Saturday, August 13, 2022

A sundry history with Yellowstone

Daily Inter Lake | June 26, 2022 12:00 AM

The recent news of the devastating flooding in Yellowstone National Park and the surrounding towns had me thinking back to the summer of 2007 when I rode my bike into the park on the same highway that suffered catastrophic damage by the floodwaters of the Yellowstone River two weeks ago.

That ride, a fundraiser for CASA for Kids court-appointed advocacy organization, ran for about seven consecutive years. There were about 50 cyclists registered the year I did it. We started at St. Mary in Glacier Park where we were sent off with a blessing ceremony by the Blackfeet Tribal Council. Over the course of five days and 400 miles, our group cycled through Dupuyer, Choteau, Great Falls, White Sulphur Springs and Livingston before the last leg that swung down U.S. Highway 89, and through Gardiner, before riding beneath the grand 52-foot high Roosevelt Arch at the Gardner entrance to Yellowstone. It was one of the most extraordinary and enduring moments of my cycling life.

But then, I’ve always had a soft spot for Yellowstone. Way back in 1979, my boyfriend and I had worked one season for the park’s concessionaire. We’d applied and traveled from opposite sides of the country, rendezvousing in Washington state before heading for our jobs at the historic Yellowstone Lake Hotel — me as a cashier for the front desk and Jim as a dishwasher (to be later promoted head dishwasher).

It was a season of backpacking and meeting new people, all of us tooling around together along Yellowstone’s roadways, windows rolled down and Supertramp playing on the cassette player. Days spent planning our next trip, helping ourselves to English muffins for the campfire from the employee mess hall and filling botas. Nights dancing under the moon outside the dorm rooms. Miles and miles under our hiking boots passing through Yellowstone’s ever-changing landscape. Wildlife encounters with moose and elk … but nary a bear (though we saw plenty of sign) in the three months we explored the backcountry.

On our longest, and last trip, we hiked 52 miles in seven days in the Bechler region in the southwest corner of the park. For me, the single most memorable moment was the day we spent lounging in the thermal waters of the Bechler River, rinsing out our clothes and sunbathing on the rocks.

Jim and I married two years later, and where did we first head for our honeymoon? … Well, after dropping my brother off in Madison, Wisconsin, after the wedding, anyway. Yellowstone. We stayed in one of the cabins next to the Yellowstone Lake Hotel and reminisced about those times, recalling the big bull moose who frequented the trail between my dorm and the hotel in the early morning hours, and the dormroom mother we’d upset when she discovered Jim in my room, followed shortly thereafter by our subsequent relocation to the much newer, and much more desirable, co-ed dorm.

All the flooding — U.S. 89, houses flooded and bridges washed away — and the hard times the people of the small towns are facing have once again challenged the resilience of Yellowstone as had other natural disasters in its 150-year history — the deadly 1959 Hebgen earthquake and the fires of 1988 that burned nearly 800,000 acres of the park that came close to destroying Old Faithful.

We’ve returned to Yellowstone over the years a number of times, once with our two kids to rendezvous with the same brother from Madison and his wife, and we witnessed first-hand the rapid regrowth in the burn areas where wildflowers had carpeted the landscape.

I do believe Yellowstone is a survivor. Our first national park will always be there, as inscribed on the Roosevelt Arch, “For the benefit and enjoyment of the people.”

And I hope to return again to experience its magnificent geysers, deep forests, and campestral meadows.

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