Ancient cultures may have used Medicine Wheel to connect stars, stories

Early residents of the greater Yellowstone region may have used a sacred site to study and predict astronomical events, according to a Bozeman, Mont.-based researcher.

CODY, WYO. — Modern stargazers have a host of sophisticated options for locating and tracking celestial bodies, from charts and books to telescopes and smart phone apps. In fact, the smartphones that run such sophisticated astronomy apps have far greater memory and processing power than the computers that charted a path for Apollo astronauts to reach the moon. But early inhabitants of the greater Yellowstone region may have relied on their own technological tool to chart the stars and track events like the summer solstice, according to one researcher who presented her findings to a packed house Thursday at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. Ivy Merriot, a Bozeman, Mont.-based writer focused on indigenous astronomy, theorizes that Native Americans used a series of stones arranged like a spoked wheel to understand, remember and predict astronomical events. 
Merriot has spent a decade studying the Medicine Wheel, a centuries-old site on Medicine Mountain near Lovell, Wyo. Continue Reading →

Yellowstone ‘geyser virus’ eyed in ‘wildlife zombies’

A rare thermophilic virus found in the hot waters of Yellowstone National Park may be behind strange animal behavior in the region.

Local and regional public health officials are working with researchers in Yellowstone National Park to learn more about the origins and life cycle of a strange virus that could be causing highly aggressive behavior in small wildlife in the park and surrounding areas. While little is known about the newly encountered, so-called “geyser virus,” park officials stress that it doesn’t appear to pose an immediate threat to human health. But they are advising park visitors to take extra precautions around any small animal that doesn’t appear to display typical signs of fear, or that shows outright aggression. Concern about the geyser virus first arose after a series of bizarre wildlife encounters involving backcountry skiers and hikers in and around Yellowstone over the winter. Visitors reported uncharacteristically aggressive behavior from a variety of small mammals, ranging from otters to beavers to pikas. Continue Reading →

Visitors get hands dirty digging, cleaning dinosaur fossils in Thermopolis

 
CODY, WYO. — Colossal dinosaur skeletons are a prime attraction at major museums in big cities like Chicago, Berlin, New York and Washington, D.C. But none of those institutions can match what Wyoming offers for a hands-on, citizen science thunder lizard experience in the heart of dinosaur country. “Paleontology is not accessible to the general public, and it’s paleontology’s fault,” said Andrew Rossi, an interpretive guide at the Wyoming Dinosaur Center in Thermopolis. Big museums keep their fossils behind railings and glass as part of a deliberate effort to protect valuable, one-of-a-kind specimens. But visitors crave a personal experience getting their hands dirty on a real dig, Rossi said. Continue Reading →

Winter travel winds down in Yellowstone

Roads in Yellowstone National Park are closing to snowmobile and snow coach travel as the winter season winds down. Spring plowing will start as road segments close. All snowmobile and snow coach travel will end for the season Friday, March 15, at 9 p.m. As weather and plowing operations allow, some park roads will reopen to automobile travel Friday, April 19, at 8 a.m.

Road Closure Dates (gates close at 9 p.m.)

Friday, March 1, East Entrance to Lake Butte Overlook (Sylvan Pass)
Sunday, March 3, Mammoth Hot Springs to Norris
Tuesday, March 5, Norris to Madison, Norris to Canyon Village
Friday, March 15, all remaining groomed roads

At Mammoth Hot Springs, the Gift Shop, Ski Shop, and food services will close Sunday, March 3. The Mammoth Hot Springs Campground, Yellowstone General Store, Post Office, Medical Clinic, the Albright Visitor Center, and self-serve fuel pumps remain open all year. At Old Faithful, Old Faithful Snow Lodge & Cabins close Sunday, March 3. The Bear Den Gift Shop, the Geyser Grill, and the Old Faithful Visitor Education Center will close Friday, March 15. Continue Reading →

Yellowstone microbes key to major investment in new food venture

A visitor to Yellowstone National Park crashed a drone into Grand Prismatic Spring in August.

