It was with mixed feelings that I left home in early May for a week on the Western Isles. I’m always happy to be visiting these Atlantic outposts where the only thing to be relied upon is the unpredictability of the weather. I’m always happy for the opportunity to put money into the local economy and to further the economic case for nature-based tourism. In all likelihood however, this was my last visit – the last of many over the years – certainly leading a tour group.
What is a holiday? A chance to do what you like doing? Yes, exactly. And I like taking photos which means I take my camera on holiday. No ifs, no buts and no amount of protestation from my good wife.
And so it was I agreed to a holiday in Yellowstone. I say “agreed”, it’s hardly a hardship to spend time in one of the most exciting places on earth. If you’ve never been to this part of the world, it is above all else, exciting. The scenery is gobsmacking, the wildlife abundant but that’s not the attraction for me: Yellowstone is damned exciting. It’s exciting because it’s effectively a volcano spewing and spluttering its intentions ceaselessly; it’s exciting because it was America’s first National Park signalling a new era in land custodianship; it’s exciting because it now attracts 3 million visitors a year; it’s exciting because with the return of wolves in 1995, it is claimed to be one of the last true wilderness areas of the northern Hemisphere. Now, we could debate the definition of ‘wilderness’ all day but anywhere that creeps close to it (especially a place with wild wolves) that also accommodates 3 million people, is VERY exciting to me.
Ian taking some time out…with a friend.
Amanda my wife, and our close friends Eileen and Ian, had never been to Yellowstone whereas I had the knowledge built up over many visits with tour groups. This inevitably resulted in me becoming the (unpaid) tour guide, a role that was remunerated only through the occasional opportunity to take pictures – I did less than 1gb in two weeks so please don’t give me a hard time!
Initially based in Mammoth, we took in the famous Lamar Valley where one early start rewarded us with roadside wolf howling, the like of which I’d never experienced. Thick forest prevented a view but we knew…we felt…those wolves were close. From West Yellowstone we saw grizzly and cubs, black bear up close (a bit too close for Eileen), beaver and river otters. One morning we witnessed a young wolf swimming the Yellowstone River and bumped into the same animal close to the road the following day. Moving south we immersed ourselves in the rustic delights of Old Faithful Inn for two nights before leaving Yellowstone for Grand Teton where moose were abundant but the fall colour was regrettably past its best.
These River Otters can really shift – I just managed to grab this shot as a family swam upstream one evening at sunset.
It’s been several years since my last visit to Yellowstone and there was a noticeable change in the profile of visitors with many more nationalities represented – surely a sign of emerging economic wealth and perhaps in tandem with an increasingly urbanised lifestyle, a latent yearning to flirt with nature? I’m not sure, but it seems that the wilderness is no longer the preserve of wealthy Westerners and although I have concerns about the impact of ever-growing visitor numbers, that is surely no bad thing?
Our final day was spent on horseback high above Jackson Hole and in full view of the National Elk Refuge, the controversial wintering grounds for beleaguered elk and not a million miles different from the practice of feeding red deer in Scotland – like I say, for anyone with an interest in the human-wildlife dynamic, this is an exciting place.
If you scratch beneath the surface of the Yellowstone story – and it’s one helluva of a story – it will draw you in and sink its metaphorical teeth into your heart and mind. Over the years, this place has taught me more about wildness and how different people perceive and relate to that wildness, than anywhere else I’ve been.
The food is crap if you’re vegetarian; the French Vanilla cappuccinos are delicious but too sweet and the monster-sized trucks that pass as family cars get right up my nose (as do photographers that never reduce their tripods below head height) but if you can put up with these minor encumbrances, Yellowstone (and Grand Teton) is a delight.
Amanda after an early start and a lack of caffeine.
Against the context of the emerging ecological ethos of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, you might be interested in these web sites.