Hills to deep red plateaus. Rich farmland sprinkled with cattle. Back to flat covered in scrub brush. Road signs warn of open range and I’m in the middle of a great western movie. I realize the iconic symbol is the cowboy riding the bucking horse, but I was not expecting this.
We drove from the south eastern tip all the way to the north western tip of Wyoming not to miss Grand Teton and Yellowstone. As the plateaus grew steeper we could eventually see the glacier peaks of the grand Teton. This is a perfect example why I’m glad to not be driving. My eyes were glued to this view. Road, what road? I am staring and in awe until Colin breaks the trance, which direction? Left or right? I take a guess since I haven’t been paying much attention to the map, let’s try left. As it turns out left was a good choice. We can see a pull-out ahead filled with cars and people jumping out pointing to the trees below. This is a sure sign that wildlife has been spotted. Grabbing my camera I join the growing group and notice the scrub trees shaking. Just over the top a set of thick brown antlers pokes through the branches and a quiet excitement runs over the group. Not even bothered by the cameras and whispers, a moose comes from behind the brush for all to see.
Cruising through the park we start to check out camping options. Campgrounds fill up fast in the summer season so we settle into a busy place just outside the park boundary with the grand range in full view. The woman checking us in flashes a bright yellow sheet in front of me and beings a speech that she has probably spewed several times, this is grizzly bear counrty. Now she has my attention. Please do not leave food outside, if in a tent use the secure food bins throughout the campground. She points to the long list of items that should NOT be left outside. For a moment I think about all the items I can leave outside to see a bear. Side note: I really want to see a bear. The amount of time I have spent in bear country I have only seen one bear. It was a camping trip growing up. My dad somehow convinced mom to take the whole family on a two week camping trip that would cover the upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan. At one spot we hiked in a mile and I remember reading the pamphlets once we reached the cabin that warned of bear. And of course the list of items to not leave outside. Shortly there after I’m outside with toothpaste and perfume. Come on bear! But nothing. The entire trip my dad would yell “bear” and we would jump and look…but nothing. This joke was getting old as we were on the last leg of the trip heading home on the highway when again the bear call from dad, “look a bear!” and no one moved, no one believed him until his voice changed and sounded more hysterical. We glanced from the window and sure enough a black bear was running across the road. I was 10 and that was the last time. Now, here I am in grizzly counrty and I am ready. Not as ready as Colin as we leave the campground and head to the store in search of bear spray. There is an entire section in the store dedicated to bear spray. Some have an accuracy range of 30 ft, some come with holsters, and all come with a 2% active ingredient of capsain which does the trick when being attacked by a grizzly. We chose range of 30ft, no holster.
Yellowstone is just north of Teton where we spend 2 full days exploring. The scenery is like nothing we have seen to this point. Geysers blowing streams of water setting off steam that floods the road and smells like eggs. Yellowstone is a land built from thermal activity and the evidence is everywhere. Pools of deep blue bubbling water surrounded by rings of gold, deep green and bronze. It doesn’t look real. A tourist walking next to us must be thinking the same thing as he sticks his finger in the water to confirm, yep that’s really hot water. Ah, don’t you just love the idiot tourist. The ones who seem to miss all the flashy warning signs. They miss the rangers saying please stay on the trail and away from wild life. They miss the friendly reminders that are posted On every roadway, slow down bison area. We were right in the bison area when a car jam stops us and in the distance we can see the herd clogging the road. This is one time I don’t mind being stopped in traffic. For the most part people are curious and respectful. Not just for the animals, but for others who want to get a better view and perfect shot (camera not gun). So people slowly move ahead to let others see. Then there goes the idiot, with his professional camera strapped around his neck, out of his car walking toward the herd. As if these huge creatures are not close enough, this guy wants to feel the bison breath. Colin and I are watching this unfold and praying that the bison takes him out. We are hoping for the image on the warning poster of the man flying through the air from the hoist of a bison’s horns. Go on buddy, get closer we whisper. And we know others are thinking the same thing. He gets his shot and seems to also get the herd on a good day, they don’t pay him any mind, damn. You might be wondering what is the difference between the idiot tourist and me wanting to see bear. The difference is I am not breaking any rules and have not left any of the items on the list outside…yet.
From the geysers we stroll through the grand canyon of Yellowstone with water falls crashing over 134 feet down sending mist in the air and water rushing down the river. There are still signs of the forest fire of 88 that swept through leaving branchless trees that poke out like sticks between the lodge pole pine trees that cover most of the mountain surface. Huge prairie fields take up the spaces in between and we scan the land for movement. The sun begins to set and we are on a winding road which traces Yellowstone river. Cars stopped ahead and I see two elk posing for a picture. They are laying on a patch of grass in the river and perched up to show their young rack and everyone is staring more than taking pictures. The elk scan the crowd but don’t move and we are all excited. Yes, Yellowstone you are amazing. Ps still no bear sighting.