Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Over the River and Through the Wonderful Woods

July 25th

We drove from Madison to Pebble Creek, pretty going from the Southwest corner to the Northeast corner of Yellowstone. We were eager to drive through the Lamar Valley, which is renowned for its wildlife opportunities. On the way to our campsite we passed a few herds of bison, one of which I estimated had over 150 individuals. This area of the park also had a large amount of solitary bison. Now I didn’t go and check up their regions but Dan and I assumed that they are males, either ones just reaching maturity or potential suitors, either way being driven off by the alpha male. We got to the campsite and had the chance to pick which spot we wanted, so we chose the one right next to an aesthetic little creek. I wouldn’t have minded spending the whole day here but we had better places to see. We saddled up and headed to Trout Lake. It was only a mile walk to the lake but it was worth it, as these things usually tend to be. The lake was right in the center, usual lake size. To both the left and right there were pine forests, and straight ahead there were wildflower meadows with mountains in the background. Expecting to see fun wildlife, we started on the trail around the lake. Up ahead there was a creek with a few people standing around it. Within the tustling waters, Cutthroat Trout were spawning. I had never witnessed this behavior in person, and it was cool to already know what was going on. Having a background in this sort of stuff is really handy in these types of scenarios. As we continued on, Dan noticed a muskrat swimming underwater with reeds in its mouth. It must have been building a nest nearby. Before we could snap a photograph of the mammal, it swam underneath us into its den. Legend had it that river otters lived in this lake. As we entered the last stretch, there was a single otter taking a nap on a grassy log, embedded in the coastline. I expected to see a rowdy group of otters wrestling around, but seeing a wild otter definitely satisfied that want regardless. As a noisy group of people would wander by, the otter would lift its head up dreary eyed, in a similar fashion I know have performed on many an occasion. This little area was breathtakingly idyllic. One could only imagine this place in a dream, yet here it was for us to enjoy. After we sat around for a while, we decided to move onto Lamar Valley and check out the wildlife. Every few miles or so, we would pass a pullout where a large amount of cars were parked. This was the telltale sign of a good spot. It’s funny how it works. First you have the professionals with their large scopes, who spot the rare animal, such as a grizzly. Then a few tourists stop by to see if there really is an animal around. Then before you can say “Good grief” twenty cars are now parked around the area, the road is full of traffic, and everyone is asking anyone what is out there. We stopped by a spot which had a carcass hidden behind a bush. Apparently the local wolf pack made the kill, but instead a black bear was around for the leftovers. We ended up talking to an elderly woman, a wildlife photographer. She filled us in on the history of the wolf packs in Yellowstone, and provided a lot of insight into how things went on around here. We also started schmoozing with a middle school guidance counselor, and watched a wandering bison herd in the distance as we talked about wolf reintroduction, fishing, and how stupid people are poisoning the gene pool. It was amusing hearing this come from a guidance counselor. Up until now, Dan and I had this discussion just with fellow students, but here we were agreeing with someone who witnesses it all firsthand, exclaiming how the smarter parents only had one or two kids. On the other hand, the parents who were clearly not the brightest crayon in the box had a bunch more than that. We all agreed we are slowly devolving ourselves. Fun to joke about, but kinda sad to think about…..ANYWAY, we never ended up seeing any wolves that evening, even though the alpha male was apparently spotted nearby. On our way to camp we passed both two grizzly bears and a cinnamon colored black bear. We made sure we packed up real good for the night.

July 26th

We woke up extra early to head over and catch a wolf hunt. By the time we arrived at the sweet spot the people there told us that an elk herd was on the other side of the hill. This meant that even if there was a kill, no one would be able to view it. Womp womp. We headed back to the carcass this morning to see if any new action was going on. There was a grizzly scavenging on the remains. I’m left to wonder just how much food is leftover, since every time I go there some animal is eating to their stomach’s desire. After not much else was happening, we decided to say goodbye to Yellowstone and venture on to Glacier National Park.


