Look for the Stones That Breathe

An American pika looks out for the talus field that it calls home

Whenever I pass a talus field as I’m hiking in the mountains of Oregon or Washington or Wyoming, I always look for the rocks that live and breathe, although sometimes it’s my ears that find them first. The amazing pika spends its whole life here, in the rock fields of the high places, and doesn’t hibernate in the long winters the way so many other mammals do. The warming climate is going to be hard on these remarkable creatures as they rely on snow to insulate their homes during the coldest weather. At a younger age I couldn’t comprehend why the same people who insist in the truth of Noah’s ark would so eagerly condemn such a creature to extinction. The answer would break my heart.

[mr.burns] Excellent! [/mr.burns]

An American pika sits with its fingers held together in Grand Teton National Park

I came across this beautiful pika just below Inspiration Point on the trail into Cascade Canyon in Grand Teton National Park. I was delighted to see one again on this trip in 2006 as I fell in love with them the first time I saw one in 2005 (on the trail to Death Canyon). I had to turn around not much further up, as the trail narrowed to a small ledge on a tall cliff, and with my fear of heights even on my hands and knees there was no way I was willing to go on.

Turning Frogs into Katydids

A Mormon cricket in a meadow in Grand Teton National Park

My visit to the Tetons in 2011 got off to a slow start. I hadn’t seen much wildlife and while the scenery was beautiful as always, the light and weather weren’t cooperating. In the mood to try something new, I hiked a trail I hadn’t been on before, the Two Ocean Lake Trail. In the meadows I was startled multiple times by creatures moving in the grass that reminded me in size and mass of frogs, but they looked like giant grasshoppers. I had no idea such things even existed, not having seen them before (or since), but they were Mormon crickets. They’re actually katydids, not crickets, and lack the ability to fly.

Drizzle

A young elk bull grazes in a meadow in Grand Teton National Park

A young elk bull grazes in a meadow on a rainy fall day in Grand Teton National Park in 2006. He was eating with another young bull, both keeping a watch on the nearby harem of a mature bull.

It’s a little hard to see the rain in the picture at this resolution, but I had just purchased my 500mm lens before this trip and while the lens has weather sealing, I was still a little nervous about exposing it to the elements. Nine years later it’s been through a lot more rain and is still going strong.