Spring Into Yellowstone tours cover wildlife, science and even ‘time travel’

Archaeologist Larry Todd, kneeling, shows dozens of artifacts marked with small flags in the Shoshone National Forest during a July field trip sponsored by the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. (Ruffin Prevost/Yellowstone Gate - click to enlarge)

Ruffin Prevost / Yellowstone Gate

Archaeologist Larry Todd, kneeling, shows dozens of artifacts marked with small flags in the Shoshone National Forest during a 2012 field trip sponsored by the Greater Yellowstone Coalition.

CODY, WYO. — The Spring Into Yellowstone Birding and Wildlife Festival returns next week, offering tours of some of the most scenic and inspiring spots in Yellowstone National Park and public lands to the east of the park.

The growing festival is entering its third year, but many of the places highlighted in its tours and events have been popular with wildlife and people for thousands of years.

Archaeologist Larry Todd will lead a tour of the Dead Indian Creek campsite area in Sunlight Basin, a favorite spot for modern campers that has been popular with people and animals for centuries.

Indigenous people have used the area around Dead Indian Creek for thousands of years, even constructing covered dugout buildings complete with fire hearths and roofs, said Todd. A native of Meeteetse, Wyo., Todd is a professional archaeologist who has worked for more than 30 years studying traces left by ancient peoples in places as diverse as France, Ukraine and Ethiopia, as well as teaching in Colorado and Wyoming.

Sites that are popular for camping, hunting, fishing or recreation today often were attractive to previous cultures for the same reasons, Todd said, including the Dead Indian Creek area.

“We often approach Yellowstone Park in particular with that artificial idea of wilderness, as if it was an area just for visitors to pass through,” Todd said. “But humans have been an integral part of these mountain environments since first arriving on the scene some 10-13,000 years ago.”

Spring Into Yellowstone runs May 13-17, and offers dozens of events, including several guided tours and outings that will give visitors a chance to learn about wildlife, birds, geology and other topics.

Some events have already sold out, said Tia Mitchell, coordinator for the festival, which is organized by the Cody Country Chamber of Commerce. It’s one of a growing series of Yellowstone area events held in the spring and fall aimed at showcasing gateway community attractions outside of the busy summer tourism rush.

“It’s a way to highlight wildlife, look at land stewardship and promote our great backyard that we have in Cody, so we can get visitors involved with all the things the area has to offer,” Mitchell said.

Advance bookings for the festival are running ahead of last year, she said, but spots are still available for most of the tours and events. Some events are free, others have a nominal fee, but reservations are advised.

Todd’s tour of the Dead Indian Creek campsite area is scheduled for the morning of May 15, and will offer attendees a chance to travel back in time to from 100 years to more than 4,000 years.

Joining Todd will be Dan Eakin from the Office of the Wyoming State Archaeologist, who has spent several years researching sites along the Nez Perce National Historic Trail. Eakin will discuss use of sites along the trail in the 1870s, as well as much older activities.

Attendees will have a chance to take core samples of trees, a method Todd uses to date log structures by examining tree rings. The technique yields insight into climate, fire and how humans used a particular area. Participants will also get to record archaeological survey data and use an atlatl, an ancient weapon used to throw small spears and darts with great speed and accuracy.

Todd said the tour will help connect modern sites like Dead Indian Creek with recent history such as the Nez Perce War, as well as prehistoric activities dating back thousands of years.

“Human actions have always been tightly coupled with the landscape. You can’t look at one without the other,” he said. “For me, that’s one of the reasons we do archaeology. People are part of the ecosystem, not separate from it.”

If you go…

The Spring Into Yellowstone Birding and Wildlife Festival runs May 13-17 in Cody, Wyo. For more information, call 307-587-2777 or visit springintoyellowstone.net.

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