My husband and I flew into Bozeman International Airport (yep, INTERNATIONAL airport), picked up the rental and headed straight for Yellowstone National Park. An hour later we were driving through the spectacular landscape of the world’s first national park.
Anyone who has spent any time in Yellowstone knows that the best way for a beginner to see wildlife is to follow the crowd. The scopes and telephotos of this group along the North Road were focused on a black Gray Wolf. The folks from the Yellowstone Wolf Project had identified it as being about 4 miles away. Serious equipment was required to catch a glimpse.
All of a sudden someone yells out “Bison coming your way”.
Looking for Grizzly, but satisfied with Wapiti (elk to the rest of us).
Finally we see our first Grizzly. It was old Scarface, a long time resident of Yellowstone with a storied past and a ravaged face to prove it. One woman announced that she had seen him four years before and thought he was on his last legs at that time. Word quickly spread throughout the Park that there was a Grizzly at Petrified Tree and for two days Scarface drew crowds of admirers. He had found a fresh carcass and claimed it. The old Grizzly lay on top of it, ate it, slept on it, eliminated on it, watched the tourists from it and then ate some more of it until there was nothing left but bone. The park ranger said Scarface was too old to fight for his food these days, so he knew a good thing when he found it. Even prone and at his advanced age, Scarface commands respect. At one point a black bear lurked in the nearby woods, but thinking the better of it, waddled off and left Scarface alone.
Very pleased with our sightings for the first day in Yellowstone, we headed back to our cabin at Mammoth Hot Springs. It was wonderful waking early the next morning to the stillness of a dusting of snow.
The weather changes fast in Yellowstone and by mid-morning we were on the trail of another Grizzly (or at least the trail of others looking for a Grizzly).
This young grizzly made it easy for us to watch him. He was eating in a meadow about 50 yards from the road seemingly without a care in the world.
We still had not seen a moose. It appeared that moose sightings were hard to come by in Yellowstone this year. “If you want to see moose,” we were frequently advised, “go to the Tetons.” Our plans had us heading south, but not that far south. Late the second day, we headed down to the Hayden Valley and the stunning Lake Yellowstone.
The refined, Victorian ambiance of the historic Lake Yellowstone Hotel, with its stunning vantage point overlooking Lake Yellowstone, was a marked departure from our first night’s accommodations at the cabins. There had been a time in my life when staying at such a grand 19th century hotel, taking in the landscape from the inside, would have satisfied my requirements for “being out in nature.” It occurred to me while we were at the hotel that I’m changing out of that person; I belong elsewhere, now. Walls and windows are creating an interruption or a disturbance in the field between myself and the outside landscape.
After spending two great days in Yellowstone, it was time for a short visit with our friends in Bozeman. A few of us drove out to the Spanish Peaks of the Madison Range of the Rocky Mountains. Ted Turner’s Flying D Ranch takes up 114,000 acres of this awe-inspiring landscape and although we weren’t invited in, parts of the ranch can be viewed from the National Forest Service road that borders it. We spent a couple of hours up there; doing what we always do – look for wildlife and take photos. Once again the Montana weather turned and as dusk approached, a cold rain settled in as the descending fog and mist softened the contour of the Spanish Peaks. The enormity of this unfamiliar landscape left me with an isolation that I can only describe as electrifying.
On Monday, my husband left Montana for a meeting in Seattle. I planned to go up to Lolo, MT, around Missoula, and do a little horseback riding. A friend decided to come along and I’m glad she did. I knew my trip would be enjoyable with her because she is a Montanan but more importantly, she is one of those people with loads of ideas and energy. On our way to Missoula, past Butte, she suggested we get off the highway and head towards Dillon, MT (Patagonia Outlet!) to see the “ghost town” of Bannack in Bannack State Park. Bannack was the first capital of the Montana territory and was a successful mining town, as well. Today Bannack is owned by and is being authentically preserved by the Montana State Parks Department – “Gold Town to Ghost Town”. The day we rode into town, Bannack was quiet and we had the place to ourselves. We ambled down the planked walkways, peeking through the original glass panes and going inside the saloon, schoolhouse, jail and hotel. Throughout the year special events take place there, in particular the very popular Bannack Days, when “the old ghost town comes to life” in a two-day celebration of life on the Montana frontier. Bannack Days is held the third week-end each July.
This is the Bannack jail with a sod roof and Aspens in the background.
As we continued our ascent towards Lolo, the dry air we had enjoyed around Dillon disappeared and the temperature dropped. The road became icy as we drove through the pass along the Idaho-Montana border. Good thing the weather caused us to slow down because we rather suddenly came upon a cow moose in the middle of the road. Her calf was back in the woods off the road.
We arrived in Lolo MT and Dunrovin Ranch after dark and knocked down a few Rainiers before sleep. Next morning it was off for a horseback ride up into the Bitterroot Mountains. Dunrovin is an intimate ranch with comfortable, modern, fully furnished and stocked cabins. There are special programs throughout the year, a very friendly and accommodating staff and a myriad of animals. One of the aspects of the ranch that owner SuZan Miller takes great pride in is the osprey nesting cam which allows people from the world over to monitor the nesting osprey and chicks. There are also cams of the barn and the horses. I can always catch up on how Whiskey, the horse I rode while there, is doing. Great Place!
We crossed the Bitterroot River with the horses. What an interesting sensation it was, too. The trick is to not look down!
I hope you enjoyed seeing my photographs and reading about my time – well spent -“west of here.”
Robert Macfarlane, author of The Old Ways – A Journey on Foot, succinctly and cogently reminds us that “landscape has long offered us keen ways of figuring (out) ourselves to ourselves….. (and how) …. particular places might make possible particular thoughts.”