While we were in Ennis, so too was a Hollywood film crew making
a major feature produced by and starring Steven Seagall, who
owns a large ranch outside of town. The film is called The Patriot,
and word is that in the story Seagall's character saves Ennis
from the Montana Militia intent on taking over and bending the
townsfolk to its service. According to local gossip, the actual
Montana Militia was a bit unhappy about its portrayal in the
script, and so quite understandably issued daily death threats
to Seagall. This problem was allegedly solved in standard Hollywood
fashion by hiring several of the militia leaders as paid consultants
to the film.
We toured a spectacular 50-mile expedition over the Gravelly
Ridge Road, which featured an up-close sighting of a large
moose and at one point reached an altitude of 9200 feet above
sea level. After many stops for photo opps, we reached the
village of Cameron, where we enjoyed a fine meal and some
beverages at an established called The Grizzly Bar. On Sunday
(between viewings of NFL games via satellite) some of us hiked
over the ridge behind the house and crawled over rock formations
that towered over the hillside to heights of approximately
80 feet. According to local lore, these were either Shoshone
Indian ceremonial altars or UFO touchstones, or possibly both.
We just thought they were cool.
We also drove to Virginia City, which is part museum, part
tourist trap. Several of the stores have been preserved exactly
as they were in the late 1800's; others purvey tacky trinkets
and fleecy clothes. Boots and hats are big. I bought a hamburger.
On Monday we left Ennis and headed into Yellowstone Park
via the west entrance. Just before the Park entrance a small
city has sprouted up to serve the tourists. Chain hotels,
fast food emporia, gas stations, and tacky gift shops are
abundant here, but we chose to experience the IMAX movie Yellowstone,
which was truly breathtaking; and The Grizzly Discovery Center,
home to a pack of 10 wolves and 8 Grizzly Bears, which have
been relocated here because of trouble they got into elsewhere.
The most memorable story we heard was about Toby, a 7 year-old
grizzly from the Denali region of Alaska. Seems he grew rather
fond of the cinnamon buns prepared in a bush camp kitchen,
and no matter how the staff tried to secure the building,
Toby kept getting in and feasting on the delicious buns. Finally,
rangers decided to move him to a location 150 miles away over
a steep mountain range. It took Toby just 7 days to make his
way back to his favorite breakfast place.
we drove south down through the park, we visited the Norris
Geyser basin where large areas of soft, milky turf gave way
to holes from which steam spewed, and pools of tropical green
dotted the area. Just past that we encountered a wide plain
area cut by a flowing stream. Out in the distance were 2 large
bison, grazing. In a wooded area on the bank not far from
the road, I spotted a large elk with a full antler rack, head
high as if to sniff the clean autumn air. This first elk prompted
a full stop by our 2-car caravan, and armed with cameras we
quickly scampered back for the shots. Hidden back behind this
magnificent stag was his family, a large cow and young 'un.
The most daring of our group was Bret, who waded across the
stream to get a close-up with flash. We watched in fascination,
as one of our group, the stag, and each of us gathered on
the bank knew that if the big beast (I'm referring here to
the elk) decided our pal was too close, he could not possibly
have outrun the animal. He snapped off a dozen shots with
his flash from only 3 or 4 feet away, then the stag got up
slowly, signaled to his family, and sauntered away. He said
later that he felt his only option if charged would have been
to turn 180 degrees and go face-down in the stream; his big
concern was whether I could catch his camera when hastily
thrown. Unfortunately, we had to keep this scenario on the
I came away from this encounter truly moved by my first experience
of an elk in the wild. The power of emotion was diminished
somewhat when, later in the town of Mammoth Hot Springs (our
destination this day), we came upon perhaps 50 more elk roaming
around the downtown area. The impression was that there were
more elk than people in the downtown, though I'm sure this
wouldn't be true in the summer when tourists throng this most
popular of parks so thick that the rangers have to hold cars
backed up for miles at the entrance gates. At this time of
year we felt we had the park to ourselves, which is a very
desirable way to experience such a spectacular, magical, and
Mammoth Hot Springs Resort is on the site of old Fort Yellowstone,
and the original buildings of the encampment are still there,
used as housing for Park staff. The resort is run by a concessionaire,
and the lack of competition shows in both the accommodations
and the food. The mediocre service can perhaps be attributed
to the fact that most of the resort staff is comprised of
college kids who have left by the end of September. But anyone
who complains about anything here needs to revise their expectations.
We took lots of shots of the elk wandering around, literally
ignoring the cars and people who snapped pictures and honked.
The male:female ratio seemed to be about 1:9, with each stag
in full rut, herding his harem around, chasing and cajoling
them, bleating and squealing and frequently approaching a
female from behind with slobbering tongue extended, apparently
ready to mount and fire, though none of us actually saw that.
We assumed each male probably had his way with each female
in the group several times each day.
On Tuesday morning, before heading down toward Old Faithful,
we hiked around the "steam tables" (actually tier
upon tier of terraced stone and cascading water) above the
town. Then a day of scenic cruising that included buffalo,
more elk, and a stop at an overlook spanning the Yellowstone
River valley, where with binoculars we watched a photographer
with a huge lens stalking a silver wolf. We hiked down into
the breath-taking 300' lower falls, and later stopped for
beach shots at the surprisingly large Lake Yellowstone.
you drive through Yellowstone Park, evidence of the 1988 fire
is everywhere: new green growth surrounds "cabin-pole"
pine trees that still stand or lie where they fell nine years
The Inn is a massive place, built in 1904 of cottonwood logs,
with several hundred rooms and an adjacent park visitor center.
We could see the famous geyser from our rooms; it erupts on
an irregular, but predictable schedule based on the previous
eruption. Food and service was comparable to Mammoth, which
is to say so-so; if I do the Park again, I'll stay just one
night there, rather than the two that we did.
Next we headed down to Jackson Hole, Wyoming for the final
stage of the trip. The ride out the south entrance of Yellowstone,
down the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Highway, and on into Grand
Teton National Park was spectacular. The Teton range is even
more grandiose than the mountains we'd seen in Montana; and
their rise up off the plain is even more extreme. As the highway
runs due south along the base, the rising sun hits these stately
peaks with a drama than cannot be described. Our first stop
in town was the National Wildlife Art Museum, followed by
the Images of Nature Gallery of Thomas Mangelson, where I
bought a large framed photograph entitled Shore of Lake Wonder.
Jackson Hole is a power-shopping mecca for the rich and famous;
somehow we managed to fit in. We lunched at The Bunnery, then
headed up to Teton Village and our spacious condos at the
base of the famous ski area. Dinner at the Mangy Moose.
On our final day, we drove north through the Wilson Pass
to the town of Victor, Idaho, which had more peaking foliage
colors than we had seen in the previous 2 states.
This trip exceeded my expectations in every way. The weather
couldn't have been better (sunny and in the 70's every day
except for a couple of hours our first afternoon in Jackson,
when we had planned to take in the museum anyway.
In all, we got up-close and personal views of many wild animals
in their natural surroundings, including: grizzly bear, wolf,
coyote, buffalo, moose, elk, mule deer, bald eagle, hawk,
and peregrine falcon.
The company was as good as the weather; much laughter amid
the comfort of friendships that go back 20 years. I came home
to a wonderful family and a thriving business. A pause to
be thankful for so many blessings; then off to California....