Monday, October 20, 2008

Shoulder season: time for elk and scenery

'Shooting' an elk from the safety of a car

Lei at Norris Geyser Basin

Swimming in the Boiling River

Elk relax on the Gardiner High School track
With snow in the high country and hunters sighting in their rifles the shoulder season is upon us; too snowy and hunter-dangerous to climb or hike off-trail, but not snowy enough to ski.
A week ago I took advantage of the 4-inch early season snow dump in town and hauled out the skinny skis for several laps around Russell Park in my neighborhood. The snow was wet and sticky and it was uncomfortable. It’s now long gone.
This is the time to see the larch in brilliant golds and orange on the west side, or the cow elk gathered by large bulls in the valleys in and around Yellowstone National Park on the east side.
We chose Yellowstone and stayed in Gardiner two nights, specifically to see those elk in the Paradise Valley and in park headquarters at Mammoth, tucked just inside Wyoming.
We saw countless elk in the irrigated pasture below Emigrant Peak. We could look outside our motel window and watch elk work their way from their beds in the Gardiner yards down to the Yellowstone for a morning drink of ice-cold water. Elk droppings were piled high on the Gardiner High School football field where these mountain monarchs lazily lounged on the track in the shade of the stands and scoreboard. Some cows munched on lush grass above the field to the west.
Inside the park everywhere we looked we saw elk --- between Mammoth’s housing units, in front yards, in back yards --- everywhere.
As we toured the road between exploring the Mammoth and Norris Basin geyser basins we saw other large game, too.
On the Gibbon River beaver flats we were treated to a large black grizzly that seemed to be feeding on everything. Though in the distance, our views of him were unobstructed. That was enough for me to pronounce the trip thoroughly satisfying.
We also saw bison, antelope, and deer. I’ve yet to see a wolf in the park. No moose this trip, either.
There was a nice snow covering on the top of Yellowstone’s highest peaks. Electric Peak at nearly 11,000 feet was stunning.
On Sunday we treated ourselves to a soak in the Boiling River and then a drive back to Great Falls on Highway 89 between the Absorakas and Gallatins, the Bridgers and Crazies and through the heart of the Little Belt Mountains, home.

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