Initially, this state was pretty dry and barren, with hills on both sides covered with sagebrush. Rock walls were a common site, as the Rockies loomed in the distance. We passed some farms trying to grow something, but we couldn’t tell what it was. Then pastures became the dominant landscape, with cows and horses grazing under the sun. We also passed a bunch of alpaca farms, an unexpected but welcome site. After a few hours of hills, the mountains came back into the foreground, and it reminded us a lot of the Black Hills. Pines covered the slopes, and this time there was no sign of fire damage. These trees were old and they were large. When we drove past a farm, it was interesting to note just how many shades of green can exist in nature. One road sign we passed had its top line read “Anaconda” and under it read “Opportunity”. I thought it was some sort of pet store but apparently Montana has some interestingly named towns. Another place was called Phosphate, which prompted me to picture the chemical composition on the molecule. Once I was thinking about how many electrons are in its outer shell is when I stopped myself. Chemistry is never going to leave me is it?!

After some driving, driving, and even some exciting driving, we were pretty close to the park. We decided to set up camp at a KOA because they have both wireless AND showers, wowww. Yeah we kinda um, smelled. Showers are a godsend when you are covered in dirt and who knows what else.

July 27th

Glacier is beautiful. I have already decided that I won’t even try and come up with adequate wonderful descriptions for the sites we have seen, because there is no possible way to try and come close. Ehh you’re all probably wondering what it looked like so I suppose I could help you out. This seems like a pretty one-sided relationship though. We passed through the gate and went straight to the visitor center, primarily because we had no idea what to do in this awesome park. We decided that Going-To-The-Sun-Road would be today’s festivities. Mercy mercy mercy, this was the best scenic drive I have ever taken, ever! Keep in mind that much of the park is still closed off because of the snow, and yes you are right it is the end of July. At the base of the mountains we passed McDonald Lake. It contained the clearest waters I have ever seen, and the air was so crisp and clean. The entire mountainside was covered in western cedars and hemlocks, and above that was all of the snow. Some of it was melting which created glorious waterfalls which could be viewed from afar. The mountain lake was just the beginning as we pressed on, climbing in elevation. This place reminded me of Grand Teton, but in this park we actually drove up the mountains. With each tiny pullout, we saw a completely different view each time. Sometimes it was of the same mountain or lake or forest, but the angle had changed, which changed the picture’s composition completely. The plant diversity changed slightly from time to time, with each microcosm bringing about different climate and light availability. Most of the time, both Dan and I’s jaws literally were dropped as we fell in love with this place. There was some construction going on, but we really didn’t mind stopping at all. It gave us an excellent excuse to sit back and soak in all the icy beauty. We drove with the windows down, and the air was very cold, as one would imagine when there is snow everywhere. At one of the construction checkpoints, two bighorn sheep were grazing right next to our car. Then for no apparent reason they both ran off passed our car. It’s funny how the site of these creatures must be so nonchalant for the construction workers. The higher we drove, the more fascinating the scenery appeared. On one side there was a sheer cliff, to the other side was an eight foot wall of snow. They measure snow in feet around here, not like in inches back home. Working here during the winter must be something else. After about two hours we started heading down the mountains. It was more of the same, in other words gloriously magnificent mountainsides with trees and snow everywhere. At the bottom we passed St. Mary Lake, miles and miles in diameter. This one was more beautiful than the previous mountain lake. This water was perfect turquoise. If I had the crayon of the same color in front of me, the lake would win every time. The pebbly shore was full of tiny stones of all shapes and sizes, and colors too. Reds, browns, tans, oranges, grays, blacks, and there were different shades of each one. I took a few handfuls of them to collect one of every variety, they were so cool I had to take some home. We finished the scenic drive and found a campground on the East Side of the park. And now it is dinner time, goodbye!


  1. All of this imagery is beautiful! You two are in our thoughts a lot, we can't wait for more stories!! Miss you guys


  2. Awesome! Hey Jay, we just got back from Tahoe (another fabulous national forest)and so I'm just now reading the blog from the beginning. Thanks for sharing all of your fabulous experiences -- so vividly. It's clear that you both are having a terrific time and great experience. Not to mention that the blog is super impressive - like a travel log....will use it to plan future vacations. Definitely want to visit Glacier & Yellowstone. Hope to see you guys in California- we have wifi, showers, beds, and even good food!