Yellowstone Getaways

[Part 3 of a 4-part series that reflects a recent Rocky Mountain road trip with my daughter.]

Sandhill cranes fed near the roadway to the geyser basins. We took a morning hike to Fairy Falls, a columnar drop of 197 feet, the highest in the national park. At first it seemed we were alone– the only hikers out beyond the popular and colorful Grand Prismatic Geyser Basin, walking through a stand of uniform pines, without our can of bear spray.

Natural Bridge, at YNP…

Reading the posted warnings– “a high density of bears”– almost stopped us in our tracks, but when a family with noisy kids arrived, we decided we could trail behind them safely while maintaining a reasonable distance. Fairy Falls had us hooked, and we were glad it reeled us in.

the noise from Roaring Mountain was not the roar of bear…

The sheer fantasy of falling water didn’t stop there in the cold depth of its plunge-pool. An uncommon Williamson’s sapsucker, my first life-bird of the trip, clung briefly to the spire of a dead tree and heightened the pleasure of our walk. A crowd of hikers trickled in off the trail, and we felt lucky to have found the peace and quiet when we did.

a big guy near our second camp…

Throughout our six days in Yellowstone, we fished and hiked and found such wonderful places as Roaring Mountain, Artist Paint Pots, and Swan Lake with its pair of summering trumpeters (no relation to campaign politicos). This was not my first visit to the park but I had missed a lot of what Alyssa and I now managed to experience.

at Mammoth Geyser Basin…

Our biggest “getaway,” however, was not one we ever wanted to re-do…

We were moving from our camp at Madison Junction to our second reserved camp at Bay Bridge near Yellowstone Lake. Along the way, we would visit  Mammoth Geyser Basin and have lunch in Gardiner, Montana. While relaxing in Gardiner, a sudden water break on the Norris-Mammoth Road (behind us) closed the link we needed for our drive to Bridge.

Swan Lake, with trumpeters…

Another link,  the Tower-Norris road, was already closed for the season, so we were left with only one option. To get to Bay Bridge we would need to make a long five-hour drive…

A grueling detour: through the Lamar and out the northeast exit of the park, through the splendid Bear Paw Mountains to Cody, Wyoming, and then west once more through Yellowstone’s eastern entrance… We made it, but the mind still reels from the magnitude of that almost endless round-about.

at least the swans didn’t have far to go…

Alyssa and I were fishing the Yellowstone River near Hayden Valley. I had fished there at midday and hadn’t even seen a fish (the cutthroats are reportedly fewer now because of lake trout predation, but some of the survivors grow unusually large). It was late in the day. I finally saw a huge fish rising to emerging caddis flies in the quiet water between two rapids.

Soda Butte…

The big native, easily 20 inches, broke the surface with its back but wouldn’t take the various dries that I presented. I applied a large wet caddis tied by a Slate Run pal, Marion Alexander, and the trout found it irresistible.

“Alyssa!” I shouted. “Got him. The big one!” She came stumbling downstream to assist. Meanwhile, a bull bison crossed the road nearby and stopped the traffic. Several cars and trucks had windows down. At least two of them were filled with Yellowstone revelers in a party mood. I fought the fish and heard a great commotion from the highway: “Yay, he got him! Got the big one! Dude! Way to go!” Horns blared. What a noise.

a getaway? on release…

As my audience cheered from the bison block, I carefully steered the cutthroat from the fast water but, ultimately, yes, the 4x-tippet snapped and my heart took a sudden bath. My arms rose in defeat, and the audience, moving now behind a rambling buffalo, shouted a collective, “Ohh… he lost it but… yay! Good job, anyhow!” I bowed to the honking noise and swept an arm out to the real star of this performance– a broad-backed native of supreme energy and delight.

stuck inside an hour-long bison jam, we noticed lots of little things…

And there was one other getaway, of note…

We were fishing and walking the Madison one evening near our campsite. The wind became problematic, as far as casting was concerned.

iconic falls…

A powerful gust ripped open the plastic tag attached to the back of my fishing vest. Four paper licenses blew out to the deep flowing waters of the Madison. I quickly retrieved one of them– my expired Colorado fishing license.

Later, about a thousand-feet downriver, I retrieved another one from the tip of an island– my expired license for Wyoming (exclusive of the Park permit). That left only the New York and Pennsylvania licenses, gone with the wind.

upper Madison River…

Back home again, I would get my New York license re-issued for a $5 fee. The next day I’d receive a letter in the mail, from a kind angler living in Boise, Idaho. Included in the envelope was… my PA license!  And a note saying, “I found this in the Madison River. I hope you caught a big one there.” Reid T. saved me the trouble of buying an out-of-state re-issue!

