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Yellowstone Saw 67 Earthquakes In February

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Yellowstone National Park saw 67 earthquakes throughout the month of February, although most were small, with the strongest having a magnitude of 2.4.

The U.S. Geological Survey, in its monthly Yellowstone Volcano Observatory update published Monday, said many of the earthquakes seen during the month were part of a swarm of 20 with magnitudes between 0.3 and 2.3, recorded in the area of West Yellowstone, Montana, from Feb. 1-16.

The largest earthquake of the swarm occurred at 5:30 a.m. on Feb. 4 and was located one mile southwest of West Yellowstone.

Earthquake sequences like these are common and account for roughly 50% of the total seismicity in the Yellowstone region.

Of the 67 earthquakes that occurred last month, the strongest was a 2.4 magnitude located 13 miles of Pahaska Tepee that was recorded at 3:08 a.m. on Feb. 2.

Steamboat Geyser had two major water eruptions in the past month, on Feb. 3 and 21. This is typical of winter, when low groundwater levels seem to correlate with longer intervals between Steamboat’s eruptions.

The Yellowstone Volcano Observatory provides long-term monitoring of volcanic and earthquake activity in the Yellowstone National Park region. Yellowstone is the site of the largest and most diverse collection of natural thermal features in the world and the first National Park.

YVO is one of the five USGS Volcano Observatories that monitor volcanoes within the United States for science and public safety.

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Yellowstone Tourists Prove That They Can Be Idiots in The Winter Too

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Most of the time when tourists are in the news for being idiots in Yellowstone, it’s during the summer.

That’s because the visitation rate is so much higher, not because people are more intelligent in the winter.

Proof in point: last week in Yellowstone.

A group of snowmobilers ran into a herd of bison and instead of moving away from them, they stopped — thereby blocking the bison from crossing the trail.

If you give the snowmobilers the benefit of the doubt, perhaps they were boxed in. Perhaps the bison came out of nowhere and they couldn’t move or get out of the way.

It’s hard to give them the benefit of the doubt after seeing so many stupid people in Yellowstone, however. Like the woman last summer who thought the Park was a petting zoo and nearly got killed after attempting to pet a bison.

In this video, the visitors sat on their snowmobiles and filmed the frustrated bison, laughing when one of the animals charged a snowmobiler.

Were the snowmobilers worried?

Hard to say. The person who took the video thought it was all “exciting.”

“Exciting day!!!! One in our group got hit by two buffalo fighting, knocking her sled sideways and knocking off the back hand grip.  Thank God Lisa was okay and thank God no one was riding with her,” Lisa Long Giles posted on her Facebook page (the video has now been removed but is still present on YouTube).

Later in the day, Giles posted a video of snowmobilers laughing while bison were running away from them. “Stampede!” Giles wrote.

When admonished by one of her friends on Facebook for being so close to the bison, she said “there wasn’t much choice.”

“You can suddenly be surrounded by them in a blink of an eye,” she said.

Calls to the public affairs office at Yellowstone National Park were not immediately returned. 

In the past, public information officers have reminded people that bison are dangerous and should be avoided.

Bison have injured more people in Yellowstone than any other animal. Bison are unpredictable and can run three times faster than humans,” the National Park Service has said in the past. “Always stay at least 25 yards away from bison.”

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Yellowstone Scientist: No, We’re Not Overdue for Volcanic Eruption

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A scientist studying Yellowstone National Park’s volcanic activity diffused any rumors that the park is overdue for a large eruption earlier this week.

In the Yellowstone Volcanic Observatory’s monthly update, scientist Mike Poland shot down the notion that Yellowstone’s supervolcano is overdue for eruption and that lava could start flowing any second.

“This isn’t true,” he said. “There’s two reasons why this is the case. First: volcanoes don’t work that way. They don’t erupt on schedules.”

Yellowstone has three calderas and two resurgent domes

Poland explained that volcanoes erupt when there is a sufficient supply of a reputable magma beneath its surface coupled with enough pressure to get that magma up to the surface.

He added that the magma chamber underneath the volcano is only 5-15% magma, which is not enough to generate a large eruption or explosion.

