Montana, Days 7, 8 and 9: Paradise Lost

 

We saw our wolves.  To be precise, we heard them first. Several people had gathered by the roadside.  We pulled up, quietly pushed our doors shut and, as stealth as coyote, walked up to a wildlife enthusiast equipped with a tripod mounted lens nearly as big as our rented Subaru.  “What are we watching?” I whispered. “Listen,”  he replied. ”  We did as suggested and from far away heard two wolves raising a long, beautiful howl to the cloud covered Wyoming mountains. We lifted our little cameras, zoomed in and just barely made out two wolves, one gray and another that appeared distinctly cream colored.

I had been reading Shadow Mountain by Renee Askins, her well-written account of the role she and her compatriots played in re-introducing wolves to Yellowstone.  Due primarily to man once again meddling in the affairs of the wild, the natural wolf population had been completely decimated. Her book details the long, hard battle to bring restoration to the natural order; to undo the damage we’d done. It was a pretty moving encounter to experience firsthand the fruits of her labor. Thank you, Renee.

Our original plan had been to hike to the summit of Emigrant Peak in Livingston, just a few miles from our cabin in Paradise Valley.  18″ of snowfall on our second day in Montana added to an already frozen summit had rendered that dream a risk not worth taking. The boulder covered approach would have been treacherous enough without it’s icy coating.  Now? Darn near impossible. In lieu of breathing the rarified air at 11,000 feet we hoped to instead find a few hikes in Yellowstone, at least getting into these woods we’d so longed to wander in.  My run-in with the boulder changed that plan as well.  We spent nearly all of our remaining 3 days driving through Yellowstone, stopping every 1/4 mile or so to snap a picture. It’s a difficult trap not to fall into, especially when one of us (Uh, yeah…that’d be me) had the misfortune of being run over by a boulder. Would I recommend seeing Yellowstone from behind a car door?  No.  Definitely not. Friday came so quickly that both of us had to stay vigilant in fighting off remorse for not using our time in this idyllic setting better.  It was a blur. I convinced Dana to get a two day fishing license to at least wet a hook in these legendary waters.  On our last voyage into the Park we headed toward Cooke City, again taking in the majesty of these spectacular mountains.  Along the way we stopped off at Soda Butte (Yeah, I know.  Funny. It’s pronounced “byoot”) Creek, where I hung my hammock, lost myself in Norman MacClean’s classic and watched Dana try her hand at enticing a few trout to rise. I watched ground squirrels play beneath my nest and observed the cartoon-like antics of a yellow-bellied weasel as he darted in and out of the ground squirrel’s tunneled home. Although Dana never saw much success we both enjoyed our few short moments of relaxation…something we wished we’d spent a lot more time doing. An hour or so after we arrived the sun was once again swallowed up in grey clouds, while rain and sleet drove us back to the car and on toward Cooke City for lunch.  That old adage applies here more than anywhere I’ve visited,”  If you don’t like the weather here…just wait 5 minutes.” Unfortunately for us, we saw a mere 12 hours or so of sunshine in our entire week. Take it like it comes, right?  Well, as disappointing as the weather and my accident were, the wildlife just about made up for it.  Over the course of the week we saw bison, elk, mule deer, pronghorn, coyote, bighorn sheep, bison (Yup, I realize I mentioned bison already), osprey, a yellow-headed blackbird, magpie, a badger, ground squirrels, a hoary marmot, a yellow-bellied weasel, wolves, a moose, bison, more bison, bison calves, black bear, black bear cubs, grizzly, (did I mention bison?) and more.  At one point there was so much wildlife in one location I half-expected Rafiki to step out with Simba raised over his head.  Instead we saw a herd of bison convince a grizzly to find something other than a bison calf for lunch.  Pretty amazing stuff.

So many people have asked if we’d go back.  Absolutely.  Would I hope for better weather?  Yup.  (And less boulder contact as well.)  Would we try to return with only a week?  Probably not. The jaw-dropping magnificence of this incredible country was other-worldly and more than the eye could take in…especially in 7 or 8 days. It was indeed a balm for two heartbroken and war-weary people.  Had we not gone….I don’t even want to think about it.  Would we like a do-over?  You bet. We’d love to see Paradise Lost redeemed. Next time, closer to summer with a month to spend….maybe a year. Next time we’ll see it from the midst of the wildness, rather than the safety and convenience of a cozy Subaru.  Next time, maybe from the Continental Divide Trail.  Next time…

 

I’ve posted some pics from our trip at the All Who Wander Podcast facebook page.  Here’s a link:

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.381032811943464.81325.146364628743618&type=3

 

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