A Day of Bison

Westward Wanderlust, Day 5
July 14th, 2012
Grand Teton National Park, WY

After a sound night’s sleep, we woke in Yellowstone and promptly left it. We headed South, out of Yellowstone and into Grand Teton National Park.

Grand Teton!

Canada Thistle – Cirsium (breea) Arvense
This colony-forming member of the aster family makes itself at home in “disturbed areas” like roadside ditches and parking lots.

As we entered the park, we couldn’t help but let our mouths hang agape at the magnificent mountains surrounding us. The Tetons are gorgeous!

Jackson Lake, Grand Tetons

Mid-morning, it was 68 degrees and overcast and there was a possibility of rain. The particular lighting that is created by a cloudy day can make for very dramatic photos; though with scenery like this, the drama is already strong.

Morning sun highlighting the Tetons.

The Grand Tetons…very grand indeed!
( Photo By DRJ )

In addition to mountains, we were suddenly surrounded by herds of bison.

American Bison

Bison everywhere!

As much of a fuss as we, and other photo-hungry tourists, made when the herds were in view, the buffalo again seemed un-phased by our presence. Some lumbered lazily across the great spans of grass, clover, and sagebrush.

At a glance some almost looked fake, like huge, brown fur-covered cardboard cut-outs, strategically propped through out the filed. Others listed from side to side, seeming to move with the wind. I had never seen a herd of wild buffalo before, and I was ecstatic.

Bison – thoroughly unimpressed with tourists.

We did a once-around the park loop and then drove to the top of Signal Mountain for breakfast, coffee, and reflection. It was incredibly windy at the top, 7,593 feet above sea level, to be exact. D and I sat for a long time and just enjoyed the wind in our faces and the view before us.

Coffee at the top of Signal Mountain

While admiring this immense vista, I could see flicks of color and motion out of the corner of my eye. Despite the constant wind on our mountain perch, there were a surprising number of moths and butterflies fluttering about. They rode the wind with instinctual skill, allowing the air to carry them where they wanted to go. There was no intense struggle when the updraft from the valley below violently lifted the tiny bodies from their flight path, just the slightest quiver of wings, and an effortless glide to the tip of a pollen-laden blossom.

Calippe Fritillary Butterfly

Pale Swallowtail Butterfly – According to our Audubon Guide, this beauty frequents hilltops in order to mate.

Pale Swallowtail Butterfly

Pale Swallowtail Butterfly

Pale Swallowtail Butterfly

Pale Swallowtail Butterfly

The Variable Checkerspot

Giant Red Paintbrush Flower

Refreshed and full of coffee, we descended Signal Mountain continued back around the park loop.

In search of a place to hike, we turned down Schwabacher Road and parked along the Snake River.

Snake River path

We walked down the riverside trail and enjoyed our surroundings.

Snake River

Snake River

We found a spot to sit and sat quiet and still, hoping to meet some of the locals.

Least Chipmunk – Tamias minimus

Cedar Waxwing – Bombycilla Cedrorum

Peering into the cold, clear water of the Snake River I watched the shadow of a slender, flat line wriggle past me. It was a leech, turning and gliding smoothly through the water. I was amazing by the ballet-like beauty of this leech. Often hated or known only as option for fishing bait, I welcomed this new perspective on the aquatic segmented worm. Mirrored by its shadow, the leech coiled and curled through the water, unaware of any predators that could surely spot him from above. The graceful movement of the leech through the crystal clear water mesmorized me. He wove over the rocks and sand, each easy arc, an arabesque; each curve, a calculated change in course.

After a while, we began to notice that our once sparsely populated trail had become quiet busy with people. These people seemed to know exactly where they were going. These people looked at us with question and concern. These people were well dressed and carrying folded paper programs. These people were guests at a wedding. Not only had a wedding snuck up on us, but decorations as well!

Sneaky weddings!

Cool decorations…may want to keep an eye on those clouds though…

We hightailed it out of there, hoping to not get parked-in to the already packed parking lot. We made it out just in time, aside from the 15 minutes we spent corned by a shuttle bus (which can be seen approaching in the above photo) spilling with somewhat nervous looking wedding guests toting umbrellas. It seemed that the forecast for afternoon rain was moving in quickly.

We continued on through the park, watching the weather move along with us.

Here comes the forecast…

The bison were once again the lead players in a dramatic scene.

Cow bison and calf

I can see you behind that grass, you know.

( Photo by DRJ )

We drove the remainder of the loop again, stopping at Pilgrim Creek for a hike. Not too long after we stopped, the rain finally arrived. After some fun splashing in the creek in the rain, we raced back to the car.

(Photo by DRJ )

We turned our nose North, and headed back to Yellowstone.

Regardless of the rain, we decided to try and get one more adventure in before we went back to camp. We headed back to Old Faithful hoping that perhaps, in light of the weather, we might avoid the usual crowds of this attraction. We were right. Aside from a stone-faced Native American man meditating at the mouth of one of the geysers and a slim, speed-walker in a grey rain jacket, the place was deserted.

Yellowstone Lodge in the distance.

All to ourselves.

Walking the geyser basin alone, at dusk was incredibly different than yesterday’s experience. The wood plank boardwalk had been teeming with tour groups asking questions, families draped with cameras and shopping bags, teens clutching I-pods and cell phones, and eldest children shoving strollers forcefully down the path as distracted grandmothers read aloud from informational plaques. Between the rushing waves of Old Faithful viewers and the family reunion with matching red t-shirts, I would not characterize yesterday’s Old Faithful Basin walk as “relaxing”. And though we certainly enjoyed our first geyser experience, this was like being in a completely different place all together.

We walked through the ghostly blue geyser steam, shivering as we moved from the hot, humid heat to the cool night air. All around us, the ethereal vapors from the thermals billowed and rose in to the sky, slowly dissipating into the night. The puffs of steam looked like a mass of signal fires in the distance, or a gathering of unearthly jellyfish hovering in the horizon.

Iron Creek Spring at dusk.

We were quiet as we walked. I felt like I was in a sacred place that could only be understood through hushed observation. The steam puffed and swelled above us in slow motion. I felt like we were walking underwater, everything moving with lethargic but determined continuity.

Two tired travelers beside the Riverside Geyser.

By the time we headed back towards our car, it was completely dark. I began to recall all of those “Beware of Wildlife” signs that peppered the walkway. Both of us were suddenly and acutely aware of the fact that we would not know if any animal was nearby until we were literally, right on top of it. We talked loudly as we walked with newfound speed and kept out ears perked for any stirring in the overwhelming darkness.

We were back at Lewis Lake by 11:30pm, where we enjoyed some delicious campfire cookin’. We enjoyed Pako’s IPA out of Jackson Hole, Wyoming and Hop Freaks Unite IPA by Avery Brewing for dessert before we hit the sleeping bags. Tomorrow, we will explore the rest of Yellowstone.

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