Monday, September 22, 2014

Just another day in The Park

People who live in San Francisco or New York refer to their hometown as "The City." Here, Yellowstone is just "The Park."

When we're not touring first-timers, we have the luxury of visiting The Park at our leisure. This year, between an overloaded work schedule and an ill-timed decision to finish my college degree, we had not found a day to go. Usually, we make three, four, even five trips a season. Yesterday was our first and probably only visit of 2014.

September is the best time to visit The Park. The leaves are turning and the rut is on. When we arrived at our favorite picnic spot in a meadow on the banks of the Madison River, we set up our camp chairs, brought out the sandwiches and wine, and just sat. In the distance we could here a bull elk bugling his challenge to other males looking to create a harem -- it echoed off the steep mountain walls, its source somewhere deep in the trees. That would have been enough to make it a worthwhile trip. He sounded perhaps a half-dozen times during our 90-minute lunch.

After lunch, we began a slow drive toward the Upper Geyser Basin, home to Old Faithful. Nearly there, I saw some movement out of the corner of my eye and saw the car in front of us pull over and stop. What I first thought was a bison turned out to be a lone male grizzly making his way along the Firehole River. Grab camera with the long lens, make sure the f-stop, exposure time and ASA settings are right, and start shooting. Soon, there was the predictable bear jam. As the griz got closer, nervous rangers finally shooed us back into our cars, but we had 30 minutes or so of rare bear-watching.

Next was a stop at the Old Faithful Inn for a little sip of something at the lounge. It was still early -- not yet 4 p.m. -- when we began to head back toward the west entrance. Again, just above the spot where the Firehole River descends into its eponymous canyon, I caught a flash of brown and saw a young but clearly fierce bull elk with a small harem on the other side of the river. We pulled over and by the time I walked back he had crossed to a small island, his harem waiting patiently on the other side. We all need some down time. He looked up when the bugle of a competing bull echoed through the area, but it wasn't close enough to cause any real concern. He went back to grazing and we headed on home.

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