Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Shoshone National Forest - Part 3

My Mountain Boy humors me often when we are exploring.
He willingly and good naturedly pulls the truck over to the side of the road whenever and wherever I ask him to stop. 
There are times I out of guilt (because we have inevitably stopped three times in the last mile already) pass by things I want to take pictures of or things that look interesting that I would like to inspect more closely.
More often than not though my Mountain Boy knows me well enough, and even when I am prepared to pass by he seems to know and pulls the truck over.
"You need to take a picture of that!"
OK - if you insist............ 
 We were making very slow progress on our journey back to Cody.
Between picture taking, walks and lunch my dog, my guy and I had only traveled about 10 miles since leaving the East Gate of Yellowstone.
But we were all having a very outstanding trip so did not care how little or how much progress towards town we were actually making.
We'd get there eventually.
On the way to the YNP gate I noticed a sign on the side of the highway pointing the way to a chapel hidden in the woods.
LC had seen it as well and we both expressed interest in seeing it.
On the way back to town we pulled off the highway and immediately began to climb a steep hill, all the while moving even further off the beaten path.
We were heading into the mountains.
The gravel road was short, and after climbing for only a few minutes we pulled into a gravel parking area.
As LC got out of the truck he looked up into the woods, pointed and said "Elk!"
I turned to follow LC's line of sight and was surprised to see one lone very large female standing in the open but surrounded by tall pine trees.
Silently I reached for my camera all the while staring at this very wonderful creature.
LC managed to get Jamie out of the truck quietly and as he took control of our dog I quietly began to walk up the hill leading to the chapel and leading to this lone elk.
The elk did not move a muscle but simply stood staring at me.
I walked slowly and as quietly as I could took pictures every ten feet, fully expecting her to take off in a full run at any moment.
She didn't.
I was totally focused on the elk.  She was totally focused on me.
We did not take our eyes off each other.
As I slowly and quietly but consistently continued to walk up the hill I continued to take pictures of her every few seconds.
In between pictures we stood for a few moments watching each other until I continued to move forward again.
I had some vague notion that I was on a weaving and meandering gravel path but only paid attention to it long enough to wander off trail every once in a while to try and capture a better view of my girl...........
 When I was finally 20 feet from her she decided that I was close enough.
Wary but not alarmed the elk turned and trotted away from me, stopping after having traveled maybe 30 feet.
I had to quietly laugh at her because she hid only her face behind the tree and not her huge body.
Do elk think that if their faces are hidden they are completely hidden from potential predators??
I have no idea, but watching her that was the conclusion that I came to...............
 She was close to the tree line that led deeper into the woods by this time so I took a few random steps as I continued to watch her but was no longer trying to close the gap between us.
I continued to photograph her but mostly I continued to watch her.
From her hidden spot behind the tree (and still only her head was actually hidden) she frequently ducked her head out to check on me, and then ducked back behind the leaves.
Poke out her head to check on me.  Duck behind the leaves.
She did this three or four times over the course of the next few minutes...............
 She walked deeper behind heavy-growth pine trees still watching me.
Still watchful.  Still not alarmed..............
 Eventually she moved higher up the cliff behind the chapel and disappeared into the trees.
I have no idea why she was alone.
No injuries.  No signs of emotional distress.  I could not tell if she was pregnant but no signs of labor.
I have no idea.
But for me this was the highlight of my trip through the national forest.
Jamie never made a sound through the entire encounter.
I was deeply touched by this elk.
It was such a simple and straightforward and honest and pure encounter..............
 After my beautiful girl finally disappeared into the woods and I could turn to excitedly talk to LC about it, I took a long look around me to see where I was.
I had been all this time (and without even realizing it) standing inside the chapel.
I had expected a small physical structure.
There was none...............
 I looked down over the seats and the cross and the stone table top and the trees and mountains that surrounded it, and slowly took in what I was seeing in front of me.
It was beautiful.
It was more than beautiful.
It was spiritual.
Maybe it was religious - maybe it would feel religious to those who believe in the religious - but for me it was simply (and complexly) a spiritual and very wonderful place.
So was the elk the highlight of my trip through the national forest or was the chapel?
 The view from the parking area looking down towards both the highway and the Shoshone River.
A link to more information on the Wayfarers Chapel:
 Following the river back towards Cody.............
 After many stops we finally began to find our way out of the snow.
We pulled over to the side of the road one more time to stop at an overlook I had noticed only for the first time during this drive.
Leaving James in the truck LC and I climbed to the top of this rock and playing King and Queen of the Castle looked out over still one more beautiful scene...........
 The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way. Some see nature all ridicule and deformity . . . and some scarce see nature at all.  But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself........William Blake

Shoshone National Forest - Part 2

A view of the highway looking back from the elusive East Gate entrance of Yellowstone.
The temperature was mild, by this time the sky was steady and blue, and we were surrounded by beautiful snow covered mountains, cold mountain streams and rapidly melting snow on the road.
Although I was disappointed that we could not get into the park it was not unexpected.
I had no idea when we first moved to Cody but now am beginning to understand what living life at such elevation means.
And also why rocks slides and avalanches play such an important role in whether or not people can access the park.
Even when we had driven up to Cooke City and entered through the North East Gate we saw a sign indicating rocks slides up ahead.  
We drove within two miles of them before turning back.
We would not have been able to continue to the East Gate from inside the park even if the gate had not already been closed, because of this new slide close to the north east.
I was disappointed but not horribly disappointed.
This drive from Cody through Wapiti through the North Fork and through Shoshone National Forest is gorgeous and there was much to see.
More pictures taken as LC, my dog and I all walked along the side of the road close to the gate.
We had left increasingly green desert 50 miles behind us and were now exploring in a late Spring winter wonderland............
This place was cathartic for me.
Healing and peaceful and quiet and beautiful.
It reminded me of the terrain that I loved so much in Juneau.
I stood beside the road looking out over the rivers and mountains and took a deep breath.
I am finally sleeping better.
That's a good sign..............
So close and yet so far...............
Not too far from the East Gate we stopped at the Pahaska Tepee Lodge to eat lunch:
There is a picture of what it looked like when it was closed and buried in snow back in March:
There was a sign on the front door of the gift shop indicating that Yellowstone East Gate was closed for the day.
Inside the gift shop that lead to the restaurant entrance in back...........
One more buffalo standing guard at the front entrance to the restaurant...........
Scenes from across the highway opposite the lodge...........
The entire facility - the lodge, the grounds, the campground and cabins are all very quiet and situated in a lovely place..........
Continuing further we pulled off frequently to visit camp grounds and picnic areas that had been inaccessible only a month ago.
Everything had been buried under heavy snow all of the previous times that we had been up this way and I loved having the opportunity to take pictures of the Shoshone River that parallels the highway the entire trip between Cody and the park................
Reminders that we are in bear country.
I read a story in a local magazine recently about a hunting guide who lives in Cody and who makes a living as both a ranch hand and guide.
He has had two experiences with grizzlies in this area over the years.
On both occasions the bears charged.
The first he made it through uninjured and shot the bear.
The second he could not reach his gun in time because his back pack was in the way.  
The bear bit him on the arm and the back and began to bury him in pine needles.  The hunter he was with shot the bear with a bow..............
Difficult to believe these pictures were taken just a few days before June.............
Part of Sleeping Giant ski resort.
It is now closed for the season..............
The mountains are fountains of men as well as of rivers, of glaciers, of fertile soil. The great poets, philosophers, prophets, able men whose thought and deeds have moved the world, have come down from the mountains—mountain-dwellers who have grown up strong there with the forest trees in Nature's workshops...............John Muir