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Yellowstone River. Paradise Valley, Montana, 2023.

On nearly every trip to Yellowstone National Park, I enter through the Northwest entrance just past Gardiner, Montana. It is the quickest way to the park from Washington State, via Interstate 90. And while still some fourteen hours, it is a straight shot and, once out of Seattle, has little traffic and some really beautiful scenery. And towards the end, you have that endless Montana Big-Sky Country!

Sentinels! Paradise Valley, Montana, 2023.

Still a long drive, but I can break that into multiple days. On this last journey to Yellowstone, I was in a hurry to get to the park and drove for ten-plus hours, and then just collapsed in a roadside motel. I didn’t have an extended period to be away, and I had planned on two full days to get there, two days in the park, and then the same for the drive home. Not much time, but I needed time away, even if just for a brief period. The beauty was that by driving longer, I was able to get on the road early and get an extra half day in Southwest Montana among the mountains, ranchland, bears, sheep, bison, and other wildlife.

Bighorn! Paradise Valley, Montana, 2023.

When I finally exited 90 in Livingston, Montana, I drove south along Highway 89 for fifty-three miles along the Yellowstone River to Gardiner, and then into the park. That area from Livingston to Yankee Jim Canyon, fifteen miles north of Gardiner, is Paradise Valley. The Valley is flanked by the Absaroka Range on the east and the Gallatin Range on the west.

Last Barrier! Paradise Valley, Montana, 2023.

As the name implies, Paradise Valley is beautiful, scenic, and awe-inspiring. A true gateway to our first national park, and the route taken by early Yellowstone expeditions and the only recognized route into the park when it was established in 1872.

With almost all of my previous trips through this area, it was either snowing heavily, or with grey rain falling, or I was just too anxious to get to my final destination. Not this time! My most recent trip through the valley was beautiful. The sun was peeking over the mountains, turning the fields to gold, and highlighting elk, sheep, and cattle. The sun on the snow in the high peaks was glistening, and white pelicans in the Yellowstone River were radiant as well. I still wanted to get to the park, but it was such a special morning and I vowed to take my time and explore this phenomenal location on my way home.

Osprey along the Yellowstone River. Paradise Valley, Montana, 2023.

In the park, I had early spring whiteouts of snow, light rain showers, turbulent skies and clouds, cold mornings in the twenties and warm to hot afternoons in the sixties and high seventies.

White Pelicans on the Yellowstone River. Paradise Valley, Montana, 2023.

On my last morning I got up a half-hour early (forty-eight degrees and a ripping wind), counted on the extra hour I would get from Pacific Mountain Time (vs. Pacific Time back in Bellingham), and looked forward to exploring Paradise Valley in depth. I started with hot chocolate and sticky buns at the Wild Flour Bakery and Café in Emigrant Montana, and then I started to look for back roads and scenic stops along the river. Most of the Valley is private land, but there are some scenic drives if you look for them. They are worth investigating.

Road to Paradise! Paradise Valley, Montana, 2023.

I had never before seen this valley in the stunning beauty of early morning light, and each mile driven, and at each stop, I was enraptured by the beauty surrounding me. Clouds massing over the mountain passes, herds of elk, bighorns along the ridgetops, hawks and owls in the trees, and those pelicans floating passively in the currents and basking along the Yellowstone shoreline. What a spectacular morning to be alive and present in all of this vastness and beauty.

Sentinel II! Paradise Valley, Montana, 2023.

All too soon, my internal alarms sounded reminding me that I needed to be heading home. It hit eighty-nine degrees in Post Falls, Idaho, I hit rush-hour traffic in Seattle… but I kept right on smiling. My car and body were back but my mind and spirit were still in Paradise.


· Montana & Wildlife – The state is simply beautiful, and it has so much to offer visitors. For someone like me wh0 is looking to photograph wonderful landscapes and wildlife, Montana has more than 1,000 grizzly bears, 1,100 wolves, 15,000 black bears (and more than 150,000 horses). Alaska has more, some 14,780 to 17,780 wolves, and more than 30,000 grizzly, black and polar bears – but they can be much harder to see in Alaska due to its size – you could fit Montana into Alaska four times!

· Montana & Tourism – Nearly one-third of Montana is public land, and with more than 12 million visitors annually (2021 data) spending $5.15 billion and supporting more than 47,000 jobs, tourism is one of Montana’s leading industries (the estimated total contribution of nonresident spending to Montana’s economy was $7.56 billion in 2021). Montana’s outdoor recreation industry contributed $2.6 billion to the economy in 2021, and a fun fact, the television series “Yellowstone” brought more than two million visitors and $730 million to Montana in 2021.

