Category: Yellowstone National Park


This is what I do when it gets dreary at home in the winter:  go through my trip photos from the last year, and plan my trips for next year.  It’s a damp, chilly sub-freezing evening that went dark at 4 p.m., and I’m sneezing. In other words, time to spend time bundled up with cups of ginger tea looking back and forward to adventures.

On a September road trip to Montana, I took a day to go to Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge on the advice of a coworker.  She is as much a student of nature and wildlife as I am.  She has a niece in West Yellowstone who drove her to Red Rock Lakes NWR about a month earlier.

It was an excuse to speed away from the madding crowd. I needed the break from Yellowstone National Park, which I love and support but grieve over as it becomes overrun. The drive to Lakeview was a trek:  50 miles of gravel roads winding from Henry’s Lake over Red Rock Pass by Mt. Jefferson before dropping into the Centennial valley.  The drive was first an adventure in elk avoidance, followed by swerving to avoid barreling trucks loaded with logs from a fire prevention project in the refuge.


Elk crossing the road by Henry’s Lake


Elk that ran across the road on the mountain, running i nto the woods


Logging truck coming down the more benign South Valley Road

I unwound on the lovely and wonderfully lonely drive. The road was lit up by groves of aspens that glow different hues of gold depending on how the light falls. I wanted to stop everywhere to take pictures of fall colors we never see at home, but, well- logging trucks. Enough said.


In Lakeview, I wandered around the refuge headquarters, which were closed since the rangers were in the field. I read signs and chatted a bit with a maintenance person. We lamented house prices in my area, where his kids live.  Way too high, but property was also too expensive around Lakeview, he said.  A recreational lot was for sale for $87,000.  That much, and only 3 acres! He was shocked.  I was, too, because you need a snowmobile to get there in winter.  And spring brings snowmelt and swampy roads.  So you’re using that lot from May to September-ish.

I walked the Sparrow Ponds Trail, despite a recent griz warning.  The refuge worker told me the bruins lurk in the willows if they’re around.  This one wasn’t, nor was much else except for birds.  I wanted to see a moose, but got there too late in the day, he said.

The waterfowl were having nothing to do with me. I tried being sneaky, but a great paddling of wings greeted me as they fled across the lake.  I sat huddled on a dirt mound by the shore in the cold wind for as long as I could stand it.



Two trumpeter swans, at a very great distance

Then I moseyed on toward Lower Red Rock Lake.  I traveled past the road to the lake out of curiosity, and came upon a little homestead cemetery. I gingerly opened the chain and walked in.  The sign is defiant, protective of the crumbling headstones and resentful of the refuge, a last stand to respect the people who clung to a tough, hardscrabble way of life.



The last person was buried before I was born. No one really lived that long except Mr. Shambow, the last to be laid to rest here.  Maude, perhaps his daughter, breathed air for only nine days. If there was a Mrs. Shambow, she’s not buried here; perhaps the tragedy of losing an infant drove her away from this place.


It’s not clear whose headstone this is, but the farewell is resigned, a drop of the hands to the sides. The words convey exhaustion, defeat by a rough land and rough weather.


redrockscampgroundAfter visiting the windswept cemetery with its oblivious gophers heaving the hallowed earth into mounds, I drove to Lower Red Rocks Lake campground. The gates and the signage speak to the neighbors and their manners.


There was no one at the campground, perhaps because it was so exposed.  The upper campground looked full as I passed.  I tip my hat to the National Wildlife Refuge System for installing a handicapped-accessible site in the middle of pretty much nowhere.


This area, from my perusal of the Web, is a good one to photograph pronghorn antelopes.  The fastest of North American land mammals, they evolved anatomy and physiology to escape long-extinct cheetahs.  The bounding gate, large eyes with 320-degree view, and rump flagging must still be serving them well still- as long as the predator isn’t carrying a firearm with bullets that travel faster than they can run.

redrocksswansI wandered around the campground, took swan pictures rendered fuzzy by heat waves, and then escaped the wind in my car.  I pulled out to the entry road to eat lunch from the shelter of my vehicle, taking photos of the pronghorns.  I thought I might hike Odell Creek trail on the way back, but it was closed for the logging operation, so I wandered back slowly to West Yellowstone, stopping while cowboys moved cattle to winter grounds.


I wish I had camped, really, instead of coming for the day.  I could have wandered among the aspens, waited until the rangers returned to the office to browse through exhibits and skins and feathers, watched for moose in the cold early morning.  But I needed to get back to my motel whether I liked it or not because my gear was there, along with my food.  Next time I will linger.  No more town life.  Not next time.

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Elk and bison feeding on dry grass in late fall along the Madison River in Yellowstone National Park.

Even when you’ve been a veterinary student, a scientist, a pet and livestock owner- even then, and maybe especially then- it’s hard to watch animals suffer in the wild.  You should know better, right?  Animals live, animals die.  Even without the hazards humanity poses for wild animals, a host of potential killers lurks behind every rock and bush. Weather, predators, disease, childbirth, battles with competitors, broken bones, rotten teeth, wildfire, and the list goes on.


We always want to see them cross to the other side of winter and make it to spring

My trip to Montana coincided with the cooling fall winter that heralds subzero temperatures and snow to come.  Winter drops a curtain between the robust and the weakened or just weaned.  On one side of the curtain, animals move on into the next spring. On the other, they become food for everything from insects and mice to birds, wolves, and bears.

In Yellowstone National Park, I saw for the first time in several trips young bison calves in late fall.  I have a pasture-bred horse that was born late August in Idaho, which isn’t optimal.  His mother likely “threw” the first fetus and rebred too late the previous year.  He made it, and is 20 years old now, but these young bison calves may not. They will  not benefit from human intervention in the way that my horse did.


This frost isn’t a spring morning, but late September- a bad time for a little red calf to be puttling on weight.


This calf isn’t far behind the one above, just shedding the last of the baby fur.


This calf is taller, older, and in good weight.  It still may not survive, but has a better chance.

On a trip to Red Rock Lakes Refuge, I found a decent herd of pronghorn antelope leaping around the grasslands crossed by the road.  When one that was lying down stood, I gasped to see its condition- no body fat, and a withdrawn look that says the animal is giving up and preparing to die.


Protruding bones and sunken eyes- it just hurts to see it.


Healthy animals that will be able to cope with winter.


At a pullout on the Madison River, a crowd of us watched this young elk cow lying in the grass, seemingly contented to chew her cud while other cows browsed nearby.


