Between ‘The Park’ and paradise

The deer hardly batted an eye. I expected them to take off running, just as I had minutes earlier.

The elk weren’t fazed either.

Starting the day with a run is not uncommon for me. Doing it in one of the most beautiful places on earth certainly is.

So when I happened upon three mule deer munching away just past Gardiner High School Sunday morning, I expected them to do what most deer do: sprint in the other direction.

I was glad not to have interrupted their breakfast. I was also pleased to have found a place to run when my family and I visit Yellowstone National Park.

Usually when we stay there overnight, I get up early to get my run over with so it doesn’t interfere with any plans we have during the day. But when I do that, quietly tip-toeing around to gather up my clothes in the dark before slipping out the door, my daughter usually wakes up to the sound of the ever-so-soft click behind me.

It may be 6:30, but she’s up and there’s no getting her back to sleep. Which means my wife is forced to get up early too. I may be awake at dawn voluntarily, but everyone else doesn’t need to be up as well.

Anyhow, on Sunday I decided I wouldn’t leave until everyone was up. By 8, it was rise and shine. Same goes for the sun. It was a bit chilly with the wind, but I had packed my shorts, gloves, hat and watch. It was time for a trot.

Since facilities in the park are closed until May, we stayed in a Gardiner hotel. I decided not to run into the park – when I’ve done that in the past, I usually end up on a trail loaded with elk. I feel guilty for not only “chasing” them away with my approaching footsteps, but for the other folks who are just out there to view the wildlife.

So off to the high school I went, headed for the dirt road that meanders along the west side of the Yellowstone River, toward Cinnabar Basin.

Once I passed the unflappable deer, I knew I was in for a special run. To make things even better, the wind was at my back. That made going up the hills quite easy and only added to the peacefulness of the scene. And speaking of the wind, it spoke to me. At least it seemed that way.

With the way it coursed through the long yellow grass and sage brush, it actually sounded as if someone was puckering up to blow the breeze over the landscape.

There were snowcapped mountain peaks to my left and a hardly-noticeable river to my right.

The only bad part was that I only had about an hour to run; my wife was going to cook pancakes back at the hotel and we had to pack up and check out by 11.

And because I was enjoying my solemn run so much, I knew the time would go by quick. I decided to turn around at 30 minutes, which came much sooner than expected. That’s when everything changed.

The wind was now in my face. It wasn’t strong enough to halt my pace, but as it whipped past my ears, the noise was quite loud – like when you crack a window in a moving car.

So much for a peaceful run.

Whereas before I could hear if any vehicles were behind me, now I had to look back to see if any were approaching. None did; the only automobile I saw was coming in the other direction. And they were nice enough to slow down in order to keep from “dusting” me.

On my way back to the park, I struggled a bit to get over the hills due to the headwind. Then I realized, ‘I’m heading back to the arch of Yellowstone National Park,’ or simply, “The Park.”

I’m coming up on my sixth anniversary of landing in Bozeman, and I still can’t get over how close we live to this treasure. So close, that when we say we’re headed there, we just say, ‘we’re going to The Park for the weekend.’

Most people know that we’re speaking of YNP, although my daughter just thinks we’re headed to the playground down the street.

So if there was a little wind in my face and the quiet had been interrupted by Mother Nature’s howl, who was I to complain? I was running in between a place called Paradise Valley and “The Park.”

Later in the day, we did head into the park and saw the usual elk and bison – a population that dwarfed the number of people.

There may only be one road open and there weren’t any bears to see, but late March is a great time to go down there.

Many people travel thousands of miles to visit YNP, and usually do so in the summer.

We can do it in a daytrip.

Luckily, the deer don’t mind.


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March 2010
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