· Locals & Tourists – Like so many states, the feeling towards tourists is mixed in Montana (and Idaho, Wyoming, eastern Washington, and Oregon, and almost every other state). While so many depend on the tourism industry, others just feel like they are being invaded. That their way of life is being threatened. Growing up in the east, this was the case for decades in West Virginia, when my friends and I were paddling, skiing, caving, and most of the local economy remained locked into coal development (it was the first, and only, time I was ever yelled at and called a vegetarian communist!). Montana is similar, known as the “Treasure State” since the 1860’s for all the gold, sapphires, coal, and oil buried in the ground. But times are changing, and the gas and oil industry delivered (in 2021) approximately $1.7 billion in income, and supplied some 28,000 jobs (compared to $5 billion income and 47,000 jobs for tourism). The purpose here is to provide some insight and history for those planning to visit … well anywhere! As with any exploration, do your homework before you go. Understand local customs, beliefs and history. Be nice! Don’t trespass on private lands, don’t randomly express your political and religious views. Do tell people why you are visiting and how much you love their home state. Make friends if you have the opportunity. This is the best way to build tourism and guarantee your next visit is even better.

· Many of the statistics I found came from a really good article at Not only does it provide great data, but is also offers additional clues on how to make friends, not enemies, for your next trip to Montana.

· Court ruling overturns authorization to kill grizzly bears near Yellowstone


Out for Spring! Male Grizzly in Yellowstone National Park, 2023.

This post is dedicated to all of those who volunteer (more than sixty million adults in the USA in 2021). From girl-scout cookie sellers to those working to feed and house the homeless, to those who help friends and family, and (the focus of this blog) to those who help repair and restore our wonderful, at risk, and varied natural resources. Without this unpaid and often unseen assistance, without the billions of hours given in time, effort, and expertise each year, all species and our world would be “less good” by far!

Soda Butte Valley. Yellowstone National Park, 2023.

When I was with the Whatcom Land Trust, one long debated discussion was on the need to do restoration, maintenance, and general stewardship on our properties. On one side were those who felt the land would take care of itself. It had, for sure, done so for millions of years. On the other side of the discussion, the need to help and offset impacts from nature itself, but more often from man. Three hundred plus years ago (in the United States), before the Europeans came along and razed the forests, built dams, contaminated our air, and paved the world, maybe then nature could have repaired its own? Certainly not now.

And for anyone facing the costs of stewardship, including nonprofits, tribes, state and federal agencies, the question is “How do you pay for that?” We can say that the pandemic messed up the world, but honestly, even before that, there was never enough workforce or money to do the maintenance and general stewardship to help nature heal.

Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth.

Muhammad Ali

Watcher in the Woods! Yellowstone National Park, 2023.

Thank goodness for volunteers. Volunteers are the lifeblood of stewardship (and so much more). At the Land Trust, students, Field Friday, and other work parties, and more than ninety land stewards helped with clean-ups, evasive species removal, and monitoring. Volunteers helped with mailings, events, and painting the office. Most of the legal and accounting work was done pro-bon0, and volunteer expertise was used on almost all restoration work. With American Whitewater, an organization I worked with for decades, local affiliate club members and Regional Directors all provided volunteer efforts by working on specific projects and often representing the organization at local meetings and efforts. With both organizations, board members were volunteers and that holds for the vast majority of nonprofit board members nationally.

Sky & Mountain! Yellowstone National Park, 2023.

Everyone benefits from volunteer efforts, and I am especially grateful for those who donate their time, expertise, and love for the land – and who understand that if you want wilderness, wild free-roaming species and free-flowing rivers, or just a quiet place in the woods near your home, you have to work for it.

Madison River Valley. Yellowstone National Park, 2023.

When traveling through amazing, beautiful places, the thought about how much that culvert costs, or that bridge, or how much restoration was needed is rarely first among your early considerations. But it was on my mind during my recent trip to Yellowstone National Park (created in 1872). Especially as I witnessed the major construction and massive damage that came from last June’s floods, a five-hundred-year event with the northern part of the park receiving seven-and-a-half to nine-and-a-half inches of rain and snowmelt in a twenty-four-hour period.

Late Winter Sky! Yellowstone National Park, 2023.

Gone was the osprey nest in Lamar Canyon, along with most of the canyon’s wall. Pebble Creek and the campground remains mostly a pile of rock and dirt as it awaits future restoration. Red lights and major construction in the park! First ever for me. And even one of my favorite restaurants in Cooke City, Beds & Buns, is gone (a victim I am sure of the loss of the 2022 tourist season). Gone was the spectacular drive along the Gardiner River Canyon, replaced by a new four-mile road from Gardiner to Mammoth Hot Springs with its own amazing views of the Absoroka Range and looking down on the Hot Springs.