Yellowstone River angling…

That yellow license was in excellent shape, by the way, aside from my water-blurred signature. After all the wind and river currents, I had an Idaho fisherman to thank for his kindness dished out through this crazy world.

Lamar River Valley…

About rivertoprambles

Welcome to Rivertop Rambles. This is my blog about the headwaters country-far afield or close to home. I've been a fly-fisher, birder, and naturalist for most of my adult life. I've also written poetry and natural history books for thirty years. In Rambles I will mostly reflect on the backcountry of my Allegheny foothills in the northern tier of Pennsylvania and the southern tier of New York State. Sometimes I'll write about the wilderness in distant states, or of the wild places in the human soul. Other times I'll just reflect on the domestic life outdoors. In any case, I hope you enjoy. Let's ramble!
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16 Responses to Yellowstone Getaways

  1. Brent says:

    I’m always impressed, and mildly surprised, by the number of serendipitous encounters you have in the world of fishing: from meeting blog fans on faraway rivers to being on the receiving end of cross-country charity. All in all, your Yellowstone adventure seems like one for the ages! One minor quibble, though: Lower Yellowstone Falls clocks in at 308 feet, a bit higher than Fairy Falls (which is, itself, still higher than the more famous Upper Yellowstone Falls).

    • Thanks for that correction! I’m gonna blame my “Hiking in the Rocky Mountains” guidebook (Lonely Planet, pg. 176) which states, “The 197ft Fairy Falls is the highest waterfall in Yellowstone and, perhaps, one of the most beautiful.” Perhaps the guide should have included “columnar waterfall.” I know it defied me to take a pic, so I didn’t. I’ll bow to the Lower Yellowstone’s greater height, and volume!

  2. UB says:

    Trying to express how impressed I am with your adventure is simply exasperating me. I do not have the skill to convey how wonderful it feels just to read of your adventure/s. That trip is/was simply ‘of a lifetime’ – my opinion. Thank you so much for sharing it with everyone!
    I don’t think I’ll ever tire of this fly fishing stuff just because of those that get away. Glad the fly worked! ….UB

    • At ease, my friend, and thank you for having more than just a hand in this experience… Your caddis fooled the biggest trout I ever hooked into at the park, and your spirit helps to keep me casting & rambling through much more…

  3. plaidcamper says:

    Thoroughly enjoying your getaway tales! Wonderful to see the wildlife, big and small, and happy to hear there were some quiet times in big spaces, although your unintentional performance for an appreciative crowd was fun. Those western closures and detours are mind boggling, but they do give a sense of scale!
    Thanks, Walt.

  4. Hello there. I’m sure that it’s not every day that a fisherman has an audience cheering for him. That seems pretty amazing to me.

  5. Bob Stanton says:

    “Dude! Way to go!” Wow. What a trip. I doubt there is a much more horrifying moment to a fisherman than losing one’s license, save losing their rod. As an easterner who has never been west of the Mississippi, my mind struggles to fathom the magnitude of the western landscape, but your words and pictures help me experience it vicariously. And the photo of the bison in silhouette is worthy of a frame.

    • Ha! Yeah thank you, Bob. When those licenses first hit the water, I’d forgotten that a couple of them were useless (expired), so my heart did a flip, but it’s pretty neat how it all panned out in the end. I’m glad my posts provide a sense of the experience, and I wish we could get out there together some time.

  6. tiostib says:

    Always a pleasure to float the rivers of the mind with a fine storyteller for a guide.

  7. loydtruss says:

    So many highlights on this trip to remember for a lifetime for you and your daughter. Gorgeous images and great work with the camera. I would have to frame the buffalo image. Thanks for taking all of us along on a fantastic journey!!

  8. Jet Eliot says:

    I so enjoyed this Yellowstone adventure, Walt, and have thoroughly enjoyed this series. I laughed really hard at the story of the Idaho angler who sent you your PA license. You told it well, starting with all the licenses blowing in the wind, your retrieval of two, and then the funny part with receiving the envelope in the mail. Also got a kick out of story of the the revelers in the car behind the bison jam watching you catch the big one. All the wildlife (swans on swan lake!), vistas and adventures, in words and photos, were much appreciated

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