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Ode to a Wyoming Spring

Yesterday I took a short hike on the Clark’s Fork plateau.  And I was again reminded that there is nowhere like the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and the Northern Spine of the Rockies where one can experience what I did in just a few hours in the lower U.S.  Frankly, it was a magical excursion.

I began my hike on a well-known trail that falls just 45′ down to the vast plateau above the rocky cliffs of the Clark’s Fork.  Within moments I came across cougar tracks in the melting snowfield.  After a following the tracks a few steps, the elusive cougar  disappeared.

Left Hind cougar

From the parking area above I’d spied a few elk, so I knew some were around.  But as I rounded a bend in the treeline, there was a small herd of about 75 elk in the meadows near the cliff edges.  Elk disband into smaller and smaller herd sizes as spring nears, until soon they disappear to calve and head into the high country.  The elk spied me and Koda, and were a bit skittish but quite curious.  As they ran one direction, then another to follow our movements (I was headed away from them and already at quite a distance), their hooves pounded on the frozen earth an ancient, but familiar hollow sound.

elk

I watched the elk briefly as they watched me, but I was headed for the river.  Within moments I spied fresh wolf tracks, 2 sets, as well as a lone coyote, on a sprint down to the river too.  I began following them as they lead me down the narrow gully that meets the river’s edge.

Two wolves side trot down the road

Two wolves side trotting towards the river

The wolves sidetracked up to a small meadow for a view and I did too.  From there, I glassed around, probably doing what the wolves did with their own eyes and good sense of smell.  Just a ravine away, there was a large gathering of birds on a melting ice field.  I detoured that way and watched them for a while.  Thousands of birds were gathering in trees, taking time for a drink.  Their chirping sounded like crickets, which I knew weren’t out yet because it was about 37 degrees.

After following the canine tracks down to the river, and seeing they’d crossed over, I made my way slowly to the cliff edge.  I wanted to spy for mountain goats that frequent the Clark’s Fork cliffs in the winter.  There is a special look-out area, where the meadows give way to trees, that soon fall precipitously over the 1000′ edge.  As I neared the trees and cliffs, I heard that strange ‘cricket’ sound again.  The flock had flown here and they were flying everywhere, from tree to tree, around the cliffs, thousands of birds.  These were Bohemian Waxwings and maybe there were beginning their migration north.  Beautiful birds, a bit smaller than robins, they caught my eye and senses.

Bohemian Waxwing

Whatever they were up to, the sheer force of their presence and numbers was magical.  The sun beat down through the trees.  I stood and allowed the new spring sun to warm my body, closed my eyes, and listened to them.  As I became quiet, they grew less concerned about my presence and became more active, flying all around me.  I felt like I was receiving a tiny bit of what America might have looked like hundreds of years ago–when wildlife was so abundant that this ‘small’ flock of a thousand birds or so was common.

What a wonderful two hour hike.  Only in a place like the Greater Yellowstone.  I was reminded of how precious, fragile, and necessary this place is.

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