First of the West

A red squirrel sits on a tree branch beside Shoshone Lake on the Shoshone Lake Trail at Yellowstone National Park

I was first exposed to the noisy chatter of red squirrels while hiking in West Virginia when I lived back east. I would see them a few times more before moving to Oregon, where I wouldn’t see or hear them again until my first real trip to Yellowstone in 2004. On my first hike in my first few hours in the park, I came across this red squirrel near the beach of Shoshone Lake on the Shoshone Lake Trail. I’ve since seen them quite a bit in the park, but good pictures usually elude me, so this first picture remains my favorite of my pictures of red squirrels in Yellowstone.


A red squirrel looks directly at me from a downed tree on the trail to Death Canyon at Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming

Red squirrels are known as boomers in some areas, a name I love although I don’t know its origin — these little chatterboxes certainly aren’t quiet, but boomy isn’t quite how I’d describe their shrill alarm calls.

I’ve toyed with the idea of having a series of “Greatest Hiking Days Ever” posts that trace in pictures and words my favorite days on the trails from start to finish, and if I do, September 27, 2005 would be a fine place to start. It started with a lovely sunrise in the Tetons, then black bears dining on huckleberries amidst the fall colors, followed by a wonderful hike into Death Canyon where I met this red squirrel and chipmunks and blacktails and even my first pikas, and ended with a moose family in Willow Flats.

There are many things to love in parks as spectacular as Yellowstone and the Tetons, and perhaps squirrels shouldn’t be so high on my list, but I love the chatter and scoldings that rain down from the trees as I hike the forested trails. I heard almost no squirrels on my last trip there a couple of years ago, a personal anecdote in support of the controversial theory of global quieting. I’m not in a position to say if humans are playing a role or if the earth is naturally cycling from noisy to quiet, just that I missed my treetop companions and I hope they are there to welcome me on my next return.

A red squirrel turns to the side as it looks out from a downed tree on the trail to Death Canyon at Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming