By Anna Gentry
We start our journey into Yellowstone National Park early this morning. An elk herd just inside the park’s entrance greets us and as we wind our way towards Madison, one lonely buffalo is practicing his gymnastics floor routine, steadily following the road’s parallel centerlines.
The road between Canyon Village and Tower-Roosevelt is closed due to weather conditions and road construction. Instead, we decide to wind our way back through Norris and Mammoth Hot Springs, into the feral heart of Yellowstone’s vast frontier – Lamar Valley. Known for wolf, elk, moose and bears sightings, this plunging glacier-carved valley makes for a scenic fall drive.
However, first we take a short detour to Mammoth’s restrooms. As I push the double doors open, a six-point elk is staring at me from across the parking lot. I immediately freeze, feel my trusty fleece pocket and remember I left the camera in the car. We carefully make our way outside and take pictures from the safety of our car’s perimeter, while park rangers yell at foreigners to stop running towards this granddaddy elk.
After our adrenaline is tame, we head northwest. As we drive through the windy valley, I imagined how frontiersman must have felt discovering and exploring this great land for the first time. It must have been an haven and a remarkable sight. Who would have believed these tall-tale men with their stories about boiling streams, whistling teakettle plumes of steam, roaring waterfalls and a plentiful wilderness of native wildlife?
The catchy tune “Home on the Range” seems cliché but is true – land where the “deer and the antelope play.” If a bison jackpot exists, we definitely score today. After seeing countless large herds, we can no longer estimate the number of buffalo that roam the autumn-colored grasses. As we drive further eastbound, passing muted silver-tipped sagebrush set against the thriving desert prairies, we see glimpses of the primitive wildlife that safely tucks into the glacial carved valley. The confines of this area appear held in large hands, cradled by gentle fingers and provide a magnificent sanctuary for nature’s creatures. The flowing rivers and streams beckon these animals home, welcoming them warmly amid this 2.2-million acre national park.
As the hills rapidly turn a kaleidoscope of vivid fall colors, we return to Mammoth. While we are leaving the small museum and visitor’s center, we see a herd of elk. Before we can process our surroundings, we hear shouting and see park rangers running across the manicured lawns near historic Fort Yellowstone. Two bull elk are in competition for a harem of cows (female elk). Suddenly, the six-point bull fiercely charges the younger five-point male, running him across the street, while he bellows his challenging, threatening bugle call. As visitors receive immediate orders from rangers to take refuge inside their vehicles, the park ranger announces the one bull elk has a recent history of ramming cars. I roll down my car window and carefully balance myself on the sill, all the while I am taking pictures of the elk demolishing a bush with his brutish rack, warning the other bull elk not to cross into his territory. As the cows wander, the bull quickly rounds up his females and the yearlings, ensuring his ownership of this blossoming herd. We experience what “National Geographic” photographers live for – a once in a lifetime opportunity to witness firsthand two bull elk fighting, wrestling for control. This event is an incredible prospect to witness and also gives me a new appreciation for how fast – within the blink of an eye – animals lash out and run. In fact, I learn that elk have top speeds of 35 miles-per-hour.
We see Gibbon Falls, which is not as spectacular as yesterday’s astounding waterfalls, but still an awesome site to behold. The plunging falls seem to cascade down a dark, terraced wall of rock, crashing into the canyon below. Lined with walls of trees and colorfully splashed rock walls, this canyon is not far off the beaten path.
As we leave Yellowstone National Park, I reflect on our time here. Surrounded by awe-inspiring beauty, untamed wildlife and a thriving volcanic frontier, the sheer magnitude of this old-time American park will forever touch me. Once someone has witnessed nature’s amazing power and astounding force, he/she is left with an imprint – one that desires to be more at peace with nature and wilderness.
God tells us that heaven is full of “many mansions.” Some people believe “mansions” is a metaphor for a dwelling; however, I can only wish that these spectacular abodes breathe the wonderful serenity and peace this preserved piece of God’s nature, here in Yellowstone, holds. Sights touch each person differently. The living and breathing beauties this unique landscape will forever mesmerize and inspire me. Ever changing, Yellowstone National Park remains a part of America’s past, present and future.