Up in the morning with the rising sun… We woke up just before 4 am to get moving and head out towards Lamar Valley so we could take a nice leisurely stroll through the park. I have read on multiple websites that Lamar Valley is like the Serengetti of North America, wild and free with an abundance of wild life. Though it seemed challenging and somewhat intimidating based on the type of wildlife that resides in Yellowstone, it was the perfect setting for our first real back country hike in the park. We had yet to see a bear and though we hoped we would, we weren’t sure if we wanted it to be on this hike while we were far away from everything, to include the safety of our car.
With an interview Isaac did with the Bear Management Biologist for Yellowstone we learned there had been no bear attacks on parties of four or more since 1970 (the period of time he had studied in detail). This gave us a certain level of comfort as we stepped into this savage and unbroken land. With our bear spray close by we took our first step onto the Lamar River trail. Looking out across the valley we saw hundreds of bison sprawling across the valley floor. The animals weren’t the only thing on the valley floor as the buffalo pies had to be avoided with nearly every step. Shane spotted a coyote running up on the hillside and we had seen a beaver below the bridge at the beginning of the trail, so it was shaping up nicely to be a great experience.
We were definitely in their domain and the further we got from the parking lot the more wild it felt. As we reached a junction with another trail we were getting a bit hungry and it was close to snack time so we took it a little over a mile to get to the Lamar River. We could see parts of the river in the distance and felt it would be a nice place to relax for a few minutes. The trail winded a bit over a few hills and took us under some trees and right when we rounded the corner just above the river bank lie the bones of a dead elk. It had been picked clean so we felt the danger of a large predator was low, but we remained incredibly vigilant as we stayed down by the river for a good while and enjoyed the scenery.
Though Melissa thought she heard a noise on top of the hill overlooking our location, I found no signs of bear activity so we moved on and headed back to our original trail. The kids have been very involved in the Junior Ranger program and we have been making note of tracks and scat so we can recognize the signs of which animals are in the area and if they have been there recently. While moving along we noticed a very fresh pile of wolf scat. I’m not sure how many minutes it had been, but it was definitely fresh. We passed two more piles of wolf scat before hitting a sandy section of the trail that had very fresh wolf tracks that were clearly imbedded over some of the shoe tracks from recent hikers. The shoe tracks were very fresh and undisturbed minus the wolves stepping right on top of them.
We knew the wolves really didn’t want any part of us and probably ran off after hearing our loud group, but we definitely kept our eyes and ear pealed to make sure we weren’t on the menu. After a few more miles we made our way to Cache Creek. It was lunch time so we took our shoes off, dipped our aching feet into the cool creek water and relaxed for a while. With the earlier snack detour to the river earleir we were now pushing six miles and were definitely feeling it. The kids played and laid around and it was nice just being out by a creek so far from everything else. We skipped rocks for a while and Lydia got good at splashing the other kids with rocks as they sat close to the creek.
Time flies when you are having fun and we definitely had to get moving to make our way back to the car. About three and half miles to go and we would be done. I may have humped a lot of gear back in the Marines, but that has been a looong time and I could feel all of Lydia’s weight bearing down on my shoulders. They were starting to burn a little more and I was wanting to get back and take the load off. Finally, we were moving at a good pace and were on our way home when were surprised as we rounded a bend over one of the hills. A BIG bull bison was right in our path. He was just eating away and taking his sweet time, grazing a bit then walking some before stopping to graze again.
For the next two miles our Buffalo guide led us down our path. One time he stopped long enough for us to take a much needed break. When we decided we had to get moving again and were going to blaze a trail around him, Loopy the Buffalo (as the kids named him) decided it was time to move on as well. Occasionally he would stop and take a look at us and sometimes it felt as though he was looking back to make sure we were still there but once we were in site of our car, Loopy finally decided to leave our path and started heading back out to his herd.
The trail tested our endurance and the kids truly proved they are a lot stronger than we could have imagined. They struggled at times but pushed on and finished the trail. As a reward we stopped at the Roosevelt Lodge and treated ourselves to some ice cream. It was a nice treat though it was strange eating ice cream with the temperature in the 50s and a cool breeze blowing through the windows.