Sunday, September 28, 2008

A deserving home on the range

YelIowstone Park, WY. I came to Yellowstone because it was the start of it all…the National Parks system. I came to see Old Faithful, wild animals, mountains and lakes. I was fortunate to see all these things and more. As I reflect on my week in Yellowstone I realize that I received one of Natures greatest gifts, peace. Beautiful sunsets, majestic mountains, a glimpse of fawn gingerly taking its first steps from the safety of its mother all invite you to open your soul to the serenity of the park. Climbing, hiking horseback riding provide the balance of leaving your body refreshed and renewed.

Although Yellowstone is a big park, spanning some 3,468 square miles, it is infinitely assessable. Paved roads get you from one end of the park to another, and secondary roads take you to some of the more interesting park features. Far and away the best way to see the park is to get out of your car and onto one of the many trails…they are all well maintained and run the gamut from a short simple stroll to an exhilarating 4 hour vertical rock scramble.

Tetons w/Snake River

I also went to Grand Teton Park, just south of Yellowstone. For beautiful mountain vistas, this park has no parallel. I went on a half-day tour via horseback. My guide, cowboy Kasey (with a “K”), regaled me with stories of Wyoming and his boyhood in Idaho. Turns out we had a common literary hero in Ernest Hemingway. Kasey went on to talk about his favorite authors, their works and his impression of them. In short order it was clear that Kasey doesn’t spend all his days on the trail…he was one well-read cowboy! The ride included climbs up steep hillsides to get a better view of the Tetons, splashing through a series of ice cold rivers and streams…I always wanted to do that…make a big splash when fording a river on a horse…seems so cool, and it was! My favorite however was riding through a large stand of Quaking Aspens.

The contrast of the white bark against the now golden foliage was striking. The wind rustling through the branches and the small golden leaves flying around, like a hundred brilliant rays of sunshine, was not to be forgotten!

Wildlife was out in force in Yellowstone. It is the rutting season, so male virility was prominently on display. The bugling of Elk would go on for hours around sunset, reverberating through the park. I'd heard that one of the largest packs of wolves lived in Yellowstone, in the Lamar valley. The Lamar is known as the Serengeti of all happens in this valley. Try as I might, I never did see the elusive wolf. I did see many, many bison however. They are in the grasslands, the roads, even the campgrounds. I think the bison ought to be the symbol of Yellowstone (not to take anything away from Old Faithful...but read on). The story of the bison is an inspiring one. The American Bison was once the most numerous single species of wild mammal on earth. During the 1800’s, reckless white settlers slaughtered the bison for their hides, sport, trophy and to eliminate the primary source of food for the American Indian. Driven to the brink of extinction, it was in Yellowstone that the Bison made its “last stand”. In a desperate attempt attempt to survive, 23 Bison hid out in Yellowstone’s Pelican Valley in late 1800's. They endured near starvation, predation and the elements. Today, there are now
over 3500 hundred free-ranging in the Park and 100’s of thousands elsewhere throughout the west. This is great success story for animal conservation and the perseverance of the Bison.

Long may he roam.


scott gibson said...

Cowboy Kathy. You're looking like Dale Evans on that pony. Love those action photos.

Beautiful Lake Yellowstone and river. wish I had seen that when I was there. But, I think I saw the very same buffalo in the road. I think they are park employees.

See ya in Houston. Enjoy the range.

Roy Rogers

Jim Macdonald said...


I cover blogs and news on Yellowstone and came across this really great write up of your time in the park.

One thing I was struck with, though, towards the end was your homage to the buffalo, an animal close to my heart. Unfortunately, it's not going so well as it sounds for the animal both inside and outside the park. Last winter, the National Park Service and the state of Montana conducted the greatest slaughter of wild buffalo since the 19th century (1,613 bison were either shipped to slaughter or killed). The politics of what buffalo face year after year is brutal, and unfortunately, they are not tolerated at all in Montana in their wild state. Most buffalo not in Yellowstone are ranched and mixed with cattle genes. There are some that are not, but their range is limited by human boundaries or regular hunts on public lands.

I was so upset about this that when I moved to Bozeman I helped form a grassroots group here on the issue. However, the real heroes have been Buffalo Field Campaign, who have been out watching and trying to protect the herds year after year.

There's a lot more information - on all sides of the issue - throughout the net. I'd encourage you and others to find out more. Yellowstone - as magical as it is - is not quite what it seems.

Yellowstone has meant an awful lot to me; it's good to see how the area struck you - and that you've taken the time to share it.