Travels with Charlize, in search of living alone

David GrossPart 26: Yellowstone Park

By Dr. David Gross

It never occurred to me that it would be so difficult. In my book “Animals Don’t Blush” I recounted the combined camping, honeymoon and traveling to my first veterinary job in Sidney, Montana trip. That happened the first week in June of 1960. Rosalie and I spent two days in Yellowstone Park. I always considered our experiences an adventure. Rosalie used other, less positive, descriptors.
This time I drove in from the town of West Yellowstone appalled at the destruction and amazed at the recovery following the forest fires of 1988. Almost 800,000 acres, more than 3,000 square kilometers, about 36 percent of the entire park were engulfed in flames.

I arrived early in the day, it was only 70 some miles from Ennis, Montana to West Yellowstone. Once in the park, driving on roads that were significantly wider and better paved than they were in 1960, I kept glancing at the stark skeletons of once proud trees, interspersed with a few fire-charred survivors, all them engulfed in a sea of uniform height young trees elbowing each other for space.

Lodge pole pines

Some experts knew, many did not, that the Lodge pole pine, dominant in Yellowstone, drops mostly closed pine cones that do not open to release their seeds until stimulated by intense heat. The forest floor was covered with these closed cones accumulated over many years and the fires must have moved swiftly enough to expose but not consume the seeds. Those seeds found conditions ideal for germination and the result is thousands, maybe millions of 7- to 12-foot-tall trees obviously started at the same time that, in the not too distant future will have to cull themselves for the required space and light to survive.

In 1960 I set up the old canvass umbrella tent that had served my family for years. Rosalie and I were two of the few occupants of the 1960 Madison campground characterized by gravel roads, a hand pump for water, outhouses and in-the-ground garbage receptacles that did very little to discourage bears. Charlize and I set up Frog in the enlarged, updated and improved Madison campground, now featuring paved roads, heated restrooms with running water and flush toilets. We arrived during the first week in May and some of the roads into the park were still closed, but the campground was at least a third full.

After Frog was situated I disconnected Old Blue, and Charlize and I went to visit Old Faithful. The amount and character of new development and the number of people present, some arriving in busloads, was astounding, as well as depressing. I remembered our significantly different visit 50-plus years previous.

Rosalie and I always made a habit of not revisiting places we had been to, thus no return to Yellowstone for nearly 53 years. There were always new places to visit and explore. New places were more interesting and we did visit a lot of places in the U.S., Mexico and Europe. Those trips made great memories and travel disasters always make the best stories.

One of our wedding gifts was an 8-millimeter movie camera. We took endless footage of scenery, “wild” animals, geysers, steam coming from the ground and bubbling cauldrons of mud on that trip, but rarely looked at those movies. I was worried about losing those films to age so I had them converted to videotape and some years later to CDs. They are painful to watch but not nearly as painful as revisiting those places without my bride. So I gave up.

Charlize did not enjoy Yellowstone at all. They now have rules, lots of rules concerning dogs. Dogs must be on a leash at all times when out and cannot be taken out of the confines of the campground or parking lots. You cannot leave them alone tied up. Naturally you have to pick up after your dog. I understand the need for all those rules, too many people with too many dogs and the dogs could get into trouble with wild life and cause other types of ecological problems, but the last time I was here with Rosalie we were accompanied by my first German Shepherd dog and he was a hero. (Read the book to find out the how and why). He was always under voice control. Charlize’s demeanor in this photo says it all

Charlize-2Frog’s many energy-consuming appliances sucked her battery dry by 9 in the evening. The Madison campground still lacks electrical and water hookups, but I presume that will come, eventually. The smoke alarm beeped once a minute to let me know the battery was low, but there was enough juice to keep the damn thing beeping until one or so in the morning. I got into bed when the power gave out at nine but, of course, the beeping didn’t let me get to sleep until it finally ran out of juice.

I woke up at 6 AM, got my clothes on in the freezing cold, no power no functioning furnace in Frog, and made a dash to the heated restroom. Our two sons and I used to do a lot of backpacking, frequently in cold weather, but we were equipped and dressed for it. With all the comforts of home in Frog, when the power goes out a warm restroom with a flush toilet on a cold morning does have appeal.

I returned to take Charlize for her walk then hooked Frog back up to Old Blue so I now had power from the truck’s battery. I boiled water, made coffee and some instant oatmeal, fed Charlize, took her for another walk and by 7 AM we were on our way to the east gate.

The sage that said you couldn’t go back was correct. Too much change, too many memories, going back to Yellowstone was a mistake. Tomorrow I will arrive at Pass Ranch in the Sandhills of Nebraska. That will be moving forward.

After his losing his wife of 52 years to cancer, Dr. David Gross has embarked on an extended road trip with his new dog, Charlize, and is writing about his experiences.

 

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