The cow occastionally made a peculiar, grimacing expression.


When she stood to eat, it became apparent that she’s walking on a very tender hind foot. This could make her vulnerable to predators, getting bogged down in snow, or reducing her ability to keep her weight up.


These elk look healthy, but the young one on left kept fighting to follow the herd, getting caught in barbed wire cattle fencing.  Elk calves can get hung up in fencing and struggle to death within 15 minutes according to a USFWS Refuge ranger. 

Something different happens when we’re out wildlife watching.  We want to see animals frolicking wild and free in nature.  We want to feel hope for wildlife.  It’s hard to watch suffering and death.  Maybe the sympathy we want to feel for the sometimes hateful human race gets subverted as we gaze on sick and injured animals.  Maybe it’s the same gut-wrenching sadness we feel when children, the elderly, and disabled people suffer.

At least with wildlife, we can take comfort knowing that there is a circle of life.  The emaciated pronghorn will feed the food chain.  Wolves and bears may survive the winter on bison too young and too old to make it through.  It’s not the end: the rest of the herd, and the beneficiaries of death will make it through to the other side.


Lest my rant give the misimpression that my September 2016 trip to Yellowstone National Park was an exercise in tourist frustration, I enjoyed a quiet room at the new Canyon Lodge and some peaceful day hikes.  Sometimes enjoying the best of Yellowstone happens when you park your car and use your feet.

On a lovely but cold morning, I drove Hayden Valley drinking hot coffee looking for wildlife while the sun rose. Many folks have clued into this:  drive at dawn and dusk, watch for other cars stopped, and voila, wildlife.  I stopped at a pullout for this lovely view of the river.  Apologies to the gentleman taking pictures of a bald eagle.  I have a nesting pair by my home, and while I don’t take them for granted, their Wyoming cousins don’t have the unique attraction of a pretty sunrise on a foggy river.

I decided to day hike to Sentinel Meadows after perusing the Jake Bramante map over morning coffee.  It was a great choice for solitude. I veered off the common road to the Fairy Falls/Imperial Geyser trail, which everyone else was taking, and ended up with the place to myself.

The trail starts by a thermal, Ojo Caliente, which could be morphed into, “Oh no, super caliente!” if you were so foolish as to enter the steaming pool.



The trail leads past this  thermal through wide meadows with fresh bison patties, wood debris and enough trees to provide perfect habitat for cavity nesting, insect eating mountain bluebirds.  These busy little birds find perches in meadows to hunt, then dive to the ground to grab their meal. They also hover, which is fun to watch but hard to catch without a great camera.


The trail winds past the Queen’s Laundry, thermal features that apparently people- well, used for laundry at one time (doh!).


The trail climbs a small hill, winds around a corner through another small meadow, through some trees, and then drops into another meadow.  In this case, a meadow filled with bison and thermal features.


There were lots of bison sacked out, and spread out over a wide area.  A couple trailing groups approached them in a line.  The orange trail markers indicated my trail crossed their path, so I sat on my pack to eat lunch and waited for them to cross. Or not.


Two cows suddenly felt the need for a siesta, and plopped down right by the trail.  A giant bull stood sentinel over them, killing my plan to have a short lunch while the parade rear guard moseyed past. It was going to be a really long lunch, or a detour.


Not passing too close to this big guy, for sure…..

After awhile, I decided it was a detour. With the thermal features in the area, I was cautious about picking a route.  There was a social path blocked by a tree limb that I used (sorry, YNP) to head down valley from the bison.  I swung wide across the valley, watching for bison trails and picking a narrow part of the marshy stream to hop across.  After the stream, I followed more bison paths back toward the trail.

The whole time I detoured, I kept an eye on the bull even though I was well distant from him and his girls.  He turned his head a couple times, but never lifted his tail, so I figured I was paying appropriate respect.

The trail passed small thermal features before crossing a stream on limbs and entering a forest. Then it crossed back to a connector with Fairy Falls and the common gravel road again.  I walked the road chatting with a couple from Seattle who had made a last minute decision to visit Yellowstone to hike since he was nursing a bad ankle.  We passed one more group of bison on the way out, and then reached our cars for a cheery au revoir and off to our evening destination. All in all, a peaceful pleasant day in a super popular national park.



I have returned to Yellowstone National Park a half dozen times.  I’ve backpacked, hiked, taken classes and certification training at the park.  I’m a member of Yellowstone Association and a monthly donor to the Yellowstone Park Foundation.  But after my trip to the solitude and freedom of American Prairie Reserve, my visit to Yellowstone made me feel like the child of an unpredictable and inconsistent parent.

Yellowstone is having a rough year during the centennial celebration of the National Parks. Record numbers of visitors arrived at the park. One hundred years after the military got poaching and illegal mining and logging under control, the 22nd death in a hot spring occurred. Some decided to ignore the many signs around hot springs:  six people caught on video off trail, four Canadians strolling on Grand Prismatic Spring, and tourists who bundled up a baby bison in the back of their car to bring it to warmth, leading to its being put down.

And YNP has a controversial image as wildlife stewards. The park was under fire again  after they announced a huge cull of bison under a controversial agreement with Montana to ostensibly reduce potential of brucellosis transmission to cattle (which has never happened, and oh yeah, elk carry brucellosis too, but let’s not talk about that). The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed delisting grizzly bears in the Yellowstone ecosystem, likely under pressure to show success of the Endangered Species act, and coincident to applications for trophy hunts by Wyoming and Montana. YNP had to tiptoe around that during public comment periods in 2016.

So you can hardly blame YNP rangers and the Park for being worn thin. When I drove into the park, a grizzly kill site at Dunraven Pass had created an obstinate parking lot of vehicles on the road with people running toward the site saying, “It’s just like you see on TV!” The crowd was blocking a fuel tanker truck trying to mount the hill and pass.

But after politely stopping for a bison herd that stepped into the road (one hoof was on the yellow line, but no bison in my lane), I found a ranger screaming up the hill, honking his horn furiously to send a young calf out of his way and waving at me to continue.  It was complete ranger road rage, and this after we passed several temporary flags warning us to be patient with extensive delays for wildlife on the roadways.


YNP, try to understand the natural temptation to reach out and touch nature.

Yellowstone is sending mixed and soft messages that don’t speak clearly or directly to tourists.  “Wildlife are dangerous and unpredictable” blames wildlife for being- well, wild.  How about, “You can get yourself killed by wildlife”? That puts blame where blame belongs. How about being specific about how to drive around a bison herd?  I wasn’t sure whether moving on would send the animal into the car it was passing or start a stampede.