According to the Yellowstone website, the volcano’s last large eruption happened around 174,000 years ago, creating what is now the West Thumb of Yellowstone Lake.

There have been 60 smaller eruptions since, the last of which occurred around 70,000 years ago.

Poland said that even if the volcano erupted on a schedule, the math didn’t work out to it erupting “soon.” Really, the math showed the volcano wouldn’t erupt again for another 100,000 years.

“Point being, Yellowstone is not overdue,” Poland said. “And frankly, if you hear someone on a documentary or the internet saying ‘Yellowstone’s overdue,’ you know right off the bat that they don’t know what they’re talking about at all.”

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Yellowstone Snowmobile Guides Say Season Is Busiest Ever

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

Yellowstone National Park is a popular tourist destination for people around the globe, especially in summer. But in winter, the scenery – and the sounds – are quite different.

Gary and Dede Fales have run a hunting guide business for over 25 years, and part of their operation is renting out – and guiding – snowmobile tours during the winter months; they are the only licensed snowmobile guides in Cody. 

The Fales have two guides that work for them and can take up to 13 snowmobiles into the park each day – either to Old Faithful and West Yellowstone for an overnight stay, or for a day trip to the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, and occasionally up to Chico Hot Springs in Montana. Dede said this year is the busiest ever.

“People are learning about us more, they know they can go in the east entrance, it’s a beautiful way to go in,” she said. “The south entrance and the west entrance, for the most part, there are winter wonderlands over there, and so they have a big winter season for skiing – especially the south entrance. But snowmobiling is really big in West Yellowstone, and they fill up very quickly, they’re sort of hubs for skiing and snowmobiling. So we have people calling, saying … ‘I’m at West Yellowstone, how long does it take to get there to go on a snowmobile trip?’”

Because of the pandemic, outdoor recreation has gained popularity – and both Gary and Dede say that’s been a boost for them this winter.

“They can’t go to Europe very easy, or Mexico, so everybody’s vacationing in the United States,” said Gary. “And there’s a lot of people out here looking around, plus there’s a lot of people wanting to buy property out here, so this is a good experience for them while they’re out looking for land.”

“There are a lot of people in Cody who have come to get away from the city, where they’re locked down,” Dede added. “I’ve talked to a lot of people who are in Cody for a month, renting a house, children aren’t in school so they’re learning remotely, and they’re able to work remotely, and they’re looking for things to do outside.”

And Dede pointed out that this year, the winter season has been extended two weeks beyond the closing date that the east entrance has observed for the last 13 years.

Back in 2008, the National Park Service determined that Sylvan Pass, which must be crossed in order to access the park from the east entrance, was too dangerous at certain points in the season due to the possibility of avalanches. 

But mitigation efforts have been successful and beginning this year, the Park Service is allowing the east entrance to open one week earlier and close one week later — meaning it is open the same number of days as the other entrances. And that’s a big deal for the Fales’ business.

“So we open the 15th instead of the 22nd of December now, and we get to stay open through the 15th of March, which is huge,” Dede said. That’s really nice. And so many people want to go in the Park in March, and they haven’t been able to from the east entrance. So now they’re able to.”

Dede pointed out that you don’t have to go with a guide, you could just rent a snowmobile from them, but she said that those opportunities are much more limited.

Because park regulations limit snowmobiles in the park to those with the “Best Available Technology” – meaning they must have low emissions, low noise and less impact on the environment – access to Yellowstone in winter is much more restricted than it used to be.

“They have a very short list of the snowmobiles that you’re able to take in the park, and most people don’t own those because they’re just touring machines,” Dede noted. “So now you have to go in with an outfitter, or rent a snowmobile from us that’s allowed in the park.”

For several years, snowmobile access to Yellowstone was limited to guided tours only – but since 2017, permits have become available for unguided snowmobile access, although Park Service regulations state that only one group of up to five snowmobiles can enter the park from each of its four winter entrances per day.

However, Dede said that restriction is actually a bonus for them.

“It has helped our business, because it’s just another group that doesn’t want to go with a guide, that want to go on their own, that’s coming to us to rent snowmobiles,” she said. “You know, it’s nice, because all of these people that want to be in the park, don’t want a guide, can now go on their own.”

