The worst kind of “help” for deer

When natural foods become scarce over the winter, many of us feel sorry for the deer and want to ease their suffering. When we see hungry animals, we might want to feed them, just to help. But no matter how well-intentioned, putting out food for deer and other big game animals can cause tremendous harm. (Here in Montana, it’s also illegal to intentionally feed big game.)

That’s why I’m sharing my latest Montana Outdoors article, “Death by Feeding: The unintended—and sometimes fatal—consequences of providing food to deer, elk, moose, and other wildlife in winter.” I think many people who feed deer love wildlife and are just trying to help. Unfortunately, those efforts can backfire, in more ways than I could have imagined before I started researching this story. I had no idea that a large enough dose of high-carb food, when an animal’s gut bacteria are adapted to a sparse, low-carb winter diet, could cause a painful digestive disease that can kill a moose in one or two days. I had no idea just how big a role backyard feeding could play in the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease, a slow but certain killer that can affect entire populations of deer.

Fortunately, there are ways we can help deer, elk, and moose through the winter; I’ve included some suggestions from wildlife biologists in the article. But one of the most important ways we can help is to not put out food for them.

If you read the article, please spare a minute for the sidebar on nonnative yews, popular but highly toxic landscaping plants that have also killed big game–including a herd of 50 pronghorn in Payette, Idaho. I have found these at my local nursery with no warnings on the label.

Parents Magazine Best of Travel 2021

Parents June 2021 issue

My thanks to Parents magazine for asking me to be a judge for their “Best Vacations for Kids: Parents’ Travel Awards 2021,” which also appears in the June 2021 print issue. I’ve gotten some good ideas from this myself! (I didn’t weigh in on all the award categories–just the ones where I thought I could help.) I don’t consider myself an expert in national parks, but I do love them, and I worked for the NPS for around eight years and have visited about 40 NPS sites, including 15 national parks. And yes, I’ve written a couple of kids’ guides for national parks (Grand Teton, Rocky Mountain, and the South Rim of the Grand Canyon), so I know some areas much better than others.

One of my favorite things about national parks is the wildlife, and there were many fine contenders for the magazine’s “best for spying animals” category. But I tried to see everything through the lens of traveling with kids. Just south of Yellowstone, which is justifiably known for wildlife watching, Grand Teton National Park has a similar complement of species and some great opportunities to see a variety of animals without putting on as many miles in the car. (For advice on where to look, see the park website, or check out my book, What I Saw in Grand Teton: A Kid’s Guide to the National Park.) Many good areas for seeing wildlife–like the Antelope Flats Loop and the Moose-Wilson Road–are easy to access even if you’re staying in the town of Jackson.

And please remember, mid-day may be the busiest time for humans, leading to crowded roads and parking lots, but it’s often nap-time for animals. Usually the best strategy for seeing animals, as well as enjoying a busy national park, is to get the kids up early to explore, return to camp or the hotel if possible in mid-afternoon to relax, and head back out again later. You’ll see a different park than you would if you arrived the same time as everyone else.

Kids’ guide to Rocky makes Reading the West short list

Child's backpack with maps and copy of What I Saw in Rocky Mountain National Park

Wherever you are, I hope this finds you well, and that you have a chance to spend time outdoors safely.

I have a bit of good news on my end. My latest book, What I Saw in Rocky: a Kid’s Guide to the National Park, has made the short list for the Reading the West Book Awards in the Young Readers category.

These awards are sponsored by the Mountains and Plains Independent Bookseller Association, which represents member bookstores in 12 western and mid-western states. The next step in the awards process is a public vote. To participate in the vote, or pick up ideas on what to read next, please visit the awards website. This is also a good time to remember you may purchase books online from many independent bookstores, which could really use the business right now.

Many national parks, including Rocky Mountain, are currently closed due to the covid-19 pandemic. But if you are a planner and find yourself with time on your hands (I know–something health care workers, first responders, and other essential workers can only dream of) you may find some consolation in researching a future visit to one of the parks. I like checking out Rocky’s webcams (one summer, I lived a few hundred yards away from the Beaver Meadows location). It makes me feel a little better knowing that although the gates are closed, the park is still there, the animals are fine, and eventually, when our world returns to some approximation of normal, we can visit again.


Close to the vest

Some fly fishing spots, particularly on small streams, are so vulnerable you know you should keep them to yourself. But it’s hard not to say something, even if you have to obscure a few details. “No Name Creek, ” in Big Sky Journal’s Summer 2019 issue, is my story about returning to one of those secret spots–where you would least expect it–after a fire. The magazine should be available at newsstands any day now.

I still have to ask myself: Is that little gorge secret because it’s special, or special because it’s secret? I guess the answer to both questions is “yes.” So I’m not telling. Fortunately for you, the best places are the ones you find for yourself. So grab your maps, download Google Earth, and start looking for your own secret fly fishing spot. You don’t have to tell me where it is.


