Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Yellowstone Part 1: the Discovery

My initial impression of Ranger and Bear interactions were WAY off thanks to this cartoon.
When I was a kid, I loved the adventures of Yogi Bear, and the park of Jellystone. I had no clue that it was based on the real park of Yellowstone. (Come to find out that there in fact multiple real world "Jellystone" parks people can go to, but that's a future adventure). 

It was when I was later in Boy Scouts, that the subject of Yellowstone came up from conversations of others in my troop. This was around the time we were all preparing to go to Philmont (a high adventure base in New Mexico). 
The talks of Old Faithful, the wildlife, and the immense size of the park, all piqued my interest. And come to find out, one thing that was shared between Philmont and Yellowstone was that each had sizeable herds of bison that roamed freely. I remember that at some point, it was mentioned that perhaps Yellowstone could be a Scouting trip in the next few years. But, within a year of coming back from Philmont, our troop merged with another local troop. Another year went by and after achieving my Eagle Scout rank, I left my Boy Scout troop and any chance to go to Yellowstone.

Quite a few years later, the chance to go to Yellowstone finally came along, but I found myself being a bit hesitant to want to go. Being a freelancer, and still working to get aspects of my business up and running, I was nervous, if not reluctant. Going on a trip with family to Yellowstone of course seemed fun, but I still had my misgivings about going. Thankfully, I came to my senses and within a few weeks, found myself sitting in the KCI terminal waiting for my flight, starting up a new sketchbook.
(Left) Sketching other people around me in quick ink pen renders. (Right) Standard "out the window iPhone not really Instagram worthy" picture.
I had debated on what to take with me, what if any art supplies, whether or not to take my journal, things like that. I finally settled on a small sketchbook, some watercolour supplies (which did not get used), and none of my larger camera equipment, opting just to stick with my phone to record video clips, audio notes and take pictures.
A restoration of a 1918 Curtiss Jenny JN-4D - used often as a trainer for pilots in WW1, the first plane to fly airmail, and was also the mainstay of the U.S. Signal Corps.
The flight from KC to Denver wasn't too bad. There were some cool museum like displays about aviation at the airport that helped pass the time while waiting to board for the second flight to land in Bozeman, Montana. I wish more places would have things like this up for people to learn from and see. I mean history is literally around us all the time, but at times it takes a slight nudge to remind people that it's there.

The second flight wasn't as comfortable, in fact, I am here to tell you, riding the next to the last row of seats during turbulence is as claustrophobic and annoying as it sounds. BUT, at the end of the flight, I was not only beyond elated to get off the plane, but was eager to see what Yellowstone would be like.
I felt like I was on the set of every nature documentary made for the Discovery Channel that featured waterfalls, trees, and bears.
I want to start off with saying that no photo, no video, will prepare you for just how massive, how sense encompassing, and majestic Yellowstone actually is. Before you even get to the entry point in Mammoth Springs, the imposing mountain range, and the seemingly even more massive skyline, began to set a sense of ease and peace for me.

After checking out the town of Mammoth Springs for a bit, Lamar Valley was where it was decided to try and see some of the wildlife in the area. The drive out to the valley is some of the most gorgeous tree lined areas I've ever driven, and the winding roads can take a while to get around, but all are well maintained and have pull off areas in the event anyone felt like taking photos or stopping just to sight see.
Lamar Valley has seemingly endless low mountains and hills, and wide grassland areas with bison and as a few had seen, some coyotes (possibly wolves) lurking on the other side of the herd that was grazing at sunset.
From the Yellowstone Facebook groups as well as advice from the rangers in the park, the best times to not only see most of the park but also the most plentiful amounts of wildlife were either early in the morning or anytime from dusk till sunset (that's because the animals are out, and not a lot of humans are, I'm not kidding, the park becomes barren of people right around 4pm and onwards). I quickly learned that it was easy to see where a bear or wolf sighting was happening, because without exception groups of people would start to park in the pull off areas to get photos or just watch with binoculars.
Having grown up watching westerns with my parents, I kept thinking I'd see cowboys near the horizon.
Spending time watching the sun set, the bison herd graze, I had memories of the bison herds from Philmont and how much time had passed between then and this moment. No lie, it was a bit surreal, and I felt a bit of melancholy mix in with the wonder and happiness I had sitting there as cooler temperatures rolled in. 

Some of it may have been because of the time that had passed, but I reminded myself of some of the stuff I'd been working with my therapist on. To be in the moment, to appreciate where I was, and what was happening. On the way back to the hotel, there was a small road that was pretty easy to pass by, but at the end of that small drive was a very cool geological relic.
This lone Petrified Tree is the lone survivor of an Eocene era eruption, around 30 million years ago. There had others that had stood near this one, but relic collectors and vandals had managed to destroy those (hence the reason this one was fenced in). So this stone giant stands as the sole memory of a more turbulent geological time in Yellowstone.
There are a few different phone apps that provide information and guided GPS navigation voiced tours, but even those do not cover all of the minutia and out of the way things to see in the park. I can't stress enough that the more time you take to explore, the more you'll discover.

After checking out the Petrified Tree, it was time to head back to the hotel. On the drive back, we all noticed that it was about 10:30 pm, and though the forested areas were very dark, the sun did not seem to have set. No kidding, the sky was still a very faint light blue and not until about 11:15 pm did the sky actually darken up like a normal night sky. I'm not sure why but I have a feeling it had to do with the elevation and the refractive lighting from the other sides of the mountain range.
Futurama is always a welcome way to end any day of hiking and nature appreciation.
The next day would be starting out around 7am, to get out before the crowds would be crazy. Come back for the second part of my time at Yellowstone.

Until next time, remember to support artists and local businesses. Be kind to your fellow beings and always take the path less traveled. We all may live in times uncertain, but kindness, understanding, and believing in the good that is in most each and every one of us is what can bring about better days!

Mario, the Artisan Rogue
Illustrator, Voice Actor, Writer, Animal Rights Activist

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