Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Steam Engine # 844

The Union Pacific railroad has done a good job restoring and maintaining some of its historic equipment, and today one of its steam engines made an excursion run through western Wyoming and southeast Idaho.  Steam engine # 844 was the last one built for Union Pacific.
Here the train approaches Rocky Point, southwest of Montpelier, Idaho.  It was on a trip from Cheyenne, Wyoming to Boise, Idaho and back.

The train crossed the Bear River at Rocky Point.

 Union Pacific took delivery of 844, known as the “Living Legend”, in 1944 to be used as a high speed passenger engine.  It pulled several famous trains, including the Overland Limited, Los Angeles Limited, Portland Rose, and Challenger.

As the train left Montpelier, Idaho it passed under a signal Bridge.

After diesels took over, 844 was used for freight service from 1957 to 1959, and in 1960 it was saved from scrapping to be used as a goodwill ambassador for Union Pacific.  The engine has run hundreds of thousands of miles.

Leaving the Bear Lake Valley, near Montpelier, Idaho

The statistics on steam engine 844 are staggering.  The engine and tender weigh 454 tons and are just over 114 feet long.  The water capacity is 23,500 gallons, and it runs on 6,200 gallons of oil.  The drive wheels are 80 inches in diameter.  The top speed is 120 mph (190 km/h) and it generates 4,500 horsepower.

When this engine blasts by a few feet away, it shakes the earth, and the whistle is ear-shattering. What an experience!

Please be aware that these photos are copyrighted and must not be used without permission and usually a small payment.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Garter Snakes Mating

Our huge snow pack in the Bear Lake Valley melted fast.  While there is still snow in the mountains, here on the valley floor we are dealing with a lot of water, and the smaller members of our wildlife community are appearing.
I was driving around the valley looking for photos of the flooded fields when I spotted these two intertwined common garter snakes (Thamnophis sirtalis) that had probably just emerged from hibernation.
I assumed they were mating, but after reading about them it is possible they were huddled together for warmth in our cold climate.  Some males are able to produce female pheromones which attract other males away from the den.  Then the first male ditches the pheromones and races back to the den where he hopes to have the females to himself.  This same technique tricks other males into “warming up” the trickster.
These snakes were very patient with me.  When I got down to their level, the smaller one stretched out toward the lens curiously, and I wonder if he was looking at his reflection.  Also, I wonder about the dusty color of these usually brilliant snakes.  Could it be that after emerging from hibernation their colors are dull until after they molt?  I just don’t know.

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Sunday, March 19, 2017

Feeding An Elk Herd

This winter has been the most difficult one I’ve seen in the Bear Lake Valley since we moved here in 1999.  So far, snowfall has been over 10 feet and we are sure to get more.  Of course, it was more compact on the ground so it was just a few feet deep, but when combined with thick layers of ice it has been very difficult for wildlife to find food.  There are places where people feed deer and elk every year in this area, but this year new feeding stations have been set up to take care of animals that normally make it through winter on their own.

Micah Rigby and R C Hymas on their three-horse sleigh.

In Bear Lake County alone, 20 emergency feed grounds have been set up for deer, and 4 for elk.  I was fortunate to be able to ride along on a horse-drawn sleigh with fellow photographer Jim Parker to feed a herd of elk at Banks Valley, Idaho.  The public was asked to stay away to avoid stressing the animals.

Even the horses seemed interested in the elk herd.

A work sleigh with three horses was driven a couple of miles by R C Hymas and Micah Rigby for the cross country trip to where a herd of about 400 elk was waiting.  The elk have become accustomed to sleighs at the annual feed grounds, but here the elk were wild, and they kept their distance.  As the sleigh was driven along the line of elk, sections of hay were kicked off from four big bales so they would be strung out enough for all the elk to get to some.  They lined up like kids in a school lunch line to be fed.

These animals were easily spooked and if one started to run, several would go along, but they wouldn’t go too far as long as they had hay to eat.

I admire the way these guys handled their horses.  The jobs of harnessing and driving these beautiful animals were second nature to them, and I appreciate all they are doing to help Idaho’s wildlife.

Jim Parker holds the tired horses while they are unhitched from the sleigh.