And the YNP ommunications folks want your pictures for social media, which encourages you to take more interesting and unique pictures, that just get you into trouble. This effort to get people to avoid taking selfies with wildlife is- well, just dumb.  Do you think people really will skip the picture with the live bison to get a selfie with a giant stuffed toy?  And why give it a name that flies in the face of trying to convince people wildlife are wild?billythebison

Even the tour operators aren’t following rules.  I saw a Yellowstone yellow bus tour stop and let people out to chase this grizzly for a picture. (Note to Ranger: I snapped his photo with my Canon HS60-XS superzoom from a pullout down the road and decided to change my hiking destination from a nearby nature trail).


I sat at the Canyon Village Fountain Grill counter eating a salad and listening to four women talk about how that ranger shouldn’t have been yelling at one of them.  “I was sensible,” she said. “I knew what I was doing.” A few minutes later I realized that her tour bus had stopped to watch a grizzly sow and cubs, and she had separated from the line of people out of their cars on the road to come up behind them for pictures, effectively hemming them in. No, not sensible, but remember, she was on a tour. Tour operators may have to sacrifice a tip to keep their customers in line- I saw it happen in Costa Rica, so it can happen here.

Yellowstone, you need to be a better, more consistent parent with clear rules, and stop blaming the “kids” for- well, being kids.  Understand the temptation to reach a hand out of a car and feel a bison passing by with your fingertips- no, not smart, but these magnetic creatures suddenly feel within reach and touch.


Don’t worry, Ranger- this picture was taken from the safety of a car in a pullout at a great distance with a small superzoom camera. 

And you need to be willing to call out deliberately ugly or dangerous behavior.  There are great photographers, but legions of amateur long-lens photographers who bait and harrass animals for photos. There are people who throw food and objects at animals and feel entitled to camp anywhere they want.  The Park Service might want to consider some good old-fashioned shaming for punishment, not just standing nobly silent or saying obliquely that rules don’t allow you to step off the boardwalk onto the thin crust of a boiling hot spring.

And prioritize safety, not natural wonder.  Your Web is organized to require someone bedazzled by images of thermal features and wildlife to click on a section called “Safety”. Do you really expect people to do this?  Maybe recharacterize the whole park as the Serengeti of the U.S. with boiling acidic cauldrons waiting to eat you alive. Yes, there will be people who step into the cauldron or reach out to pet the wild animal, but it won’t be the majority who are now encouraged to “Marvel. Explore. Discover”.ynpweb

I know we visitor people make honest but dumb mistakes or can be stupid (okay, the baby bison incident was beyond the pale). Sometimes we’re just bedazzled and tempted by the marvel of nature that we increasingly only know in electronic form. It’s happening all over the world, and will only going to get worse as we are more isolated in cities, and tempted to sin by more new technology (drones are already a problem and virtual reality is next).  You’re going to have to sit down as “parents” of the park and have a tough love conversation about what you need to do to protect people, wildlife, cultural resources, and the environment.

Maybe it’s not communications that will fix the problem. Maybe it’s confining people to ranger-led tours and shuttles.  I would pay for it, and go with you. But honking and yelling at people who are trying to do the right thing, and soft-balling risk while asking people for cool images- well, you’re kinda asking for what’s happening.


So what exactly am I supposed to do when I’m pulled over safely in my car with the windows up and the bison decides to start shoving it out of the way?


MaleAnnasThe hummingbird was not going to wait for me to hang the feeder. On a cold morning in Western Washington, with uncommon snow on the ground, the male Anna’s wanted his sugar water, and now. As I walked toward the post, feeder dangling from a cord, he darted straight for the yellow plastic flower and buried his bill as I stood there feeling like I was being mugged by a creature weighing less than an ounce. I am an uneasy host: Anna’s hummingbirds are more frequent winter residents here due to warming temperatures and late-blooming non-native flowers. Aside from insects, there is no high energy food to support their intense metabolism during the winter. That’s why I got busted red-handed with a nectar feeder by a hungry hummer.

These interactions make some people feel special, selected from a crowd of ungainly, insensitive primates by an alien and delicate living thing. We transform the experience by subtracting the feeder and attributing the encounter to our inherent goodness, to some juju magic the animal must see in us. If we hunt, we pride ourselves on our power and grace as we harvest an animal from the plot of rich forage we planted to attract it; it wasn’t the food, but the fine shot that made the day. Artists are no more saintly than hunters; we lift the image of an animal from a feeder and carefully place it in habitat we viewed somewhere else.

But for the animal, it is all about food.

Here in America, the majority of people are at the pinnacle of the food pyramid, so well-fed we are dying of it and clinging to one fad diet after another. I am as guilty as any of indulging in “comfort foods” and mood-enhancing drinks. We can waste 30% of the food we buy, and feed pet animals and wildlife to boot. Many of us can fill bird feeders with fatty, protein-rich seed hearts and pour clean water boiled with sugar into a nectar container.

Black-headed grosbeak at a seed feeder

Black-headed grosbeak at a seed feeder

Far away, there are places where people would make a meal of that same seed and sugar water. For the malnourished person, feeding an animal involves a calculation: if I feed this animal, it will become my food, and it will provide me with more nutrition than what I feed it. There is no mystique, no ego, no pride, only practicality.

A Hoffman's woodpecker feasts on a banana at a wildlife photography resort in Costa Rica

A Hoffman’s woodpecker feasts on a banana at a wildlife photography resort in Costa Rica

Food is a powerful tool of wildlife habituation. This tool is used by backyard wildlife enthusiasts, hunters, government wildlife managers, and even resorts specializing in wildlife photography. Concentrated sources of food- feeders, salt blocks, hay bales and rich stands of corn and clover- bring the most animals at once. Feeding may be an alternative to certain death: the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife feeds elk at set locations in the winter to keep them from straying into orchards where bullets will soon follow. Feeders may support backyard wildlife that would starve among sprawling housing developments with manicured yards. Animals tricked into overwintering by climate change may benefit from off-season feed.

However, wildlife habituation to food does not equate to magical bonding, and its costs can’t be subtracted from the human-wildlife equation. Competition for a rich food source can cause injury. Disease can be passed at a feeder like influenza on a crowded train full of coughing people. If there is no shelter from storms or a safe place to den or nest, animals and birds may die or sacrifice the next generation for easy meals. Predation increases: hawks have a distracted crowd of birds to pick from and crows may visit a feeder and then a nearby nest to eat another bird’s eggs.

