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Posts Tagged ‘Yellowstone National Park’

It never occurred to me that it would be so difficult. In my book ANIMALS DON’T BLUSH I recounted the combined camping, honeymoon and travelling to my first veterinary job in Sidney, Montana. That was the first week in June of 1960. Rosalie and I spent two days in Yellowstone Park during that trip. I always considered our experiences an adventure. Rosalie used other, less positive, descriptors

This time I drove in from the town of West Yellowstone appalled at the destruction and amazed at the recovery following the forest fires of 1988. Almost eight hundred thousand acres, more than three thousand square kilometers, about thirty-six percent of the entire park were engulfed in flames.

I arrived early in the day, it was only seventy some miles from Ennis, Montana to West Yellowstone. Once in the park and driving along roads that were significantly wider and better paved than they were in 1960 I kept glancing at the stark skeletons of once proud trees, interspersed with a few fire-charred survivors, all them engulfed in a sea of uniform height young trees crowding for space.

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Some experts knew, many did not, that the Lodge pole pine, dominant in Yellowstone, drops mostly closed pinecones that do not open to release their seeds until stimulated by intense heat.  The forest floor was covered with these closed cones accumulated over many years and the fires must have moved swiftly enough to expose but not consume the seeds. Those seeds found conditions ideal for germination and the result is thousands, maybe millions of seven to twelve feet tall trees obviously started at the same time that, in the not too distant future will have to cull themselves for the required space and light to survive.

In 1960 I set up the old canvass umbrella tent that had served my family for years. Rosalie and I were two of very few occupants of the old Madison campground characterized by gravel roads, a hand pump for water, outhouses and in-the-ground garbage receptacles that did very little to discourage bears. Charlize and I set up Frog in the seriously enlarged, updated and improved Madison campground, now featuring paved roads, heated restrooms with running water and flush toilets. We arrived during the first week in May and some of the roads into the park were still closed, but the campground was at least a third full.

After Frog was situated I disconnected Old Blue and Charlize and I went to visit Old Faithful. The amount and character of new development and the number of people present, some arriving in busloads, was astounding, and depressing as I remembered our previous visit fifty plus years previous.

Rosalie and I always made a habit of not revisiting places we had been to, thus no return to Yellowstone for nearly fifty-three years. There were always new places to visit and explore. New places were more interesting and we did visit a lot of places in the U.S., Mexico and Europe. Those trips made great memories and travel disasters always make the best stories.

One of our wedding gifts was an eight-millimeter movie camera. We took endless footage of scenery, “wild” animals, geysers, steam coming from the ground and bubbling cauldrons of mud on that trip, but rarely looked at those movies. I was worried about losing those films to age so I had them converted to videotape and some years later to CDs. They are painful to watch but not nearly as painful as revisiting those places without my bride. So I gave up.

Charlize did not enjoy Yellowstone at all. They now have rules, lots of rules about dogs. Dogs must be on a leash at all times when out and cannot be taken out of the confines of the campground or parking lots. You cannot leave them alone tied up. Naturally you have to pick up after your dog. I understand the need for all those rules, too many people with too many dogs and the dogs could get into trouble with wild life and cause other types of ecological problems, but the last time I was here with Rosalie we were accompanied by my first German Shepherd dog and he was a hero. (Read the book to find out). He was always under voice control.

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Charlize’s demeanor tells it all.

Because of all her energy consuming appliances Frog sucked her battery dry by nine in the evening. The Madison campground still lacks electrical and water hookups, but I presume that will come, eventually. The smoke alarm beeped once a minute to let me know the battery was low, but had enough juice to keep the damn thing beeping until one or so in the morning. I got into bed when the power gave out at nine but, of course, the beeping didn’t let me get to sleep until it finally ran out of juice.

I woke up at six AM, got my clothes on in the freezing cold, no power no functioning furnace in Frog, and made a dash to the heated restroom. Our two sons and I used to do a lot of backpacking, frequently in cold weather, but we were equipped and dressed for it. With all the comforts of home in Frog, when the power goes out a warm restroom with a flush toilet on a cold morning does have appeal.

I returned to take Charlize for her walk then hooked Frog back up to Old Blue so I now had power from the truck’s battery. I boiled water, made coffee and some instant oatmeal, fed Charlize, took her for another walk and by seven AM we were on our way to the east gate.

The sage that said you couldn’t go back was correct. Too much change, too many memories, going back to Yellowstone was a mistake. Tomorrow I will arrive at Pass Ranch in the Sandhills of Nebraska. That will be moving forward.

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Rosalie and I married on April 23, 1960. I graduated from veterinary school the first week of June and we embarked on a road trip from Fort Collins, Colorado to my first position in Sidney, Montana, camping out along the way, the only honeymoon we ever had.

After a night in the Medicine Bow range in Wyoming, and a second night at the Coulter campground in Jackson Hole, we arrived in Yellowstone Park. That evening, after using the outhouse, I stood at the water pump, brushing my teeth. There was a loud metallic clang, as a garbage pit lid ripped open. Rosalie screamed, and our German Shepherd Mister erupted into furious, angry barking. I grabbed the ax I had brought along to gather firewood, and ran down the gravel road, toothbrush clenched between my teeth, toothpaste foaming out of my mouth. My towel flew off my shoulder. My toes grabbed frantically, struggling to keep my unlaced boots on my feet as I ran. I saw Mister’s silhouette, clawing at the tent flap.

A small black bear was standing over the garbage pit at our campsite. Through the fabric of the tent, back lit by the lantern, I saw Rosalie. She was screaming while trying to hold Mister back. The bear looked over its shoulder as it reached down into the garbage bin for more of my famous chili. I spat out the toothbrush and started shouting.

“GET OUT!  TAKE OFF! …YEEOUH!”

I squatted down and unzipped the tent flap that was starting to tear from Mister’s attack

“Let him loose honey. It’s just a small bear.”

I grabbed the dog’s collar as he lunged through the opening. The two of us now faced the bear, the dog growling, me waving the ax.

“GO ON, GET OUT …SCRAM!”

The bear moved to face us. He was nonchalant, now able to watch us directly instead of over his shoulder. He continued to fish out and eat the chili. When finished he turned, glanced over his shoulder, then strolled away, unconcerned by antics of man or dog.

Rosalie came out of the tent and stood next to me hugging me around the waist with her left arm and patting Mister with her right hand.

“My hero, and my hero,” she murmured.

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