[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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.