Each June, Ken and I attend the Annual Meeting of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. With the exception of last year, because of building renovations, the meeting is always held in West Yellowstone, a small community just outside the NW corner of the Park. I love attending this function, in part because the speakers are incredibly knowledgeable and inspirational, but also just for the adventure of the event. It is hard to explain to people who have never been to West Yellowstone why it has such a feel of the rugged west of old, but it truly does. When we left our place on Thursday morning, it was sunny and hot and I once again asked myself if I really needed to pack my down jacket and winter hat and gloves. Then I recalled previous years at the meeting and decided maybe I should throw in my long underwear just to be safe.
We took the direct route through the Park which meant up and over Sylvan Pass, through Fishing Bridge, Canyon, Norris, Madison and along the Madison River to West Yellowstone. It was a beautiful drive and we saw all the usual Park inhabitants along the way.
Friday was the first day of meetings. The schedule at the event goes like this: Five or six incredible speakers each morning after which you grab a bag lunch in preparation for the afternoon field trip which gets you back to town with just enough time to make the 6pm cocktails and dinner at 6:30 during which you get to hear another amazing speaker or two. I have to confess that the field trips are the reason I really love this event. This year I signed up for a painting workshop on Friday with Jennifer Lowe-Anker and an 8 mile hike overlooking the beautiful Centennial Valley in Idaho on Saturday.
As the last speaker was finishing up on Friday morning, we heard the distinct sounds of a storm moving in. All of a sudden the building was being shaken by wave after wave of crashing thunder. As we grabbed our lunches and pulled open the doors, we were all stopped in our tracks by the sight before us. Not only was the lightening flashing overhead like a mid-summer brown out in NYC, but it was snowing - hard! The white stuff was actually accumulating on the ground and it was cold! Many of the field trips ended up making alternative plans for the afternoon, including mine. Instead of painting out of doors as originally planned, we grabbed a conference room at a nearby hotel and settled in for a cozy afternoon indoors. Ken's hike was cancelled so he decided to play tourist and took the car back into the Park to Old Faithful where he spent the afternoon getting absolutely soaked on a wonderful solitary hike along the Firehole River.
There were 10 of us in the class being led by Jennifer Lowe-Anker. Jenny is an amazing individual for a lot of reasons. She is an accomplished painter, author, mother and adventuress extraordinaire. She is the widow of the world renowned climber Alex Lowe to whom she was married for almost 20 years before he died tragically a few years ago in an avalanche in Tibet. Her book, "Forget Me Not", is a memoir based on the life they had together with their three children. Her main medium for her artwork is cattle markers and she manages to create masterpieces with the lowly paint sticks. For the afternoon with us she put aside her traditional materials and concentrated on working with watercolors. Much of the afternoon was spent watching Jenny create three beautiful paintings and then we all got to practice on some small pieces of hand-made paper she brought with her. At the end of the class many of the participants had drifted away and there were only four die-hards left in the room with Jenny. She asked if we wanted her practice paintings and of course we said "yes!" We drew straws for the works and I got my second choice which is the bison painting you see here. The small painting of the yellow-headed blackbird was my attempt at using the hand-made paper. You need to know the bison painting was completed in about 10 minutes. One of the participants had asked for a demonstration on painting snow and this was the result of a few well placed brush strokes from Jennifer.
The snow continued Friday evening and we all marvelled at the cold even as we heard reports of temperatures in the high nineties on the East Coast of the country. One of the speakers Friday morning was an expert in the subject of "Global Weirding" (her term) and I have to admit it seemed an apt description of what was taking place.
On Saturday morning Ken and I got up at 5am so we could join the pre-conference bird watching outing. We picked up 51 species including numerous bald eagles, osprey, western tanagers, sand hill cranes and a peregrine falcon. By 8am we were back in the hall listening to a new round of wildlife and wildland experts. At noon 17 of us loaded into cars to head into Idaho for a challenging hike. It was a lot of up hill bushwacking over difficult terrain so most of the group went about half way and turned back while six of us continued on the entire length to get the full reward of the view down into Centennial Valley. I have never seen so many Glacier Lilies in my life. They were truly spectacular and I loved capturing some close up images.
One of the funny things that happened on the hike was that Laurie asked me if I had purchased my raffle tickets yet. The GYC meeting is also fun because they have a huge silent auction each year with dozens of great items up for sale and they have a raffle of about a half dozen spectacular prizes worth several thousand dollars a piece. They sell thousands of tickets to members from all over the world and then they draw for the winners at the annual meeting. It is a bit of a joke because the winners are invariably from somewhere far away and are never present at the meeting. Of course that doesn't stop us from buying tickets every year. So I answered Laurie that yes, I had purchased my tickets and I really thought I was going to win this year. I should explain that my father is one of those people who has the "lucky gene". Of the three kids in the family, I seem to be the one who has inherited at least a little bit of the magic. While I don't win as often as my Dad, and he certainly doesn't win all the time, my streak of luck is better than seems to be explainable by random chance theory. So it was that I was probably the only one not really surprised when they drew my name from the more than 30,000 tickets in the box. I had purchased six tickets and put my name on three and Ken's on the other three. I did not win the Grand Prize which was a luxury trip for two to Mexico; I won the fly rod and reel valued at $1000. The funny part was the reaction to my good luck, particularly by a certain portion of the male species. While many friends congratulated me enthusiastically, there was a portion of the population that exhibited obvious signs of envy. After the dinner, as Ken and I were standing by our table, a big man with a florid face came huffing up and stood directly in front of Ken. Ignoring me completely, he stuck his finger in Ken's face and said "You'll regret this you know! She doesn't want that rod! Do you know what this is going to cost you? She's going to want waders and clothing and all sorts of things and then she'll decide she doesn't want to fish in the first place. What a waste! I'll take it off your hands for $100!" I felt Ken's hand firmly grasp my arm and I knew the message he was sending was "Please don't punch him in the nose! Even though I know you really want to!" I wasn't sure I could control myself so I turned and walked away as I heard Ken saying "She can't wait to use it and its not for sale!"
As I walked over to the table to claim my prize I was stopped by two more men. Each said the same thing - "Do you understand what you have won? This set-up deserves respect and I hope you are going to take it seriously!" I was actually glad to grab the rod and make my way back to the room where I could examine it in peace.
The next morning Ken went down to the lobby to get coffee. When he returned he had a big smile on his face. I asked him what was so funny and he explained he had run into Phil in the elevator and Mike at the front desk. The first thing each man said "Tell Kathy congratulations. I sure wish it was me who won that rod!" Ken said the way they spoke was so wistful that it was obvious to him that, were I not already married, I would have at least two proposals coming my way. So after almost fifty years on this earth, I have finally discovered what men really want - a nice fishing rod!
For the drive home on Saturday we decided to take the scenic route through Mammoth, Lamar Valley, Cooke City and over the Chief Joseph Highway to home. It is a little longer that way (although we later found out Sylvan Pass was closed because of an avalanche and it would have taken us hours more to come home the "quick" way!) but it is worth it for the views in Lamar Valley. We saw a grizzly bear and a sand hill crane nest along with all the other animals and a lot of their young. I love this photo of two bull moose near the NE Entrance. There was a third animal - a cow - just out of sight but these two in the snow made for a great image.
So now I have a couple days to catch up before I head to Ohio this weekend. I know this was a really long posting and I am sorry for that but I will not get a chance to post many more this month and I really wanted to share the wonderful journey to the other side of the Park.