Friday, April 15, 2011

All Of Nature

We drove up to Yellowstone yesterday, on a beautiful sunny day and curious to see if there was a lot more snow up there given the three consecutive nights of snowfall we had had down here in Cody.
The road is still closed two miles from the East Gate to the park so we knew it was still too early in the season yet to actually see the park, but wanted and needed to be outside so enthusiastically headed out.
We (as I am sure many locals are) are getting very eager to see the park and May cannot arrive soon enough.
Both LC and I get very excited when we head towards Yellowstone.
My cynical Mountain Boy tells me that the entire region is a magical place.
He is so right..........

Views from a country store out in Wapiti (about 18 miles from Cody and 22 miles from the main gate)...........
Just a few miles beyond Wapiti we came across multiple herds of big horn sheep.
The last time we were out this way was about a month ago, and although it was wonderful to see these creatures grazing both along the side of the road and in the fields on the opposite side of the highway, we quickly saw that they were thinner than our last visit.
They all still look healthy and alert, but I will be glad when Spring really arrives here in earnest.
They need good and plentiful food............
The males all banded together in one herd along side the highway.
Across the road were the females and yearlings.
No small "this years' babies" to be seen yet.............
We kept a respectful distance from them, but it was also obvious that these guys are used to people and vehicles.
They were watchful.  But not anxious about our presence..............
As soon as you leave Cody and for a good number of miles beyond Wapiti (until you reach alpine forests) you can see hugely interesting rock formations throughout the area.
When I first arrived in Cody all I saw was barren wasteland.
My proverbial Afghan-Pakistani Border Region.
It was disorienting and disconcerting after the green of the moss and ferns and never-ending Christmas trees of Juneau.
After being here for a month now I am becoming accustomed to such a transition.
There is beauty in it.
A different and more brutal beauty.
But it is there none-the-less............
One sitting behind the sage brush, and one with his head down eating.
The only two buffalo we saw during the entire time we were out on our journey..........
After stopping for a long while to take pictures of the first big herds of sheep we came across we by-passed other herds and continued further down the highway without pausing.
We stopped when we saw these guys though.
Three sheep - all young - all running quickly and in a panic - without the rest of the herd in sight.
We first saw them running full tilt down the hill.  
When they stopped and looked behind them we pulled the truck over to the side of the road.
They were young, they were upset and they were separated from the others.
We looked back in the direction these young sheep were frantically scanning but could neither see the rest of their peers, nor what might have scared them.
Three or four times they ran and then stopped to look back, ran then stopped to look back again - until they eventually ran right into the middle of the road and stopped - still looking back.
We drove slowly (so as to not startle these already upset young sheep) over to the opposite side of the highway in an attempt to get a better view up and over the rise.
The three young ones walked in the middle of the road for quite a while, still frequently looking back in the direction from which they had come, then hesitatingly made their way over to the opposite side of the road.
At that point we finally decided to slowly move on.
Hopeful that these young and scared animals would be able to find their way safely back to their herd...........
And just like that, we began to almost immediately transition from rock and sage brush to snow and pine trees..........
There are many side roads along the drive up to Yellowstone that are closed for the season.
Many roads that lead to lodges and campgrounds and picnic areas and rustic restaurants and yes........dude ranches.
It feels weird and more than a little amusing even writing the phrase "dude ranch" but there's a bunch of them here that are closed right now.
Gates and unploughed roads stopping access, at least for another month or so.
But there are still many side roads and dirt trails that are open and accessible, and on the spur of the moment (I want a dime for every time I have written "on the spur of the moment" in this blog) we pulled into one that led down to a beautiful and fast moving creek.
Me doing what I do - taking pictures..........
Jamie spent quite a few hours yesterday doing exactly what we were doing - hopping in and out of the truck and loving the excitement of this exciting drive.
LC and I had her closed in a fenced area beside the house a couple of days ago while we were doing some work in the yard.
The gate to the fence was held shut by only one small piece of wire and our dog had happily been watching us for a couple of hours.
I happened to look over towards Jamie at one point, saw her alert and rigid body posture and instantly knew that she had seen a rabbit in the yard.
And instantly knew that she was going to attempt a prison break.
I took two steps towards the gate but was too late.  
Jamie spent her entire life in Tennessee inside a privacy fence in our back yard.  
When she moved to Alaska she spent her entire life either on dog leashes during trips or a lead line while outside the Unabomber Cabin.
You can tell by her face that she knows and understands the command to come back when she has gotten off the leash or lead line.
And she ignores it every single time.
And she ignored it again the other day.
LC and I jumped into the truck and headed down the road, while the old lady who lives on the property stayed in the yard watching for her.
Wide open spaces are a wonderful thing.  We can see mountains from our house that are 60 miles or more away from here.  And there are thousands of acres of BLM land right next to the house.