A flowering lobelia attracts hummingbirds even in a pot

A flowering lobelia attracts hummingbirds even in a pot

The Anna’s hummingbird that does not migrate may die if I stop feeding it, or if the weather returns to historic norms.

Habituating wildlife to a food source can be a problem for people, too. Garbage-conditioned bears in Yellowstone National Park were killed when bear-human conflicts rose after the Park Service suddenly changed policy and closed dumps. Hand-fed ground squirrels and chipmunks at Mt. Rainier steal food and bite people to get a bit of sandwich. Mountain goats charge people because some have let them lick the salty sweat off their arms, or fed them. Backyard feeders attract unintended visitors like rats, raccoons, and opossums: animals we view as pests that view our houses as their homes.

A "bad bear" lives the best life it can inside a fence at the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center. He will never return to the wild after habituation to human food, but at least he is alive!

A “bad bear” lives the best life it can inside a fence at the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center. He will never return to the wild after habituation to human food, but at least he is alive!

Animals, though they feel more than we can bear to admit, are not human. Maybe the food bank, the food drop, the mission, or the refugee camp is more appropriate for people. We are too many to live in the wild and we don’t really want to live there anymore. Critters, even domesticated, will return to the wild if there is enough food, water, and shelter available. They will eat plants, bugs, slugs and each other happily, with room to avoid each other when necessary and to join together when there is benefit.

We can continue misinterpreting an abundance of animals or birds at a feeding area as a sign of plenty and health. We can pride ourselves on being a backyard St. Francis, a clever artist, an expert shutterbug or a premier hunter when we are just exploiting the tendency of resource-limited creatures to migrate to an easy meal. We can allow wild lands to be developed or fragmented to the point that they become empty and lifeless.

This young mule deer and its sibling stayed for a week, eating grass and wild shrubs that are adapted to browsing.

This young mule deer and its sibling stayed for a week, eating grass and wild shrubs that are adapted to browsing.

Alternatively, maybe we should stop destroying habitat. Maybe we should prize great tracking skills, the glimpse of an animal in nature, the patience to wait for a great picture or clean shot. If we want to capture wildlife in artwork and photographs, perhaps we should develop the skills and persistence to find them in the wild. If we want to hunt, maybe we should abandon the bait block, the crop stand and critter cam and learn to identify habitat, to track and to aim well. If we just want to enjoy wildlife around our homes, maybe we need to plant gardens, woodlands, hedgerows and wetlands for local and migratory wildlife.

A butterfly sitting on my pack as I ate lunch wasn't a supernatural message.  The insect was warming up on heat absorbing dark fabric on a chilly day, and likely taking up mineral from sweat.

A butterfly sitting on my pack as I ate lunch wasn’t a supernatural message. The insect was warming up on heat absorbing dark fabric on a chilly day, and likely taking up mineral from sweat.

For now, I will continue hanging nectar feeders for the Anna’s hummingbird that should have departed to Mexico for the winter, but perhaps hung on because the non-native bee balm flowered until the frosts arrived. I may have been his downfall, his fall deceit, so I will feed him this winter. But I will not pretend that his charming insistence on stopping me in my tracks means anything more than a demand for the debt of calories I now owe.

A snowy owl unwilling to become habituated during a rare wintertime visit to Boundary Bay, Delta, B.C.

A snowy owl unwilling to become habituated during a rare wintertime visit to Boundary Bay, Delta, B.C.

Summit of Mt. Sheridan, Heart Lake below

Summit of Mt. Sheridan, Heart Lake below

This was the trip I tried to do last year with my friend Brenda when she became injured. This year, I was fortunate to have the company of Michelle, a new friend from the National Association of Interpretation training I attended.  Michelle’s easy-going partner Jamie couldn’t make it due to work, unfortunately for him as he would have enjoyed the fly-fishing.

I did what is becoming a routine:  drove to Montana to decompress on the road, stopping overnight at the Motel 6 in Missoula, and then heading to Yellowstone the next day.  That drive appeals to the Midwestern road-tripper in me, and lets me unwind from work, which is crazy right now. The big scenery spins by the windshield and I daydream and listen to music cruising along Interstate 90, eventually leaving the to-do list and worries behind.  Why the Motel 6?  Dunno, started out there, and it’s become a habit.  I learned this time that the 3rd floor smells a lot like cigarette smoke (1st floor doesn’t), but I sleep well anyway.

Montana experienced an unusually rainy August and September, creating lovely color along the drive.  There were black-eyed Susan flowers blooming on the roadside, and the hills were green-gold instead of the rich yellow I saw the last couple autumns. Aside from a little haze coming from Washington’s wildfires, the sky is clear this time.

I arrived to an unusually busy fall crowd, rushing into the closest campground, Norris, just before it filled.  This turned out to be a good choice, since Steamboat Geyser in the Norris Geyser Basin erupted the day before for the first time in years and was marked by a towering plume typical of the steam phase that lasts 24-48 hours after an eruption.

Steamboat Geyser, about 30 hours after eruption

Steamboat Geyser, about 30 hours after eruption

Norris Campground is by a historic ranger station that is still beautiful in its creative and sturdy construction, with a trail leading to the Norris Geyser Basin.  It also has a great staging area for talks, and the night’s heavily attended ranger presentation was on the night sky.  The growing moon made it difficult to see stars, but it is the first time I understood anything about them from the stories the ranger told.  She brought a laptop and volunteers brought telescopes, through which you could see the rings of Saturn and craters of the moon.  My little Canon didn’t do too badly photographing the moon, either.

The beautiful moon

The beautiful moon

It was a cold night, registering about 24 degrees, but I was prepared and slept well in my reliable old North Face tent, which has accompanied me on adventures for 20 years.  The next morning, I met up with Michelle in West Yellowstone and we headed for Grant Village to pick up permits, day hike, and camp one more night before heading out.  I’m a sea level gal, and Yellowstone is at altitude, so this acclimation period is necessary before shouldering a heavy pack and heading uphill.

