A good friend of mine had a spare weekend off and asked if I might be interested in a weekend trip somewhere fun, an open ended invite. After a lot of back and forth and some way too lofty plans and dreams we settled upon a magical place, Yellowstone. I've always loved my time in this park and had only been there twice and 8 years ago at that, so decision made, the pack went in the plane, and off I was for another visit to a wonderful place.
I still really don't know how to describe Yellowstone. The park is like an entire continent in and of itself. It's land sweats with beauty varying from mile to mile. This was going to be my first time staying in the backcountry and I was excited.
Still, I was unprepared. I had no idea how troublesome the logistics would be to get a backcountry permit! We car camped in the park to get an early start and broke camp in under 40 minutes, a world first! But that was still not enough. The first ranger station was closed. Then the next ranger station could only issue permits for an area outside of where we wanted to go. After driving to the next ranger station (and getting stuck in a herd of bison for a few minutes...) we had to wait an hour for an approved ranger to show up to open the backcountry office. Then we had to sit through an entire video we'd already seen onilne to qualify for the permit and even take an oral exam. 45 minutes wasted when we could have been on the trail! I've never experienced that much hassle for a backcountry permit in any other park. One can only hope that now if our names are in the system we can avoid all that garbage when I try to get a permit in the future. And I certainly must...
With the lost half day we went on a hike to Lake Shoshone, and what a beautiful hike it was. On the way in a beautiful trail wound through high country meadows and stands of lodgepole pines creaking through the winds. The sun intermingled with sleet and hail that just bounced off us and covered the land in a sheet of minature marbles. And when we got to the lake the winds kicked up the water into a series of whitecrests resembling an angry sea. But the sun kept peeking through and making everything look gorgeous. That night we had the entire lake to ourselves, perhaps the entire lower quadrant of the park. And as the moon rose the clouds parted and, looking up into the multitude of stars, we reveled. And like Zarathustra, we were light and danced and were merry. Though completely unplanned, the trip to Lake Shoshone was great times among friends that no planning can provide.
Surprisingly on our backcountry excursion (especially given all of the training and complimentary bear spray) the biggest creature we saw on land was a squirrel, and in the air a hawk. However this trip to the park was definitely the most diverse in terms of wildlife I'd ever had. From the car (and roadside) I saw numerous bison, elk, mule deer, a fox, a half dozen juvenile bighorn sheep, and a glorious large bald eagle. But perhaps the most memorable was getting stuck in a bison herd. While we had been behind a few bison on the road, while driving trying to get our permit we were suddenly stopped in a traffic jam behind an SUV. Not knowing what was going on, soon we were...a bison walked right off the side of the SUV. And another. And on the other side, another. Of course, I rolled down the window to try to take a few pictures, but soon there was another bison walking right alongside the car! Although it would not be any match for it, I quickly dropped the camera and rolled up the window to keep the 700 lb bison from getting curious and sticking his head in the window. Being 9 inches away from such an animal is really an anxiety inducing experience that is neither the safest nor wisest. But at that moment bison were on both sides of the car and, for a moment, the car was part of the herd.
On the drive out we visited the popular geyser basins. My friend was able to see Old Faithful erupt which he had missed the previous day due to an extended excursion to the bathroom (during which he missed the entire thing!). I got to walk around almost all of the Mammoth Hot Springs boardwalks which I'd lever done before. Finally also I was able to see the north gate in the daylight.
Although I was only there for a few days, it reminded me of where I find beauty. Out there, amongst the land. Surrounded by the creaking lodgepoles sounding like murmurs of wild animals, rousted in the night for a bathroom break under a tiara of stars, waking up exhausted greeted by lapping water before packing up to walk to what is next. A few days away from mundane life as is, experiencing the exhiliration of what life could be, and avoiding the harsh realities of what that would mean life would become if permanent. Weekend backpacking at its best.
Picutres were from the a900 system mostly with the 24-70, 16-35, and 70-300 lenses for wildlife.
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