Winter in Yellowstone really is a magical experience, and the Fales say that’s what draws people year after year.

“To be on a snowmobile and drive right over the pass and into the park and along the river, right by the animals is a unique experience,” Dede said.

“Yellowstone is a pristine place,” Gary added. “It’s got all the history, and the beautiful country and lakes, and – you know, you get up there in the morning just as the sun’s hitting the top of those mountains and it’s really nice.”

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Yellowstone Visits Down Only 5% In 2020, Despite Pandemic

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Despite the coronavirus pandemic shutting down the park for for nearly two months, Yellowstone National Park only saw a 5% dip in visits in 2020.

The park, in its most recent visitation report, said it hosted 3.8 million recreation visits in 2020, down just 5% from the 4 million hosted in 2019.

Yellowstone was closed from March 24 until May 18, when the two Wyoming entrances were opened. The three Montana entrances opened June 1.

Visitations for the months of September and October were the busiest on record, with the park hosting 837,499 visits in September (a 21% increase from September 2019) and 360,034 visits in October (a 110% increase from October 2019).

August of 2020 was the second-busiest August on record for the area — with visitor numbers coming in at 881,543, second only to 2017, the year of the total solar eclipse.

The visitation trends over the last few years has been:

  • 2018 – 4,115,000
  • 2017 – 4,116,524
  • 2016 – 4,257,177
  • 2015 – 4,097,710

All roads in Yellowstone, with one exception, are closed to automobile traffic from early November to late April. The road from the park’s North Entrance at Gardiner, Montana, through Mammoth Hot Springs to the northeast entrance and the communities of Cooke City and Silver Gate, Montana, is open year-round, weather-permitting.

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Wolverine Spotted in Yellowstone

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Yellowstone National Park biologists discovered something rare last month when looking through trail camera footage: a wolverine.

The wolverine (the animal, not the arguably best member of the X-Men) was spotted running through the Mammoth Hot Springs area and managed to trigger a remote trail camera.

Footage of the wolverine was posted to the Yellowstone Twitter account on Wednesday morning. A user asked how rare it was to find a wolverine in the park.

“The last population estimate was 7 in the park!” the Yellowstone account responded.

According to the Yellowstone website, commercial trapping and predator control efforts substantially reduced wolverine distribution in the lower 48 states by the 1930s.

In the greater Yellowstone area, wolverines have been studied using live traps, telemetry, and aerial surveys.

Of the seven wolverines known to be in the park, two are females and five are males, according to the most recent population estimates.

Climate change models predict that by 2050, the spring snowpack needed for wolverine denning and hunting will be limited to portions of the southern Rocky Mountains, the Sierra Nevada range and greater Yellowstone.

Wolverines are so rarely seen and inhabit such remote terrain at low densities that assessing population trends is difficult and sudden declines could go unnoticed for years.

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Researchers Still Confounded About Yellowstone Geyser Reawakening

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Researchers still can’t quite explain what caused a Yellowstone National Park geyser to reawaken in 2018, according to a recently published study.

The Steamboat Geyser, inside of the park’s Norris Basin, reawakened in 2018 after four years of complete dormancy. Since becoming active, the geyser has regularly erupted every year since then.

A recent study published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America was penned by 11 researchers that investigated the geyser’s resurgence and its eruption dynamics.

“The reason for reactivation remains ambiguous,” the group concluded.

“An improved understanding of geyser dynamics can provide insights into other multiphase episodic processes on Earth and other planets that result from localized input of energy and mass (e.g., volcanism),” the study said.

In 2019, the Steamboat geyser had its largest number of eruptions in recorded history, with 48. In 2020, there were 26 eruptions.

This resurgence in the geyser came after more than 30 years of sporadic activity. Prior to 2018, the geyser only erupted four times over a 13-year period (in 2005, 2007, 2013 and 2014).

The researchers analyzed a wide range of data in an effort to determine what triggered the geyser’s reactivation and the intervals and height of the eruptions.

They did find a correlation between eruption height and inferred depth to the shallow reservoir supplying water to eruptions.

