Quackgrass Sally: Buffalo ‘n wild flowers
Ranch Wife & Trail Gal
A couple of weeks ago, my cowboy husband surprised me with the announcement, “We’re taking a couple days off and going on a trip!” Now, if you know anything about ranch life, you will know that most “vacations” are usually only day-trips to the Public Auction Yards’ annual Catalog Bull Sale. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining at all, because a getting away even to a bull sale can be very refreshing, specially after days driving a swather or a baler during haying season. So when I found out we were taking a “real trip,” I was excited.
Grabbing our clean jeans and comfortable boots, we tossed the horses an extra flake of hay, arranged with our son to “watch everything” and headed southwest towards Yellowstone National Park. It’s been dozens of years since I’ve visited Yellowstone, which is silly, as it is only a little over an hour and half from our ranch. I was definitely looking forward to seeing some scenery, other then that out a tractor window.
It was 85 degrees when we left the ranch but the temperature quickly dropped as we ascended the switchbacks up the Beartooth Highway south of Red Lodge, Mont. This scenic byway was named one of the most beautiful drives in America, as it winds and climbs into the heart of the Beartooth mountain range. This high plateau area is sprinkled with hundreds of little crystal clear, snow-fed lakes and each was reflecting a mirror image of the surrounding snow topped peaks. The breathtaking views from this two-lane road are spectacular and often we came upon folks clicking photos of the grazing mountain goats and blooming wild flowers.
Through tall sweet-smelling pines, we drove into the small town of Cooke City, stopping to pick up some snacks in the famous General Merc store, whose building is on the National Registry of Historic Buildings. A few more miles and a cheerful Park Ranger greeted us as we stopped at the northeast entrance of Yellowstone Park, handing us maps, and info about the park attractions, the buffalo and bears. The cost to enter is $25 per car, but the ticket was good for a week and included Grand Teton National Park, which is southwest of Yellowstone.
We continued west, driving beside beautiful green meadows, dotted here and there with lone bull buffalo relaxing in the sun. Soon small herds could be seen, gathered by the river banks, and lines of tourists were along the road, snapping pictures under the watchful eye of the Park Rangers. It reminded me of those old postcards I’d seen in my grandmother’s album, big yellow tour buses stopped along the narrow roads as buffalo ambled by in the background. Not much has changed really.
We decided lunch was in order and the Old Faithful Inn was our destination. Newly re-furbished and looking very regal, this historic landmark is well worth the stop. Inside, the Inn’s main lobby soars several stories up, with magnificent open log staircases and burled banisters. The restaurant is a great place to enjoy lunch, either off the menu or from the tasty buffet, but if you’re not in the mood for a meal, ice cream is available in dozens of flavors from the soda fountain. (I had yummy mint chip). We timed our dessert perfectly, walking outside just as Old Faithful Geyser exploded its water high into the air. Crowds gathered on the wooden walk-ways greeted the sight with a collected “ahhhh.” No sooner had Old Faithful slowed its show, nearby Beehive Geyser gushed its steaming waters into the summer breeze, spraying the nearest on-lookers with mist. Both these geysers and the variety of other geo-thermal displays within the Park, make for interesting sightseeing throughout.
We headed out of Yellowstone towards Grand Teton National Park and the late afternoon wind was blowing across meadows carpeted in purple wild flowers. Soon the mountains the park is named for came into view, every bit as impressive as they must have been during the fur trapper rendezvous days. The Grand Teton peak seemed to be playing tag with the roving clouds and Mount Moran’s glacier glowed in the golden sunlight. It made our hearts soar and feel grateful we have such wonders preserved to enjoy.
July around these national parks is a very busy time and getting a room on short notice is almost impossible, but my husband had somehow made reservations at the Inn by the Creek in Jackson, Wyo. It is a delightful B&B type motel/inn about three blocks off the main square and yes, it is on a creek, complete with an over-looking patio. The room was spacious and homey, with a stuffed moose smiling atop the king-sized bed. We wandered downtown, along the wooden sidewalks, often slipping into unique and interesting shops along the way. The famous Jackson Hole Square is fun for visitors, with horse drawn wagon rides and an arch made from antlers gathered from the Elk Refuge near the edge of town. We had good wine and fine dining at the Silver Dollar, and walked back to our room feeling very relaxed indeed.
We don’t often get a chance to spend a night away from the ranch. All too soon we had to return home, which we did after taking time to see Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone on the way. We had a wonderful time and it definitely won’t be years till we take time to visit the Park again. In fact, this was the BEST vacation we’d been on since the April Bull Sale … And I didn’t have to pull the stock trailer either.
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This the first in a six-part series of articles covering basic water law in the United States, predominately in the western part of the country, and how it affects this finite resource.