Wolves, Bison and Mother Mary: Yellowstone, Montana

We leave Washington and Josh Ritter at the Idaho border, but he has another stop for us on our itinerary: Coeur d’Alene. We stop in for breakfast at this quaint little place. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned free refills before, but they’re much appreciated. We have to get back on the road soon, though, because with have a lot of ground to cover. I know, I know, I said I was racing to Spokane, so what’s got me in such a hurry now? We’ll get to that later.

For now it’s morning in Coeur d’Alene and everything is beautiful. The road hugs the pure, blue waters of the lake, with tree-covered slops on the other side. The road dips down steep inclines. There’s still traces of snow in parts. Patches of the road, hidden from the morning sun, are icy and can trip the unsuspecting up. We’re only nipping across the thin northern tip of Idaho and soon cross over into the big sky land that is Montana.

The landscape shifts again, becoming vast plains bordered by peaks and ridges. There’s immediately something odd about the roads here: one speed by day, one speed by night. One of the higher speed limits in the US, which makes sense, but I’m not sure how enforced the night rule is.

Day Speed, Night Speed

In fact, up until 1999, Montana’s day time speed limit was “eh… whatever”. Or more exactly, “Reasonable and prudent” speeds. What are “reasonable and prudent” speeds, exactly? No-one was quite sure, so one stray speeding ticket brought the whole free-drivin’ system down.

It’s hours before we’re near the first enclave of humanity – like its southern neighbour, Wyoming, this is one of the states whose livestock often outnumber the people. Unlike Wyoming, one of its major towns is called Butte. Heheh.

I only pulled into Butte for—ahem, okay, I went through Butte like—okay, okay, I know it’s pronounced “bew-ut”. Good thing I learned that before coming across the tourism article “23 Things to do in Butte”. Heheh. Yes I am that immature, thank you for asking. Although I have far from exhausted my Butte-related comedy, I keep on going to arrive in Bozeman for the night. I arrive fairly early in the evening, but the distances out here mean trying to get onto the next stop isn’t worth the while. Instead I settle in for the night, hit a local bar and have a couple of drinks. (More like Boozeman, am I right? … Yeah… Yeah I went there.) I’m not sure that this sort of behaviour is entirely approved of, given what I find in my room when I check in:

Strangers Prayer

I’m working my way towards the northern part of Yellowstone National Park which, at this time of year, is the main part that is open to visitors. Some other time I’ll have to return here, going south through Yellowstone into the Grand Tetons if I want to do a Josh Ritter Covers tour. It also means that one of the main attractions — the geysers and, most famously, Old Faithful — are beyond my reach. But what is very reachable are these fellas:

BisonPlease do not reach for the bison.

They’re very calm, ambling kind of beasts. Although the first one I encountered was a baby bison and driving past it would mean getting between it and mama bison so I thought I might as well just kick back and enjoy the view:

The Bison Family

Otherwise, they come across as pretty blasé. I find myself a behind a herd as they plod, some on-road, some adjacent to it. Not for the first time in my life, but for the most prolonged time, I wonder what animals think of cars. Like, do the bison think, “Oh, here comes a human in the metal thing” or do they think, “weird lookin’ critter behind me, don’t make eye contact.” These are the long thoughts of the soul you have when you’re staring up a bison’s arse for ten minutes.

Bison Strut

The bison aren’t the main attraction of this area of the park, however, it’s called the Mammoth Area for a reason. That reason isn’t mammoths, if you were wondering, but there the Mammoth Hot Springs nearby:

Mammth Hot Springs

Elsewhere in the park I encounter another herd of photographers. Unlike the ones in Nevada, these seem less a nomadic scavenger tribe. The photographers down south rolled into the ghost down, scavenged it for well-framed pictures and disappeared. But this herd had settled in. They’d chosen the high ground and a good vantage spot, giving them commanding views of the valley, which allows them to spot their natural predators: People Who Do Not Attribute Pictures. And also bears, one would assume.

Photographer Valley

The reason they’re camped out up here is the far ridge. There’s an array of telescopes set up and someone kindly lets me use his to see what the fuss is about: wolves. Black wolves, specifically. After being previously eradicated, wolves have been reintroduced to Yellowstone in what must have been a somewhat awkward cocktail party: “Welcome back to your homeland. Sorry for slaughtering your ancestors. … Boy we’ve been saying that lot.”

Well, with that terrible joke out of the way, it’s time to head out of Yellowstone, passing these happy chaps near the entrance:

Happy Chaps

In the nearby town to the entrance there’s a church, and on the front lawn of the church are about five more deer just happily milling around, munching on the grass. Chillin’. A few miles outside of town there is… well… I’m not entirely sure. There’s this:

Roadside Mary

I… I don’t really know. Where else are you going to put a state of Mary, I guess?

With that detailed analysis of the American psyche, I’m hopping back in the car and driving the night away towards the North Dakota border. Let’s close out with a few more pictures of Yellowstone:

Yellowstone National Park Yellowstone National Park Yellowstone National Park

 

 

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