We traveled to Pelican Valley, lovely but notorious for a rare, unprovoked fatal attack on a lone woman camper in 1986 by a grizzly bear that was never found.  Camping is no longer allowed in the valley, and people are supposed to enter only after 9 a.m. and leave before dusk.  We saw a lone hiker, the seasonal employee that often becomes the victim of bear attacks by traveling alone, or sometimes, as we saw later, the lost hiker separated from a group of other inexperienced seasonal employees.As if to make a point, a grizzly left a pile of scat at the trailhead, full of elk hair.  A track followed not much further.  Wolf tracks also appeared, suggesting the wolves might have taken down the elk, and a grizz took the carcass over, as they will do.  We also found scratches on trees from grizzlies marking, or perhaps trying to beat up the trees, as they will sometimes do in frustration when they are disrespected by a bigger bear.

Pelican Valley

Pelican Valley

Michelle said Pelican Valley was once the last holdout for the 25 remaining bison of 65 million that once roamed the U.S.   Those 25 were brought to Lamar Buffalo Ranch to become the herd of 4000+ that exist today.  If the bison had more room to roam, there would be many more than 4000; currently, culling is used to control numbers. Pelican Valley is perfect for wildlife, with water, grasslands, and trees for shade and hiding predators.

The next morning we headed out on the Heart Lake Trail.  We had divided food and common supplies, with Michelle bringing real food for lunches and dinners.  I got a great education on backcountry cooking, which I stink at, relying on freeze-dried and instant food that inevitably makes me lose my appetite when I really need to be eating.  We reached Paycheck Pass below Factory Hill and stopped for snacks, Michelle’s application of blister treatment and geyser investigation.  Heart Lake was visible in the distance, but still 2 miles off, with our first campsite another mile further.

The Heart Lake area was subject to the historic 1988 wildfires and several since, with the mosaic burn pattern typical of these fires.  Why some trees live and others burn is dependent on microconditions in the burn area.  Since wildfires are nowhere to be when they are burning, only distant detection methods help to figure out wind speed, air temperature and moisture, and ground heat.  The fire snags can be quite lovely in the right light, gleaming silver like a valuable statue rather than a long-dead trees.

Mud pot, Paycheck Pass

Mud pot, Paycheck Pass

The geyser basin at Paycheck Pass includes a mudpot, a superheated soup of dirt and mineral that bubbles and pops thick muddy bubbles.  These are the most entertaining thermal features to me, with no spectacular explosions of water, but a constant burbling chatter only they can understand.  It sounds like some sort of gnome lives within them, stirring the pot and grumbling.

Even though you can see Heart Lake from the pass, it’s still 2 miles, and then for us, another mile and change to campsite 8H3.  We were happy to be in camp, setting up for the first night.  Michelle scouts a tent site in the grass because the established tent sites are all really close to the bear pole, a typical set up by the Park Service even though they want you 100 yards downwind of your food.  Michelle cooked pasta for dinner and we retired early, with a big moon rising and a sound of distant elk bugling.

The next morning we set out to summit Mt. Sheridan, about 3.9 miles and 3000 feet gain, to top out at 10,300 feet or thereabouts.  The trail is really nice, good footing even when it’s steep, despite the bad rap it gets from my guidebook.  It travels through an old burn, where we hear branches snapping, then silence as we listen.  Later, we learn another party has spied a grizzly on the slopes of Sheridan, and at the end, rangers tell us the bear is a fixture there.  No worries for us: it is a good huckleberry season.  The weather is cool and windy, which saves us on the ascent.  The trail finally winds around the back of the shoulder through lovely alpine meadows, and then makes the final climb to the summit and lookout.

Trail to summit of Mt. Sheridan

Trail to summit of Mt. Sheridan

The slopes going around the lookout appear barren from a distance, but we see lovely rock gardens full of flowers.  We find no one at the summit and have a great lunch of burritos and fruit and nuts, taking pictures of the huge view, our route around Heart Lake, and the flowers.  There is even a picnic bench on the summit.  Mt. Sheridan marks the south end of the Yellowstone volcano caldera, and Mt. Washburn, visible from here, marks the north.  We can see Yellowstone Lake, which has volcanic features under the water, and Shoshone and Lewis Lakes as well.  Grand Teton and its companions are in view but obscured by the weather they are kicking our way.  I learn that the Teton Range whips us a lot of storms with heavy lightning, explaining what Brenda and I experienced last year.  The weather spins our way, but we don’t get overtaken during our break on the summit.

We descend and suddenly run into three groups.  The first, in very trendy trail clothes, tells us they saw the grizz.  “Awesome!” I say.  “Michelle heard a stick snap- must have been him.”  The lead guy says, “Well, be careful.  There’s eight of us,” as if to imply that the bear is back there counting heads and will leap out to eat us because we’re a party of two.  We run into a party of two, but since the older gentleman looks distinctly unhappy with the elevation or strenuousness, I don’t want to add to his troubles with talk of a grizz.

The day heated up as we ascended, so we shed clothes.  We’decided to stop at the geyser basin, which I need to do to wrap a blister.  At the geyser basin, we hang out and wait for Rustic Geyser to erupt, which happens about every 20 minutes, and take pictures of the lovely blue geyser pool nearby, where a boneyard eerily decorates the sediments under the superheated water. An elk or moose appears to have fallen in, perhaps being chased, or just starving or ill. Rustic is really a fun geyser to watch.  The water rises and recedes ominously a few times, and then, on a recession, suddenly it bursts in big, successive burps of steam and water before abruptly stopping again.  Later, Michelle reads that the odd shape was created by Native Americans, who squared it up with logs around the rim; the logs are now covered in sinter. Interestingly, the plumbing for Rustic geyser and an adjacent geyser must be connected, because this more modest feature starts to bubble and burp and overflow after Rustic erupts.  This is common, and in fact, when we visited Steamboat Geyser to see the steam phase before we went on our hike, Cistern Geyser was empty, as will occur when Steamboat erupts. No one understands the Yellowstone geysers well; Michelle says only Old Faithful has been subjected to video in vents in between eruptions.

The ground around these geysers can be very dangerous, and you have to pick your way through, checking for soft spots and cavities to make sure you’re not going to plunge into a superheated pool and scald your feet.  It happens. I don’t want to be the next to fall in a lovely but deadly pool, so I’m careful.

Remains of victim, Heart Lake Geyser Basin

Remains of victim, Heart Lake Geyser Basin

We hobble back to camp for a good night’s sleep and get ready to hike to Basin Lake the next day.  The night is cold, in the 20’s. but the sun comes up and warms the next morning with beautiful light.  We take pictures, filter water, pack up, and head out around the lake.  Just as we enter the forest, there are a marmot eating berries and a pika nearby, harvesting hay.  We find scratches way up a tree- not the climbing type, but the very-tall-bear type.

