Memories of Yellowstone
While only 3% of Yellowstone National Park is located in Montana, it has captured much more of every Montanan’s heart. For many, the majesty of Yellowstone begins driving south from Livingston, going against the current of the longest undammed river in the contiguous United States. This drive through the aptly named Paradise Valley, framed by the Gallatin range to the west and the Absarokas on the east, serves as a prelude to the awe inspiring scenery of our nation’s first national park. Living in Gardiner for a few years gave me the world's greatest backyard--Electric Peak greeting me each morning on my walk to work, the confluence of the Gardner and Yellowstone rivers creating the soundscape of each day, and pronghorn, elk, and bison sharing the grasses just inside the Roosevelt Arch.
I don’t think one place or group of features inside the park are what I would consider my favorite; it’s too vast and diverse for that. The experiences I shared with friends in the park are what I remember most fondly. One trip backpacking with Amy and Candace on the Pebble Creek trail I remember looking out to see the fine line between new and old growth created by the early snowfall that halted the historic fires of 1988. My best friend Scott coming to visit me and me getting to feel like I was seeing the park for the first time through his eyes. I remember my first hike in the park, Seven Mile Hole in the Canyon district, and feeling nervous as the bear spray on my hip belt hit my leg with each step realizing I’m not the apex predator in this new setting.
I can’t describe winter in Yellowstone. Words don’t do the serenity of this place in winter justice. I learned to cross-country ski in Yellowstone and quickly fell in love with this time of year as I made laps around Bunsen Peak, the terraces at Mammoth Hot Springs, kicking and gliding around the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, and, of course, watching geysers burst into the air around Old Faithful. One special winter evening skiing the DeLacey Creek Trail we were able to stow our headlamps as we emerged from the trees to have the light of the full moon illuminate the wonderland we found ourselves in.
The memories I hold closest are those of my mom visiting in Winter: riding a snow coach down to Old Faithful and seeing a wolf not 50 yards away howling to its pack and listening for the distant reply; her bundling up in everything she had brought from North Carolina to watch Old Faithful go off; her working to earn her special winter Junior Ranger Badge (they let adults earn them too); and just sitting by the fireplace at Snow Lodge watching the snow fall. For me, those moments with my mom are where my thoughts go when I think of Yellowstone.
I could go on and on. I could tell you to keep your eyes peeled for black bears as you near the Petrified Tree on the way to Roosevelt/Tower Junction. Remember to put on sunscreen if you’re kayaking on the lake near West Thumb. Close your eyes and just listen to the hundred subtle sounds mud pots make. Whatever adventure you have in the park should probably finish with watching the sunset in a rocking chair on the porch of the Roosevelt Lodge.
While I only lived in Yellowstone a few short years, I’ll always think of it as home. It’s a place with memories around every bend, along the banks of the rivers, and scattered throughout trails. I hope those reading this are reminded of their time in Yellowstone, and, for those with Yellowstone on their bucket list, make plans to cross it off soon.
Incredible Photography by Averi Thompson
Written by Stephen McNeal