 

Microbes found in the extreme environments of Yellowstone National Park thermal features are key to a major financial investment in a new form of protein that could find its way into commercial foods within a few years. Sustainable Bioproducts, a biotechnology company developing a new way to grow edible protein, announced last month that investors have pledged $33 million toward commercializing a process that has its roots in a Montana microbiologist’s research into tiny organisms that thrive in the hot, acidic waters of Yellowstone. A Silicon Valley-based venture fund, 1955 Capital, was among the major investors in Chicago-based Sustainable Bioproducts, which also has offices in Bozeman, Mont. Another backer is Breakthrough Energy Ventures—whose investors include Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. Sustainable Bioproducts is developing a fermentation process that aims to produce a protein with high nutritional value, while having minimal environmental impact, according to a statement released by the company. Continue Reading →

Cougar Project uses cutting-edge tech to follow elusive predator

A cougar in Yellowstone.

The young male wasn’t an Olympic athlete in training, but his daily movements were tracked and recorded with amazing precision. He wasn’t on a crash diet, but what he ate was well-known, along with where and when he ate it. He wasn’t a patient with a rare or fatal disease, but his entire genome was sequenced. And he wasn’t a crime victim, although his violent death at a young age was determined by lab work and an arduous field investigation. The young male was M198, one of the first cougars fitted with a special tracking collar that is a cornerstone of the Yellowstone Cougar Project. Continue Reading →

First-ever atlas charts big game migrations across Wyoming

Elk migrate along a high mountain pass outside Cody, Wyo. (Travis Zaffarano/Wyoming Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit)

CODY, WYO. — A mule deer doe cautiously makes her way along a riverbank, sniffing the wind before moving out from the cover of willows to cross a busy highway. A passing motorists slows just in time to spot the animal as it hesitates, then bolts across the road. It’s a familiar scenario in Wyoming, but what drivers in the spring and fall may not realize is that road crossing is a small part of a seasonal migration that spans hundreds of miles. And if that doe is wearing a GPS tracking collar, there’s a good chance she’s generating an avalanche of data about her movements. Continue Reading →

Private businesses chip in to keep Yellowstone open during shutdown

Visitors traverse the snow-covered boardwalk along Excelsior Geyser Crater in Yellowstone National Park. Private businesses have pitched in to keep the park open during the partial government shutdown .

YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, WYO. — Winter visitors to Yellowstone National Park say they are largely unaffected by the partial federal government shutdown, thanks mainly to private concessioners picking up the slack, and federal workers showing up without pay. After 34 days of reduced operations in the country’s national parks, Yellowstone visitors continue to tour the park by snow coach and snowmobile, much as they otherwise would under normal circumstances. “We don’t agree with the shutdown, but it hasn’t really impaired us,” said Don Stewart, who lives in Georgia and has a summer home in Red Lodge, Mont. Don and wife Karen began planning a Yellowstone tour by snow coach in July after their daughter raved about a winter trip. Continue Reading →

Plan approved for sale of Cody Labs

The parent company of Cody Labs faces claims from state attorneys general in a price-fixing investigation. Cody Labs is for sale after halting construction on a planned new facility at the north end of Cody, Wyo.

CODY, WYO. — Philadelphia-based pharmaceutical manufacturer Lannett, Co. has approved a plan to sell Cody Laboratories, a wholly owned subsidiary that produces active pharmaceutical ingredients used in prescription opioids. In a US Securities and Exchange Commission statement filed Friday, the company cited an effort to “focus on nearer term opportunities and an overall strategic shift toward the company’s core competencies and optimization of its cost structure” as the basis for the planned sale. Publicly traded Lannett also cited concerns about Cody Labs’ “timeline to profitability,” and significant ongoing investment and operational costs. Continue Reading →

Federal mining ban extended to protect northern gateway to Yellowstone

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke speaks during a ceremony marking the withdrawal of more than 33,000 acres of public lands from new mining.

EMIGRANT, MONT. — Acting on a recommendation last month from the U.S. Forest Service, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on Monday announced the withdrawal from mining for 20 years of more than 30,000 acres of federal lands in southwest Montana. Saying that “there are places to mine and places not to mine,” Zinke said Montana’s Paradise Valley, just north of Yellowstone National Park, was the kind of place where new large-scale mining wasn’t appropriate. The move extends a two-year moratorium on new mining claims in portions of the Custer Gallatin National Forest put in place by the Obama administration in 2016. Existing claims would not be affected. Continue Reading →