Wyoming Peregrinations, Day 10, Thermopolis to Saratoga, Wyoming – October 23, 2016


Dawn colors as seen from a highpoint in Hot Springs State Park, Wyoming

I began the day with a short walk around Hot Springs State Park adjacent to the City of Thermopolis, Wyoming, where I had spent the last two night at a Best Western situated in an older structure listed on the National Register of Historical Places.  Besides the nicely appointed rooms the key draw relies on its proximity to the hot waters that soothe so many people.  Especially wonderful is that the hot tub’s waters are piped directly from the spring and require no external fuel source to warm them.  I purposely rose early so that I could watch the sunrise from a high point just above the springs and found myself surprised at the presence of a herd of buffalo that I later found out, from a handy sign, the State of Wyoming keeps there.  I met one of my fellow sojourners who was out jogging and we reveled over the morning’s glory, the vibrant colors flooding over the eastern horizon.

The sun having risen I made my way back to my room where I changed into a swim suit and moseyed out to sit in the soothing waters for a spell.  I then visited the breakfast bar after the warm waters had worked their wonders, feasting on waffles and consuming great quantities of passable coffee; greeted and bid adieu to my companions; packed up and deposited my baggage in the Subaru Outback station wagon; and checked out and made my way to the highway to commence my travels for the day.  I was, on one hand, elated at having had the weekend to build the bonds of friendship, but on the other I did not want to depart and rather continue to relax in the hot water.  Despite my reluctance to depart, I did need to get back home fairly soon, and my thrill at being on the road again soon rekindled itself as I drove south of Thermopolis on co-signed U.S. 20 and Wyoming 789, towards the Wind River Canyon.

I drove on a section of road that I suspect is now a county-maintained section of the old main highway, crossing an older steel-truss bridge over the Bighorn River before rejoining the current alignment.  I found a pullover in the Wind River Canyon itself and stopped to walk down to the water’s edge.  Even with modern transportation infrastructure this canyon retains a powerful pull on my imagination.  Still, I dallied but briefly, driving on towards the town of Shoshoni, where I turned left, to the east, on co-signed U.S. 20-26.  The mountains popped up in my rear-view mirror as I drove out into the short-grass prairie.  I drove out some twenty to twenty five miles until I left the pavement and began to drove south on Fremont County Road 507, also known as Castle Gardens Road.  None too many people live out this way, I thought to myself as I noted the widely dispersed houses in this wind-swept land.

The reason I drove out this way was to visit the Castle Gardens that the Bureau of Land Management provides stewardship for out of their Lander Field Office.  This area marks a break in the undulating prairie and contains some interesting sandstone spires and fins.  However, the main interest are the petroglyphs thought to date back about eight hundred to a thousand years ago.  I followed the trail around and wondered about the people who left these carvings in the rock.  There is some vandalism that unfortunately detracts from the respect needed to protect and preserve cultural sites like this one for the future.  That is why the chain link fence has been placed around many of the more important or obvious panels.  It is sad that such measures are needed, but better than letting them be ruined by thoughtless individuals.  Still, I wandered around and explored both the anthropology and geology of the area for a couple of hours before continuing on my way.  The sandstone strata appear to be a bit tilted, just enough to cause erosion to eat away at the rock’s face.  Perhaps this localized uplift is a result of the main chain of the Rocky Mountains to the west rising up and disturbing the rock in much the same manner as if the earth were water, causing ripples to flow outward from the disturbance.  Castle Gardens is out of the way and requires a somewhat significant investment of time to visit, but I found the effort worthwhile and would like to visit again.

