The storm that had been brewing for the past couple of days finally stewed itself into significance, for when I woke in the morning I found a fresh coating of several inches of new, wet snow. I rose early and drove out on the snowy road, moving upstream along the Wind River towards Togwotee Pass on U.S. 26-287 headed west and north, respective to the highway’s designation. Barely light when I started, I soon pulled over to study a monument made to those who cut timber in this area, the wood being converted to ties for railroads. However I feel about the subjugation of Nature, there is no use denying that I benefit from the ability to travel around this world at my whim, but I can’t help feel that we need, generally speaking, less and not more. Still, I respect the labor that people toiled over.
These thoughts lay on my mind as I continued to rise up to Togwotee Pass where I crossed, yet again, the Continental Divide and began to descend into the drainage of the Snake River via Blackrock Creek. I stopped again at another scenic viewpoint, however the clouds had obliterated what I suppose is a fine view of the Teton Range so I instead ambled about a bit and admired the grasses naturally cured for the oncoming Winter. Continuing the drive, I reached Moran Junction and turned right, or north, on U.S. 89-191-287 and passed through Teton National Park and the J. D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway, a strip of land that divides the former from Yellowstone National Park’s southern entrance. The road from the south follows the Lewis River up to the Great Divide and I thus crossed over once again to the eastern side. At West Thumb I turned left towards Madison Junction, and recrossed the Great Divide twice more so that I briefly passed into the Pacific Ocean drainage before finally establishing myself on the Atlantic. I made no stops other than to purchase fuel at Old Faithful until just prior to reaching Madison Junction where I stopped to walk along that portion of the Gibbon River just upstream from where it flows under the road. There is something about slow flowing mountain rivers winding through meadows that always captivates me and I took a bit of time to walk along its grass-lined banks.
Driving north along the Grand Loop I next stopped at Beryl Springs to gaze upon the emanations of steam and hot mineral-laden water from a large pool, the rim of which is encrusted with precipitates. My travels continued up to Gibbon Meadows where I once again pulled over and walked out to meander along the banks of the river that placidly flows through. I have always found these meadows to fascinate my fondness of wide open parks within the Rocky Mountain wherever they me be found. Often I had wanted to wander out and about but the presence of abundant wildlife, whose equanimity I have not wanted to upset, has not allowed this to occur but once or twice before. Finding no elk or bison in the expansive park I decided at the spur of the moment to make this brief exploration. I studied some tracks in the mud, and then walked over to a small grove of trees where I found a quiet place out of view of the nearby road to stand for a bit and contemplate the world.
I next stopped at the nearby Artist’s Paintpots, part of the small drainage of Geyser Creek, one of the numerous geothermal areas found within Yellowstone National Park. Due to the sensitive and dangerous nature of these natural wonders visitors are confined to the trail that passes through a lodgepole pine forest and crosses a wet meadow before reaching, a half mile later, the colorful fumaroles burbling and hissing with escaping steam. Some of the venting gasses cause water to percolate up from the depths or create splattering mud pots, reminiscent of a boiling pan of thick chowder. Despite the snowy landscape adjacent to this area I could denote numerous streaks of green vegetation where the water temperature created a salubrious situation for plant growth. Walking the short loop trail, I gained a slight elevation, enough for me to look out and espy the different colors of the mineral laden phenomena that has earned this area its sobriquet. The marvels of the Earth never cease to create wonder, and those pleasant thoughts accompanied me on my short walk back to the parking lot.
The snows had been decreasing in accumulated and active precipitation ever since crossing Togwotee Pass but when I stopped at Norris Geyser Basin the flakes came in a dense burst of large, wet globs. The basin, with its raising steams and occasional gurgles, took on an ethereal appearance that made for a stunning walk but, for me, lacking waterproof equipment or that which could somehow capture images in the challenging light conditions, made photography not worth the hassle, although I find myself now wishing that I had taken more than two of the area. I walked first out to Nuphar Lake and then around Porcelain and Back Basins admiring the ghostly forms of both the lodgepole pine and the wafting steams from the geothermal activity. I enjoyed my walk along the trails and boardwalks, my footfalls silent when they landed on the cushioning snow. Few others strolled about in this less than salubrious weather, but those of us who did made our own rewards.
I continued north along the Grand Loop past many other places worthy of stopping and exploring but I did so only once more, at the Glen Creek Trailhead, and walked out on the Fawn Pass Trail a mile or so. I left the trail and crossed Glen Creek above which I found a grassy hillside upon which I deposited my being. Now I took time to admire that which now fascinates me, that object of admiration being the ecological value of such a large swath of land set aside from exploitation, beyond tourism, of its vital natural resources that allow it to function as a living organism composed of individual parts. I gazed upon Terrace Mountain where years ago a friend pointed out wolves chasing a herd of elk as we sat snacking upon our comestibles. This day, however, not much stirred and I stared out on the grasslands and forest of Gardner’s Hole, the grass yellow and the willow denuded of leaves in preparation of the oncoming Winter. Ever since arriving in Dubois I had been walking in grizzly bear habitat but now I felt their presence that much more, this being the core of their local range. Colorado, where I make my home in Gunnison, and many other western states have extirpated their grizzly bears for the benefit of the livestock industry, something that I find reprehensible and morally questionable. I pondered all this as I sat enjoying the sunlight filtering through the clouds, for as I had driven north I had left most of the snow behind.
I slowly wandered back to the car and drove down to Gardiner, Montana, where friends had a place for me to sleep. Passing through the Golden Gate, I left Gardner’s Hole behind and noted the mass of Mount Everts in the distance. This is one of my favorite views, and always fills me with happiness to see this view. It had been a full, although low key, day although initially the snowy driving conditions had caused some consternation as I had been concerned that some of the park roads would be closed. Mid-October had produced a slight winter storm but isn’t that the Rockies? I felt ecstatic to hike around and explore the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, and especially felt altruistically towards my hosts who allowed me to stay here in the center of it all. A blessed day, indeed, this had dawned.