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Thursday, July 19, 2018

A family memory

At the little green cabin on Soda Butte Creek the sunlight filters through swaying branches of the tall evergreens as the sparkles of sunlight bounce off fast moving currents of the creek and peek through the greenery. The bushes and trees hide chipmunks and squirrels and the tiny fawn who visits in the evenings and the mother Fox with new kits.  Republic Mountain with waterfalls from melting snow can be seen to the south across the creek from the big picture window in the cabin.
Inside, hanging on the wooden logs, a hand-painted wolf dreamcatcher made by my daughter guards the front door which sets the mood for this place. The photographs on the walls taken by my husband show wildlife viewed by our family over the years. There is a crackling fire in the wood stove and a small pile of the many logs that my oldest son cut when he visited in May. I cozy up to a blanket that my youngest son gave us last July when he visited. This is a family place.

The tinkling chimes of the agate ovals blown by the breeze off the creek transport me to June 1980 when my husband, then boyfriend returned from a road trip to Yellowstone National Park and brought me a wind chime made of beautiful brown agate crystals.  He had fallen in love with the jagged snow-covered mountain peaks and wide expanses of green sliced by rapid rivers. He treasured the smell of sagebrush as bison tramp through the blue green bushes and sounds of eagles, osprey, falcons soaring above.

He climbed Mount Washburn only to find a sticky fingered visitor had absconded with his belongings from our car. The lonely road trip was memorable but also made him feel that he wanted to return to Yellowstone often to make memories but with family along - so we got engaged! :-)

By 1997 we had three adventurous children who loved hiking, skiing, and whitewater -so back to Yellowstone. We planned out a western holiday and flew from Philadelphia to Denver and then hesitantly crawled into a 20-seat plane from Denver to Cody turning slightly green along the way. We first stayed at Bill Cody Ranch in Shoshone National Forest between Cody and the east entrance to  Yellowstone.  The children learn to rope, enjoyed cookouts and the Beautiful Forest Trails. Our first family horseback trail ride started with our youngest son’s horse taking off in the opposite direction. His laughter floated back to us as he galloped away. Quick thinking cow hands corralled him back quickly but not before we all lost our breath…

We next stayed at the Old Faithful Inn and viewed the geysers and mud pots.  After a few days we traveled to the Lake Hotel and enjoyed sunsets over Lake Yellowstone from the porch while sipping tea. We made our way to the Lamar Valley one rainy afternoon longing to see the recently reintroduced wolf packs which stayed hidden out of sight  in the sage all day. After a quick stop in the old mining town called Cooke City we headed down the switchbacks of Chief Joseph Highway towards Cody Wyoming. The snow started as night fell and the tires clung to icy roads back and forth down the mountainside as we looked out the windows over drops to the valley floor. The rustic streets of Cody were a  thrill to see at the end of that perilous journey down the mountain. The next day we watched prairie dogs and bought a stuffed mythical jackalope to take home.

The family trip back to Yellowstone whetted my husband's appetite for the park and by 2009 he began making annual then biannual trips to photograph wildlife. For at least 5 years he learned more about the wolf packs and logistics of finding wildlife, bought scopes and additional photography equipment, and made friendships and connections with other wolf watchers and naturalists. Eventually he purchased a walkie-talkie that enabled him to communicate with others watching wildlife and became part of a group of hard-working volunteers who educate tourists to the wildlife viewing.

After years of trekking from the East Coast with an increasing amount of supplies and renting places to stay near the park, we made the family decision to purchase a vacation home to allow us to return more frequently and for longer periods of time. In May of 2014 during a visit, we looked at available real estate options and chose a small green log cabin in a community on Soda Butte Creek between Cooke City and Silver Gate.  The 4th of July week we inspected the house taking time to buy furniture and supplies and in late July we returned for settlement on the cabin. We flew into Billings and stayed in Cooke City overnight and back to Red Lodge for settlement and then home at last. Unfortunately the road from Cooke City to Billings is a series of switchbacks called the Beartooth Highway going high into the mountains where even in July there were 20 foot snow banks on each side of the road and skiers can practice their craft all summer. The vistas were lovely and the road was frightening so from now on we all fly into Bozeman!

We painted and cleaned and furnished, shopped and had deliveries and made the cabin our own over a wonderful week.  We took breaks taking picnics into the park to see bison and pronghorn. Each year since we have added a project, one year buying a car that’s garaged  near the airport and can be driven around for supplies and then down through the park to the cabin. Another year hanging shades and getting a new fridge.

Each of us appreciates the wildlife and scenery. From the waterfalls at Artist Point to the confluence of Lamar River and Soda Butte Creek the vistas are breath taking. There are geothermal features at Mammoth Hot Springs and the Dragon’s cave just beyond Hayden Valley. Wild life at day break in the spring can be seen nursing newborns or hunting for food. Wolf pups go tumbling down the hillside near their den while bison calves hop in play battles, grizzly mothers climb trees with their cubs and mother badger pushes her young towards their den to avoid aggressive tourists and we capture it all on film.  The fuchsia pink fire weed, the watermelon red paintbrush and the lavender lupine add spectacular color along with gold and cream wildflowers at every turn.  We find moose in the willows and coyotes running through sage, beaver dams that flood the front yards of friends in Silvergate and adorable pikas hiding in rocks formations, and the bald eagles that survey Slough Creek.  The drama of grizzly and wolf and coyote struggling to survive amidst herds of bison and pronghorn play out on the valley floor along the Lamar River bring us close to nature and allow us to share with each other once-in-a-lifetime moments.

The family is able to come in groups to share the experience that was started so long ago in the spring of 1980 when my husband took a lonely but memorable trip and fell in love with this place.