I continued south on the gravel county road until I reached the junction with Wyoming 136, were I turned to the west and drove over the rolling landscape towards Riverton.  However, before I reached that city I made a junction with Wyoming 135 and turned to the south rising up towards the Beaver Divide, the high ridge that divides the Wind River from the Sweetwater, the Missouri from the Platte.  Here I stopped one last time for the day at a view point some half a mile from the main highway to look over the land to the north and west, especially.  I could espy the great chain of the Rocky Mountains and marvel at this still wide open and relatively wild country.  My heart and imagination soar at sights like this and I dallied for a time, taking it all in, thinking about the long history of humanity and natural history, sometimes one and the same, having occurred here.  Shoshone, Arapaho, Crow, and others, all made their home here along with the buffalo and elk.  The mountain men, the first thrust of manifest destiny, came later in the early Nineteenth Century, exploiting the natural resources for pecuniary gain.  Still, despite the continuance of that exploitative culture, I can sense the wild here and my heart races at that thought.

I drive down the Beaver Divide to the south and the Sweetwater River, where the highway ends at U.S. 287-Wyoming 789.  I turn to the east and follow this highway all the way to Lander, passing all the same sights I had seen on my way north a week and a half prior, and Interstate 80.  I crossed into and out of the Great Divide Basin, a closed system, prior to reaching Lander.  Here I headed still further east on the four lanes of the interstate.  I continued retracing my route north when I turned to the south on Wyoming 130, and saw the Medicine Bow Mountains rising to the east, up to the high point in the Snowy Range.  Finally, I decided to stop for the night at Saratoga.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that the local hot springs are municipally owned and I could soak whenever I chose.  I took no photos or snapshots because when I went over it was well past dusk and all was dark, but the waters were fine enough and I enjoyed the relaxing end to a long day of travel and exploration.

Wyoming Peregrinations, Day 9, In the Vicinity of Thermopolis, Wyoming – October 22, 2016


Trilobite Mass Death, at the Wyoming Dinosaur Center in Thermopolis, Wyoming

A leisurely day began by me taking a stroll around Hot Springs State Park in Thermopolis, Wyoming.  I stopped to note the nearby placard commemorating the nearly one-hundred year old building that now housed the Best Western hotel that my friends and I were staying at before I wandered around town a bit.  I also briefly explored the hot springs themselves, a fine Autumn morning greeting me with both chill and, when in the sunshine, warmth.  Similar to hot springs elsewhere left in their natural state, I found the travertine and tufa to be a marvel of our geologic world, forming pools of still, warm water emitting steam and other odoriferous fumes.  The waters pour into the Bighorn River, just downstream from its emergence from the Wind River Canyon.  It took me years to realize that the Wind and Bighorn Rivers are of the same waters but, I suppose, due to the difference in character up and down stream of this canyon the same river has earned two monikers that denote the change in temperament relative to grade and rapidity.  I believe that fur trappers and traders from the third and fourth decade of the Eighteen Hundreds popularized this naming system, maybe because passing through the canyon upstream created the sensation that you had truly entered the mountains.

This part of my journey I found especially conducive to relaxation and indulgence so I partook heartily in the help-yourself breakfast bar at the hotel.  The previous night the group had dined out at a nearby restaurant that had a bit of local flavor, so I ate well.  For breakfast I created an extravagant waffle repast that was the envy of the entire congregation who sat scarfing their own meager fare.  A near mandatory visit to the hot-springs-fed bathing tub followed, and the relaxing and recuperative qualities of the waters began to be felt by this tired soul.  Having direct access to these waters is a treat that I would gladly partake of again.

The late morning found our throng motoring over to the Wyoming Dinosaur Center, an excellent museum featuring paleontology.  World-class examples are combined with a time-line that I found fascinating.  The young people in our group were enthralled with the larger skeletons but I found it all interesting and look forward to another visit.  I found myself lingering behind the group as I wanted to read each display.  The trilobites I found especially intriguing, but the larger skeletons caused me to stop and wonder.  This facility is also known for having their own dig sites in the local vicinity.  Lunch followed in downtown Thermopolis in a local cafe.  The leisurely pace of the day continued unabated, something of a nice change from my usual hectic pace at work.

