October 14, 2010

Yellowstone - Bison, Bear, and Geysers

An early season snowfall coated the upper slopes of the Beartooth Mountains closing the Beartooth Pass for the season. According to the National Park website, it was scheduled to close in a couple days anyway, so it wasn't a difficult decision to instead drive up Paradise Valley along the Yellowstone River, through Gardiner and on into Yellowstone National Park. While the quite of the off season was felt heading into the park, we still were able to spot the occasional fly fisherman out enjoying the beautiful fall weather.

Entering Mammoth Hot Springs, we were immediately greeted by herds of elk, the male bulls guarding their harems and keeping us at bay. We sense the faint smell of sulfur and gaze at the rising steam, a lone bison grazes amongst the sagebrush. We wander amongst the bubbling hot springs, looking into the crystal waters full of life, microorganisms giving the water's their iridescent glow.

We pop up our ECamper nearby, and fall asleep to the serenade of bugling elk. Gazing up at the ridge behind our campground we observe a herd slowly grazing against the contrasting starry sky.

The next morning, we head into the Lamar valley searching for more animals, and hoping to spot wolves that may be following the elk down from their summer feeding grounds at the higher elevations. Herds of buffalo graze oblivious, coyotes play along the banks of the river. Autumn color adds a dramatic backdrop to the entire scene.

We spend another night camped nearby, hoping to wake early and perhaps catch sight of wolves, yet the mild weather has kept the elk from migrating, and so to the wolves. The bison are plentiful and impressive.  And in the early morning hours we spot a lone grizzly meandering across the valley.

 A few hours later, we spot another grizzly, this time much closer. A few cars have already stopped in front of us, giving way to a good sized grizzly, perhaps a little perturbed by the traffic, crossing the road ahead. As it meanders across into the meadow alongside the road, we drive slowly past, admiring the impressive nature of such a beautiful creature.

We feel fortunate to have been so close to such a large number of wild animals, experiencing them in their natural habitat. Sleeping to the sounds of elk, and knowing that we are in grizzly country. Although it's an awkward feeling, there is an admiration and respect rather than any sense of fear. Observing grizzly and bison, we sense their ambivalence to our presence, and we awe at their gracefulness despite their immensity.

Leaving Lamar Valley, we make our way into the Yellowstone Caldera. Stopping to wander the boardwalks amongst geysers and pools, the faint smell of sulfur adds another dimension to the visually dramatic landscape.

Old Faithful is our last stop on our way toward the Tetons. We just miss an eruption, so end up with a late dinner and tired boys. It's been a long day, and seeing the geyser ends up being anticlimactic compared with the other experiences in Yellowstone. We appreciate the more off the beaten track experiences, like camping in remote campgrounds closer to the sounds of nature. Watching the Old Faithful geyser ends up being less dramatic than the random geyser that erupted right behind us earlier in the day while wandering alone among some of the other hot springs. Yet we know we are in a national park, and they are here for everyone to enjoy. We are grateful that there is something for everyone, and that we still can get away from the crowds and have things more to ourselves.

Hopefully our boys will remember some of what they have experienced. At the very least, I'm certain that being here will influence them in some way, even if the details are forgotten.