The fires of several years ago are evident in Yellowstone National Park. The grasses are coming in very strong under the burned trees. So that’s how these high altitude meadows are made. It looks to me as if the fires had a mostly positive consequences, for the large ungulates, moose and bison and elk. Once, when we stopped for a snack, we heard a very un-coyote sounding howl. Something canine moved a mile away on the slope opposite the Galatin. Wolves have been reported in the north end of the Park, but we couldn’t be sure.
After spending a night in West Yellowstone, we rode about 40 miles and camped near Canyon Village. The campground was nice, but the village was a very tacky place. We had trouble finding food because the grocery concession sold mostly souvenirs, with the food section relegated to a corner. Must be what makes money. But we were hungry. It seems like poor contract writing on the part of the park service.
We awoke to snow the next morning, a heavy wet snow wet our tent, sleeping bag and most of our clothes. It was going to be a cold day and night. We were fortunate to run into a friend of Claire’s from her years as a seasonal interpreter at Olympic National Park. Don Stahl, an interpretive ranger, offered us a place to stay and dry out. It continued to snow, and we were happy to take him up on it.
It hasn’t gotten over 40 degrees in days. The good thing about being wet and cold, is that it is keeping the car tourists away and the roads are nearly empty, nice for cycling.
That night, Don took us to a park personnel party with lots of nice people and cheesecake (crave that fat!). I always enjoy Park people. They are well educated, well traveled, and always have interesting plans for the off season.
Next day, on the way out of the Park, we hit a snail (hail/snow) storm. The road was white for just a few miles, but it certainly was exciting while it lasted.
We saw two huge bull elk, chewing their cud close beside the road, posing for tourists. They were doing an excellent job, raising their chins and sniffing at the tourists, waving those huge racks around whenever they saw a video camera. I wonder if they are on the Park Service seasonal payroll?
There were also many bison on the road. Claire did not like it when we had to pass near them. She is not shy about giving me a very clear order to “STOP!”, when she feels we are too close to something threatening. I stop. Not only is it fair for the captain to listen to the desires of his stoker, it is necessary to preserve the domestic tranquillity.
We walked among several thermal springs and geysers. I liked the Dragon’s Mouth. The sounds coming from the earth do mimic what I would imagine a dragon would sound like. Who knows, maybe the Park Service has a real dragon down there, another seasonal employee.
The thermal pools and springs and geysers make sounds from gentle bubbling to a roaring of steam from deep in the earth. We did notice that quite a few tourists were disobeying the signs requesting they stay behind barricades for their safety. From some of the deep looking footprints I suspect a few get the meat boiled off their feet every year.
Because of the weather, there weren’t large crowds at Park facilities, but we were surprised at the commercial presence in the lodge areas. People can buy t-shirts in any of the surrounding towns, so I wonder why they have to sell so much of that inside the parks? But Don says the real Yellowstone is always just over any hill from the roads and lodges. We will come back prepared to hike someday.
As we approached Yellowstone Lake, a pickup slowed as it approached us from behind. Uh oh. We are always alert for unusual actions by drivers. It slowed to our speed and eased up beside us.
“It’s them! I mean it’s you guys!” squealed Mary Borland. Steve Borland waved from the driver’s side. They are neighbors just one block from us at Dungeness. They were driving to visit mutual friends in South Dakota when they saw our flag. They knew we were on the road somewhere in America, but never expected to see us.
We talked for a few minutes, took pictures and went our separate ways. It was fun to see them, but a little disconcerting too for some reason. Hard to explain. A couple of thousand miles from home, and yet home found us here somehow. Small world, even, or perhaps especially, on a bicycle.
The day became sunny though not warm still, and the ride was pleasant around Yellowstone Lake. We found a lunch spot on a small sand spit. The resident begging seagull reminded us of home for the second time in an hour. Beautiful clouds filled the sky over the sublimely calm lake, rimmed with white mountains.
After an easy feeling 66 miles, we stopped at Flagg Ranch, just outside the Park. It was brand-new ticky-tacky, and they asked $17.50 for a tent site. We balked at that, and while we were talking it over, a laborer pulled us aside.
“Ders some place for you tent, jus up dat road,” he pointed to a Forest Service road. “Tree mile,” he said, holding up fingers, the Spanish influence clear to us now. “And, free, no charge,” he smiled. Good man, probably a migrant worker. He knows what it is like to live on a budget too.
It was one of our most beautiful camps so far. The four sites were on the meandering headwaters of the Snake River. We saw two grazing moose on the way, and pelicans taking off just as we arrived. The Grand Tetons filled the southern skyline and birds were abundant.
We decided to spend some of the money we saved on our tent site on a rare dinner out, and rode back to the lodge. While we waited for a table, we noticed many people looking over the expensive souvenirs in the gift shop. One particular woman was buying a stuffed moose. She was turned it every which way, reading all the do-not-remove tags and squeezing it for proper squeezability; looked like she was from Consumer Reports. It was of course a caricature of a moose, not meant to look real at all, just cuddly. A mile or two away, she could watch a real moose graze, hear it rip plants form the wetlands, breathe and walk. She could thrill to the nearness of such a large and beautiful animal; behind it, the magnificent Tetons impale the sky on mile high rocks. But, she was a serious shopper, deep in evaluation of a meaningless icon. Too busy for live moose. Then again, she might have been a grandmother, just doing her grandmotherly duty.
Biking back to camp in deep twilight we saw more moose, still munching, working on winter fat. There was a moon over the river, a coyote, and then quiet. We slept well.
Next morning, when we started talking in the tent, something with very big and clumsy feet clattered loudly away from our tent. Moose.