In the afternoon a group of us drove north of Thermopolis to explore some of the Bureau of Land Management lands.  Specifically, we drove into rural Hot Springs County on Road 23 to its northern terminus at private property and began to explore the Cedar Mountain Wilderness Study Area.  This landscape consists of near desert-like vegetation, sparse, in a setting of mildly uplifted sedimentary rock.  A clear day, we hiked up a short distance to an overlook that allowed us to view much of the surrounding countryside.  This is one of those out of the way places that very few people visit, excepting, perhaps, those locals who like to hunt in this area.  There isn’t much signage or even acknowledgement of responsibility from the Federal agency that provides stewardship for this area, and that can be construed as both bad and good.  Bad, because it is likely that this area will be disposed of given the opportunity if so provided by Congress in the current political climate and good since the low-keyed nature of the area keeps most people from venturing here and creating conditions that need rectification.  Most of my trip had been fairly cool or cold, but today on the exposed rock I felt fairly hot.  The youngsters among us scrambled up and down the rock with remarkable ease that left us old-timers gaping in wonder.  While they scampered us elders gazed out at the distant horizon and pondered the reality of it all.

Towards evening the bevy of us headed over to one of the nearby private swimming pools fed by the hot waters.  Strictly a commercial enterprise profiting from Nature’s bounty, something I generally abhor and avoid, I nonetheless had a fine time swimming in the warm pool and soaking in the steam bath.  There was also a water slide that entertained the young people and the young at heart.  I suppose I don’t mind that Nature has been improved upon by human design but I do wish it weren’t so crass so often.  Dinner that night found the amalgamated swarm venturing back into downtown Thermopolis to enjoy a combined Thai and Chinese feast that satiated all appetites.

The sun had set long before dinner had been consumed.  Upon returning to our mutual rented rooms those so wishing donned clothing suitable for bathing and mutual company was enjoyed in conversation or peaceful repose in the naturally heated waters.  This occasioned one of the few times that I had spent more than one entire twenty-four hour period at one source of mineral laden water and prior to departing for bed I noted to myself how refreshed I felt, something I attributed to the restorative qualities of this spring.  I went to my room to get horizontal and could not help myself from indulging in the cable television, something I purposefully lack at home.  I watched some episodes from the more recent series involving zombies and some older stuff relating to police procedure.  When I drifted off to sleep I felt relaxed and comfortable.  I had been plagued by a feeling of fatigue for much of this trip, and after such an excruciatingly taxing Summer of physical work perhaps this was exactly what I needed to recover my bearings, a nice slow day with moderate exertion.

Wyoming Peregrinations, Day 8, Gardiner, Montana to Thermopolis, Wyoming – October 21, 2016


The Lamar River in the valley of the same name, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

My final morning in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem found me packed and ready to depart by eight in the morning.  I bid adieu to my hosts and thanked them for their generosity at having stayed in a spare room while I played the part of tourist in and around Yellowstone National Park.  I then drove south from Gardiner, Montana, into Yellowstone National Park on the North Entrance Road.  Just before reaching 45th Parallel Picnic Area I pulled over and disembarked from the driver’s seat so that I could watch the waters of the Gardiner River flow by.  I thought of all the times I had driven by this location, sometimes stopping, and seen a variety of wildlife in this area.  Although in the past I had seen ospreys, elk, bison and bighorn sheep, today all was still excepting the rushing waters (and vehicular traffic) flowing by on their way to the confluence with the Yellowstone River a few miles distance.

As I turned at Mammoth Hot Springs eastbound onto the Grand Loop Road and drove towards Tower Junction, I thought often on my numerous visits and experiences that I have had over the last twenty years in the park, and how lucky I was to have those.  Sometimes I wish that I had been better able to capitalize on those efforts and parlay them into something more substantial than my lamentable career as a line cook.  However, that job does allow some flexibility that I most likely would not otherwise be obtainable and for that reason I am grateful.  There is so much to immerse oneself in here that I had to be careful on what I chose to stop and see, for my goal was to drive to Thermopolis, Wyoming, where I had a room reserved for the next two nights and would see a number of old friends.  Nonetheless, I planned on making a few small stops on my way through and out of the park.

