Dark clouds loomed over head on Saturday morning as I reached the trailhead of Blacktail Creek, located in the northern part of the Park. With the daunting clouds and reports of isolated thunderstorms I was beginning to regret my decision to lead an optional backcountry trip for the seasonal naturalist staff. I had just finished working 11.5 straight days in a row and quite honestly I was exhausted. However I knew I couldn't let my team down, and when I reached the parking lot of the trailhead and was greeted by the happy and eager faces of my naturalist ranger team, I was instantly excited about the trip! We quickly suited up with our rain gear, gathered around for a safety talk, and soon we are on the trail heading towards the Yellowstone River.
Our destination for the weekend was the Blacktail Creek Patrol Cabin- a short 4 miles from the road system but just far enough to enter the wild lands of Yellowstone National Park. It was my first time since October that I had been able to slip my feet back into my trusted hiking boots. I looked down at my sad boots: Dirty, tattered and worn out. They should have been replaced over a year but emotionally I am just not ready to give them up. These boots have hiked all over the country from California and Alaska to Hawaii and Montana. How can I toss them aside when they've helped me see things I never thought I could? Ignoring the unraveled stitching, I trotted down the trail without a care in the world.
Despite the clouds our team of nine was in no rush and we stopped often to explore the birds, flowers, scat and bones! Shooting Stars, Pasque Flower and Balsam Root covered the hill slopes while Bald Eagles and Red Tailed Hawks graced us overhead. We stopped to watch a herd of Bison, at least 100 strong, cross over the hillside, making their way toward the Lamar Valley with little orange calves in tow. With a wide variety of expertise and experience we all taught each other little facts and told each other stories. Nina spoke of geology, Tim identified birds, and Sacha pointed out flowers. Little did we know when we started that this was not only the trail to the cabin, but also the trail to becoming better naturalists. And those daunting clouds, well, they never did open up and rain on us!
Several hours later we found ourselves down where the Blacktail Creek drains into the Yellowstone River . The waters the both the stream and river were dark brown in color from the sediment which was being churned from the raging waters. With record high snowfalls it is to no surprise that the river was enormous, grand and furious. We dropped off our packs at the cabin and continued to explore the area.
Before we knew it dusk was upon us. The evening brought forth a perfect sunset and the song of the river sang us all to sleep. Tucked away in a little cabin somewhere in the Northern Rockies nine Park Rangers were sound asleep while the smoke of the woodstove steadily rose from the chimney.