John Muir is a ubiquitous presence in Yosemite and I often joked about the world not needing another John Muir book when I worked there. Yet he remains one of my heroes and his voice has followed me to Yellowstone. When he visited the park in 1885, he described the landscape I traveled along today: “beaver meadows are outspread with charming effect along the banks of the streams, parklike expanses in the woods, and innumerable small gardens in rocky recesses of the mountains...while the whole wilderness is enlivened with happy animals.”
My footsteps carried me along a series of forests and grasslands in the Mammoth Hot Springs area that passed by several small beaver ponds. Although I was not lucky enough to see beavers, I did observe their handiwork of impressive dams.
The wildflowers dared to blossom today, perhaps finally sensing the end of winter (I hope!) and I encountered larkspur, primrose, balsamroot, woodland star, and many other colorful flowers I could not name. I have to admit to using my friend Jack's Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada to help identify some species--his book is just easier to use and I never tire at looking at his beautiful illustrations.
A mother duck and her ducklings paddled along the water on one pond. I also found some large wolf tracks, but saw no wolves. Two mule deer munched on grass in a small forested alcove, and clark's nutcrackers loudly alerted me to their whereabouts.
In one of those “it’s a small world encounters,” a family stopped me on the trail to alert me about a bear and her two cubs playing ahead; the family turned out to be Chip and Laurie Jenkins and their two boys, who I worked with in Yosemite. Last week at the new Canyon Visitor Center, I met a past employee of mine from Yosemite as I gazed at the wonderful new exhibits. In the national park community, it truly is a small world.
At the end of my hike, I stopped quickly as this incredibly long snake slithered across the trail. At first I though it was the biggest rattlesnake I had ever seen, but I later found out from my guidebook this is a common mistake. I had encountered pituophis catenifer sayi (common name bull snake), Yellowstone’s largest reptile, which can grow up to six feet.