The Nursery Rocks of Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley

Traveling North of 60 …

The route for our wildlife viewing in Yellowstone National Park takes us from our place in the Tom Miner Basin to the north entrance at Gardiner, Montana, then left toward Tower-Roosevelt and the Lamar Valley. After the left turn at the Roosevelt Lodge, we begin searching in earnest for wildlife and maybe a nice landscape image. During our late May visit, the sagebrush is at the fulness of its eponymous color and serves as a made-to-order background for the pictures we capture along the way. To locate wildlife, we find ourselves looking above, around and past the big boulders that punctuate the landscape.

It turned out that the giant rocks were as much of a story as any shots of grizzly or bison. These stones are called “Nursery Rocks” because they provide a means for Douglas fir trees to sprout and thrive. This story would have been lost on us had it not been for Josh, from Yellowstone Insight our guide host for the day. If you are serious about finding wildlife and maximizing your time in the park, I would recommend using a guide service. There are many such services and Yellowstone Insight came highly recommended. They proved to be absolutely wonderful. We rode in the comfort of their Chevy Suburban with room for all our gear. Besides knowing just where the wildlife might be, they provided breakfast, coffee, snacks and lunch, and knew the all-important rhythm of where to stop for bathroom breaks. Without them, we would have never gotten the grizzly images that I described in this blog post.

From the Yellowstone National Park Facebook page …

Rocks of granite deposited in Lamar Valley by glaciers, called glacial erratics, serve as nursery rocks to Douglas fir trees. The rocks provide shade, moisture, and shelter from the wind. They also absorb and radiate heat which melts the surrounding snow in the winter and spring faster than normal. Douglas fir seedlings prefer to grow initially in shade and if a seed that is carried by the wind happens to fall behind a protective rock, it has a better chance of germination than if it were out in the open, harsher environment.

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