My mother came out from Ohio last week for her annual visit. Since we try to do something to break her out of the normal visiting routine of her cleaning our house and saying over and over again the multiple reasons she doesn’t want a dog, we opted to head to Yellowstone. Despite living in Montana for over 2 decades, and dragging Mother up mountains and on various adventures, I’ve never taken her to Yellowstone. I had a project to do down there so it made sense to head in that direction while she was out.
The plan was to leave early Friday morning. That was until Kelo, my 27 year old Arab gelding, became sick. Between sick kids or horses, it’s hard to make solid plans. Bonnie, the wonderful woman who cares for Kelo, called Thursday morning to tell me he had a fever of 102.9 degrees F, and he wasn’t eating. That was the clincher. A fever is one thing; Kelo not eating is a brand new ballgame. My vet gave me Banamine, a lovely all purpose medication that is an analgesic and smooth muscle relaxant (also used for colic) to help him feel better enough to at least eat and drink. By the following morning, he was eating and seemed to be more of himself, despite the nasty boogs coming out of his nose. So Bonnie told me to go.
The only other times I’ve been to Yellowstone has been for work. I spent many weeks working on a National Geographic program that Bob Landis, an extremely talented film maker in Gardiner, produced and filmed. It was a fascinating time, although definitely not the best way to see the park since the primary focus was finding wildlife to film.
It was nice to look for hikes the kids and my mother could enjoy, although during a few of them I wanted to call our adventure the “Trail of Tears.” Sam, our 5 year old, is intrigued by anything related to volcanoes so he was pretty keen on the whole concept of hot springs, mud pots and geysers. He was a trooper on all of them. John, on the other hand, was less than thrilled. I honestly wonder if the altitude affected him. He was crabby, sleepy and didn’t want to eat. During most of the hikes he either wanted to ride on my back, or he would run ahead of us. There was no middle ground for the kid. He even fell asleep on Grant’s back on the way out of one walk. That’s not typically like him.
The thermal features were impressive. I kept wondering what it would’ve been like to be one of the early adventurers who stumbled upon this unique landscape. Can you even imagine coming over a rise and seeing the valley basically boiling? And there’s no question why it was dubbed “Colter’s Hell.” The smell of sulfur permeates many of the areas, but it just reminds me of soaking in a hot spring so I don’t really mind it anymore. My favorite hike among the thermal areas that we did on this trip was to the lookout above the Artist’s Paintpots. It was really neat to look over the valley with steam rising from the pots and hot springs. Norris Geyser Basin was also intriguing. It would be incredible to see Steamboat Geyser, the largest one in the park and, I believe, the world, erupt. The last one was on May 23, 2005 so it could happen at any time.
The most impressive landscape feature was the Grand Canyon. Mom, John and I walked to Artist’s Point while Grant waited in the car because Sam was napping. It was stunning, and it’s hard to believe something that beautiful exists on earth.
We saw a fair number of bison and elk, although not nearly the numbers Grant or I have seen in the past. The wolves appear to be making an impact on them. Our most exciting experience was with a bull elk at Mammoth. The cows were near the visitor center, and the bull was in the center lawn/sage area across the road from them. We had our picnic lunch out on a table until he started strolling our way making us think it wiser to be close to the vehicle. Before long we packed up completely, and Grant, Mom and the boys climbed in the car. I was stuck outside because the only way I had to access the back seat was right in front of the bull.The park people who were in charge of directing unwitting visitors told me it would be best for me to get in the car until I pointed out my little predicament of the bull’s location.
Plus, I wasn’t worried. I video taped bulls going after people for the Nat. Geo. program ‘Urban Elk’ where our goal was to film as many encounters as possible in a couple of weeks so I’m pretty familiar with their behavior in this situation. As a matter of fact, I completely screwed up a “money shot” during the filming when a bull started to go after a little old lady coming out of the restroom in a Banff campground (I think it was Turtle Mountain). The cameras were rolling when he made one charge. I whistled. The woman never looked up. She didn’t have a clue what was about to hit her. The bull went after her again, and I made more of a racket. He came after me instead, but I was able to duck behind vehicles to elude him. So I felt fairly comfortable with the car between me and the bull at Mammoth.
It was a jam packed few days. We saw a lot and made a list of more things we need to see. And I have a feeling the more we go down there, the more we’ll have to go back. The plan is not to allow another 15 years to pass between visits.