Steamboat Geyser’s eruptions are taller than most geysers because the water supplying it stored deeper than at other geysers, so more energy is available to power the eruptions.

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Yellowstone Treasure Hunter Pleads Guilty to Damaging Cemetery

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A man who was found digging in a cemetery inside Yellowstone National Park while hunting for Forrest Fenn’s mysterious treasure chest has pleaded guilty to causing damage to the park.

Rodrick Dow Craythorn, 52, of Syracuse, Utah, pleaded guilty to charges of excavating or trafficking in archeological resources and injury or depredation to United States property in U.S. District Court on Monday.

He was indicted by a federal grand jury in September.

The indictment alleged that Craythorn was found digging in the Fort Yellowstone Cemetery inside the national park between Oct. 1, 2019 and May 24, 2020 while looking for the treasure buried by Fenn.

The treasure was found earlier this year by a Michigan man. Fenn died a few months after it was discovered.

“The hunt for the Forrest Fenn treasure was often viewed as a harmless diversion, but in this case it led to substantial damage to important public resources,” said US Attorney Mark Klaassen. “The defendant let his quest for discovery override respect for the law.”

Excavating or trafficking in archeological resources carries a potential penalty of up to two years in prison, a fine of up to $20,000, and one year of supervised release. Injury or depredation to United States property carries a penalty of not more than ten years imprisonment, up to a $250,000 fine, and three years of supervised release.

Chief U.S. District Court Judge Scott W. Skavdahl accepted Craythorn’s plea and scheduled his sentencing to take place on March 17 in Casper at the Ewing T. Kerr Federal Court House.

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Yellowstone Reminds Tourists Not to Cook Thanksgiving Turkey Over Hot Springs

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Yellowstone National Park continues to have a sense of humor.

A few months ago, the Park posted some advice for tourists on what to do if they see a bear.

They advised not tripping your friend and then running (which is, although humorous, still good advice).

On Saturday, they took it to a different level.

Using Legos, they reminded tourists that it is illegal to cook turkeys in the hot springs of Yellowstone.

This advice, of course, jumps on the recent story of the idiots from Idaho who attempted to cook a chicken in the hot springs of Yellowstone.

“We don’t know who needs to hear this, but it is illegal to cook a turkey in the hot springs at Yellowstone National Park,” the Facebook post reads. 

“Boiled, baked, stewed, brined, spatchcocked, grilled, braised, smoked, and deep fried are all illegal.  They will ban you from the park!  Just don’t do it,” it said.

Kudos to Yellowstone not only for the usage of Legos but because the park ranger and the lawbreaker are both wearing masks.

In Lego court, we hope the ruffian gets probation just because — even though he is breaking the law — his mask covers his nose (which so many non-Lego people don’t understand).

#GiveTheLegoLawbreakerAPass

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Yellowstone Sets Another Milestone With Busiest October In Recorded History

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Continuing a trend seen throughout the fall, Yellowstone National Park smashed another visitation record, reporting its busiest October in recorded history.

The park hosted 360,034 recreation visits in October, up 110% from October 2019. October’s visitation numbers also exceeded the previous record of 252,013 set in 2015 by 43%

The park hosted 837,499 recreation visits in September, a 21% increase from September 2019.

August was the second-busiest on record for the area — with visitor numbers coming in at 881,543, second only to 2017, the year of the total solar eclipse.

The park has hosted 3,743,907 visits so far this year, down 6% from the same period last year. However, the park was closed due to health and safety reasons related to the coronavirus pandemic beginning March 24 until mid-May, when its two Wyoming entrances opened.

All five of the entrances were opened on June 1, and the park has been completely open since then.

Here are the park’s year-to-date visitation numbers through October for the last several years:

  • 2020 – 3,743,907
  • 2019 – 3,979,153
  • 2018 – 4,078,771
  • 2017 – 4,084,762
  • 2016 – 4,212,782
  • 2015 – 4,066,191

All roads in Yellowstone, with one exception, are closed to automobile traffic from early November to late April.

The road from the park’s North Entrance at Gardiner, Montana, through Mammoth Hot Springs to the northeast entrance and the communities of Cooke City and Silver Gate, Montana, is open year-round, weather-permitting.

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