My first stop, after the pull out on the Gardner River, was at Wraith Falls on Lupine Creek.  Being Autumn, the waters were low but the falls are still impressive in their own right.  Lupine Creek spills over a rocky cliff that spreads the flow out so that the water comes down as a big sheet.  After viewing the falls I wandered around nearby Lava Creek, exploring the natural setting, mostly interspersed lodgepole pine forest and open meadow, before returning to the car and driving on to the parking area near South Butte.  There, I admired the Washburn Range and Blacktail Deer Plateau, where I had previously watched wolves and elk interlocked in their eternal symbiotic relationship.  I gazed into the distance all the while memories coursed their way through my mind.  It was in this location, from the summit of South Butte, that I had, in June of Nineteen Ninety-Six, seen wolf 002M, at the time the alpha male of the Leopold Pack.  My first wild wolf sighting, I clearly remember him cruising up over a ridge, on a line just askew of our position, so that I got a clear view of his face before he dropped down out of sight.

My drive continued on the Grand Loop Road until I reached Tower Junction where I turned onto the Northeast Entrance Road and soon crossed the Yellowstone River.  Just after passing over the dilapidated bridge I pulled over at an unmarked parking area just under Junction Butte and near the confluence of the Yellowstone and Lamar Rivers.  This hidden trailhead I had used often in my days of wolf watching to access a crossing of the latter river.  Today I merely walked out a half a mile into the sagebrush and then to a cliff overlooking the former river, where I stared down to watch the waters flow by.  I hated to leave Yellowstone National Park after such a short visit, and found it easy to prolong my stay by these delaying tactics.  I continued my drive towards Cooke City, Montana, and made another stop just as I entered Lamar Valley.  Here, I pulled over and, stepping out of the car, took in the broad view of the valley as it drains the substantial waters of the Lamar River’s headlands.  I tarried for a bit of time but soon found myself continuing on my way until I stopped once again between Barronette and Abiathar Peaks where I wandered around in a meadow through which flows Soda Butte Creek.  I admired the yellowing grasses and the general Fall atmosphere, harbingers of Winters.  The willow were bare of leaves, exposing the red bark that makes them stand out along mountain creeks.

I left Yellowstone National Park via the Northeast Entrance and passed through the small hamlets of Silver Gate and Cooke City, Montana, before crossing Colter Pass on U.S. 212.  I decided to make one last short hike on the Russell Creek Trail No. 3 on the Gallatin National Forest.  The snows from the previous storm remained but only had packed up to a few inches.  I crossed the Clark’s Fork of the Yellowstone River just below where a confluence produces a name change.  A half a mile of hiking and I now followed the Broadwater River.  I enjoyed the snowy hike, finding many tracks of the forest denizens, until I reached the western shore of Kersey Lake.  The rugged Beartooth Mountains have many such lakes produced from glaciation.  Unlike what I am used to in Colorado, where lakes are often found at the head of a valley where glacial moraines have stopped up the nascent waters, here the lakes have been formed on a broad plateau, as if the ice had scooped out various depressions from the rock.  I found a dry place to sit, where the moderate sun had melted some of the snow, and sat in silent contemplation of the world around me.  The lake’s waters shimmied in the sun whenever our warming orb revealed itself from behind the heavy cloud cover, and I thought this a nice little piece of Rocky Mountain heaven.

