Tuesday, June 1, 2010

A Short Trip to Yellowstone

The Memorial Day weekend kicks off the busy tourist season in Yellowstone, so Mari and I like to go during the week prior.  For some unfathomable reason (presumably not due to the health of the economy), the same room in the same hotel cost $40 more per night this year than it did at the same time last year.

It was a much shorter drive to the park this year, and we didn't even have to go through Kansas (apologies to LDB).  The highway south of Livingston follows the Yellowstone River upstream through the aptly-named Paradise Valley to the north entrance to the park.

Our first wildlife sighting inside the park was, of all things, a flea-bitten marmot.

The Lamar Valley

Some people, in a weak attempt to describe the openness and abundance of wildlife here, refer to the Lamar Valley as North America's Serengeti.  I find this very annoying.  It is North America's Lamar Valley, and that's enough.  It doesn't need to be described in reference to anywhere else in the world.

Bison, left and center, and a few pronghorns at lower right.

The upper falls of the Yellowstone River (109 feet), seen through the trees near the brink of the lower falls.

The view from the brink of the lower falls (308 feet).

Upstream from the falls, a group of harlequin ducks was cavorting in the Yellowstone River near LeHardy Rapids. 

We saw three separate black bears, but didn't have much luck getting photos.  I thought I got a good pic of one through the trees, but the photo just shows a formless black mass through thick pine needles.  It may as well have been a bigfoot sighting.

Visiting Yellowstone was a completely different experience this year.  In recent years, living in the middle of a huge metropolitan area and working long hours at a stressful job, my trips to Yellowstone were vacations to get away from all that.  This year, it was a trip to Yellowstone, instead of a trip away from something else.  It's less hectic this way, with no running around trying to see everything and cram days full of activity against the uncertainty of when you might be able to come back.

Also, I took far fewer pictures this year, not wanting to be like that misguided man in Wendell Berry's famous poem The Vacation:

Once there was a man who filmed his vacation.
He went flying down the river in his boat
with his video camera to his eye, making
a moving picture of the moving river
upon which his sleek boat moved swiftly
toward the end of his vacation. He showed
his vacation to his camera, which pictured it,
preserving it forever: the river, the trees,
the sky, the light, the bow of his rushing boat
behind which he stood with his camera
preserving his vacation even as he was having it
so that after he had had it he would still
have it. It would be there. With a flick
of a switch there it would be. But he
would not be in it. He would never be in it.


  1. Whew - poignant commentary on vacations!

    Last night I had dinner with a couple from Portland, Ore., who have lived here 2 years. They recalled years of planning annual trips to this area to enjoy the famous fly-fishing for a week or two. Now, the husband tells me, after work (at a low-paying job -- hey, it's Montana), he walks a few blocks to the Boulder or the Yellowstone to fish, or he might drive an hour and a half to the Madison on a weekend.

    You should have seen the look of joy on his face when he told me this. Definitely worth a pay cut to enjoy this lifestyle.

  2. Well said, Mary. It can be difficult to find a good balance between making a living and actually living. It's different for everybody. I'm still looking for mine.