Thursday, June 14, 2012

Notes From Yellowstone, Part The First


(I'm posting these after our return to Missoula, since we didn't have internet access in Yellowstone.)

June 9, 2012

It took us three days to fly to Missoula—about as long as it would have taken to drive there from Vermont. When we finally landed yesterday, Missoula looked a lot like where we'd just come from: chilly and rainy, and bright green.

Today we drove to Yellowstone, to the Lamar Valley off the northeast entrance, a place known as “the Serengeti of North America.” This is where people come who want to see charismatic mega-fauna: grizzlies, bison, and (please God) wolves. Incredibly, it is much less crowded than the areas near the west entrance, where the geysers are. Me, I would much rather see charismatic mega-fauna than a geyser, no matter how faithful.

The Yellowstone landscape looks oddly manicured. The mountains and the meadows are covered in an even blanket of short green grass or gray sage. The pines rise straight up from this, each one outlined against the background with as much precision as the cedars in a Mediterranean cemetery. There is no underbrush.

Little streams crisscross the meadows, which are dotted with large brown rocks. Every once in a while one of these rocks staggers to its feet and begins to browse the bright green grass. The bison are rejoicing in this cool, wet spring. And behind every meadow and every hill rises a tall, jagged, snow-covered mountain, just like you the ones you see on calendars.

We stopped several times to let big herds of bison cows cross the road. Beside or behind each shaggy, dread-locked beast trotted a calf, short of neck and long of leg, wearing its brand-new, light-orange coat. Amazingly, the calves were all the same size. They must have been born on practically the same day. That must have been quite a day in those meadows. (And the day in the fall when they were all conceived must have been something too.) As a former dairy-woman, I checked out the cows' udders. Since bison are not dairy animals, their udders are small, and you have to look closely to see them under all that fur. I'm sure that they don't have any of those problems with ligaments that torment their high-producing Holstein cousins.

Our lodge is just outside the park, at the foot of a really tall mountain. There are a couple of friendly dogs—a chocolate lab and a beagle--that run around on the grounds. There are a couple of bison bulls who hang out in the area too, but we've been warned that they are “ornery.”

I remember the first bison I ever saw. It was in the Barcelona zoo, and I must have been four years old. It was lying down, but its head and shoulders towered over me, and I remember thinking that it must be a mountain. But then I saw its moist little eye peering at me, and I knew it was alive.

We've been told that this is a banner year for wildlife. Sightings of wolves abound. Wish us luck tomorrow.

June 10, 2012

Have I ever been this cold before? It's windy and snowing, and because we didn't want to check any bags on the airplane, we did not bring a full complement of winter gear, which we badly need.

Drove off in search of wolves in the afternoon, and kept stopping at the pull-outs beside the road whenever we saw people with spotting scopes trained on something. Sometimes we would be the first ones to stop (what's that black spot up there just below the tree line?) and get out of the van and set up our scope, and pretty soon cars would be stopping alongside us, and people would be asking what we were watching. We did this many times, alternately freezing and thawing out.

In this manner we saw: a horned-owl nest high up in a tree with a gigantic, fluffy, ghostly baby in it;  more bison—the cows and calves in companionable bunches, the bulls in pairs or in splendid isolation;  a black bear or two;  a mountain goat or two;  and, our eyes alerted by a running antelope, a grizzly lumbering along parallel to the road. We did not need scopes or binoculars to see that particular bit of charismatic mega-fauna.

We did not, alas, see a wolf. We were told that in this kind of weather they stay inside their dens. That is how cold it is.

Tomorrow we'll get up at the crack of dawn and try to spot a guy in a yellow SUV who supposedly lets people tag along on his wolf-spotting expeditions.  (To be continued.).

8 comments :

  1. Someday I'll have to hear about the three days it took to get there. Love that June snow!

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  2. We did choose to spend one night in Albany since our flight left at the crack of dawn. But we also spent a night in Denver (not by choice), and had additional delays. But what we saw in Yellowstone on the fourth day was worth it!

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  3. Now you've got me thinking about going to Yellowstone - calling it the "Serengeti of North America." But snow in June? So I imagine it would be pretty damn cold in October?

    Okay, I'll bite. What did you see on the fourth day?

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  4. The snow didn't stick, but the wind was blowing, and we weren't dressed for it. Just consulted my daughter, who says October is beautiful but can be cold. September (after Labor Day, when the crowds leave) is best, according to her. She adds that they'll be glad to host you!

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  5. come to minnesota. we have wolves a-plenty.

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  6. Your voice rings clear even as you travel far from us. Love the description of the landscape and the co-existing animals sounds abit like garden of eden.

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    1. Dona, what we saw a couple of days later made the edenic vision a little more realistic. The lion was definitely not lying down with the lamb.

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