Returning to the car, I continued my drive along U.S. 212, following the Clark’s Fork of the Yellowstone River downstream until I reached the junction with Wyoming 296, also known as the Chief Joseph Highway.  Chief Joseph was a Nez Perce tribal leader who led is people on a long flight from unwarranted persecution at the hands of the United States Army during the late Eighteen Seventies.  This is an extremely scenic highway and I was tempted to stop again at numerous locations but resisted that temptation in order to make mileage.  I did stop at the top of Dead Indian Pass, where the highway rises from the Clark’s Fork near Sunlight Creek and descends into Paint and Pat O’Hara Creeks.  These latter two are actually tributaries of the Clark’s Fork but are set in a semi-desert environment.  The rocks here are sedimentary layers that have been tilted and uplifted in the great orogeny that built the Rocky Mountains.  Where Wyoming 296 ends at its eastern terminus I turned to the south on Wyoming 120 and followed that highway up over a small pass that leads down into the Shoshone River basin.  I soon entered the City of Cody, Wyoming, and stopped to have a quick meal at a Chinese food restaurant ubiquitous in communities of this size.  I continued on my way, following the same road south of Cody, passing through the Bighorn Basin, mountains rimming the lowlands on all sides.  To the east, some seventy miles distant, I could see the Bighorn Mountains and to the west the Absaroka Range.  This landscape is epic and has a sense of grandeur about it.  There is so much that I want to see, experience and explore in this area that I have trouble enumerating it all.  I drove through Meeteetse and after another hour or so I entered Thermopolis at the southern end of Wyoming 120 and its junction with U.S. 20.

Here, I checked into my room at the Best Western, where the hot tub is not fueled by natural gas but rather is fed by hot waters from the nearby springs.  These springs are reputed to be the largest, by volume, hot springs in the world, and I took a bit of time to wander about the area to see for myself this immense discharge from the Earth.  Most of the area has been developed but a sense of the natural world pervades here and there.  In the distance could be seen various sedimentary strata, some of which is colored a deep red, and I found this place to exude a certain rough charm and comfort.  My friends soon arrived or had already done so, and there was much rejoicing.  I soon found myself bathing in the waters of Hot Springs State Park, and found myself grateful to the State of Wyoming for setting aside some of this natural phenomena to the public.  A find day I had had, and now it culminated with my relaxing immersion into the hot waters emitted directly from our planet, and I felt blessed to be there.

Wyoming Peregrinations, Day 7, Wolf Watching in Yellowstone National Park – October 20, 2016


People gathered to watch the Lamar Canyon Pack, on the Northeast Entrance Road along Soda Butte Creek

Watching wolves, or any other large game, in Yellowstone National Park, or elsewhere, requires diligence and fortitude.  My host in Gardiner, Montana, and I decided that this day would be as good as any other for an attempt at seeing the four-legged mammalian carnivores and thus we rose before dawn so that we could arrive in one of the prime areas to see the wild canines not long after first light.  En route, we stopped to check the situation out at South Butte and Hellroaring Slope, as well as Slough Creek, but, like most folks, we ended up in the Lamar Valley, which I suppose could be called the central location for those wishing to see the lobos.

Wolves have a long contentious affair with our human society dating back to the time, some ten to twenty thousand years ago as a rough number, when we abandoned the hunter-gatherer society of our forefathers to practice confined agricultural.  The growing of crops didn’t change our relationship to Canis lupus but when we began to confine domestic animals then suddenly wolves became a serious threat to our well-being.  That continued, and continues, up to modern times, including an attempt by the Federal Government to eradicate the species in the early Twentieth Century.  For a number of reasons, our attitude changed over the last few decades and progressive thinkers realize that all species have a right to life inherent to their biological prerogative.  Therefore, in the long convoluted story of all things wolf, that same Federal Government declared the wolf to be endangered under the Endangered Species Act and did subsequently restore a population of the beasts to both Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho while concurrently allowing other established populations to expand.  These acts did not and do not sit well with the ranching community nor those who feel that the government’s environmental regulations are obstreperous relative to the good that they do.  However, the community weal that is the United States seems to support the presence of wolves and they remain, flourishing more than anytime in the last one hundred years.

My own fascination with the animals began in my youth although it remained latent until I was in college.  I feel fortunate to have been raised as a child in the Nineteen Seventies when environmental education and exposure to the wild world was possible for even children of the city like myself.  As part of the elucidation of my youthful mind I developed an abhorrence towards human caused species extinction and am a strong supporter of the Endangered Species Act to this day.  While conducting my studies and earning a bachelor of science in engineering I developed a specific fascination towards wolves that developed into a passion and later became the focus of my life for about fifteen years.  Thus, I had in the past watched the wolves of Yellowstone National Park as a biological technician.  My passion consumed itself for a variety of reasons and I no longer directly participate in the greater world of canine conservation but I yet remain enthralled by the wolf.  The wolf also directly led to my awakening towards the natural world and I now consider myself an amateur naturalist who enjoys every aspect of our world whether it be flora, fauna, mineral, hydrologic or atmospheric phenomena night and day.

