“Our remnants of wilderness will yield bigger values to the nation’s character and health than they will to its pocketbook, and to destroy them will be to admit that the latter are the only values that interest us.” Aldo Leopole
Yesterday dawned clear. The weather promised to be sunny through at least early afternoon with thunderstorms possible later in the day. We packed lunch and drove into Yellowstone to scout a route for our Day Hiking the Wild Yellowstone course. We planned to do our third and final preparatory scout. It is important to hike where we plan to take a group—one never knows trail conditions in late spring/early summer. Are there downed trees? High water crossings? Snow fields? Safety and professionalism require feet-on-the-ground knowledge of the area. And so, off we went to check things out
After stopping at the Visitor Center to check on BMA’s (Bear Management Area), to avoid hiking in closed areas, we drove to the Yellowstone River Picnic Area. The first part of this hike is on trail, affording views of the Yellowstone River. We moved quickly along the trail, knowing steep elevation and off trail route finding were ahead of us. In spite of speed, we enjoyed views of the chocolate colored Yellowstone, Calcite Springs, and even a chirping marmot.
We continued climbing up toward Specimen Ridge, slowing with the steepness of the trail, breathing hard. Once on the first ridge, we left human trails and began meandering along, looking for more river views and searching for a view of Tower Fall. Larkspur, arrowleaf balsamroot and chickweed dotted the land, as we wove in between sagebrush and growing grasses. Turning away from the river, we began the arduous climb to the high spot. Slow and steady wins the race, they say. And we were beginning to win, could see the top, feel the thrill ahead.
Until…. Until Fred called bear! He came around a rise and said again:’ there is a grizzly sow with two cubs right over this mound’. I stopped, looked, and in a moment, sure enough, a big beautiful sow with two COY (cub of the year) sauntered out into view. We backed up, got the spray ready just in case she charged. We walked away, looking back as she slowly made her way diagonally up the hill where we would have been just a few minutes later. She stopped a few times, looked our way, then continued. As we became more comfortable, the bear spray was exchanged for binoculars. I appreciated what a beauty she was. She had the Yellowstone ‘saddle’ of blonde fur around her middle, as did her smallest cub. They made a beautiful family as the cubs romped while mom moseyed. At this point, only a few hundred yards from the summit, Fred and I decided we had gone far enough. We turned to head down, feeling lucky. Lucky to be able to enjoy Yellowstone for an afternoon. Lucky to live in an intact ecosystem. Lucky to see a quintessential wild being doing her wild thing with no regard to our presence except to note it and move on.
And once again, I am spoiled. The subtlety of an intact ecosystem has etched itself into my psyche. To wander in a place where I might come face to face with a grizzly bear is to know that I am not the top of the food chain. It is to know that I am part of this land, and it requires respect, thought, care, and awareness.
Next week we will lead people to this area, appreciate the wild landscape once again. It has been a gift to share Yellowstone with visitors, to participate in their awed responses, to see Yellowstone through their eyes. And then to see Yellowstone through my own eyes. She never gets old. Never gets mundane. I am where I was always meant to be—Yellowstone is where my heart resides.
“Like winds and sunsets, wild things were taken for granted until progress began to do away with them. Now we face the question whether a still higher ‘standard of living’ is worth its cost in things natural, wild, and free. For us of the minority, the opportunity to see geese is more important than television, and the chance to find a pasque flower is a right as inalienable as free speech.”Aldo Leopold