Saturday, September 14, 2013

A Wyoming reading list

We're contemplating a trip to Yellowstone, so, as is my way, I've been getting myself ready.

Thus, a brief Northwest Wyoming Reading List:

  • Top Trails Yellowstone & Grand Tetons: Must-do Hikes for Everyone
    With trips from Mammoth Hot Springs to Old Faithful, from the Absarokas to the Gallatin Range, and from Jackson Hole to the Teton Crest Trail, Top Trails Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks has all visitors need to enjoy the ultimate in natural and geothermal wonders
    We're not really expecting to do any epic hikes during our trip, but we do want to get out of the car and into the woods. So this book, from Wilderness Press, is a nice compromise. We have to be careful picking the hikes, because in their desire to be encylopedic the authors include trails spanning the range from half-mile nature walks suitable for taking your 4-year-old to 30 mile 3-night backpacking adventures.

    So obviously they aren't actually "Must-do Hikes for Everyone" (darn cover editors).

    But the book is nicely organized and the trails are clearly described, and I'm sufficiently experienced with reading trail guides to believe I can select appropriately.

  • A Field Guide to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks
    More than 1.200 color photographs with concise descriptions reveal the richness of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. This is the definitive field identification guide to the region's rocks, minerals, geysers, waterfalls, mushrooms, trees. wildflowers, insects, amphibians, reptiles, fish, birds, mammals, tracks and scat, and the night sky. Includes 75 natural features with locator maps and 650 species.
    This. Book. Is. Simply. Gorgeous.

    Since the top draw of a trip to Yellowstone is to experience the top ten of North American wildlife viewing (according to Bryan):

    1. Grizzly Bear
    2. Bison
    3. Gray Wolf
    4. Black Bear
    5. Bald Eagle, Golden Eagle, Osprey, Great Horned Owl
    6. Moose, Elk, Antelope
    7. Gray Fox, Red Fox, Coyote
    8. Big Horned Sheep
    9. Mountain Lion
    10. Badger, Wolverine
    , an accessible field guide is most desirable.

    I love the fact that this field guide includes sections on geysers, on mushrooms, on "trails and scat", and on constellations of the night sky.

  • Yellowstone National Park, WY (Ti - National Parks).

    Grand Teton National Park - Trails Illustrated Map.

    The National Geographic Trails Illustrated maps are simply the best maps you can get. They are accurate, they are gorgeous, they are sturdily-built, and they are designed from the viewpoint of the nature enthusiast. You'll think it's nuts to spend $10 on a map, but you won't regret it.

  • Ring of Fire: Writers of the Yellowstone Region
    A unique anthology of prose and poetry from the volcanic and otherworldly splendor of the Yellowstone region. Powerful, engrossing, and controversial works by prominent authors and fresh talents. Moved by the natural wonders unique to their part of the world, these writers from Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming come together in a "Ring of Fire" around the world's first national park.

    As with any anthology, you will find yourself picking and choosing as you read this book, but overall I've really enjoyed it. The stories and essays are over the place, but among the ones that stuck out as I read:

    • Return to Wyoming, by Geoffrey O'Gara. Driving mostly at night to try to spare his failing car, O'Gara is struck by how, each time his car chooses to overheat, it turns out to be at a location that he remembers from his childhood.
    • The Firebabe, by Susan Sweetnam. Moving to a new small town, Sweetnam finds herself joining the volunteer fire department. Initially intimidated by the skill of the veterans, Sweetnam experiences the thrill of learning how to be a firefighter herself.
    • On Spread Creek, by C.L. Rawlins. Working as a guide at a dude ranch, Rawlins experiences simultaneously the joy of exposing city folk to the mountains as well as the sadness of realizing that what the guests think to be a series of mountain meadows is actually the result of years of clear cutting and strip mining by the lumber and mining industries.
    • Coming Off Lee Creek, by Louise Wagenknecht. Wagenknecht, a Forest Service ranger, describes her transfer from Northern California to Wyoming with a great story about the interactions between government officials and ranchers, highlighting the struggles she went through as a woman to be accepted as one of the guys in the rugged Wyoming mountains.

    There's much more, but overall I was really pleasantly surprised by Ring of Fire, which much exceeded my expectations.

  • Mountain Time: A Yellowstone Memoir

    Schullery's book is now 30 years old, and the Yellowstone he writes about it still older, for he wrote the majority of the book while working as a park ranger, park historian, and environmental specialist in Yellowstone from 1972-1977.

    Still, this is a marvelous book. Schullery is a gifted writer, and he obviously loves the Yellowstone area. The book is structured as a series of independent essays, but they are sequenced and arranged nicely and each one is a joy to read.

    A little taste of Schullery's light and charming style can be seen in the chapter about elk, "Elk Watch":

    Antlers are occasionally a hazard in the realm of human/elk cohabitation. The residents of Mammoth, like those of any other community, like to decorate their houses at Christmas; many string lights on their walls and shrubbery. One of the local bull elk got himself tangled in a string of lights, probably while feeding on the shrubbery, and for several days afterward paraded around with his antlers festooned with lights as if he was looking for an electrical outlet.
    It's all great: sometimes heart-breaking, sometimes hilarious, Schullery's book sweeps you along, and you'll barely notice the pages fly by.

