Saturday, May 28, 2011

Shoshone National Forest - Part 1

 After wandering around yard sales for a couple of hours this morning my guy and my dog and I went for a drive west - past Wapiti and through the Shoshone National Forest headed towards the East Gate of Yellowstone National Park.
Wapiti is about 20 miles beyond Cody.  
When the tourists are not here Wapiti is nothing more than a very beautiful and very quiet community of homes and ranches surrounded by very wonderful mountains.
We have driven through parts of the Shoshone National Forest many times since arriving in Cody, drawn to the mountains and rivers and pine trees and abundant wildlife and endless beauty of this prelude to Yellowstone.
Shoshone National Forest:
Both Wapiti and the national forest are peaceful and quiet places for most of the year.
But as the tourist season begins in this region I have seen both of these areas begin to transform.
Still beautiful.  Very beautiful.
And right now at least still quiet and peaceful.
But campgrounds are now open.  So are trails and overlooks and picnic areas and lodges and horse riding ranches and even a couple of restaurants.
RV's and campers and tents are slowly but definitely beginning to appear in numbers
Even though we saw much snow today as we approached Yellowstone, summer is just around the corner........

What I find extremely compelling about this region of the country is the diversity of the terrain.
We traveled 52 miles right up the gates of YNP today.
It is not a long way.
But in only a short time we traveled from dusty green semi-arid desert high plains, to lush green and irrigated farm land to alpine terrain filled with rivers, streams, pine trees, high mountains and more snow than I have ever seen only a few days away from the first of June.
I love it.
I absolutely love the diversity, the beauty, the animals, the never-ending surprises that can be found around every bend in the road..........
 Still on the way to Wapiti - new snow on the mountains, dusty green hills and valleys, homes dotting the huge expanse of territory, not a tree in sight..........
 Close to Wapiti the fields are irrigated extensively and the green in contrast to the dusty shades we had seen only a few miles away was stark.
LC and I have both noticed that there are shades of green (on the trees and in the fields) in this part of the country that we have never seen before.
It is this area where we have seen very large herds of both deer and elk during previous trips.
Surprisingly we saw very little of either on the way out this morning.............
 There are many ranches between Cody and Yellowstone that have opened for the season recently.
"City folks" can camp and ride and rope.
We impulsively turned into the driveway of this ranch when we saw that it was open to the public.
Curious to see what was there...........
 The ranch was smaller than I had expected and contained many cabins and western touches (such as the wagons along the side of the driveway and wagon wheels decorating the bridges than spanned a narrow stream).........
 And small "cattle" for roping practice.
Still a quiet place this early in the season, this small ranch was a lovely and peaceful place for people to enjoy the western experience.............
 By this time we were a few miles beyond Wapiti and now into the national forest.
Gone was the desert and sporadic homes and irrigated farms and horse pastures.
Throughout our drive we saw that picnic areas and campgrounds that had been gated and covered in snow the last time we were here were now open for business. 
The Shoshone River was full and fast flowing.
Some of the trees were beginning to show their bright green leaves.
The forest was coming alive............
Briefly today we came across cold rain and increasing clouds and for a while I thought that our drive was going to be one of experiencing everything through the windshield of the truck.
Happily it did not last long, and as we continued our adventure in the forest we did eventually find the sun again.
LC told me that he thought this small rock formation looked like a Native American watching over the valley........
 Both LC and I were disappointed when we arrived at places where we had run into big horn sheep and buffalo in the past and did not see any.
It was disappointing but expected.  
They had all traveled down into the valley during the winter in search of food and as it should be, had now moved on to spring feeding areas.
We had resigned ourselves to not seeing much wildlife on this trip until (completely unexpectedly) we came across these two huge bison grazing contentedly on the side of the road next to the entrance of a campground.
They must be so used to people.
They completely ignored us.............
 When we saw the two bison my Mountain Boy slowed the truck down and then pulled into a driveway leading down to a campground as I took these pictures.
After taking a lot of pictures of these very beautiful animals that look so much like a throw-back to a prehistoric time we drove down to the campground knowing that the river was down there.
I hoped to take some water pictures.
By this time in the day LC asked me if I wanted to just drive up to the Yellowstone gate without stopping from this point on.
Neither of us had checked on the park-entrance situation in a few days.
For all we knew the gates could be open without restrictions by now.
Pictures taken from the campground.
The day had turned beautiful and the temperature was mild.
The scenery was getting more and more beautiful with each mile that we traveled.
We had not seen a lot of wildlife to this point but had finally happened upon a couple of grazing big male bison.
I was having a very very good time...........
There are two men fishing along the shore line in this picture.......
 Everything looked so different today and I struggled to figure out why that was.
Things were much greener than they had ever been in our experience.
The water was higher.
And snow, cloud cover, time of day...........between all of those variables as well as the fact that businesses along the route were now open made the entire area just look and feel very different.
I saw many things on our trip today that I had never noticed before.
And I was happy to be able to pull into and explore some of the areas that had been buried in snow until only recently.
One last picture of one of our massive boys...........

 And just like that - just as quickly as dusty green desert had turned into lush green farm land - we moved into snow.
It was gorgeous.
It was stunning.
It made my heart race with excitement and even though I had agreed with LC that we should head straight to the Yellowstone gate I asked him to stop.
Just once.
Because I had to stop.
I love this more than I can ever express.
So beautiful it can make you cry.............
 After driving within two miles of the gate a few times over the past few months LC and Jamie and I finally did indeed make it to the East Gate of Yellowstone National Park.
Only to learn that the East Gate entrance to the park is closed.
Both avalanches and rock slides over the past day.
I found it so foreign to my life experience to be standing in snow only a few days away from June and to be told that we could not get through the gates of the park because of avalanches.
We were not the only people to be turned back today.
Even as we were parked along the side of the road walking and taking pictures of this most beautiful of places we saw four or five other vehicles also turning around.
Somehow not being able to make it through the gate did not matter.
My guy and my dog and I were standing in slowly melting snow, surrounded by mountains and river on a sunny Saturday afternoon.
We were surrounded by true natural beauty and we would take our time enjoying it on the way home.
I had seen many things on the way to the park that I wanted to stop and photograph...........

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