I backpack the next couple days in my Keen sandals to give my blister a chance to heal, which works marvelously.  Michelle ditches her new insoles, since they have helped create her blister, and does fine.

Grizzly track, Snake River, where there was day-old scat and a day bed

Grizzly track, Snake River, where there was day-old scat and a day bed

The trail travels through nice shady forest and then breaks out in some big grassy flats and wetlands.  We have a little trouble finding the turn to Basin Lake, since there is no sign, but a wide, pummeled trail going the opposite direction to an outfitter camp full of horse crap.  We double back and then find our camp.  The camp at Basin Lake is really our best, with space to spread out, no rampant outfitter signs, and peace.  In the morning, I see a pine marten, and we hear the echoing calls of sandhill cranes as they do practice laps in preparation for their winter migration.

Our next couple days are also marked by birds- a pair of sandhill cranes in every basin we pass, grouse blowing out of the grass unexpectedly, sapsuckers hammering holes in trees, and red-tailed hawks. Flocks of robins hang around patches of huckleberries, perched in fire-killed trees, looking fat and content.

Sandhill crane stalking food, trail to Basin Creek Lake

Sandhill crane stalking food, trail to Basin Creek Lake

The river fords are cold, but Michelle is able to fish at our next crossing of the Snake River, and even gives me fly fishing lessons.  I do not of course catch a thing, but get a feel for how different the cast is from the mighty salmon cast I use to fish on my river.  During the trip, she catches (and releases) five fish- two native cutthroat, a rainbow, a brown trout, and a cutbow (rainbow/cutthroat hybrid).

We reluctantly leave and hike on a cold morning to our next camp at the outlet of Heart Lake.  The weather is turning, and Michelle does her usual routine of cleaning up a bad fire ring while I help gather kindling.  In Washington, I just don’t start fires, what with the scarcity of wood in the alpine areas and the fire danger.  It’s low fire danger here, and the burn areas provide an abundance of firewood without compromising the environment.  At night, we hear elk bugling, one quite close to our camp. We expect it to snow that night, but it waits until we hike out, a long day of 12 miles.  We stop at the Heart Lake Ranger station on the way out and eat a snack sheltered from the increasingly cold wind.  Snowflakes start falling, then become thicker. Michelle does the right thing and stops us at Paycheck Pass to eat hot quesadillas in the snow before we continue the slog out to the parking area. We’re actually stopped by two rangers on the way out, one an enforcement ranger, and asked to show our camping permit.  They ask us if we’ve seen an Eastern European girl traveling alone, separated from her group.  We say no, only one guy going in, and a couple coming out.  Michelle tells me it’s likely a seasonal employee- they head out into the backcountry and go astray, with alcohol as an occasional culprit.  Michelle said they can’t be too worried, or they would have the cavalry out, not just two rangers.

Heart Lake Ranger Station

Heart Lake Ranger Station

We’re finally at the car.  I’ve done well, with only tired feet.  We stop at Grant Village for showers, which feel really good after six days with minimal cleaning and no hair-washing (hats are a critical item on these trips).  We both waste lots of hot water since there is no time limit on showers.

The next night was going down to 15 degrees, so I camped on Jamie and Michelle’s couch, sported for pizza dinner, and the next day, decided to check out the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone before I started the drive home.  The Center is a non-profit that houses renegade bears and wolves that can’t go back to the wild and does some great education.  The bears also help testing out bear containers and finding whether they really work or not. This center is the polar opposite of the notorious bear mills, that raise cubs and when they stop being cute, butcher the animals for medicinal parts and hide, or allow canned hunts for $20,000 or more to fake sportsmen.

Grizzly playing with tree, Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center

Grizzly playing with tree, Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center

The bears and wolves are managed in natural habitats.  The bears get trees to maul, a pool of trout to fish, and food cached by staff in different places around their habitat each time before they are released into the enclosure, so they can do what they would naturally do in the wild.  The bears are turned out alone (for the largest, Sam) or in groups that get along.  Education includes a house front and garden with bear no-no’s, a display of bear-destroyed trash containers, a bad campsite, and better ways to protect gardens, chicken coops, and animal pens.  Inside, the Center has more conventional displays with the biology and ecology of bears, threats like poaching, and the history of bears in North America, including recovery efforts.  And then, there are the rehabilitating birds- injured animals that do a job in raptor displays as ambassadors and educators.  The Center is working to add more bear habitat and a riparian display, an ambitious project with underwater viewing areas and river otters, expected to be completed 2020.  I really enjoyed the center, spending a good three hours there, and would gladly return for another visit.  I donated to support Acadia, a rescued saw-whet owl, before I left.

All in all, this was one of the most peaceful vacations I have enjoyed in recent years, and I felt quiet inside as I drove home. The weather cooperated, cool when we needed it, and warm at times, too.  The period around the full moon was clear so we had lovely nights bathed in moonlight. I had just the right amount of energy, stamina, food, and patience for the backpack trip.  We saw animals, plants, and fungi enjoying late season rains and preparing for the upcoming winter.  We saw few people but a lot of nature, just the way I like it!

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Lamar Valley Buffalo Ranch, view toward dining hall/classroom building complete with bison

For five days in March, I lived at the historic Lamar Buffalo Ranch in Yellowstone for “Lamar Wolf Week”. The Lamar Valley is dubbed a “Winter Serengeti” by the clever marketing folks at the Yellowstone Association for its abundant wildlife, very visible in the winter.

The drive from Snohomish to Gardiner, Montana travels over three high mountain passes and always has the possibility of storms, especially in the winter and spring. A friend and I drove in from Missoula to Gardiner in some pretty wicked weather- strong, gusty winds, blowing hail and snow and rain. As we traveled down 89 from Livingston to Gardiner, the sun came out and the temperature climbed from 32 to 50 degrees in about 15 minutes. We could see a storm up ahead, but where we were driving, ranch horses stretched out on the ground to enjoy the temporary warmth.

In Gardiner, we checked into the Absaroka Lodge for an overnight stay. The room- 2 queens and a kitchenette-was only $69 with tax, and was bright, spacious, and clean, with great storage and a balcony overlooking the Yellowstone River. We must have had a deal because the price is now $135 any season of the year, more consistent with the cost of most places in the area.


Pronghorn antelopes

We took a drive into the park, about ½ mile away, to see what we could see. We immediately came upon a small herd of pronghorn antelope lying low in the rising wind, conveniently posing by a pullout and interpretive sign that said “Wildlife Migration”.

