“We who are gathered here may represent a particularly elite, not of money and power, but of concern for the earth for the earth’s sake.”
- Ansel Adams, Photographer
When the perky sales lady at the outfitter store goes into detail of why you need and how to use bear spray an hour before you get to your destination, it admittedly causes a little puckering in the shorts. Luckily, we ended up not needing it for bears but it was almost used on some really annoying tourists.
This part of our trip we traveled to Yellowstone National Park with a plan to stay for 2 weeks – our longest stay in one place on our journey thus far. We admitted to ourselves that the first part of our journey had been fairly aggressive in the traveling aspect – which we learned quickly causes a lot of stresses – on work, road schooling, and just on each other in general. Parking for two weeks allowed for a good amount of time to catch up, settle into a quasi-routine for the boys road schooling, and for me to get some focused time on work projects.
Yellowstone National Park is overwhelmingly beautiful and freakishly huge. Where we stayed outside the town of West Yellowstone, it’s a 7 mile drive to the entrance of the West side of the park. The pine forests were a deep green as far as you could see accented by mountains that slowly rose from the horizon. The road we frequently used followed the shallow and rocky Madison River where flyfisherman and photographers lined the roadside at the more popular areas. The air was cool and dry and the sound of the river accented our drive as we went.
The town, like many tourists-centric areas of the US, is engineered to extract the most amount of money from visitors. I’m still berating myself for paying nine bucks for a bundle of firewood that lasted maybe a good two hours before I ran to snuggle with my newly acquired space heater. But hey, its Yellowstone after all… people gotta make a living.
Visiting Yellowstone gets especially expensive if you are a fly fisherman, of which I am an amateur. Fly fishing is like golf – if you decide you want to be halfway serious about it you better be prepared to open up your wallet. I sheepishly tucked my 10-year-old budget pack rod and reel under my arm while I walked around the fly shop ogling over rod and reel combinations that cost more than my travel budget for a month.
An hour later having resisted to the temptation to blow a wad on ‘fishing clothes that the cool kids were wearing’, I proudly showed up at the river edge in worn-out faded shorts that are now too big for me and that my wife says looks like I’m wearing a skirt, a fleece pullover, a floppy canvas hat I got at some sportsmen’s show years ago that barely fits my watermelon-sized head, a pair of ‘should’ve-pitched-them-a-year-ago’ Keen all-terrain waterproof shoes (of which I had just glued the heels back on with epoxy), my trusty 10-year-old pack rod, and a handful of flies purchased from Bud Lilly’s Fly Shop.
Fishing was fun but uneventful. I didn’t catch a single trout and from what I could tell neither did any of the other 4 fishermen who were upriver in their fancy-schmancy gear. I felt satisfied as I left knowing that my children’s inheritance would not be threatened by my 3 hour fishing trip. It was a good few hours wasted and enjoyed.
We found out that 90% or more of the people who visit Yellowstone never leave their cars, which is sad to me because there is so much to see that is not accessible from the road. I’m the kind of person that when in nature I have to get my hands dirty – literally. If I pass a stream I have to splash water in my face. If I walk through a forest I must feel the bark of the trees on my hands. Its my way of connecting with the experience.
At one point we were slowed by at least 20 cars pulled over with people frantically crossing the road and traffic all while staring in one direction near a river. Not wanting to miss a spectacular nature moment and get a cool photo, I of course quickly followed suit and pulled over. As we looked out the window to try and find this amazing specimen that everyone was gawking over, we discovered all the hullabaloo was over an elk lying down in the meadow.
I have nothing against elk and they are beautiful, but at the risk of sounding like a snob…elk look like a big deer. Having lived in the Midwest, deer are common and not really a big deal when you see them on the roadside. In Michigan – deer border on being a road hazard. The elk in question was lying down in the grass, regarding all the onlookers with disinterest. Maybe if the elk was chasing a tourist or perhaps doing some style of elk mating dance it might’ve been worth a photo. We got back in the car and moved on.
We stopped and several of the geysers including Old Faithful, trails and other points of interest – bear spray at the ready for grizzlies, loud tourists or small yappy dogs. Fairy Falls was a great hike as well – which consisted of a winding 3 mile hike to a stunning waterfall. It was apparent that there had been a forest fire at some previous point as vast areas of trees were scorched and fallen in several places we visited. It is the park’s policy not to interfere with the forest recovery process by removing the downed trees. Regardless, new growth had replaced much of the damaged areas.
Our plan was at some point to backpack and camp some part of the park but temperatures dropped very low for a portion of our trip, making camping in our 20° sleeping bags not very feasible. The lowest it got was 18° at night – prompting us to order a space heater from Amazon. One afternoon we actually got snow flurries. We decided to save the backpacking and overnight camping for the next park and warmer weather.
One of the highlights of the trip for all of us was a visit to the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center located in town. The center was a wealth of information about native grizzly and wolves as well as other rescued animals.
The center hosted at least six grizzly bears transplanted from the wild, each with an interesting story about the reason for them being here. It seems that grizzly bears can develop a taste for human food specifically starch. One of the bears they attempted to relocate at least three times but the bear would always find his way back to a populated area where starchy food was plentiful, of which I can completely relate to.
We were also there to watch wolves being fed, which my sons loved. There were also rescued birds as well. Unlike a zoo, this park clearly took a lot more interest in the well-being of the animals.
We ended our trip with my boys receiving their Junior Ranger badges. It took a little cajoling as always with the boys (my oldest is excellent at eye rolling and heavy sighing), but I’m a big believer in them learning to appreciate and respect nature, as my father did with me.
Next destination: Glacier National Park. Until then, stay unruly.