All things LC and I love very much.
But all things that are scary when it comes to our dog.  
She has no idea about rattle snakes or mountain lions or coyotes or bears or farmers or any of the other things that could cause her harm in Wyoming.
And she could wander many many miles within just a short period of time and we may never find her again.
So we drove up and down the road, looking out over the fields while recognizing just how well our brown dog blended with the terrain, and calling her un-Christian-like names.
Eventually we looked up on the ridge and saw our neighbor lady waving both arms.
Getting back to the house we found our out-of-breath mutt tied by a rope to the fence.
Seems she had backtracked trying to pick up the scent of the bunny, the old lady (who used to rope and ride when she was much younger) made a lasso and successfully roped our wayward dogie.
A shock collar may be in her future...........
Still more pictures by the creek.
I was surprised to see that (for all the snow we had in Cody) there was no new snow in this area.
There was plenty of snow, but it was obvious that this snow was weeks old.............
Driving a little closer to our turn-around near the east gate of Yellowstone Park we again stopped to take pictures of my most favorite view - mountains, pine trees, snow and water.
It doesn't get any better than that.
I did not realize that we were stopped at one of the same places we stopped during our last visit until my Mountain Boy called my name.
 When I turned to look at him he smiled at me and pointed "Look up there!"
I followed his hand and looked up the ridge located across on the opposite side of the highway.
More male big horn sheep.
Some standing and some sitting - the same beautiful and unexpected sheep we had enjoyed the last time we drove this way.
I smiled to myself, turned my camera, looked at these beautiful creatures and realized that they also looked bonier than the last time we were here.
I watched them sitting, standing, grazing, chewing - definitely thinner than last time, but still moving and watching in healthy ways.
They were fine, but for the second time that day I stood looking at sheep and wishing that warmth would come finally to this area and good green nutrient filled food would grow for them.
The more I get to know people the more I like my..........etc. etc. etc.
LC and I were standing by the truck and across the highway from this boy.
But he watched us for a long time from his safe and elevated position anyway.
Not alarmed.  Just attentive.
And attentive for just a while until he determined that we were not approaching and inevitably presented no threat to him..............
A non-zoomed in picture showing in real life how high up these boys were, and the angle at which they were comfortably and easily perched...........
They are so beautiful..........
After traveling for 48 miles and greatly enjoying this journey of nature, we reluctantly turned around at the barrier that spans the highway two miles from the park entrance, stopping traffic from continuing further.
Not long after our turn-around I yelled for LC to stop the truck.
I had seen ducks on the water and wanted to take pictures of them.
My good-natured man pulled off the highway, turned the heat up in the truck, and patiently waited for me to take pictures of ducks...........
Half way between Cody and Yellowstone is this marker and trail head dedicated in memory of 15 fire fighters who lost their lives while fighting a forest fire in this place in 1937............
These pictures were taken in the same area as the fire fighter memorial.
Thankfully there are no convenience stores or tourist stores or gas stations or lodges or campgrounds here.  
Just nature and quiet and this memorial located in the middle of nowhere...........
Eventually we came to the same buffalo we had seen on the way out, and surprisingly this grazer seemed as though he had not even moved.
After scanning the vegetation and still not being able to see other buffalo, LC pulled over and I climbed into the bed of the truck to try and get a better picture..........
A few days after we arrived in Cody we took our first drive out to Wapiti and I happily snapped a picture of a new foal who was only a few days old and still not too steady on his feet.
Yesterday, as we approached the same farm on the way back to Cody I saw the foal standing close to the fence.
He curiously watched our approach and as LC slowed down in preparation to pull onto the shoulder of the road this little guy excitedly sprang into a full run - first along the fence line and then quickly back to his mother who had been grazing close by.
Momma slowly walked over to the same place along the fence line where the foal had been standing when he first saw us, and the foal quickly followed suit.
Mom went back to grazing, and the little foal went back to curiously watching us...........
Such a sweet and curious little thing, and such a quietly protective mother..........
We saw this small elk herd in a field in Wapiti on the way out and as we passed by them I regretted not stopping and taking their picture.
So I was very happy to see on the way back that they were still there...........
We were a long way from them when I took their picture, but in the short time I have lived in Wyoming I have already learned that elk are very wary and skittish creatures..............
One last picture of a male big horn sheep overlooking his domain on the top of a ridge close to the east gate of Yellowstone Park..............

It was a great trip.  I loved it.  Very much.
The best part of the whole trip??
On the way home we again came across the three scared young sheep,  who had thankfully hooked back up with four or five adult females.
When we saw them again, all sheep were walking along the side of the highway, and as we passed by I turned to take a last look at them.
I saw two of the adolescent sheep doing what these young animals do - jumping playfully around each other and play-fighting with their still developing horns.
Very good deal...............

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