The first National Park, Yellowstone is an incredible place. Almost 3,500 square miles of parkland, encompassing a fairly large corner of the state of Wyoming, it is a land of contrasts.
The first night in the park I attended a campfire program and the Ranger polled the crowd to see if they were here to see the geothermal features or the wildlife and the vast majority (about 9:1) were there for the wildlife. For me, it is the combination of the two that makes the park so special.
Yellowstone really is a land of wildlife and they control the movements of the park visitor.
Wildlife traffic jams are the norm and visitors should not expect to get anywhere on any kind of timeframe.
Bison are especially fun to watch as they frequently wander (and sometimes stop) down the middle of the roadways. A park employee told me that many of the roads were built on old wildlife pathways and trails so it is no wonder that they continue to use these today.
The Ranger also referred to the “Wildlife Paparazzi”, folks that follow certain animals throughout the park using spotting scopes and binoculars to watch their favorite animals. Being curious (and also wanting to see my favorite animal – a wolf) I decided to check out what all the excitement was about.
The Grizzly folks were staged at an area near the site of what was left of a bison carcass next to the Yellowstone River. They come armed with cameras, large lenses and binoculars hoping for that “special” shot. They were a friendly lot and it was enjoyable hanging with them and chatting about the bears and the park even though the grizzly that had been hanging around decided not to show.
Next stop was along Hayden Valley where a wolf pack has been seen hanging around the area. The wolf followers were a little “different breed” than the grizzly folks. They come armed with spotting scopes of all shapes and sizes and they are ready to stand for hours in the weather to have an opportunity to watch their favorite wild dogs. One thing that both groups have in common is an openness and desire to share their love of the animals with anyone that is interested.
Each time I stopped and spent time with these folks they were excited to share their scopes and knowledge with a newcomer. Being able to see the wolves in Yellowstone was an awesome experience. They were probably a mile or more away in the valley but were clearly visible in the scopes provided by the wolf watchers.
Funny as it may sound, I was happy just standing and watching the horizon and the valley. Just knowing that the wolves were out there was enough for this traveler to their home. (Yellowstone Wolf photo was borrowed from the internet)
“Only the mountain has lived long enough to listen objectively to the howl of a wolf. Those unable to decipher the hidden meaning know nevertheless that it is there, for it is felt in all wolf country, and distinguishes that country from all other land. It tingles in the spine of all who hear wolves by night, or who scan their tracks by day.” Aldo Leopold – A Sand County Almanac
Yes, I remain content in just knowing the wolves are there and it leaves me with optimism for our ability to rebuild and care for the natural world.
Thoreau wrote: “All good things are wild and free.” Yellowstone is a wonderful example of this.