We drove to Mammoth and up the hill past the thermal features, passing a small group of bison hunkered down in the wind in a snow free zone by a thermal area; lying low on the toasty ground with butt to the wind is a way to get through storms. It turns out that thermal areas are the basis of survival for bison in the even snowier interior section of the park by Hayden.

Mammoth Hot Springs

Mammoth Hot Springs

As we drove along, we saw a lot of animals near thermal features and on the road. We were seeing one of the important features of Yellowstone in winter, highly visible wildlife due to the road. Traveling the plowed road uses the lowest energy route to travel from one point to the next, avoiding a struggle through the snow.TheEasyWay


The hard way to travel, compared to the road

We saw a bighorn sheep on the way toward Tower Junction. The sheep was pawing at the slope to get at the roots of plants, with little else to eat. Later, one instructor said that at this time of the year, the animals have essentially “finished all the cereal and are eating the box”.sheep

Suddenly, the storm came upon us. Within 10 minutes, the temperature had dropped from 38 to 27 degrees and snow was piling up on the road. The visibility plummeted, sometimes to nothing but swirling snow in front of the windshield. Winter driving in this area is not for the inexperienced or faint of heart- the roads are steep and winding, with no guard rails by the towering drop-offs, and rapidly become really slick in a snowstorm. We turned around and passed the bighorn sheep, which had continued eating despite the sudden driving wind and snow, as had the now snowy bison.sheepinsnow

snowybisonThe following day, we drove down to Tower Junction and skied for the day. The storm was over but it was cold and windy, and the wind chill likely dropped the temperature far below the 24 on the thermometer. We skied out into the valley and passed a herd of bison trying to make a living in the lee of a slope by the river.BisonSkiing

After skiing for awhile, we toured the Lamar Valley up past Silver Gate to Cooke City, where the Beartooth Highway was closed for the winter. Silver Gate and Cooke City are the sheep and the cattle of the old range wars: Silver Gate has cabins and espresso for Nordic skiers, while Cooke City has motels and bars for the “sledniks”- snowmobilers.

We checked into Lamar Buffalo Ranch and found our cabin, the nice but buffalo-beaten #7. The cabin was positioned next to a field where bison grazed, and the large beasts would use the stair railing to scratch their butts. The railing was wobbly, and the side of the cabin had tufts of bison hair rubbed on it.CabinPet

The Lamar Buffalo Ranch was the incorrectly named site where bison (they’re not buffalo) were raised to save the wild bison population. In the 1800’s, it was a jolly little East Coast vacation to take the trains out West and shoot bison from the windows on the way. And they were slaughtered to weaken the American Indian tribes who depended on them. By the late 1800’s, Americans were starting to get really worried about the rampant slaughter of animals, and the conservation movement was born. But it was too late- continued poaching continued to reduce numbers. Finally, the population was reduced from 60 million to only 25 animals, and an emergency occurred that required both Army intervention (the Park Service was the military in the beginning) and the ranch.

Today, the Lamar Buffalo Ranch is run by the Yellowstone Association Institute, an educational arm of the National Park Service. There is a central facility with kitchen and classrooms, cabins, ranger housing, and a really nice central bathroom with heated floors, lots of hot water in the showers, and immaculate daily cleaning.

We had signed up for a course where food was provided, and it was both a treat and wonderful. Everyone took turns on KP duty, which was a really small favor in return for some really nicely prepared meals. I couldn’t imagine the same number of us (class was full at 20-some) trying to elbow our way into the kitchen and cook every day.

Our day would start at 6 a.m. with breakfast, followed by trips out to watch wolves and wildlife. We would return for lunch, sign up for an afternoon snowshoe or winter hike, and go out for a few more hours. After dinner, there would be a program. The first day, we saw the two remaining Lamar Valley wolves that had not been killed in the fall Montana hunt. They had killed an elk, a feat for two animals, and we were able to watch activity at the carcass. We were all so excited to see them that we didn’t even notice a coyote chased off the carcass racing behind us until John Harman, our instructor, gently pointed it out. We did manage to get pictures of its mate going by a few minutes later, chin still bloody.coyote

Coyotes have not fared well with the return of the wolf. Once reaching numbers where they assumed a role as apex predator, their populations have been reduced 50% and they are relegated to stealing from carcasses with a watchful eye to make sure the wolves don’t run them off or kill them.

We watched a red fox hunt, first walking with head cocked this way, then that, listening for sounds of voles under the snow, then leaping into the air and doing a spectacular swan dive, front paws and nose first, to grab the rodents under the snow. They can reportedly plunge 2-3 feet into the snow using this technique.Fox

We snowshoed that afternoon up to the acclimation pen used for the “soft release” of the first re-introduced wolves in 1996. Historically, wolves haven’t fared any better than bison, but for different reasons. The “devil dog” of the Catholic church, supposed killing machine that would decimate livestock and herds of elk was systematically removed from the American West. While timber wolves persisted in the Great Lakes region, grey wolves were wiped out by the 1920’s using poison, guns, traps, and just plain torture.InternPen

In Yellowstone, lack of predators swelled the ranks of elk to unsustainable levels of 25,000-35,000 animals, many very old. The National Park Service had to start culling the herd in mass slaughters. In 1944, Aldo Leopold suggested reintroduction of the wolf to control elk and bring back the wild to Yellowstone but was dismissed. Finally, in the late 80’s, the idea reemerged and got traction. Through a years-long environmental review process which garnered a near-record number of comments, the government dealt with hate on all sides. Finally, approval of the reintroduction of an “experimental population” was gained, and the first wolves were trapped in Canada and transported to the park.

The idea of the acclimation pen was to bond the animals and get them used to Yellowstone so they didn’t stray to the ranches outside the park and prey on livestock. The pens were hidden in the hills to prevent people from killing the wolves. All materials were hauled up by mule. The elk and deer fed to the animals were obtained by two staff nicknamed “carcass queens” who would get a call from the highway crews when there was a road kill and sneak out to snag it (sneaking so that opponents didn’t lace the carcasses with strychnine first). Park staff would haul the carcasses up to the pens over their shoulders.
I was the first to arrive at the long- unused pen, and told to check for trapped animals that might bolt out the front gate at the site of us. The pen is in disrepair, something John feels should be addressed by either tearing it down and leaving interpretive signage or rebuilding it.

