Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Yellowstone — Part One: Elk, Goats and Geyser

Yellowstone in mid-September lies like a great brown and green blanket in folds over the northwest corner of Wyoming patiently waiting winter while yet basking in the warmth of late summer sun.

Elk graze in street median in Mammoth
Elk meander into towns and parks and graze on grass and chew the shrubbery. The bison migrate in herds to lower pasture. Aspens quake in the the breeze. Tall pines sway back and forth in the winds that come up suddenly and just as suddenly cease and the air becomes silent. Rivers flow. Coyotes sing coyote songs in the night. Pronghorn sheep, antelopes and mountain goats clamber.

Even the earth is alive. There is Old Faithful, to be sure. But there are 300 more geysers and hot springs all over. Steam rises. The earth bubbles in transformation, and petrified trees testify to the long ago.

The faithful watch Old faithful in action.
It is as if part of the North American continent remains unchanged and untouched by man except where crossed by roads and dotted by village and campground.

The invasive species here is the populace in its cars and tents, RVs, trailers, tour buses, vans. We are the outsiders come to see but not disturb.

Yellowstone, signed into law as an act to preserve the land for public use in 1872 by President Ulysses S. Grant, became the world's first National Park. And the idea that a large part of the natural world should be preserved for future generations was born.

The park is is 3,468.4 square miles, most of it in Wyoming and some small areas in Montana and Idaho.

It is home to the world's largest bison herd, to brown and black bears and grizzlies, to coyotes, to wolves. There were approximately 100 wolves in the park at the end of 2010 depending primarily on elk for food.

Mountain goats clamber down an almost vertical precipice. 
Ironically, this vast expanse of land that has seen human habitation for 11,000 years excluded Indians from the start. A treat allowing hunting privileges for some Native Americans was never ratified by Congress.

The automobile opened the park to touring. Between 1933 and 1941 the Civilian Conservation Corps constructed many of the campsites and villages that make Yellowstone so accessible.

Usually, touring tapers off after Labor Day. Not this year. The campgrounds are full. Hotels and RV parks outside the park are booming. The combination of a milder autumn and weaker dollar that encourages many to stay at home may be responsible. Who can say.

The Gardner River snakes through the upper reaches of the park in Montana.
So far the adventure has been well worth it. There is a sense of peace in this land where humans and their needs and wants and machines co-exist in peace with the elk, deer, bear, squirrel, rabbit and all. Two mornings ago an elk cow wandered through our pine forest campground and stared placidly at all about her before leaving without hurry.  A bison walked down the paved road as though the road belonged to him.

"In a sense it does," said a ranger. "These creatures have been coming here and following these same migratory routes for centuries. We are the Johnny-Come-Latelies. For the most part they ignore us."

A late summer thistle in Yellowstone.
The days have been warm with highs in the 70s.  The nights cool with temperatures in the mid 30s.  Sometimes by mid September there is snow. Not this year. This year there is a sense of lingering summer. The full moon two nights ago rose above the mountain peaks and bathed the land below in a pale white light.

A harbinger perhaps of the white winter quilt soon to follow this late summer blanket browns and greens.


1 comment:

  1. This is a wonderful description of nature. very good writing and nice pics! Thank you for sharing this!