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               Day 5 October 10, 2013

Thursday, October 10, 2013
Silver Gate, Montana

   Darkness lifts slowly as we pull out of the gravel driveway. Deer graze next to the road, shadows in early morning light. It's strange to be turning left toward Cooke City instead of toward the Park. The corral and outbuildings and property where trail rides were advertised is now for sale. The metal buildings are rusted with age. The old structures were a home for the foxes and hopefully we'll see them. We were told "the fox" has been going from cabin to cabin looking for handouts, disappointed by lack of occupancy.
   Cooke City is still asleep, half or more of the businesses shuttered for the season. The gray sky reflects the mood of the Park's surrounding area. Beartooth Highway is closed now, but the first 17 miles are open to travel which goes past "Top of the World." We stop at Beartooth Lake and Little Bear Creek. Sheets of ice cover Long Lake where snow creeps onto the highway. Construction workers are repairing the road before it is completely closed while others plant snow poles. A small red brown coyote runs down the middle of the road and up the north slope while a mountain goat looks down from a rocky ledge. It is 27 degrees.
   Several dirt roads leading off the highway are open, or at least not closed by a gate. All the campgrounds are closed and secured with a metal gate. We roam the Beartooth and Chief Joseph highways, passing black angus cattle and mule deer along the road. The Shoshone River bubbles beside us. Horses graze everywhere. Displaced by the shut down, we are lost in familiar territory. We drive up Lulu Pass, a new road for us, to Lady of the Lake Trail. The dirt road winds high above the highway past property for sale to a parking area at the trailhead. We are surrounded by forest, an empty truck and a horse trailer. Signs declare "Grizzly Bear Country" or "Bear Country." Signs that have been here for years.
   We spend the day revisiting: the waterfall off the Beartooth, the river, walking along the rocky shore of the Shoshone. At Lilly Lake a single female loon glides silently across the water. There is a horse trailer here too with four horses already saddled, but we can't tell if it's a trail ride or a hunting party.
   Turning into Clark's Fork trailhead, we startle three moose grazing not far from the road - a large cow and two young moose, a cow and a bull. The young moose seem a little large for yearlings, but maybe too small for two year-olds. The little cow's neck and head are gray turning dark brown like her mother and the bull's antlers are short. The mother is agitated by our appearance and runs across the road, leading her young. She watches us intently, interrupting their grazing. Her young follow her, hiding behind her huge body. She has a strange cry - sort of like a cow bellowing. We disturbed the family and are sorry for it. In an effort to calm the moose we walk toward the trails overlooking the old power plant. When we return, the three moose are still there, grazing and still watching us, especially the mother.
   By the end of the afternoon, it starts to rain and we go back to the cabin. We wanted so much to get into the Park and that hope seems gone now. I dread leaving tomorrow. The long drive toward Bozeman seems more like an obligation than an adventure. It's hard to replace the Park, and it will be a while before we come back.
   Tonight we walk around Silver Gate starting behind the cabins. We walk on wet grass and soft ground, stepping over deadfall. Six deer graze next to the road. We walk past the Trading Post down dirt roads, across bridges and past log cabins. We don't see the fox, so we drive to Cooke City to search for him. Just as we reach Silver Gate, there he is running along the road, big, fluffy gray tail with a white band. He crosses the road and suddenly leaps high in the air and pounces, disappearing deep in the talk grass. Finally he surfaces and crosses the road when another fox, just like the first but smaller, appears. It runs from building to building, making its rounds. Turning into the driveway we startle a doe and two fawns. The mule deer leap into the air and trot across the drive.

Author - Christine Baleshta
Photography - Tim Springer

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Yellowstone Experiences 2013