Wednesday, September 15, 2004

As we drove, we did the normal Yellowstone thing, stopping here and there to see the sights just off the road. The number of elk, bison, deer, and other less numerous fauna that one sees just within a few hundred yards from the road boggle the mind as one thinks of all the miles and miles of land inaccessible by the road system. Granted, the roads for the most part follow major rivers which are always important to the animals for food, water and line of sight predator avoidance, but there's lots out there that is very seldom seen.

When I was there the summer after high school graduation, I got out to Yellowstone's backcountry more than I have ever been able to since. I saw geothermal features, lakes, and other wonders that I've not seen since. There were trails, animals, and sights that are precious but not used very often by humans. I reckon that's just fine, but I miss them all the same.

There is something to be said about walking off the beaten path for a day or two, returning to a grand old lodge in the evening after a second day of beauty and hard hiking for a splendid meal of steak and shrimp and recollection of the past days events.

We saw a herd of bison, and though they are by no means rare in Yellowstone, they just look like they belong and where they belong is pretty beautiful.

Further along the road, we saw a pretty big group of gawkers off to the side. Though we were pretty keen on getting to Tower falls so we could secure a campsite for the night (we'd had enough of the 4-Runner the night before),we thought we'd better stop for this big an event.

We were glad we did. A mother black bear and her two cubs were foraging on the hill just below the road. As the group moved along the hillside, the crowd of people accompanied by a nervous ranger and adjunct moved too. "Stay in your cars or with the crowd," was the repeated phrase of the poor authority figures, attempting to mesh visitor safety, curiosity and the bear's space to move about freely. Ryan and I thought it rather ironic, though I've at least a hunch the irony was lost on the poor ranger.

We continued up the road, passing Tower Falls, toward the closed-for-repairs Dunraven Pass, if just for a short view of the northeastern area of the park. This was the area i had seen wolves once, and where I know there is plenty of activity in the Lamar Valley. The view was as good as ever, though it afforded no animal activity that our eyes could see. I'll be happy when the pass and road is open again. For some reason, when it's closed, I don't' get into that area of the park as much as I'd like.

We finally got back down to the campsite just as the sun started to go down. We spoke with the host, who said there was one space left. With that bit of providence, the evening's trials began. Upon parking and getting a bit of food out to keep our own two ravenous wolfcubs happy, I popped the hood after noticing a bit of oil where it oughtn't have been. Upon opening the hood, there was quite a bit of oil where it oughtn't have been at all. No cap was to be found either. None would be had throughout the trip, in fact, until we reached Layton the next evening, adding to the car stress already mounting with the silly brakelight folly.

Perhaps brought on at least in part by a lack of sleep, the stress from the brakelights, and the latest silliness I had brought upon myself, it took Ryan and I five tries and the help of two seasoned camp hosts to get our little three man dome tent up. It's been stored in the suburban for the last three years without use, but for heaven's sake, we were getting worse as it went on until the other two got involved.

It wasn't really necessary, since we were planning to sleep out anyway, but by the time we had tried in vain the third time, it had turned into a principle thing. We needed to succeed, and succeed we finally did.

After we finished, we ate, took a walk or two, and retired to the campfire of an adjacent camp, where a gentleman and his wife, camphosts of the recently closed for the year Slough Creek Campground, were playing guitar and talking. (Great comma-riddled sentence, neh? Almost Faulknerian.) They got Jerusha singing along, making animal noises, and spreading a generally dandy spirit. When I figure out how to upload the QuickTime movie, I'll post a link to his song, "Star of Yellowstone." 'Twas a perfect ending to a perfect, in spite of its imperfections, day.

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