In September 2020, after six months of pandemic lockdowns and mask wearing, I take my 76-year-old mother to the open spaces of Yellowstone National Park. The major sights in the park are surprisingly crowded, likely because many people opted for a road trip vacation over flying.
We enter the park early, hoping for less traffic at Old Faithful. The morning dew still hugs stalks of wild grass, and columns of steam rise across the main geyser basin, as if the earth is exhaling all it took in the night before.
The lot of us sit on benches around the famous geyser in our masks and hoodies, and she does not disappoint. Old Faithful warms up with teaser sprays until she is ready to release her full fountain of hot water then gradually goes quiet again.
“Well, that was nice,” we all say to each other.
Mom and I venture south to the Tetons, which are hidden by smoke from nearby fires. Disappointed, we return to Yellowstone where we join a line of cars slowly passing a black bear by the side of the road munching on a bush. When it is our turn, I roll the passenger window down.
“What are you doing?!” Mom exclaims.
“Quick, get a picture.”
Mom snaps a few photos on her phone. “Roll it back up!” I reluctantly close her window. The photos do not turn out.
Fortunately, this is not our only animal encounter. As we drive through the Lamar Valley on the northern end of the park, we find another black bear, observe myriads of grazing bison, and watch several wolves dance at the edge of the great meadow near the tree line.
The pronghorns are also plentiful, and we stop and exit the car so I can get a shot with my zoom lens. Pronghorn, which are akin to antelope, are known by their tan hides with white bellies and white strips on their chests. Their thick, sharp black devil horns curve inward at the top.
I am getting some great close-up shots when I hear Mom cry out. One of the pronghorns is headed straight for her. A ranger directs us to move away, and we scurry toward the car (not without snapping a few more shots).
It is a hot day for September. As we return to the West Yellowstone entrance, we see a herd of elk standing in the Madison River staying cool. A great 6-point bull keeps watch over his family. Elk are the sentries of this place, and we are all just visitors here.