Thursday, June 4
What a lovely morning! The sun is shining and the temperature is already steadily climbing. Things have finally been warming up the past week or so, but we’ve been getting strong thunderstorms along with. I’m hoping today won’t be one of those days, because it’s my weekend and I want to go hiking!
Blog reader and fellow full-timer Jayne is working up at Mammoth and we’ve been trying to arrange a time to go hiking together since I arrived. Today the stars have finally aligned.
Purple Mountain is 6 miles round trip and climbs 1,500 feet to a scenic view over the Madison area. It’s not one of the most visited trails, in fact the pullout can only fit five cars at most and you’d never notice the sign if you weren’t looking for it. It’s about a quarter mile east of Madison junction.
Water? Check. Food? Check. Bear spray? Check. Sunscreen? Check. Bug spray? Check. Jayne and I pull into the lot at almost the exact same time and get our gear together. Before long, we’re on the trail!
Like most of the park, Purple Mountain is covered in pine forest. From a distance it looks purple and that’s where the name comes from – or so Jayne tells me. I wouldn’t have had a clue where the name came from otherwise. The trees are tall at the base, the big fires of ’88 skipped here, and the underbrush is thick with a short dense shrub that’s no taller than my knees. It’s just starting to leaf out and has that beautiful bright green spring look that I enjoy so much.
Birds sing continuously in the trees, mostly hidden. The few I glimpse could be warblers, but they never close enough for a positive identification. There is a warning posted that bears can be found in this area, but the only large animal indicators we see are big ol’ bison plops. As the trail becomes steeper, the bison signs disappear.
Some publications rate this trail as moderate, and some as strenuous. There are no stairs or extremely steep sections, but once you get to the climbing maybe half a mile in, it’s constant all the way to the top.
“Oh, I wonder which one that is.” As the trees thin a view of the valley looking down towards Old Faithful starts coming into view. A thin trail of steam issues from over a rise, it must be a geyser, but it’s impossible to say which at this distance.
We loop through numerous lazy switchbacks, the trees getting shorter and less dense as we go. The ground changes too, the underbrush disappearing as the mountainside becomes more exposed. Before long there isn’t even any grass, just a coarse light gray gravel that is probably slick when the ground is wet. I cross my fingers that if it rains today (40% chance), it holds off until we’re back down.
One last loop, and we’ve run out of up. The trail levels out along the wooded top of Purple Mountain and opens up facing south over Madison, and the canyon heading towards West Yellowstone.
You can see where the road crosses the Gibbon River to head south toward Old Faithful, and the Madison campground is visible as a few white spots in a field of green.
A few clouds start coming in, but they’re not the kind that promises rain. We spend nearly an hour up there, eating and talking and enjoying the view. Neither of us have anywhere we need to be today, it’s a fine way to spend the morning.
About two hours later, I come home to a hostage situation in progress.
A shaggy bull bison is laying in my neighbors’ campsite, right where they park their truck in front of the RV. My neighbors are still inside their truck, idling farther down the road watching. Every now and then, a yip comes from inside the RV. My neighbors have two dogs, and they can hear their parents’ truck outside, and can’t understand why their mom and dad aren’t coming in. Or maybe they know the bison is there, and they don’t like it.
“We’ve been waiting nearly two hours for him to leave”, she says to me. “Twice he’s gotten up, but then he lays back down. We tried to wave down a NPS vehicle that came through a little while ago, but he didn’t notice.”
How do you make a bison move without pissing it off? We start discussing driving down to the ranger headquarters near OF when the bison stands for a third time, and drops a load in their front yard. Then he finally ambles off, munching on grass as he goes. The hostage situation is resolved, and my neighbors can finally let their dogs out to use the bathroom.
Never a dull moment around here.
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