The bright yellow helicopter flew straight
at us 100 feet above our heads, the pilot
looked right at us, did not wave, and flew back towards the
west. We thought we were busted. We thought we were in trouble.
We felt like criminals and prayed they wouldn't ban us from the park.
I expected a park truck to drive up any minute to haul us off.
We had been hiking up the Blacktail Deer Plateau road in May. The road
was closed to vehiclular traffic but appeared to open to walking.
There were no keep out signs posted but every now and then there were "no
admittance bear management area" signs just off the road. These notices
are all over various areas in the park and they all face the highway
just like these did to keep people from leaving the road. We honestly
thought it was open to hiking and so we walked in three quarters of the way to its end at the petrified tree area.
It is a wonderful area in the spring. There was still a smattering of snow on the
ground and the road was slightly dusty, perfect conditions to hold tracks and tracks there were.
At first just coyote, and bison.
Not a lot just some going along and across the improved dirt road. Then
the wolf tracks started. Never a pack just individual adult animals traveling
both directions. The size of wolf tracks are always impressive. In Yellowstone there is no mistaking who made those tracks. I
love to take pictures of them next to my size 10 shoe for scale. The prints
were fairly fresh because a park truck had driven the road since the last rain
two days ago and the tracks of the canid were on top of the tire marks.
It's exciting for me to think that a 100 pound or so wild wolf had been traveling in
this exact spot not long ago. I just love that.
And if that wasn't enough for my imagination the bear tracks we found next certainly were.
Nice large grizzly tracks with the claw marks a long ways from the toes. The
bears often follow the roads and we saw tracks from a number of different bears
that day. Rear bear prints look strikingly like barefoot human tracks.
So we reached a point where there was an assortment of sporadic ungulate, coyote, bear and wolf prints.
The only animals we saw were few elk but with the prints we knew the others were around and that really added to the hike.
I almost appreciate the tracks as much as seeing the animal itself.
The crown jewel of the trip came when we had to navigate a large slick snow bank that had turned to ice. In the gravel, just before the snow bank was a track I had never seen before.
A fairly large padded foot with heavy claw marks in a line. To big to be a badger and definitely not a bear. I'm pretty sure it
was a fresh wolverine print. Wolverine are very rare but they are found within the park. Just the possibility made me smile.
We had hiked a good distance for us and decided to turn around. Right at that moment we heard
the helicopter. When it flew straight at us, stopped, and turned I figured that wasn't a good sign. Slowly the doubt crept into my mind.
What if were not supposed to be back here? By the time we had gotten half way back my flaming paranionia had both of us thinking we were about to be hauled off
fined, and banned from the park for life. It's terrible to be in a beautiful place that you love of be worried until you feel sick.
It's even worse to drag your partner down into that hole with you but that's what I did.
Of course when we got back to the highway there were no guns, no rangers, no handcuffs, just people driving by like it was a
beautiful day in the park which it was. We got in our car and drove away feeling relieved and a little silly.
Tim Springer - 2004
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