Sunday, February 9, 2014

Yellowstone in September

Throughout the fall months during my Pennsylvania hunting adventures, I thought often of my quick trip to Yellowstone National Park in September of 2013.  Driving the last 50 miles to the park's north entrance through Paradise Valley while watching snow hit the peaks around me was quite spectacular. A monstrous bull elk bugled within a few yards of my open window in Mammoth Village upon arrival. Yes, it was that awesome. A day later, Pollarine and I were fishing up a slot canyon full of feisty cutthroat on quiet Pebble Creek. Polla was right; the fishing is not quite as hot in September as it is in August, when there seem to be hungry trout everywhere.  Yet, discovering new streams and hikes was all very appealing. We hiked deep into the Pebble Creek backcountry and spent the day hopping pools and riffles, and perhaps some day, I will make it back to the Pebble Creek valley to camp in the solitude of its secluded mountain meadows. Armed with just a few high floating attractor patterns, I am sure a fisherman can do well there.

Our second day dawned cloudless and warmer highlighted by a painted blue sky.  It was doubtless we would tackle Electric Peak, an 11,000 foot mountain that dominates the landscape of the park's northwest corner.  Along the ten mile trek from trailhead to summit, we hiked through a sage filled valley, deep pine forests, and finally, through high alpine meadows before breaking through the tree line and clamoring over broken rocks near the summit. From the top, we could see for hundreds of miles. The snow covered Tetons loomed to the south, the Crazy Mountain range could be seen to the west, and the familiar Beartooth Range, which guards the park's northeastern side, visible to the east. It was a scene I will soon not forget, and from the top one could only sit and wonder at the beauty of it all.  After enjoying the top for an hour or so, we began our descent.  A few hours later, we completed the 20 mile hike, and still managed to limp to the Gibbon River before dark and try for a few trout.

Saturday, my last day in the park, was bittersweet. Friday's long hike had beaten us up a bit, so we decided to amble along the solitary banks of Tower Creek near our camp. We hadn't really experienced dynamite fishing, and the stream has always been an old standby for us. In fact, my whole love affair with Yellowstone National Park began with Tower. And, whenever memories of great fishing are stirred up, the days on this small tributary of the Yellowstone River always bob along the top, for there are many yarns involving this stream from which to choose.

We hiked to the very end of the four mile trail like we had over a year before in the sultry summer of 2012.  On that day a year hence, our party of four had encountered cooler waters and fishing never to be forgotten. This time around, we had good success and caught enough char for the campfire yet again, but I found myself purposefully soaking up the beauty of the land. Just after I had landed my second fish, a striking, hooked jawed brook trout which had put up an excellent fight, I gazed out across the landscape, and took a mental snapshot of the yellow aspens, clear water, and deep evergreens that set the scene of the illustration before me. Late in the afternoon, old Polla would slam a hole full of trout, and we walked back to camp with seven or so filets and some mushrooms that Sveta had carefully collected along the way. After devouring the decadent white meat and enjoying the warmth of the fire, it was time for me to saddle up in the darkness of the very last day of summer, and begin the trek home.

As I departed, I remembered all the wonderful sights of the last three days, like the large boar grizzly we encountered in the Lamar Valley on the first day. He was just lazing about without a care in the world, and his coat, was a rich chocolate brown. On the way back through the valley on the same day, we stopped to watch a large bull and his harem of 20 or so cows cross the Lamar River in the soft glow of evening. There was also the harvest moon standing sentry over the park near Dunraven Pass the night we drove to its summit before gathering firewood. Along the way a magnificent bull bison meandered about in the full moon's white glow.  There were the large racked mule deer bucks dashing across the park roads at dark and the fine bison sporting his clean winter coat on our walk back to site 14. We even managed to catch a fleeting glimpse of a badger, and Yellowstone held a few more surprises for me in the darkness of my drive home in the form of a large black bear and more bison and mule deer bucks.

The next day, autumn began and with it, cold weather complete with wind and storms.  I felt fortunate to have been blessed with three near perfect days of warm sun and clear skies that were to be summer's final act.  Of my trips to YNP, this September trip was the shortest of all, but certainly worth all the miles it took to get there.

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