Today, like most of the days I had previously spent in the Lamar Valley of Wyoming, I enjoyed watching the buffalo, elk and myriad small creatures that make their home here.  Apparently, the wolves, the Lamar Canyon Pack, were somewhere within the valley but nobody had seen them.  We checked out numerous pullouts  and used our scopes to examine the landscape to no avail.  As I had in days past I also looked up towards the Fossil Forest and the petrified remains of trees, mostly the trunks, that had been mineralized due to their being caught in a pyroclastic flow.  Finally, between Soda Butte Cone and The Footbridge, somebody found them across the creek, up on the slopes of Mount Norris, in a heavy forest and mostly sound asleep.  I felt extremely gratified to see this pack, descendants of wolves that I had seen some fifteen to twenty years ago.  A couple of the pack members wanly wandered from one spot to the next, breaking up their sleep in the process, but otherwise they remained still.  The alpha female, 926F, could be identified, and that aspect, the ability to denote the individuals within the greater population, makes Yellowstone National Park almost unique for the wolf watching community and scientists who study the animal.

The morning and early afternoon passed by as we all watched the quiet goings-on of the wolf pack.  I gratefully talked with many people whom I remember from my time there, in the park.  My host and I then drove back to Gardiner, Montana, and I passed a quiet afternoon catching up on chores and such.  Towards evening I drove north of Gardiner on U.S. 89 to the McConnell Fishing Access on the Yellowstone River, where I walked down to the bank and watched the sun set over the flowing waters.  I had had an eventful day in a low-key sort of way and now it culminated with me watching the park’s waters, those that originate on the east side of the Continental Divide, flow by.  I made a blessing for the wolves and their continued well-being, as well as for all the creatures that inhabit the Earth.  This would be my last night in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, and I even now feel fortunate to have had these few days to visit.

Wyoming Peregrinations, Day 6, Bushwhacking on Mount Everts – October 19, 2016


Bull elk skull and antlers on Mount Everts

The weather remained blustery but nonetheless relatively mild as my host and I took off on an bushwhacking trek on the undulating eastern slopes of Mount Everts.  We drove up from Gardiner, Montana, and entered Yellowstone National Park.  First parking one car at the Rescue Creek Trailhead before driving across the state line into Wyoming, we then parked adjacent to the trailhead for Wraith Falls.  Across the road and beyond a broad meadow lay a short ridge and over to this we began our trek, climbing up the grassy hillside and into the bountiful ecological world of Yellowstone National Park.

What I especially note on these treks across this landscape free of barbed-wire fencing, livestock and the typical human avarice used to justify the consumptive exploitation of natural resources, is that I am able to find things that otherwise lack elsewhere.  One of the best examples is when I find antler sheds from elk here in the park, whereas at home, in the Gunnison Country of Colorado, the state allows the collection of these same antlers for those seeking to turn this natural artifact into pecuniary gain.  The fencing in the same country causes restriction of game movement and the cattle there destroy water resources to the detriment of both the public and wildlife.

My host cum guide and I cross the ridge and walk around an unnamed lake set in a small vale.  Like much of the sky, it is slate colored, and adds to the autumnal tinge of things.  The drainages here are challenging to follow as the land is formed into small hummocks but we continue on a generally upward course until we pass to the east of the high point.  Wildlife is scantly visible but sign lies everywhere we look in the form of scat or trails.  The vegetation here is mostly grassy meadow surrounded by sagebrush strewn hillsides all interspersed with groves of Douglas fir.  A few aspen are scattered about across the landscape and have lost their leaves in preparation for Winter, just as the grasses and herbs have already turned to a dull yellow.