When the great fires hit Yellowstone in 1988, and when thirty percent of the park (793,000 acres) went up in flames, over 10,000 volunteers stepped in to help with restoration. And annually, over 100,000 volunteer hours are given to manage campgrounds, do research, pick up trash, and more in Yellowstone. So, I expect that volunteer work will play a huge role in this most recent rebirth. Outside of the park, volunteerism has already started, with contributions of more than $146,000 being made to the Yellowstone Community Fund to assist those affected by the floods.

Not Quite Spring! Upper Canyon, Yellowstone National Park, 2023.

The extensive damage done in the park goes far beyond what volunteers can fix. Repairing and restoring the park is expected to take from three to five years to complete, and to cost in excess of $1 billion dollars. But the park has jumped to the task, restoring power and wastewater within forty-eight hours, and opening the south loop of the park nine days after the flooding. In just four months, the Park built a completely new four-mile road from Gardiner to Mammoth Hot Springs. It cost more than twenty-million dollars, but when was the last time anyone built a new road in four months? I swear that the Pennsylvania turnpike has been under major construction since before I went to college (maybe let the NPS take a shot there!). The new road is beautiful, and a necessary one for those living in Silver Gate or Cooke City. With this road out, locals needed to take the Beartooth Highway to Red Bluff or the Chief Joseph Highway to Cody. Both are a long, long drive, and closed for a better part of the year.

Gardiner River Overview. Yellowstone National Park, 2023.

The new road has magnificent views. Is it as beautiful as the original road through the Gardiner River Canyon? Don’t know and I may be the wrong person to ask as someone who loves to drive along and hang out in river canyons. Kudos to the park and its many partners who completed this and made it a worthwhile scenic drive. Thank you! Thank you! Both for the road and showing that, in an emergency, people, organizations and agencies can come together and get it done!

So, as a potential volunteer and someone who loves our parks and wild lands, what can you do?

Contact Yellowstone National Park’s Volunteer Coordinator and offer your time and expertise. Be ready to work for the environment, wilderness, and our National Parks. If you can’t do that, contact those seeking donations and provide financial support. Best of all, visit Yellowstone and its surrounding communities. Stay and eat locally, buy gas, be friendly, and help these communities rebuild from the past year. As you travel through the park, understand what happened, what has been done, what still needs to be done – and tell the rangers and volunteers you meet how important their work is, and how thrilled you are to be in the park. And of course, don’t pet the buffalo, feed the bears, or peer into Old Faithful!

Out of the Woods! Yellowstone National Park., 2023.


· At the end of fiscal year 2022, an estimated $22.3 billion of repair need existed on roads, buildings, utility systems, and other structures and facilities across the National Park System. The Great American Outdoors Act’s National Parks and Public Lands Legacy Restoration Fund, passed in 2020, provides up to $1.3 billion per year for five years through 2025, to make significant enhancements in national parks.

· For 2024, National Volunteer Week will be observed from Sunday, April 14 through Saturday, April 20.

· In 2021, over sixty-six million volunteers donated over three-and-a-half million hours with the US Forest Service, and over three-hundred-thousand research, trail-building, and program leading volunteers (2018 latest data available) with the National Park Service. This is down from pre-pandemic days when in 2017 more than seventy-seven million volunteer hours were logged nationally.

· One of my favorite restaurants in Cooke City was “Buns & Beds.” Besides great sandwiches and barbeque, the owners were natives of my hometown of Pittsburgh, and huge Steeler fans. I am so sorry to see they are gone. I wish them the best in whatever they do next.

· An estimated 23.2 percent of Americans or more than 60.7 million people formally volunteered with organizations between September 2020 and 2021. In total, these volunteers served an estimated 4.1 billion hours with an economic value of $122.9 billion. The rate of Americans informally helping others remained stable between 2019 and 2021. Fifty-one percent of Americans or 124.7 million people informally helped their neighbors between September 2020 and 2021. Eighty-five percent of volunteers donate to the nonprofits they volunteer for. Forty percent of Fortune 500 companies offer volunteer grant programs, and almost sixty percent of companies provide paid time off for employee volunteer work.


Spring Awakening! Yellowstone National Park, 2023.

In life, I try to plan ahead, to schedule, and to anticipate as much as I can. From bus schedules to business meetings, to baby bottle feedings and oil changes, timing rules the day! However, no matter how prepared I am, fate, luck and timing are always unpredictable and uncontrollable.

The raw materials of photography are light and time and memory.

Keith Carter

Pelicans along the Yellowstone River. 2023.

For photography, timing is everything. When will the light just peak over that range? Which week in spring will be best to capture baby bear, heron, fox, or buffalo? What is the perfect location for fall foliage, summer sun, and winter snow? What schedule works for my wife Stephanie? And, if she cannot join me, at what moment would she be the least upset to learn that I am going solo?

Watcher! Yellowstone National Park, 2023.

