Friday, April 25, 2014

Geysers, Grizzlies, and Gray Jays

Sheepeater Cliffs.
Its interesting to think that when Yellowstone National Park was created it was not really for the purpose of wildlife at all.  It was all about the forests, geysers, mudpots, mountains, waterfalls, hot springs and so on. 
Grotto Geyser.
The place needed preserved from commercialization and ruin, but the animals were just sort of a plus.  This is particularly interesting because I now think that wildlife is possibly the greatest components of attraction for many people who come to the park.  It is definitely an attraction for me, but not the strongest one, I don't think.
These two nearly parallel streams in the Artist's Paintpots area were totally different colors due to different mineral composition in the water.  I thought it was tremendously interesting.
I am sure it is the blessing of living in Montana my whole life, but I feel I am more enraptured by the geysers which rocket countless gallons of water into the sky for often hundreds of feet or the multicolored array of microscopic life which color the many pools and hot springs into unbelievable, rainbowed, tropical bodies of water.  I've never seen anything like that before.  
Grand Prismatic Spring.
Meanwhile, most of the places I've ever hiked are in bear country.  There are marmots in the rimrocks north of my house.  I have seen elk and bison and bald eagles my whole blessed life--certainly not every day or anything, but still...as long as I can remember.  I have never seen mud boil anywhere but Yellowstone though.  I have never seen geysers anywhere but there.  That is newest to me and so most dazzling and miraculous.  I could watch geysers all day long.  I try to memorize the colors of each hot spring and pool.  But, then, as if that wasn't good enough there is the wildlife, too...like a cherry on top of a spectacular sundae. 
A there-is-a-bison-in-the-middle-of-the-road traffic jam.
And, oh, how my breath still catches in my throat occasionally at the sheer volume of wildlife in the park.  They are seemingly everywhere you look.  Each meadow reveals something--so it seems.  Each hike flush with a symphony of birds.  Massive herds of elk just yards in the Roosevelt Arch.  Gigantic black ravens circling the seating area at Old Faithful.  Coyotes across the Firehole River in the Upper Geyser Basin.  Eye-catching mountain blue birds as common as sparrows in town fly every whichway. 
Bighorn sheep near the Yellowstone River Picnic Area.
I feel such amazement myself--despite the fact I've seen coyotes and things my whole life--that I find myself wondering how people who've never seen these creatures before do not just burst at the seams with delight!   Its sometimes astonishing for me, like when we watched an aerial battle between a bald eagle and osprey, both swooping and turning with powerful speed and grace that was just breathtaking--but I can only imagine if it was all brand new.  Perhaps it’s like what I feel about watching geysers erupting for me.  A spectacular and spiritually charged sense of unreality.  Or maybe like how it felt when we watched those wolves hunting last year.  Magic and wonder.  Sheer delight.  A sense of privileged and honor at being able to witness life playing out in such a sublime, unfathomable place in such beautiful and bizarre ways.
Grotto Geyser.
But, its not all moose and wolves in the park.  Mammals are cool, but for me, birds are even cooler.  We stop and watch the small birds along trails and roads and people all gawk as they drive by, but never stop...there are no bears or elk or anything big and impressive that they can see and so they continue on by.  I am dazzled by the small, sometimes more so than the opposite.  It like a hidden gem when I can find these amazing, slight creatures who are always so adept at hiding and moving quickly.  Its not every day that I see mountain chickadees--the masked bandit cousins to the black capped variety that live in my yard.  A couple years we saw our first ever harlequin ducks and in 2013 our first Williamson's sapsucker.  Small is beautiful.  And so often underappreciated.
Gray Jay.
We did start one bird frenzy when we were stopped and observing a pair of sandhill cranes though.  A half dozen or so other groups of people stopped and joined us.  But, that is not all too surprising as sandhills are quite large...a bird "worthy" of taking note of and easy to spot, one which can be observed without binoculars.  They are stunning.  As a side note, sandhills stain their feathers that rust color with iron rich soil while preening themselves.  They are naturally grey feathered.
Common Mergansers (female and male).
I love watching wildlife.  I always have and I always will.  Sometimes at Yellowstone though it can be a bit intense.  I enjoy it as a personal experience.  I do not enjoy watching people get senselessly close to wild animals.  Or the absolute madness that ensues when there are big game near the roadside.  But, you can get away from all that just by getting on your feet and hitting the trails.  And then Yellowstone seems to have more wonders than could possibly be experienced.  We watched seven major geyser eruptions and many more smaller eruptions in one single solitary day.  We added two new birds to our lifelists two weekends in a row last year.  Its like paradise.  I love it there.
Morning Glory Pool.
The landscape and geology is so dynamic and expansive.  The wildlife so abundant and diverse.  We're planning our first park trip of 2014 at the moment over my birthday.  I can't really think of any other place I'd like to kick-off my 30th year of living this blessed life.  I am bubbling with excitement....like a mud pot. 
Boiling mud at the Artist's Paintpots.

2 comments:

  1. Your wild areas are truly breathtaking... it's on my bucket list of places to see.

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  2. And boy do I know how blessed I am to live a days drive from Glacier and a hop, skip, and a jump from Yellowstone. They amaze me ceaselessly. I hope you are able to see them for yourself someday despite the distance. Matt and I are going to Bryce, Zion, and Grand Canyon National Parks this year and are SUPER excited to see more of these national treasures.

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