Thursday, April 4, 2013

Shoshone National Forest - Part 1

The weather has been phenomenal recently here in Cody.
The temperatures have been unseasonably warm and the sky has been only sunny and clear.
On one more beautiful and warm day LC, Jamie and I headed west towards the East Gate of the park.
Yellowstone will not be open for many more weeks, and even though we knew that the park was still closed, we also hoped that our drive through fifty miles of the North Fork and Shoshone National Forest would bring us many sightings of big horn sheep and buffalo.
We hadn't been west in over a month and with so little snow and such mild temperatures, we weren't certain if the herds that come down out of the mountains to graze through the winter would still around or not.
But we hoped that they would.
We were not disappointed................

Heading out of Cody we drove beyond the reservoir, beyond the open pasture land of the North Fork, beyond the tiny community of Wapiti, and eventually made it to the forest.
Within only a few miles of reaching the boundary of the forest I could feel LC slowing the truck.
I looked up and saw a large black spot sitting low to the ground.
Against the back drop of beige and green I realized that we had found our first bison..............
This early in the spring there was still no traffic on the highway, and my Mountain Boy slowed the truck to a crawl as we excitedly watched this huge creature sitting alone in the grass.
He was beautiful.  Absolutely beautiful.
He curiously eyed us as we slowly drove beyond him, but was unperturbed by our presence.
Very likely he has been coming out of the mountains every winter and has been seeing human gawkers for his entire life.
Humans are no threat to him, and he seemed to know that............
I had been totally focused on the bison sitting on my side of the road that I had not even noticed the others grazing on the opposite side of the highway.
Still watching our resting Goliath, it was LC who broke the spell when he asked me to hand my camera to him so that he could photograph those who were grazing on the back side of the guard rail..............
We spent a few minutes watching this first small herd and then continued on, excited that we had made our first contact.
Even after seeing endless big horn sheep and endless buffalo in the Shoshone National Forest over this past winter, it still takes my breath away to see them again.
There is something incredibly wonderful about seeing them.
They all disappear into the mountains in late spring and we don't see them again until late fall.
There is something very special about them.  About the rhythms of their routines.  About their unexpected disappearance and their unexpected reappearance.  Year after year.
Winter is a special and quiet time in the Shoshone National Forest, and it is made even more special because of the incredible wild life.............
Bison and big horn sheep watching is a wonderful and exciting way to spend a beautiful early spring day in Wyoming, and LC and I were greatly enjoying ourselves.
Eventually we found our way to the Wayfarers Chapel, and (as we always do), we stopped there on this day.
I still remember the first time we stopped there, when we were in Cody a couple of years ago.
We saw the sign for the chapel, pulled off the highway, drove up the short but steep gravel hill, parked the truck and climbed out eager to find the church.
Both LC and I had envisioned a small rustic building nestled in the woods.
We could not have been more mistaken.  There was no building, but we were not disappointed.
On the contrary, Wayfarers Church is a wonderful, quiet, very sweet outdoor church complete with rows of benches, a stone podium, a simple wood cross, surrounded by the most beautiful natural setting you could imagine.
A picture taken from the small gravel parking area before heading up to the outdoor church.........
Looking down the hill towards the Shoshone River...........
I'm not sure if this was the first or the second time we stopped at the church, but here is a link to one of our earliest visits to this place:
I remember so clearly standing among the pews and the snow and the mountains during one of these early visits and telling LC that if we ever got married I would like it to be here at the Wayfarers Chapel.
That was two years ago and during these past couple of years we have transitioned from calling each other "significant other " to "fiance" to "husband" and "wife".
We keep talking about it. 
But can't seem to bring ourselves to take that step.
Life has been hard on both of us, and over the past year the unbearable hardness of life has almost immobilized us.
Maybe one day we will come back to the Wayfarers Chapel and not just take pictures.............
The original plan when we first left Cody was to drive all the way to the road barriers (located about two miles from the still-closed East Gate), and then take our time and stop often on the way home.
We stuck with the plan until the first buffalo we saw lazily slumped down by the side of the road.
He might not be there on the way home, so we had to stop. 
Same with the next buffalo and then the next.
No matter.
We ran into tourists a couple of years ago at the same road barriers.
We were almost within touching distance of Yellowstone National Park, and these early season visitors were disappointed that the gates were still closed even early in June. 
What we wanted tot tell them was to not be disappointed. 
That the park is a wonderful place, but Shoshone National Forest is a magical place as well, and it is filled with endless and wonderful animal encounters.............
A couple of quick pictures and we began the journey back towards Cody.
It was a long, slow, wonderful trip back.
More blog entries to follow.............

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