Walking Together

There is more to setting off on a hike than hopping over the back fence with a loaf of bread and a pound of tea à la John Muir–turn-of-the-nineteenth-century naturalist, writer, and outdoorsman. While his shortlist encompassed food and nutrition, survival and sanity suggest we take more when we head into the woods. We need to know where we’re going and how to get there. We need protection from the elements. We need first aid supplies. Beyond that, it helps to know a little about hiking technique—how to take an incline, how often to rest, and how to travel in {Continue Reading}

One Question for When You’re Finding Your Way

The gradual slipping away of the pine-lined path went unnoticed—by me anyway. We’d set off that morning, wanting to spend just a little more time on the trail and in the park before heading home from our week in Yellowstone. Situated along the way, the Gneiss Creek Trail would do well, we thought. It was new. It was short. It sounded inviting. And it was, rising slowly through terrain that sang an unmistakable song of the west and stirred memories of Kevin Costner’s narrative segments from Dances with Wolves. Emerging from thick, head-high lodgepole pines into a sudden clearing, I {Continue Reading}

Why We Don’t Feed the Animals

One evening, toward the end of my shift at the Old Faithful Inn gift shop, I saw a woman circling the front of the store, searching. When I approached her to offer assistance, she turned and said, “Where do you keep the food for the animals?”  Food for the animals? I was shocked that anyone would say the words out loud. The park code was clear: Do Not Feed the Animals.  “Feeding the animals is against park regulations,” I told her, probably apologetically. “Oh,” she said. “My little boy wanted to feed the chipmunks.” Of course he did. They’re tiny. They’re {Continue Reading}

Walking When You’d Rather Wait

A couple of Mays ago, our family was in Yellowstone, standing in line at the Visitor Education Center at Mammoth Hot Springs, waiting to find out if a trail was open. Because the wait was long, we ended up eavesdropping as a ranger recommended the Sepulcher Mountain Trail to the older couple in front of us.  My husband and son were looking for a hike to take, one for just the two of them and, in terms of destination, location, difficulty, and length, it was just what they had in mind. When our turn came, my husband asked the ranger {Continue Reading}

Tracks and Transitions

Out west, our family sometimes stays in a cabin on a parcel of land plunked down in the middle of a national forest. There—with no cell service, no cable, and no wifi– we watch the weather unfold in the sky rather than on radar. A couple of years back, a sunny September afternoon was overshadowed by clouds that rolled in over the Absaroka mountains, dropping rain and then snow as the temperatures plummeted. A splashy snow, it clung to everything it touched—the meadow’s tall grass, the aspen’s still-green leaves, and us. It fell through the afternoon and into the evening. {Continue Reading}

Waiting For What We Can’t See

 Along the road between Mammoth Hot Springs and  Cooke City, the meadows are open and greening, quite in agreement with the calendar: spring has arrived. Leave the dry, temperate north end of Yellowstone and try to head into the interior, though,  and you’ll see a place still in waiting. The most obvious sign: You can’t actually get there. Many of the roads are covered in snow. And closed. It’s too bad, because there’s something there I want to see and never will. In winter, the Lower Falls on the Yellowstone River develops a cone of ice, constructed by cold air and the mist {Continue Reading}

Rest Along the Way

We sprinted up the switchbacked trail, pausing occasionally to measure how far we’d come, to rest our already used-up legs, to fill our lungs with as much oxygen as the mountain air would give. In previous years, I would have decided that it wasn’t worth it. Not the rush. Not the climb. Not even the destination. But over a lifetime, I’d come to embrace hiking, to believe that forest trails led to worthwhile places, to want to finish what we’d started. So we pressed on, putting one foot in front of the other, making painfully slow progress toward the solitude of one of Yellowstone’s backcountry {Continue Reading}

She Needed Me to Play

Sometimes, when we head west, we land for a few days at a cabin. In a meadow in Custer National Forest, it’s far enough from civilization that the siren song of phone, internet, and television falls silent, replaced by the gentler sounds of wind in the trees and water dancing over boulders. There, the weather unfolds in the sky rather than on radar. After a series of bright, high country autumn days, the sun succumbed to a veil of clouds which rolled in over the mountain, bringing with them a cold, splashy snow that blanketed everything it touched. It fell through the afternoon and {Continue Reading}

On Breaking Trail

We pulled into the gravel parking lot at the base of Bunsen Peak, piled out, grabbed day packs and water from the back of the vehicle, and set off. Dust had barely begun to accumulate around our ankles when we saw him: a lone bison, a bull, just twenty-five feet off the trail. Someone was going to have to change trajectory and it was going to be us–my husband, our children, and me. First, because it’s the rules. The park service has clear regulations about how close visitors can get to animals: Approaching on foot within 100 yards of bears or wolves or within {Continue Reading}