It’s been two of the best days I’ve had in a long time, with a few lessons learned along the way.
Yesterday, we decided to head out for a picnic spot in Yellowstone that held special memories from our first visit, three years ago. It’s an out of the way spot, along a less traveled byway. There are huge evergreens shading the picnic tables. As you pass under the evergreens, the land opens to a meadow and stream. Very quiet, very peaceful. On our first visit, we had finished lunch and were sharing a hug after looking out at the meadow for a while, when my husband said very quietly, “We need to go back to the car – turn around slowly.” I looked behind me and there were three buffalo coming from under the evergreens toward us and the meadow. You wouldn’t have believed how fast we got to that car! We respect buffalo. We’ve seen the video on the National Park Service website about what has happened to people who don’t. But it was also a very magical moment – it made a lasting memory.
So I think we went there this time trying to recreate that moment. I think we were actually hoping buffalo would show up. We got there early and set up chairs near the stream. No buffalo. No magical moment. But while I was sitting with my back to the stream (the better to watch for buffalo), I happened to turn around to look at the stream. And there was a coyote – a healthy, well-fed, handsome coyote, looking for his own lunch I would guess. So there you go, a new magical moment. After we ate our own lunch and relaxed a bit longer, we decided to take our new magical moment and run – didn’t want to spoil it trying to recreate the old one. What we now had was a magical place, not limited to a single magical moment. When we checked the time, we realized we’d been there for four hours. It never ceases to amaze me how our perception of time can be so different from reality. Those few hours flew by; the next half hour following a camper who refused to use the turnouts to let others pass him seemed like an eternity.
Our evening was spent at the West Yellowstone Rodeo. Mostly local talent – riders and stock. But they had it all for the small but rowdy crowd. Saddle bronc and Bareback riding, Calf roping, Team steer roping, Barrel racing and the always entertaining Bull riding. In a time when male/female equality in the workplace still has a way to go, this rodeo featured the guys and gals competing in the same events. No age discrimination either! The 8 yr. old barrel racer went up against the adults. (Could that boy ride!! I felt a touch of envy watching the freedom and abandon he rode with.) The rodeo clowns/bullfighters were there, putting their own lives in harms way to protect the bull riders as well as entertaining the crowd. It wasn’t the PBR (Professional Bull Riders) with their glitz and televised events, but in a way it was more real – guys and gals trying to make the small dollars by showing off their skills. What a lot of fun! Another magical place.
Today we traveled through Yellowstone, leaving by the Northeast entrance. We stopped at Cooke City, Montana. It’s a small, small town with several eating establishments, a trading post and a few other businesses. Good thing we had already filled the gas tank. Gas in Cooke City, where the station is the only game in town for miles in either direction, was going for $3.70 a gallon. Yikes!! We had lunch then set off up the Beartooth Highway (it really is a low road) through the Beartooth Mountains.
Cooke City is about 7600 ft in altitude. The high point on the Beartooth Hwy was 10, 937 ft!! Much of it is closed in the winter, not surprising when there is still snow along the sides of the road and many other places today, June 24. Talk about magical places! If you didn’t know better, you’d think you were in the European Alps. You can see forever from almost 11,ooo ft. There were many vivid blue lakes and ponds, as well as streams and rivers. Would you have imagined a lake at that altitude. There were wildflowers growing everywhere: yellow, white, blue, purple, red. Near the top, flowers continued to grow, though short. Trees disappeared. Also near the top was a snowfield that a group of young people had gathered at the top of. They were having a great time sliding down that patch of snow. We saw several flocks of mountain goats – first time for us to see that. My husband decided to be cute and throw a snowball at me in the car.
The weather was perfect, in the low 70’s when we started up. At the top, the temp had dropped a good 20 or more degrees. Good thing I was a Girl Scout and believe in being prepared. So there were fleeces and coats in the back seat. Did we use them! I prefer getting out of the car to take pictures because I hate getting the side view mirror in my photo – more time spent taking the shots, but less time spent in cropping and editing.
Picture this: An obese 50-something and her gallant husband, facing down the wild winds in order to take pictures. As I was standing there, the wind picked up even more, if that was possible. My husband stood behind me so I could steady the camera. Laughing while trying to get photos of a still half-frozen lake and some wildflowers, he had to hold my hat on so it wouldn’t blow away while I tried to focus the camera. So cold! The temperature was in the 50’s but with the wind chill factor, I’d guess it felt like the 30’s. It was definitely a magic moment in a magical place.
On the way back to town, we passed through the park again. We hunted for moose – with the camera. No luck. But that didn’t change our mood. We did get to see a bear, a couple flocks of mountain goats, a couple big horned sheep, pronghorn antelope, ground squirrels, lots of elk and buffalo and incredible vistas. With that kind of magic, I have to believe the moose are just waiting to find us on their own magical day.