Please be aware that my photos are copyrighted and must not be used without permission.  I often donate usage for charitable or educational purposes, but require a small fee for personal use.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Bear Lake Ice Breakup

Bear Lake doesn’t freeze every year, but when it does there are sometimes good photo opportunities when the ice breaks up.
 On this February day, a snowstorm was blowing in, and the gray clouds were a strong contrast to the blue and white piles of ice at Rainbow Cove on the Utah end of the lake.
Most of the ice blows ashore at just a few places.  Here at Cisco Beach huge piles of ice stack up, and as they scrape across the rocks, boulders are sometimes lifted several feet off the ground.  Strong blue colors show up in ice protected from snow and frost.
Sometimes vertical slabs of ice melt into fantastic delicate patterns.  Maybe their angle to the sun helps them melt faster than horizontal slabs.  The ice at Rainbow Cove had several of these wonderful delicate shapes.
The lake was covered by a fog bank in the distance, behind another delicate ice formation at Rainbow Cove.
Every time I explore Bear Lake I find something new.  The lake seems to have different moods every season, and I never get tired of the beauty of places like Rainbow Cove.  The fog and ice on this day was really special.

My photos are copyrighted, so please do not use them without permission.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Mule Deer Migration

This winter is the harshest one I’ve seen since I moved to the Bear Lake Valley, Idaho seventeen years ago.  Winter is half over and we have already had over 100 inches of snowfall.  Of course it has been compressed on the ground quite a bit, but there is still so much snow that deer are unable to forage in many areas.  The east side of Bear Lake usually has less snow than the rest of the valley, so mule deer are migrating there in amazing numbers.
There are lots of shrubs in the area; sagebrush, rabbitbrush, and more.  Mule deer are browsers, and can live off these plants that grow above the deep snow.  They look pretty good so far, but there are so many that I’m afraid the food will be gone soon.
Almost all the deer we see are does and fawns.  This fawn is browsing on sagebrush.  The bucks are more cautious and have been staying back in the hills, but a few are showing up now.  Since they took longer to get to the food at the lake, they look skinnier than the does.
It is a lot of fun to drive to Bear Lake and see these beautiful animals.  Usually, deer run away from cars here, but these hungry animals have become bolder, and will often stay close enough for photos.
The deer are up to their bellies in snow in many places, so feeding stations have been set up for deer and elk in areas with the deepest snow.  I hope the Bear Lake deer won’t need to find their way to one of those stations to survive this difficult winter.

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Sunday, October 30, 2016

Meadow Lake Petroglyphs, California

One of our adventures during our fall camping trip was a visit to the Meadow Lake petroglyphs in the northern Sierra Nevada mountains of California.
Getting there was half the fun.  After about 10 miles of dirt roads, we passed Meadow Lake and continued toward a large area of exposed granite.  Soon we found that the road was blocked by a fallen tree.  Bruce hooked on with a tow strap, broke it, and moved it aside.
Eventually we reached a large open area of granite boulders, with hundreds of petroglyphs on the horizontal surfaces.
The rock art at this site is described as Style 7, High Sierra Abstract-Representational petroglyphs identified with the Martis culture dating from 2000 B.C. to 1000 A.D.  We can guess at their meaning, but no one knows for sure.

The petroglyphs here show up best on areas of dark desert varnish, but careful inspection reveals many on the lighter colored rock as well.  The light scratches around the edge are glacial striations caused by rocks embedded in the base of moving glaciers.

The area is rocky and rugged.  Not many trees grow in this granite, and there are quite a few dead snags and fallen trees.  Their wood often has beautifully weathered patterns.




Why are there so many petroglyphs here?  Perhaps this nearby pond is a clue.  Maybe there was a larger wetland here many years ago, providing a water source for game animals.


 Or maybe it was a good place to camp with drinking water nearby.


  We don’t know the meaning of this rock art, but it sure is fun to find it and take pictures.



These photos are copyrighted, so please do not copy them or use them without my permission.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Humboldt City, Nevada

About 500 people lived here once, but Humboldt City has been a ghost town since the post office was removed in 1869.  Silver was discovered here in 1860, and the city was built here to support several mines.  But, it didn’t last long.
A dirt road runs from the valley through the center of town.
Humboldt City is located along a creek that runs through a canyon high on a mountain in the Humboldt Range of Nevada.  There were 200 buildings here, and now you can still find many rock ruins scattered through the underbrush and on the hillsides.
Some of them, like this one with the double windows, have signs that people tried to move in here long after the city was abandoned.  We found a cinder block fireplace added to this old rock wall.
This cabin also has some modern materials like rusty window screens.  It was hard to get to because it was built in a deep gully next to the creek.  I don’t understand why it wasn’t washed away years ago.
There were two hotels here; the Coulter House and the Iowa House.  I’m guessing that this ruin was one of them because of the large front room and a smaller room in back that could have been a kitchen.
The view from the hotel looked up the canyon toward the mountains where the mines were located.  It looks like it has been a long time since the last “No Vacancy” sign went up.

Humboldt City is just a couple of miles from busy Highway 80, near Mill City, Nevada, but being there is like being in a different world.

Remember, all my photos are copyrighted.  Please do not use them for any purpose without permission.