Can You Smell That?

That’s the scent of fresh air.  That’s backcountry hiking.  That’s decomposing trees and melting snow and grizzly poop.

As beautiful as the main parts of Yellowstone are, they’re not what keep me coming back.  Nope, what has me here yet again are the parts you don’t see.  The parts that only those who live inside the park see and feel and experience.  The mud pots and mineral pools and geysers with no trails leading to them.

Screw the bison herds ambling along — and across! — the roads, a short off-trail hike will take you to a bison graveyard.  Yeah, it’s only three miles from the road, but none of those tourists visiting only for a day, or a week, even know it’s there, let alone are willing to walk through the sage-covered hills to reach it.

During bison mating season, I see all kinds of folks lining the sides of the roads with massive binoculars and spotting scopes trying to catch the barest glimpse of one of the wolves stalking the herds and I have to laugh.  “Give me a couple hours,” I want to shout, “and I’ll you take you to a freaking den!”

You will also never, by the way, well-and-truly appreciate your can of bear spray until you get lost and stumble across an adult grizzly’s main lair.  I would not, of course, recommend that particular adventure — but it sure as hell is a cool memory/experience to have!

I think this summer will finally be the time for me to dive into that secondary project I’ve had simmering for a while.  It’s a “low fantasy”* setting, so the unseen and unknown areas of Yellowstone are the perfect impetus to get me thinking “primitively.”  To be honest, after spending so long on sci-fi, I need the mental and experiential kick of being away-from-it-all to get my thoughts moving onto that very different track. 

*Think little-to-no magic, and a bit of gritty realism, and that’s “low” fantasy, versus the usual “high” fantasy stuff of wizards and elves and noble heroes and other impossibilities…

That is, of course, another of the reasons why I like trips & adventures like this: to get my mind exercising and working.  I can’t sit here and stare at the steep, forbidding, snow-covered mountains that ring Yellowstone — like I’m doing as I write this — and not imagine what is was like for the original explorers and settlers.  No roads, no gas, no electricity — hell, no real, accurate maps — just what you can carry with you on foot or horseback.

Think on that for a bit.

As I sit here, my version of such “exploring” is off to my left: a 4-ton, 28-foot trailer with, quite literally, all the comforts of home.  Yeehaw, I’m really roughing it now!  Lewis & Clark ain’t got nothin’ on me!


I look at that trailer, then I look at the mountains.  I look, and I try to forget what I know about the actual geography of the area — I don’t want to cheat, after all — then I try to pick out the path I would try to take if I was one of those folks way back when.  Whether it’s mountains or meadows or impassible forest, I look and I try to imagine traveling and living there a century, or a millennia, ago.

Then I Google the reality of what I studied and I laugh at how fast I would’ve actually died.

It is, when you think about it, very, very true that we stand on the shoulders of giants.  Whether you think about scouts on a trail, Vikings on a longboat, traders on camelback or even early pilots like Amelia Earhart, over water with no GPS, no LOFAR, no navigation aids at all, just take a moment and appreciate what they did…and how impossible it would be for 99+% to do anything even close…

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