We left bright and early a week ago Friday morning, headed for Yellowstone National Park.
We flew. It is no longer possible to fly directly from Portland to Billings via Horizon/Alaska. By the time we came home, a week later, it was one of those fun trips where you fly from Montana to Seattle, and then fly from Seattle to Portland and then try to work out mathematically why it is is better for the airline carriers (who are all going broke together) to make a straightforward non-stop flight into a multi-stop triangle with double the hassles.
We didn’t quite work it out.
We arrived in Billings, which is a very small airport, btw, and not a good place to get a sandwich. Waiting at the gate, I got in a conversation with a Billings native who viewed wolves and grizzlies as The Enemy. He told me not to have a ‘ladies problem’ on vacation, because 99.9% of the time, that’s why bears attack. I told him I was hoping to see a wolf, and asked him if he thought wearing a raw meat hat might up my chances. He couldn’t understand my child-like cadence so he nodded and said, ‘Yeah, I try and warn people about it, although it makes my daughter mad.’
We continued our conversation only a few moments more. I thought it was unfair that I could understand him and he couldn’t understand me. It seems I’m always understanding people whom I’d be better off not understanding.
When we got to Billings, we rented a car to drive to Gardiner which is right outside the North entrance to Yellowstone… the one with the Roosevelt Arch.
I wish I had a camera out at that point. Montana makes much of its rugged, Westerner status. Motels we passed had interesting names like “Antler Motel” “Wrangler’s Reststop” “Gunsmoke Ranch (now with HBO!)”
When we got to Gardiner, it was kinda late and already dark. Gardiner isn’t all that far from where we started, but its weird how traveling can eat up your day. We checked into our motel, and that’s when I got an idea of where the Billings guy’s attitudes had been formed.
The lobby/restaurant of our motel was a dead-head spectacle, but not in a hippie way; rather in a glassy-eyed taxidermist paradise sort of way. I paused in the doorway, mouth open, staring at the heads: The elk heads, the moose heads, the deer heads. The dead grizzly on the balcony… the skins mounted like tapestries with tails. And I remembered to take a picture.
I don’t really *get* the mounting heads on a wall thing. Do you? It strikes me as passing morbid, or a little overly utilitarian. I suppose you could hang a lot of clothes on a rack of antlers, but unless a bodiless head is rigged up to like, *talk* to you, I just don’t see the point. What is the aesthetic appeal of a dead animal’s astonished noggin? Are hunters such forgetful people that they hafta keep part of their kills around at all times, in order to keep track?
I am not knocking hunting, well at least not yet. I’m a liberal hippie tree-hugger, but I acknowledge that while deer and their ilk (elk?) may not have been specifically designed for people with rifles, they are nonetheless a prey species, and they are sort of designed to be killed. That’s just their place in the food chain. They are an animal whose fate is to be hunted, and to try and make babies before something eats them first. So I’m not ragging on hunters-
it’s just weird, ok? All those glassy eyes. Wtf.
Now hunting a predator, that’s a whole other ball of wax. The higher a predator is on the food chain, the less of them there’s going to be. If you kill off a lot of wolves, you’ve impacted a whole eco-system. Predators are already ranged by nature to be few and far between. You take out a section of them, it impacts every creature’s population- pretty negatively. Other predators will try and fill the niche, and maybe they will be copious, or maybe they will fail. Either way you end up with a whole lot of one kind of prey species eating up the land, and mating like crazy, and pretty soon, before you even realize it, you’ve got a place like Montana where human beings are controlling the population by using disembodied heads as restaurant decor.
So the next morning we crossed the Roosevelt Arch and went in to Yellowstone.
I’m not sure what I expected, but I’ll tell you this: When you drive over the border, Montana and Wyoming look a lot alike.
I guess I kinda thought creatures would show up as soon as we drove into the park. You know, like a herd of elk would become our motorcade, and some all-seeing wolf would herald our arrival, and wag his wolfish tail from a nearby hillside. I was disabused of this notion until we drove into Mammoth Hot Springs and had to wait for a herd of elk to clear out of the parking lot. Alright!
Mammoth is pretty from a geological point of view. White rocks form a distinctive landmark, stacked terraces formed from the mineral deposits of hot springs. But a lot of the springs weren’t running while we were there. To compensate for the lack of moisture drama, I dumped a bottle of water into my leather purse and freaked out the rest of the afternoon over whether my camera would ever work again. We kept walking higher and higher up the boardwalk around the springs, and it was a little unpleasant to be sucking air like an 80 year old with emphysema while my purse dripped on my hiking boots and four year old children shrieked and giggled and skipped along the path.
(See, it takes a little while to get accustomed to the elevation.)
But dad felt sorry for me so he bought us ice-cream in the afternoon, and my camera dried out and deigned to work again, and everything was O.K.
Plus, the waterline mark on my genuine leather handbag has proved something of a conversation piece.
Here’s my daughter in a dead forest. The forest is dead because it was watered with gaseous, near-boiling spring water. I guess that’s not very good for vegetation.