I am thrilled to be walking here, not only far from roads but from the established trail system, where the land has a wilder feel to it.  We are both glad for the company as this is the type of place where finding a grizzly bear would not be unlikely but we see no sign of the great bear.  In a pretty meadow we do finally come across some bison grazing about the hillsides.  We sit and watch for a bit and pass to their west before we reach the north end of the plateau that is Mount Everts.  The nice thing about bushwhacking in a place like this, where wildlife, especially the big game, are allowed freedom of movement, is that there are often game trails the go to the places you want to go to.  Thus, we followed one such ready-made trail down past McMinn Bench and onto the flats north of Mount Everts where we intersected the Rescue Creek Trail.  Between the former and latter, however, we stop to inspect a bull elk’s skull complete with a full rack and note a set of interesting tracks nearby.  Upon examination it is concluded that these must have been made by a wolf scratching in their lupine fashion after leaving a scent mark.

My host is an expert tracker and I doubt that I would have seen this sign had I been by myself.  I love knowing that the predators are here and exerting their influence on the ungulates, ultimately keeping them and the ecosystem at large fit and healthy.  We stay here for a bit, in this forested nook, to take in the scene.  The skull is old, and perhaps the wolf, or wolves, were revisiting an old kill from the previous Winter.  That part, of course, is mere speculation on my part, and I feel blessed to be allowed to merely make that suggestion, traipsing about on this sacred land finding its hidden sign that denotes the passing of the critters who make their home here.

We depart to the aforementioned flats where we wander around on the flats just above the Gardner River.  Unbelievably, my host finds an old arrowhead in the cobble strewn meadow.  We speculate on its age and who left it, and under what conditions.  The find highlights an already magnificent day.  Hiking up to and through the rolling Mount Everts landscape is always a fine day and today lives up to that expectation.  The arrowhead is replaced so that others may have the opportunity, if not the definite expectation, to perhaps make the same find that we did.  We meander about, finding rings of rocks that suggest the area may have been inhabited at one point but pinpointing an age is impossible.  Is it truly prehistoric, or a relic from the days when the United States Army occupied this area in its mission, prior to the establishment of the National Park Service, to protect park resources?  Probably the later, if I had to guess, and interesting regardless.

We hike the short distance along the Rescue Creek Trail and cross the bridge over the Gardner River, still an imposing body of water even in the low water of Autumn, and finish our outing.  I look at the land and flora, noting how autumnal the entire scene appeared to me.  This is an interesting corner of the Rocky Mountains, yet I reflect on how similar in some ways the scene compares to that which I am more used to in Colorado.  There are differences in tone, but I think to myself that I am blessed to be in these mountains whether I am in New Mexico or Montana or someplace between.  The hike concluded, we drive back to Gardiner, Montana, and enjoy a quiet evening looking out over the wild world of Yellowstone National Park, a place that I feel privileged to visit every so often.

Wyoming Peregrinations, Day 5, Hiking on Sepulcher Mountain – October 18, 2016


Near the summit of Sepulcher Mountain in Yellowstone National Park on a blustery day

Although the weather in the northern portion of Yellowstone National Park hadn’t been quite as precipitous as that in the southern, where I had passed through the previous day, it remained yet blustery.  After a long Summer season working hard and hiking likewise, I found myself exhausted and somewhat recalcitrant to hike and explore as I had planned.  Thus, I had risen late, and consumed a leisurely breakfast with my host in Gardiner, Montana, where the comestibles, coffee and conversation nearly thwarted my planned hike up to Sepulcher Mountain.  This summit in the Northern Range of the park I recollect from my years of working here as a biological technician has a decidedly fine view of the surrounding mountain ranges.  I also remember there being an amazing overlook of the Yellowstone River as it flows north towards Yankee Jim Canyon.  Finally, after much indecision on my part, I drove up to Mammoth Hot Spring and parked below and adjacent to Mammoth Terraces, the most renown geothermal display in this area.  Just after noon I walked past the Sepulcher Mountain Trailhead and commenced hiking.

