It’s been quite a week. We’ve had exciting weather. A couple of those mountain thunderstorms that are so dangerously beautiful. You know you should stay away from the windows, but you just can’t help yourself. Flashes and spider-webs across an angry sky cracking with fury. Fortunately, it all came with lots of rain, so any ground strikes were extinguished quickly.
This was followed by breezy, sunny, partly cloudy blue sky days that never got quite hot enough to need more than an open window or vent — as long as there was no rain in the forecast! I came back to quite a mess the other day, after waiting out a storm in the employee dorm day room. I had left a couple of vents open in the Hovel. Only a little. It was enough.
I finally got out for hike before my work break ended. A little 2.2 mile loop from the parking lot at West Thumb Geyser basin, up to a point overlooking the West Thumb of Yellowstone Lake and the Absarokas, where The Park ends. The trail passes by some steam pots and hot springs and spitting sizzling holes in the ground that aren’t cordoned off or boardwalked around. This is where the warnings about the instability of the ground around these things are relevant. I stayed on the trail!
Getting up to the overlook and back, the trail goes through meadow and forest and I forgot how close I was to a very well-traveled road. I’d picked the route on purpose. You may have heard or read that we had a bear incident a week or so ago here in The Park. Only about 30 miles or so north of me. A tragic end for both human and bear [see footnote].
The road, the eastern part of the Grand Loop, had been my excuse not to strap on the bear spray when I put the binoculars on my belt. I won’t do it again. It was stupid. I was spooked for most of the walk. I had assumed that such a short trail, so close to the Grand Loop Rd, would be heavily traveled and that I would have plent of company. That was a bad assumption. I never saw another person except for the first/last 500 yards of the trail. Several groups started and got as far as the road they had to cross to the trailhead, and the sign listing bear precautions…
So, there I was, alone in the woods with no bear spray or even the whistle my friend, Lissa, gave me. Only my bravado and my voice to keep the bears away (Yo! Bears! I’m coming through here!) And my antler tipped walking stick. Perhaps I could go all kung-fu on a bear and send it packing?
On the way back in from the lookout, I saw evidence of downed logs freshly torn apart by a probable bear or bears in search of grubs and insects. (Yo! Bears! I’ll be outta here shortly! Y’all have a good day!)
I saw no bears. I saw no other critters either, except for a raven or two and the chipmunks. A dear friend of mine has noted how many times I’ve talked about the chipmunks, suggesting that it would even make for an impressive word count. I promise you, in terms of numbers, the chipmunks are impressive. If I had this many elk or bear or bison scampering around the Hovel, I would be writing about that, too!
Next time, bear spray. I’ll enjoy the walk a lot more, I think.
Both yesterday and today. the Absarokas have been partially to completely obscurred by smoke from the fires out west. Without mountains to provide perspective, the lake seems to go east forever, disappearing into a smoky haze. No nearly as beautiful and definitely not as inviting as when the air is clean and there are only mists disguising the shores.
Critters. Yesterday morning we had an elk and her young calf visit the campground. The calf was very curious about the people walking with noisy little 4-legged animals, but stayed close to mom. Yesterday afternoon, on my way back to work after dinner break, a magnificent red fox was standing in the road, staring at my truck, before he ran off into the woods.
What a place. As I told a friend: I am besotted. I don’t want to leave. But as sure as rain turns to snow up here (and piles up 70-90 inches) and the lake turns to ice, I’ll have to face reality and the end of the summer. Until then, I’ll be giving her long, adoring glances and breathing deeply of her scent during those moments she hasn’t taken my breath completely away from me.
Footnote: I spoke with the folks in the Backcountry Office at Grant and it appears the genetleman who was killed had violated several guidelines. He was hiking alone, offtrail by 1/2 mile, carried no bear spray, and was wearing headphones. He may have felt safe because he was so close to a well–traveled road and a populated area. The mama bear was euthanized — for being a bear. The cubs will live the rest of their lives in a zoo. There are no happy endings to this story.