Friday, May 30, 2008 -- Great Falls, MT
This past Tuesday, while in Bozeman, we got an early start and headed into Yellowstone National Park. Brother Bill was our guide for the day. Our route took us from Bozeman, over to Livingston, then South through a 40 mile long valley formed by the Northward flowing Yellowstone River, to Gardiner, MT near the border with Wyoming. Gardiner was the first public access point to Yellowstone Park and is still billed as the only gate open all year long.
As we started, the weather was rainy with low clouds. But as we neared the Park, the clouds lifted and the rain stopped. It was mostly cloudy the rest of the day, but the sun seemed to understand when we needed a little more light for pictures.
A late spring and some additional snow in the past week or two kept at least one high mountain road pass closed. So instead of making the loop from Mammoth to Norris to Canyon Village to Tower Junction and back to Mammoth, we decided to go as far as Canyon Village, see the two Yellowstone Falls, and then retrace our route back to Mammoth and Gardiner. All along the way we stopped often to see what we could see.
The character of the Park changes depending on the time of year, the weather, and the variable crush of visitors. This is the first time I've been here in the spring. Melting snow usually fills the streams this time of year and the waterfalls are more dramatic and exciting than ever. The bison and elk are shedding their winter coats and look a little ragged. Plants and trees were everywhere extruding new growth in a variety of colors and shades. Although I was a little surprised at how many visitors were here on this post-holiday Tuesday, I'll bet it was still a lot fewer than will be here a month from now.
There were moments we were alone -- no cars driving by, no people crushing to get that special photo -- just us alone with the view, sounds, and smell of thousands of acres of valleys, mountains, and rushing streams -- all to ourselves if only for a few minutes. What I felt is hard to explain. It's a combination of wonderment and spiritualism combined with a sense of disbelief -- how did all this happen? How did it all come to be?
The big Yellowstone fire was 20 years ago, and evidence is everywhere. Many hills and mountainsides look like they've had a buzz-cut that was just starting to grow out. Short young pine trees are growing as fast as they can but it'll be another 20 or more years before the forest will cover the slopes.
What we're seeing here is the circle of life. Change -- constant change. Change can happen fast, as with fire, and change can happen slowly, as the trees grow back. One should be cautious about applying value to it all. It's not "good" or "bad". It just is what it is.
And what it is -- is simply amazing.