On Friday, I took a journey into Yellowstone with the family. We hiked a short ways on the Rescue Creek Trail, turning back when we saw a small herd of bison along the trail near the Yellowstone River. That herd was very close to this small group of bighorn sheep. Nearby a much larger group of bighorn sheep were resting.
If you are going to hike Rescue Creek right now, which was relatively dry - at least as far as we went - in the lower elevations, you will likely see a huge number of animals - elk, pronghorn, bison, and bighorn sheep. There is various scat everywhere. Additionally, there were a large number of beautiful small blue birds. In our case, we saw no need to disturb the animals anymore than we already had and turned back.
On the way out of Yellowstone north of Gardiner but on the park side of the Yellowstone River, we saw a sizable herd of buffalo moving dangerously close to the park boundary. We think we saw the same herd earlier in the day just outside of Gardiner; several hours later, they were a couple miles further north. Another lone bull had wandered into Gardiner. I felt worried for these buffalo as they continued on the route that so many this winter have taken only to find a one-way ticket to the slaughterhouse. Already, a record number of buffalo have been killed.
The buffalo we saw in the park looked weak from the winter. Most of them were very close to the park boundary. Further into the park, we saw only small groups in the Lamar Valley and along the roads between Mammoth and Tower Junction.
It used to be that I could go into Yellowstone blissfully unaware of what I was seeing. There are moments of bliss - the Rescue Creek Trail is breathtaking. However, now the more I learn, the more concerned I am. It's not that what I'm seeing isn't still beyond words, isn't still so beautiful. It isn't that it's all about to go to hell. It's just that it could be more for all the animals we saw. I saw bighorn sheep in the park - something I never had much luck in seeing in past visits and summers of working in the park - and yet, now that I finally see bighorn sheep, I know now what was - an animal once dominant in the park, hunted by tribes that were displaced, on a land that looked quite different. Yes, Yellowstone is not a museum - it's dynamic and changes - but when I think about why it has changed from that to this, it doesn't make a great deal of sense.
Buffalo moving north and away from Yellowstone makes sense to me; what happens when they cross that invisible line, that makes almost none to me.