Just getting beyond the first hundred feet presented an immediate challenge and resulting detour.  A herd of elk grazed along the trail and I didn’t want to move them out of the way, so I climbed a nearby hillside and walked around them in a large arc, returning to the trail just below the point where a small creek emanates from the nearby hillsides.  Leaving the boiling waters behind I began to hike up, past a trail junction, through the forest of Douglas fir that I remember from having lived here two decades prior.  There are Douglas fir in Colorado but for reasons I can’t elucidate upon there is a subtle difference between the forests created in different locations by the same species of conifer.  I have always wondered about this and as I walked up the trail to the next junction, with the Beaver Loops Trail, I pondered the potential reasons be it climate, elevation, variations in sub-species or some other cause I have not enumerate.  I continued upwards, admiring the landscape relatively unaltered by livestock and barbed-wire fences.  I soon reached the third trail junction, this with the Claggett Butte Trail, and continued on my way, past the dried grasses cured for the oncoming Winter, which, judging by the early snows, would soon arrive in earnest.

As I gained elevation the surrounding landscape became more visible.  I could see Mount Everts’ western wall, where gullies cut at regular intervals into the soft Cretaceous shale beneath the cap of hardened igneous rock, the Huckleberry Ridge Tuft, and then beyond to the Washburn Range.  I could also make out the Absoraka Mountains but much of the range, especially farther east, the clouds created hazy conditions precluding clear viewing.  I passed through pristine forest and occasionally that which had succumbed to fire, although I often found, simultaneously, saplings growing up from the hillsides.  I found one small pond that entranced me with its beauty, and I thought that these small refuges for the numerous flora and fauna unable to live elsewhere are practically non-existent where not protected by law.

As my elevation continued to increase I eventually passed into the higher country where the snows had accumulated.  There wasn’t that much, a couple of inches or so, and perhaps three or four at the summit.  Reaching that top most point became a challenge with the wind blowing but the gusts were relatively minor.  I admired the views of Electric Peak and the remainder of the Gallatin Range that I could see.  The trail makes a large loop so I decided to hike down below the snowy slopes and find a place out of the wind where I could sit comfortably and espy the landscape.  Thus, I continued past the summit and fell of the south side of the mountain towards Glen Creek and Gardner’s Hole.  About half of the way down to the creek and the Sportsman Lake Trail I found my place and duly sat to watch the world go by.  Afterwards, I walked around a bit in a nearby forest, examining the dried vegetation, attempting to identify what grew here by seed pod.

I hiked down the trail and into Gardner’s Hole.  Here I began to follow the Snow Pass Trail up to its namesake.  Beyond that pass I would descend down to Pinyon Terrace but in the meantime I noticed sinuous Glen Creek lined with red-barked willow.  In this place the sun broke through the clouds in earnest and cast an Autumnal glow upon the yellowing grass.  Hiking up to the pass I took note of the bear tracks on the trail, reminded myself that I walked about Grizzly Country and took heed to make myself known to any critters that may be ahead of me.  It felt good to wander about in land that is truly wild in the sense that all of the components of the ecosystem are intact and allowed movement without impedance.  No landscape wide fencing hems in the elk and bison, the waters flow unimpeded and large predators fulfill their purpose, and all this combines with the geothermal setting in the Rocky Mountains to produce what is in my mind a magical land.

I hiked down Snow Pass, on a trail that I had passed over numerous times before in days gone by.  By the time I arrived at Pinyon Terrace the Sun had begun to set and shadows had been cast over the landscape beyond.  I took time to admire the live geothermal activity, forming new terraces of travertine limestone.  The waters are colorful, and the various algae color the newly formed rock.  A sulphurous smell wafts from the steaming vents and I thrill at the sight of a live Earth.  I follow this trail back past the Upper Terraces and soon enough reach my waiting car just as darkness ensues.  The elk have moved elsewhere I a fear not disturbing them as I walk out of the wood after a full afternoon’s exploration.