  • Lost in My Own Backyard: A Walk in Yellowstone National Park (Crown Journeys)

    This is the lightest of the books I chose to read, both in heft and in style. Cahill, a well-known journalist and author of several entertaining travel books, presents just what he claims to present: the book is a series of descriptions of various hikes that Cahill took in Yellowstone.

    Whether you love this book or hate it will depend primarily on how you feel about Cahill's light-hearted, almost tongue-in-cheek style. It works very well for me, but I can see that others might find it infuriating or condescending.

    Here's a bit of a sample, to help you understand what I mean:

    The map suggested that a great many of the falls on and around the Bechler region faced generally south, which meant the sun would shine directly on them at least part of the day. And that meant that every day in which there was sun, there'd be a rainbow or two or three as well. You could count on them: I thought of the Bechler as the River of Reliable Rainbows.

    Over the next several days we moved up the Bechler and courageously endured the sight of many waterfalls generating many rainbows. Colonnade Falls, for instance, just off the trail, is a two-step affair, with a 35-foot plunge above, a pool, and a 67-foot fall below. The lower fall was enfolded in curving basalt wall. The gray rock had formed itself into consecutive columns more in the Doric tradition than the Corinthian. It had a certain wild nobility, Yellowstone's own Parthenon, with falls and a fountain.

  • Hawks Rest: A Season in the Remote Heart of Yellowstone

    I haven't read Hawks Rest yet, but I'm very much looking forward to it. Here's a bit from the publisher's blurb:

    Beginning with his hundred-mile hike to reach the Lower 48's most remote place, Ferguson gives us a fascinating, personal account of three months living alone in the wilderness - a summer spent monitoring grizzly bears and wolf packs in Hawks Rest, the heart of the greater Yellowstone ecosystem. Through his encounters with park rangers, wildlife biologists, outfitters, and intrepid visitors, Ferguson weaves a poignant story of a land under siege. Opinionated first-hand accounts illuminate the dream and the difficulty of preserving the Yellowstone wilderness - America's first national park and a touchstone of all things wild. Ferguson's previous writings on nature have been well received. Publishers Weekly wrote about The Sylvan Path: "In prose as inviting and uplifting as a walk in the woods, naturalist Ferguson shares his lifelong passion...with a sense of discovery, humor, and deep reverence for his subject, [he] reclaims the natural world for himself, and for the reader as well."
    So stay tuned; I'll let you know about this one.

  • National Geographic Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks Road Guide: The Essential Guide for Motorists

    I don't remember why I thought this would be worth getting. It wasn't. I'll keep it, though; maybe it will seem better when I'm there.

And, to occupy the long hours of travel, something new to try: three audiobooks:

  • Bring Up the Bodies: A Novel, by Hilary Mantel, read by Simon Vance.

    I just adored Wolf Hall, and this is Mantel's sequel. Says the author:

    The action of Bring Up The Bodies occupies only nine months, and within that nine months it concentrates on the three weeks in which Henry's second wife, Anne Boleyn, is arrested, tried and executed for treason. So it is a shorter, more concentrated read. There are no diversions once the plot against Anne begins to accelerate, and the tension builds as her death approaches.

    It's quite possible to read Bring Up The Bodies without reading Wolf Hall. It makes sense in its own terms. But I think a reader will get a deeper experience by starting with the first book and seeing the characters evolve.

    Well, I read Wolf Hall, but my wife didn't; we'll see how our reactions to Bring Up The Bodies differ.

  • Explosive Eighteen: A Stephanie Plum Novel, by Janet Evanovich, read by Lorelei King.
    Before Stephanie can even step foot off Flight 127 Hawaii to Newark, she’s knee deep in trouble. Her dream vacation turned into a nightmare, and she’s flying back to New Jersey solo. Worse still, her seatmate never returned to the plane after the L.A. layover. Now he’s dead -- and a ragtag collection of thugs and psychos, not to mention the FBI, are all looking for a photograph he was supposed to be carrying.
  • Flush, by Carl Hiaasen, read by Michael Welch.
    You know it's going to be a rough summer when you spend Father's Day visiting your dad in the local lockup.

    Noah's dad is sure that the owner of the Coral Queen casino boat is flushing raw sewage into the harbor -- which has made taking a dip at the local beach like swimming in a toilet. He can't prove it though, and so he decides that sinking the boat will make an effective statement. Right. The boat is pumped out and back in business within days and Noah's dad is stuck in the clink.

    Amazon didn't exactly make it clear when I ordered this that it was a Young Adult book ("#48 in Books : Mystery, Thriller & Suspense : Thrillers")

    But I just love Carl Hiaasen.

So there you go: a Northwest Wyoming reading list.

Did I miss any favorites of yours? Let me know!

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