In Rocky, weather matters


Trail Ridge Road Snowplowing
Courtesy National Park Service

In Rocky Mountain National Park, winter has been especially slow to leave the high country this year. Spring snowstorms have been interfering with efforts to plow Trail Ridge Road, the scenic highway that crosses the park. The National Park Service is doing its best to clear the road, which in other years generally has opened around Memorial Day. But for now it remains closed, with no predictions about an opening date (check current road conditions here). Visitors can still access lower parts of the park on both the east (Estes Park) and west (Grand Lake) sides, though traveling from one side to the other, until the road opens, requires a much longer drive that loops around outside the park.

This is just one more reminder that when you visit a place like Rocky Mountain National Park (“Rocky,” for short), weather matters. Rocky is a high-elevation park, with about a third, including the upper parts of Trail Ridge Road, rising above treeline. Some of the park’s trails and backcountry campsites don’t fully melt out until early July. And once heavy snows recede, weather conditions can still change rapidly, sometimes even temporarily closing Trail Ridge Road. Temperatures drop, and thunderstorms bounce lightning around the peaks. As you travel throughout the park, you may essentially encounter multiple seasons in a single day.

So what does this mean if you are planning to visit the park? First of all, you should know that all these different conditions and elevations have created an amazing diversity of wildlife, wildflowers, and spectacular mountain scenery. But second of all, you probably should do a little reading. Though I’m quite proud of my children’s book, What I Saw in Rocky Mountain: A Kid’s Guide to the National Park, it can’t pack everything into its 48 pages.

For weather, road, and safety information, I recommend you go straight to the source, the National Park Service, at The current park newspaper has a useful description of weather patterns and what to bring for your visit to the park, and you can find other great resources on this page of downloadable brochures. Once you arrive at the park, check the weather forecast and plan your days accordingly. Maybe you can even pick up a copy of my book, What I Saw in Rocky Mountain!

And please, please, please, don’t let your kids play on steep snowfields. During your visit, ask rangers where you might find safer places to play in the snow.

I hope you have a fun and safe visit to the park. It’s truly one of my favorite places anywhere.


Kids’ Guide to Rocky Mountain National Park

It’s out! My latest children’s book, What I Saw in Rocky Mountain: A Kid’s Guide to the National Park, was just released by Riverbend Publishing. The book is available directly from Riverbend, as well as from Indiebound, AmazonBarnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million. It will be available at local bookstores later this spring.

Like other books in this series, What I Saw in Rocky Mountain highlights some of the animals, plants, and places families are most likely to see during their visit to the park. Each section provides a kid-friendly description, detailed “where to see it” advice (though animals don’t always cooperate!), and a place to record sightings and experiences. Researching the fun “guess what?” facts sprinkled throughout the book was one of the best parts for me. Below I’ve given a peek inside the book, showing some of my favorite bighorn sheep pics by photographer Christopher Cauble. 

Rocky Mountain National Park is an amazing place; it’s hard to beat the park’s special combination of wildlife, scenery, trails, and tundra. And as long as you pay attention to safety (including weather!), it’s a great place to take kids of all ages and abilities. But it pays to plan ahead when visiting busy national parks like “Rocky.” You can find trip-planning information at the park’s website:

Random wildlife selfies

Don’t blame me for the focus on this photo. I wasn’t there. This whitetail buck took his own picture and then smashed his nose into my trail camera, which is now covered with teeth marks.

My family and I don’t use our trail cam for hunting; we use it for spying on our wild visitors. After a snowstorm last winter, I crisscrossed our land looking for tracks, then set up the camera along the busiest game trail. That first photo of an elk got me hooked. Later I aimed the camera at a retired fox den, which turned out to be a sort of wildlife crossroads, visited by skunks, deer, squirrels, birds, raccoons, coyotes, and not surprisingly, foxes.

My trail camera photos and videos are modest, all taken in my big backyard. But I couldn’t resist giving them their own Trail Cam page. (As I’m not on Facebook, where else am I supposed to share my blurry skunk pics?) If you want to see more impressive trail camera footage, visit the Mission Valley Grizz Cam. Amazing bears.

Kids’ events at the High Plains Bookfest

The High Plains Bookfest is coming up soon, with events taking place at various venues in Billings, Montana October 18-20 (complete schedule here).

If you have kids, please bring them along to the Billings Public Library at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, October 20 for a fun introduction to Glacier and Grand Teton national parks. Ellen Horowitz and I will be sharing our children’s books from Riverbend Publishing’s What I Saw series–Ellen’s What I Saw in Glacier: A Kid’s Guide to the National Park, and my What I Saw in Grand Teton: A Kid’s Guide to the National Park.

From noon to 2 p.m., This House of Books is hosting a High Plains Tea and Dessert Reception for children and children’s book authors. I’m looking forward to meeting everyone there.


High Plains Book Awards finalist


I had a nice surprise this week. What I Saw in Grand Teton: A Kid’s Guide to the National Park has been chosen as a finalist in the children’s category for the High Plains Book Awards!

I will be releasing another book in this series next spring.