The past three days have been a whirlwind of movement. So far, it’s been purely the excitement to experience this new world (for many of us) that has pushed us past fatigue to keep our adventurous energy alive, but today was a reminder of the deeper “why” that moves us along.
It was another great viewing day in Yellowstone, it was a “three-dog day” for us prior to even lunchtime… We saw two coyotes running across a hillside from the van, three distant wolves while parked on the roadside, and later a family of red foxes who played around a log perhaps 20 yards from the road where a small crowd of cars (including ours) had stopped to watch. It was thanks to the eagle eyes of our leader Melissa and a few other group members (excitedly pointing these critters out to the rest of us upon discovery) making these sightings possible for everyone in our group… These days have only been so productive because of their desire to communicate these opportunities quickly before the moment is lost.
At the wolf viewing area this morning, perhaps 30 minutes after we had sighted the wolves into our scopes and binoculars, a family of four who had just parked their car walked up to Lindsey and asked what we were looking at. Andy and Melissa offered to show them, adjusting the eye piece as necessary so that the smaller children could get a better look. Everyone in the family took a turn. The joy each person felt upon first seeing a wolf was obvious from their excited exclamation, “I see it! There it is!” followed by quiet awe.
Although we had two scopes of our own, because ours is a larger group than average on the roadside, a man standing adjacent offered each of us the chance to look through his scope as well. There we all stood, a group of strangers braving the cold June morning, just talking about the animals we were seeing united by one common desire. The world felt a little smaller as encounters like these with other visitors remind us why we’re on this trek… because ultimately, we want this experience so that we can share it with others.
After the wolf encounter, we met renowned wildlife photographer Dan Hartman at his home near our own lodgings and were treated to a private viewing of curated clips from three of his nature films. Dan has worked with magazines and media outlets such as the BBC and PBS since 1983. Besides being treated to his behind-the-scenes commentary of how he acquired the different incredible shots of birds, a family of mountain goats and more, Dan talked to us about the environmental concerns driving his work, chiefly the destruction of “sickly” aspen trees which are so vital to the life cycles of local birds like sapsuckers and mountain bluebirds as nesting cavities. He believes that their habitat is quickly disappearing while many are unaware there’s even a problem.
After discussion and Q&A in his living room, we broke for lunch then went on a hike with Dan to a new location for us in the Beartooth mountains. None of us knew what to expect… Dan has spent a lot of time observing the natural areas of Yellowstone for his conservation work and it was immediately obvious that he had brought us to a beautiful place which likely few tourists had seen; we saw scat and tracks belonging to bear(s) and many more wildflowers tucked beneath the trees and sunny outcrops than we had seen from our stops along the roadside. We truly appreciated Dan’s kindness in showing us more of his world. We will never forget our time in the field with him.
This trek is (at least in part) about building community… Within our group we share rides to every destination, our photos, laughs with one another, turns at the spotting scope (or the pit toilet), and many different pieces of ourselves during this trip. The lack of drama and strife between this group (after so few hours of sleep and alone time in particular) was enough for one group member to note it as his “surprising observation about this trip” during our end-of-day discussion, but another noted surprise was the abundance of wildlife encounters crammed into just the past three days, which besides today’s three canine species includes sightings of bison (both herds and the few individuals who seem to enjoy blocking traffic), black bear, a grizzly mother nursing two cubs, a staghorn antelope nursing two fawns, plus marmot, pika, Black rosy-finch and mountain goat in Beartooth mountains this afternoon. It really is incredible how much we have witnessed in such a short amount of time.
We can’t wait to see what experiences Yellowstone will share with us next.
We’ll add a few pictures later, so check back!