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Elevation


Early Morning, Gardiners Hole. Yellowstone National Park.

Yes, there is a theme going on. My last post was Gravity, and both ‘Gravity’ and ‘Elevation’ are important words for me. Words are truly indispensable for describing any experience or story and gravity and elevation seem to always find their way into my adventures.


"I can tell that the Greater Yellowstone from the Tetons, to the Lamar Valley where wolves howl and grizzlies roam, acts as my spine, my range of memory that ties me to landscape of Other ... "

Terry Tempest Williams

First Return, White Pelican on the Madison River. Yellowstone National Park.

Today, it is so important to explain the words and phrases you are using, what they mean for you, and how others should interpret them. Words have real meaning, they have consequence, they come with both ownership and responsibility. The words in this blog hopefully paint a vivid picture of the many wild places here in the West, and my life-long dedication to conserving and protecting those places. Words help describe and share the species and vistas spread before and around us, and, when needed, enhance appreciation and enjoyment of the photos presented.

Elevation! Northwest Entrance, Yellowstone National Park.

For this post, elevation has a dual meaning. Both Stephanie and I are currently in northwest Wyoming spending a week at Yellowstone National Park, one of our favorite parks. Yellowstone is high country, as the park sits at 8,104 feet. * Yellowstone Lake, at 7,733 feet, is the largest high elevation lake in North America. Eagle Peak, at 11,372 feet, is the highest point in the park among an almost uncountable number of peaks, pinnacles, and summits of the Red Mountains, and the Washburn, Gallatin, and Absaroka Ranges. As I write this, we are in Gardiner, Montana, at a measly 5,259 feet. Still, a big variance from life along the Salish Sea and our home which sits at an incredible and astounding 760 feet! So certainly, elevation means height above sea level.

Gibbon River Buffalo. Yellowstone National Park.

Elevation can also describe how you feel. A sense of excitement, inspiration, and anticipation of a week-long absorption of and submersion into beauty and nature. Heart rate as you hike uphill, euphoria upon taking your first in-focus, larger-than-a-dot-on-the-landscape wolf photo. Being in Yellowstone always elevates our happiness and mood and this trip did not disappoint.

Washburn Range from Crescent Hill. Lamar Valley, Yellowstone National Park.

Steph and I ran into two older hikers with ski-poles headed back in the cold and along the ice from Artist Point and views of the Upper Yellowstone Falls. I asked if the views were good, and his short and succinct reply “It doesn’t suck” was one of the best descriptions I have heard.

Sandhill Crane, Blacktail Pond. Lamar Valley, Yellowstone National Park.

We stopped at the Albright Visitors Center in Mammoth Hot Springs to buy stamps and ask when the Slough Creek Road was scheduled to open. Our two cashiers were anxious to close shop at 5:00 and go looking for bears. One pulled out her phone to show us her images of bears, wolves, and osprey. Great to see employees stoked about the park and just waiting to get outdoors.


Elevation and joy on going to Yellowstone began forty-years ago when Stephanie and I took our first western camping trip together. Our first new car, our first extended vacation (three-weeks), and my very first trip west of Ohio. We wanted to see mountains, and the Wind River Range and the Tetons blew us away. We wanted to camp and backpack (memories of flaming mosquitos flying through our campfire at Ice Lake looking for dinner), and we wanted to see bears. We saw zero bears, even in Yellowstone, although there were campers who told us that grizzlies had been in our camp site while we were hiking. It wasn’t until later that we learned that Stephanie’s Mom was back in Pennsylvania profusely and continuously praying that we would not get close to a bear. The power of prayer – and mothers!

Snow Bear! Obsidian Cliffs. Yellowstone National Park.

Elevation also plays a role in where to go in Yellowstone. We came to Yellowstone in April to avoid the crowds, to view wolves, baby bison, deer, and elk, and to see the bears which were just emerging from their winter dens. Usually, much of the park, and many of the roads, won’t open until mid-May or later. But the road through Lamar Valley (the Secluded Valley) in northeastern Yellowstone is some fifteen hundred feet lower than Hayden Valley or other parts of the park. At 6,476 feet, Lamar is drier, sees less snow, is a bit warmer, and therefore is home to a greater abundance of wildlife, especially in April. Also due in part to lower elevation, the road through Lamar is open year-round. So, for early spring, winter and late fall trips to Yellowstone, Lamar is your best bet to see wildlife in the park.

Cold Nap! Coyote in Yellowstone National Park.

We spent several days in Lamar and tried three unsuccessful trips into the park interior. All terminated due to snow, ice, and fear of the potential elevation drop if you slide off the road. Yesterday morning, we got a break in the weather. Sunny, low-40’s, and we were off and headed to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, the northern geyser area, and west along the beautiful Madison River. It was still icy, and slick, but manageable.


Coming through the snow and passing Grebe, Wolf and Ice Lakes, over a ridge and there, crossing a field of white snow, a black and grey solo wolf. Not the first we had seen, but the first seen from less than a mile away through binoculars or a scope, and the first I was able to really photograph. Talk about feeling alive, making your day, week, year, life! So incredibly wild and beautiful.

Wolf on Snow, Solfarara Plateau. Yellowstone National Park.

Beyond that, Hayden Valley, Fishing Bridge, Yellowstone Lake, and Sylvan Pass over to Cody were still closed, so we turned around for a long and wonderful trip back to Gardiner. Along the way, we viewed perhaps the first of the white pelicans to migrate back to the park this spring, two grizzlies in a heavy snow fall, and the antics of a young coyote just thrilled to linger in winter weather. It was a wonderful and exhausting day in Yellowstone, just like every day we have spent in the park over the past forty years.

Yellowstone is a wonder in every season and has something new to offer in each month. It is a great place to wake up in the morning, and speculate “What will today bring?” “What adventure awaits?”


Endnotes:

· *There are over seventy named mountain peaks over 8,000 feet in Yellowstone.

· This past weekend threatened another five to ten inches or more of snow to Yellowstone. We were lucky that Gardiner’s lower elevation, and then major highways home prevented our experiencing that. Snow season in Yellowstone is from late-September to early June, but it has snowed in July and snow is possible at higher elevations year-round.

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