a baby goose but what else could we think it is? There are two adult geese right behind it, everyone bobbling about in the swiftly moving current. From the bluff I focus on the elongated surfacing Something that has an unmistakably striped head. 

It’s a freaking badger floating down the river with a couple of Canada geese in hot pursuit!
What the…?
Our badger is aiming for the bank, looking seriously like it would rather be just about anywhere else except in its present situation. The two geese just take it all in stride like they were born to float. As quickly as it appeared the entire theatrical performance disappears beyond a bend in the river and the trees. It is all over in less than two minutes.  My camera is useless. 

We never do find out how or why that badger ended up in the river, or what the geese had to do with it all. Inquiries were made to the osprey who had witnessed the entire affair while guarding its nest of chicks high in a nearby tree, but it wasn’t saying a word.


  1. Me thinks 4 park employees had partaken in a dram too much of an adult beverage before hitting the trails on their day off.
    First, we have a black bear in need of dental appointment and then we have giggling marmots and then we have 4 otherwise lucid and prudent adults dancing with, yodeling to, caressing and cuddling 3 billion year old worn out rocks and then we have the world famous Yellowstone Attack Geese and then we close with the talking to the resident osprey.
    Just an observation ............

    1. Lucid and prudent? When did this happen?

      Kinda sounds like Alice in Wonderland takes a hike, eh? This Yellowstone is surely a strange and amusing place!

  2. So...where are you stationed day to day in the park? Y'know, in case a friend wanted to pop in and say "Hi!"...?

    1. I'm at Grant Village. Email me or call and let me know your plans!