In my last posting, Anticipation II, I talked about my desire and need to get away. Preferably to Yellowstone, my go-to destination for spring trips. But my schedule was full and my timing short, and so, in addition to the issues above, I needed to add travel time to and from the park, and my commitments as well as Stephanie’s obligations. I looked at the weather for the park, for the Seattle area, and for the passes I would cross. Even in late April, I checked my winter gear -- hats, gloves, down coat, shovel, chains, and emergency gear. What were my options and when would be best to go?

Sentinel! Yellowstone River, 2023.

After looking at everything, my window was now. This week. After that there was no obvious time when I could take a trip that far away.

Caution, Curves Ahead! Yellowstone National Park, 2023.

Thankfully, I had already discussed this possibility with Stephanie and had her blessing. So, I threw my gear and camera equipment in the truck and headed to Yellowstone National Park and Big Sky country. I had not been there since the flooding, and I wanted to see firsthand the new road out of Gardiner, other impacts on the land, and how and if the Park had changed.

Lamar Valley Reflection! Yellowstone National Park, 2023.

Sometimes, your timing is just terrible. Heavy rain, blasting wind, and super cold temperatures can derail any adventure. Sometimes you have a gorgeous sunrise, but you are in traffic, or your camera is packed away in the back. You get a prime shot, only to find out that the moving car, or a moving animal has left nothing but a blur. Or you pull over only to catch the fading vison of the south end of a north bound elk herd.

Rarely is your timing dead on! For this trip it was perfect. Leaving from Seattle (where my daughter, granddaughter and son-in-law live) I had not been on the road for fifteen minutes before Mt. Rainier showed up in the first bloom of morning light. I stopped at the North Bend Bakery just as they were opening the door.

Good weather and a book-on-tape got me to the park a half-day early, allowing me to sightsee and head for areas I thought I would not be able to visit this trip. Travelling up along the Yellowstone River, approaching Gardiner and the park, I came across a group of white pelicans sunning themselves in the sun. The light was perfect, and I watched them on their log and floating in the river for most of that morning. Timing!

And once in the park it seemed empty. Early season for sure, and early mornings. There were people about, but no long lines stopped miles away to see wildlife, or major backups. I did not feel that I was constantly pulling over to let someone pass me by (I tend to drive pretty slow in the wild -- I am retired, back off!) When I did see wildlife, it was with a moderate group of other friendly morning travelers.

It was surprising to see red lights in the park (construction). But even here my timing was good. And I quickly learned that after the light turned green, you could pull over down the road, let others pass, and have a good window of time before the next group caught up with you.

Standoff! Yellowstone National Park, 2023.

My first morning, I was up and driving before sunup, looking to catch the light coming over the Absoroka Range. Not too far up into Lamar Valley near Phantom Lakes, I came across a young male grizzly sitting on a buffalo carcass. This is what you hope for in Yellowstone, and while I have had luck before, it is exceedingly rare and always special and amazing. I watched that griz for a good hour – and then the wolves came. First one loping across the meadow, then another. A total of five wolves crashing the dinner party. The bear was not happy, but I was ecstatic. I have seen bears, and wolves, but never together and never with the interplay I saw that morning.

Rivalry! Yellowstone National Park, 2023.

When I eventually moved on, I was in high-alert mode for wildlife. Approaching Blacktail Plateau, I noticed a few others staring over the hill. Joining them, we watched as a mother black bear and her two cubs (photo above, and yes, two cubs) made their first journey out of the den and enjoyed playing in the early morning sunlight. Awesome timing!

The next morning, I learned that the bears had left the den later in the previous afternoon and had not returned.

Lamar Valley Coyote! Yellowstone, 2023.

Getting up the next day, my last in the park on this short trip, I skipped the carcass believing (correctly) that it would be gone. I drove by slowly, a few people were stopped, but the carcass was no more. A day of bears, wolves, coyotes, and ravens will do that. A mile or so further on, I saw a small group of people stopping and staring into the trees. I decided to hang back, set up my camera and tripod, and hope whatever they were watching would move in my direction (most often a less than 50-50 proposition). On this morning, it headed my way, and soon a young female moose came out of the woods, browsing along the way, and eventually headed down the ravine and off over the hill. Had I stopped at the carcass, or at the den, I would have missed this moose.

Winter Traveler! Yellowstone National Park, 2023.

When traveling, you never know what you will get. On this trip, I got it all! Weather, animals, no crowds, sunlight, clouds, snow squalls, below freezing mornings to balmy pleasant afternoons and evenings. The park to myself, and time to talk to others in the park. Perfect!

I’ll take a trip where the timing is perfect. How often does that happen? Especially in Yellowstone, where it behooves you to look up in the trees, watch your rearview mirror for those shy and elusive wildlife you just passed by, take your time, keep your eyes open. And always, always, pray for luck and great timing.

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