Bending Through Paradise
The Yellowstone River begins its legendary journey in the Absaroka Mountains of Northwest Wyoming many miles from this point. Coincidently it exits Wyoming in the shadow of Montana’s Absaroka Mountains, an entirely different range. Absaroka is a word in the language of the Native Crow people meaning “Children of the Large Beaked Bird”. I like to think of this land hundreds of years before I got here. Can you even imagine an untouched Yellowstone River ecosystem thriving during a time when this incredible place was even more wild than it is now? Yellowstone Lake would be teeming with Cutthroat Trout. So many creatures thrived on this rich food source. Ospreys and Bald Eagles attack from the air while Grizzly Bears and Coyotes take what they can from the inlet streams. River Otters come in submarine style with a sneak attack from under the surface of the water.
As the water flows through and then out of the large, pristine mountain lake, it meanders slowly through a broad valley where thousands of grass eating creatures enjoy the bounty of the rich, well watered soil. Yellowstone’s iconic Bison being chief among the consumers here, but they are joined by Elk, Deer, and Pronghorns. Inevitably, and farther up the food chain, larger predators like Wolves do their best to contribute to the health of this wild place by culling the herds. The River supports all manner of waterfowl. The stunning Tundra Swans drift slowly down the river, occasionally going bottoms up as the reach deep down for new growth on the riverbed. Geese, a myriad of ducks , and even huge Pelicans take advantage of this meandering source of life.
As it exits the valley, it begins to pick up speed. It narrows and deepens as it roils though a much more rocky section of canyon before suddenly free falling down Upper and then Lower Yellowstone Falls. Here the canyon suddenly becomes much deeper. It is lined with bright yellows and oranges from the minerals brought here by the violent volcanic action that helps make this place what it is. Bighorn Sheep dance on the precipices, daring gravity to beat them in a showdown. For many miles the river winds through deep canyons. Roaring white water is punctuated by deep clear pools as the water seems to need to rest up for the next exciting section.
By the time the water has reached my vantage point, bending through Montana’s Paradise Valley, it has once again slowed its pace to a more leisurely meandering. As day ended, the curtain of blue overhead was slowly pulled back to reveal the rich colors of a stunning mountain sunset. Clouds drifted over the mountains reflecting the brilliance of the setting sun. Now that the matinee was over, the curtain was pulled back on the main event. Stars begin to show, faint at first and then as darkness deepens, the light of the stars is accentuated until the full majesty of a mountain nightscape comes in to view. I stood here in awe as owls hooted, coyotes called and the occasional chatter of Canada Geese could be heard below. What a stunning place this is. I am grateful for the protections that have been put in place to keep this place as wild and natural as possible.