The strategy was mostly successful, although several wolves were lost outside the park (some shot illegally, a few removed due to sheep predation). The trip to the pen was punctuated by John, stopping at points along the way to tell the story of the trapping and reintroduction through the eyes of the larger-than-life colorful people who led the effort. By the time we got to the pen, the whole story was alive and afire in our minds, and the walk through the enclosure was silent and awestruck for all of us.

John Harmer had come to Yellowstone two years ago, unable to find a job as a poultry science major, tired of working as a cruise trip salesman, and fresh from several months backpacking in Europe. His dad, anxious to get him a real job, paid for him to take a three-week course for Naturalist Guide Certification. The Yellowstone staff was impressed by John’s really hard, high quality work despite having no background in education or even wildlife. He was hired on after the course and has been there ever since. He wants to move on to field work and field research, but says he will always stay in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.


Keeping warm on the road

This is a typical story- people (mostly men) come here, they fall in love with the place, and they never leave. I heard it over and over again during the week from a former Silicon Valley executive to a successful Washington contractor, and many others. Their stories were wistful, told with sighs and slight smiles as if they had fallen into the arms of a dream and had never woken up. It is the open space, the thrill of seeing thousands of elk migrate in fall, the wildness of it all they love.

The second day, we signed up for the Specimen Ridge hike. I begged off wearing snowshoes, much to John’s relief. The snow didn’t require bulky, awkward snowshoes and they were only wearing them because attendees wanted to try snowshoeing. Perhaps because my hips have never been structurally or functionally ideal, I do not enjoy the wide stance required by snowshoes and only wear them when I must. An older gentleman (yes, older than I) from North Carolina came along and set the pace much slower than we would have liked. Snow fell the entire time, making a Christmas atmosphere.Antlers

I got a chance to talk Don MacDougall, shown in this picture standing on an overlook above the Yellowstone River. Don works during the summer months at Pack Creek brown bear sanctuary on Admiralty Island in southeast Alaska. He has more bear experience than most, since the rangers manage permit-holding visitors crossing a mile of bear-dense territory to watch bears fish for salmon in streams. He rues the requirement to carry a 308 to deal with the bears, because good bear sense, without even use of pepper spray, is what has kept him safe. He has been within 10 feet of a grizzly (they’re called “brown bears” in Alaska). We talk about Timothy Treadwell (“Grizzly Man”), the flamboyant and unpredictable would-be actor and film maker who spent too many years too close to bears and finally got himself and his girlfriend eaten. Don cites Tim’s worst offense as having dragged his fearful girlfriend into his fantasy of being at one with grizzlies, which he named silly things like “Mr. Bobo”.

Don coaches me on proper use of pepper spray: use it, then make sure you step out of the way, because the bear will keep coming even through the cloud of spray and you don’t want to be in front of it. Practice with your spray from last year when it expires. Don’t run, don’t scream, and don’t stare.

Our group includes the instructors who don’t want to stroll the flats with the rest of the group. We are more die-hard (“aggressive” as one woman put it) than many, and want to stretch our legs in the afternoon. None of these hikes are difficult, but since the demographic attending these classes is generally older and from lower elevations, they are listed as moderate.

The third day was the most exciting. The instructors are always in contact with the Wolf Project, an arm of the Park Service. The Project is struggling to get their winter radio collar operation completed after a run of poor weather for flying the plane and helicopter needed for collaring. They collared two sub-alpha status wolves in the Junction Butte pack in fall, only to have the wolves disperse from the pack. They ask us to watch for the animals and radio them if we see them.WolfCollar

We travel to the Hellroaring Creek overlook in the “Little America” area of the Lamar Valley and Brenda, a Park volunteer and skilled spotter, saw the pack about a mile away across the open expanse.


The kill, with wolves and ravens

We called the Wolf Project ranger who is an eternal presence everywhere, Rick McIntyre, and reported the wolves were clearly hunting, harassing bison (one with a broken leg). The Wolf Project began mobilizing for a potential collaring operation when the pack ran an elk out of the small trees and rocky outcrops and killed it, ensuring the pack would be in the area for awhile. We excitedly chased the wolves with spotting scopes, taking fuzzy pictures through the scope due to heat waves.IMG_0160_edited-1

The wolves gorged themselves- as animals that eat only every few days, they have adapted with a stomach that can expand to hold up to 20 pounds of meat (for an animal ranging from 80-120 pounds). In contrast, an 800-pound grizzly that eats a variety of food all day long can only consume about 12 pounds of meat. Once gorged, they lay “meat drunk” to digest, only getting up to defend the carcass from coyotes and feed once again.

During this time, the Wolf Project got the Piper Super Cub plane and helicopter going. Rick, Matt Metz, and other Wolf Project staff gathered at the overlook. Rick told us what would happen: Doug Smith, head of the project, would be strapped in the opening of the helicopter where the passenger side door was removed, his feet braced on the sled, and they would maneuver around the wolf until they could get a dart with an immobilizing agent called telazol into the wolf. They wanted three wolves, but would be happy with two. Alpha male and female were best options, but they would go for others.

During a really exciting chase where we struggled to keep up with the helicopter using spotting scopes, they chased the alphas, which eluded them by dodging into and through the trees where the helicopter couldn’t maneuver. In the end, they darted two lower status wolves. Once the wolves were down, they picked up one and put it with the second, stuffing them in the snow to help cool them off after the chase. The helicopter went to get more staff to help weigh, get blood samples, do physical exams, and collar.

We had found ourselves standing out there for five hours, transfixed, breathless. It was a long day, but really, really cool.

SkiSloughCreekLater, we skied to Slough Creek, the backpacking destination I had found for last September’s trip to Yellowstone, my first. The snow was gentle, the bison rumbling low as we passed, a coyote loping quietly by as we moved along. This looks like a wonderful snow camping destination, probably best in March despite the storms because it’s before the first grizzlies emerge from their dens.BighornSloughCreek

On my last day in Yellowstone, after the class was over, I went skiing- first to Tower Junction, then up the road from Canyon to Norris, stopping at a view of Bunsen Peak. The snow turned sticky in the sun, but it was still a nice day with beautiful views.

Co-opting a snowcoach used to haul people over Tower Junction Road

Co-opting a snowcoach used to haul people over Tower Junction Road

So what’s next? Well, for me I am slowly being wound into that same love affair with the Yellowstone area, fueled by a long fondness for open space and wildlife. I will return in September to backpack the Heart Lake loop. In October, I will take Certified Interpretive Guide training. And then-?


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