Halfway Around the Yellowstone Sun

When we last left off, I was wishing Mother Nature to provide us many bears and wolves over the summer. Indeed, we had a great season for bears. Our famous “399,” now approaching 20 years old, had a new set of triplets that awed visitors all season. Scarface was out in northern Yellowstone eating whatever his worn teeth could still chew on. Wolves are scarce and seem to be getting scarcer as hunting pressure along the borders increases and elk populations decline. Though wolves were hard to find, we had amazing experiences with all the other wildlife.

My late mentor, Jeanne, taught me that the best shows in nature happen early, early, early in the morning. Though I try to explain this to my travelers, they don’t always have the drive to wake up before dawn, and as a result they miss things like bison being born in the sunrise over the Absaroka Mountains. Twin moose calves were raised happily in a big campground in the park this year. In the dawn light the calves spent all summer wandering unnoticed between campsites in the hour of dawn light before the humans stir. I came to check on them in October, and they are still doing just fine at their regular campsite in Loop B. The National Park Service should probably approach them about paying campsite fees.

Yellowstone is a place where seasons are short. Except for winter. From week to week everything changes. One wildflower starts to bloom as another curls up and fades until next spring. It seems like by the time moose calves are steady on their feet, some of the migratory songbirds are already itching to leave. The elk have just started growing their antlers when the fall colors are upon us and bugling fills the woods. No such thing as stasis. The earth seems to hurtle around the sun so fast this time of the year.

Suddenly, pronghorn are already galloping around the summer sun-dried pastures of the park, and the bison are rolling around in the dry dirt. American Dipper chicks have begrudgingly surrendered to diving into the cold, swift mountain streams. Until now, they stood at the water’s edge and beg for food from the increasingly impatient parents. Before we even recognized that summer was in full swing, huckleberry season was over and the serviceberries were producing like never before. Grosbeaks, chipmunks, waxwings, and black bears swarm these bushes, and I can’t resist grabbing handfuls of berries as I pass on my mountain bike.

Now the leaves are turning and the photographers line up in processions at Oxbow Bend. Grizzlies return to the valley floors, patrolling the park in search of whatever can be digested. As Dan Hartman stacks cord after cord of firewood in preparation for a long Beartooth winter, pine martens dart in and out of the cracks between logs, looking for the perfect cranny in his woodpile to use for winter quarters.

Tourists empty out of the park, leaving the geysers and hot springs open to our peaceful sunset enjoyment. The grizzlies and black bears wander into the hills to find a place to hole up until March, and the residents of Jackson prepare their own dens for the big winter to come.