Yellowstone & the Din of Squeaky Marmots

YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, Wyoming — After some wait to allow us to get squared in on our benches and our cameras tuned and readied, good old Old Faithful coughed and rumbled and spluttered and spit a little and then shot up a lovely plume some 20 feet or so into the brightly clear air.

I thought, “Well, I guess that’s nice enough and pretty in its way, even if it’s a bit less of a thrill than I expected but …”

Actually, before I even got to the “thrill,” the great old geyser got down to the “thrill” business in spades, rolling up its misty sleeves to launch a redwood of steam high into the sky, a fireworks trail of brilliant whiteness against the picture-perfect blue, an amazing dazzle and razzle of cotton candy and rolled up cloud, a tornado of Hawaii surf sent ever-so high … this, again and again, before excusing itself to go take a nap.

Wow.

There’s no end to the “wow” at Yellowstone and its gigantic environs. You toodle along the roadways in this gigantic block of nature and beauty to note some elk showing you their fannies on the left and then some clunky old bison strolling to the right, some far away others as close as a nickel. Antelope wander around like they own the joint which, after all, they do. Mudpots bubble and boil. There’s talk of bears in here but we never did see one and son Tim alone spotted one of the few hundred wolves there are in this European-principality-sized gembox.

Great lakes stretch out that-a-way and hills roll along this-a-way to a wow chorus from the city slickers and bikers and camera-poppers from all over the world. A little stream hoses along at the bottom of a grand canyon it has carved through the yellow stone, hundreds of feet above, reminding us that with time and perseverance nature evolves along its path — with us or without us. Any one if these marvels would be enough to land its own lisiting of great sights but here they are a happy dime a cheery dozen.

This is not to “discover” Yellowstone, of course, as it is the nation’s first and thus oldest national park, a treasure for the millions who find their way here across landscapes that seem to rival the destination — until you get here and see the Real McCoy in the matter of great vistas. It’s been protected since Grant’s time to the benefit of the nation as a whole, if to the annoyance of the loggers and mining giants who cannot imagine that mere trifling people would have superiority over their greed. Hopefully even the low-spirited cheapskates who would destroy government on behalf of the rich will bow before that greater imperative. Hopefully.

We stayed in Montana, which sits atop to the north and hangs over Yellowstone to the west, finding lovely refuge in Big Sky which was built for the skiiing crazies and thus offers “bargains” in the warmer seasons, too. If you’re lucky and far-sighted in your planning you can stay inside the park at the Xanterra sites, which are hard to come by but worth the dime. We’d drive down to Yellowstone, cutting the huge park into pieces rather than foolishly trying to see too much in one day’s visit. You can do that and you will be rewarded, but what’s the rush? Come all this way to speed-dial through majesty such as this?

Lots and lots of people come here but it never seemed at all crowded. Sure, large crowds collect at Old Faithful and small crowds congeal at the random roadside for the animals when they are spotted but, mostly, we poked along with the road and the country’s better side to ourselves. The critters seem not to mind although we are amply advised to stay away from them, as they are quite dangerous for being so beautiful and all.

At one spot a few of us were wandering along on foot in a quiet field, pleasantly waving back to the others behind who could be seen flapping their arms at us and halloo-ing out in what we took for greetings. We did not appreciate that they were warning us that there were some bison ankling along themselves on a slightly higher level of the plain up out of our sight. Our paths seemed destinated to crisscross but two of my sons crested the hill and spotted the beasts, happily, before they spotted us. We scrammed.

The bison or buffalo is built along the lines of a locomotive with horns. Flatteringly, you might point out that they have slim hips but, from what we are warned, they take compliments in their stride and are more inclined to trample the odd trespasser into the sagebrush than to exchange niceties. They move very fast but we moved pretty fast ourselves in getting the blazes out of there.

These national parks are a gift to the future, dinged and nicked as the budgets are always cut to make different federal gifts to the wealthy and powerful instead. But they are so astonishingly important and so magnificently beautiful that it would take the hardest and most poisoned spirit to do them harm; such spirits exist, of course, and are momentarily ascendant but people do have a way of coming to their senses in the interests of a much greater good. Hopefully.

(If you qualify, do get a senior pass — a $10 investment that opens the doors free to every national park in the land forever. Ours saved us the price of a grand dinner on the town on this trip alone where parks rest up against one another in beauteous abundance.)

As amazing as is Yellowstone, there’s plenty to see — including critters — beyond, too.

I don’t think that I’ve ever even heard of a marmot before running into one. Built something along the lines of a fast-fed prairie dog or maybe woodchuck unwearied by chucking wood, there was one living in a pile of rocks outside our place in Big Sky. It would come bask in the sun while making believe it was attending to important marmot duties. It would also pose for pictures, being quite vain.

And noisy.

One evening a fox came along, as bold as brass, to check us out, sauntering up onto the porch to see what it could see. This offended the marmot who let out a long series of high squeaks, sort of like a tea kettle with the hiccups. Even after the fox strolled off, paying no attention whatever to the noisy whistler, the marmot sat up on his hind legs and wailed away in warning or alarm or possibly just charmed with his own voice, or whatever. It was fascinating. (Later we ran into more of them who were out in chippy force as we passed by their own rocky domains; with six or seven going at once it was like a fire alarm at a tin-whistle factory.)

Foxes and marmots out the window. Not bad at all.

I’ve kicked around a lot but somehow have never been to this lovely spread of the land. I don’t know why I haven’t but I’m glad that shortfall has been repaired. It is such a special place, out here where the antelope play, where every thing is two hundred miles from the next thing and where you can see elk and buffalo who have no great fear of those who could do them great harm in less protected quarters.

Wow.

We are very lucky to have this treasure.

 

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