We woke in Cody, Wyoming, and drove toward the east entrance of Yellowstone National Park. The roadsides were rich with deer and elk. At one point before even arriving at the park, we stopped the car when almost twenty elk crossed the road in front of us. The bull elk stayed in back until everyone had safely made it to the other side and then he led the charge up the hill. Two of the females missed the opening in the fence, and when he realized there were stragglers, he halted the herd until the stragglers found the opening and rejoined the rest.
The park’s lodge pole pine forests have been decimated by disease…so much so that there are vast areas of Yellowstone that have nothing but stark tree trunks pointing to the sky. In other areas where the trees seem to have had enough water to produce sap and protect themselves against the beetles they are doing fine. The denuding is sad to witness and it is also scary because this dead timber is such perfect fodder for forest fires. Since it was barely mid-September, we saw few autumn colors; however the aspen were beginning to turn golden. We hoped that we would see more colorful foliage soon in Glacier National Park.
Tourist season was over in Yellowstone, so we did not have much traffic when we arrived first thing in the morning. The marinas were winterized and some of the gas stations and service areas were closed for the year. However, by the time we left the park via the southern entrance there was a long line of cars waiting to pay the fee and enter. This is one of the benefits of being an early riser. We had planned to come through the park again on our way up to Great Falls but changed our course after seeing the lines.
As planned, we headed down to Jackson, Wyoming, (formerly Jackson Hole) to visit the National Museum of Wildlife Art. Along the way we had the Teton Mountain Range bathed in sunlight on our right. The museum is almost the last one on the list of Western Art museums we have been pursuing since 2011, and it was so worth the miles and the effort. Set into the hillside overlooking the National Elk Refuge, at first glimpse its exterior gives little hint of the treasures surrounding and within.
Magnificent animal sculptures were set in the natural landscape along the drive and parking area. We passed artworks of moose, buffalo, birds, and finally these wild turkeys on our way to the museum entrance.
Inside, we stood next to a crouched mountain lion perched atop a massive rock wall and together we surveyed the breathtaking multistory lobby far below.
At ground level “Swamp Donkey,” a full-scale moose by T.D. Kelsey, raises its dripping head and antlers out of a pond…
…while overhead a parade of moose, buffalo, bear and fish made their way across the barrel vault ceiling. I learned from a security guard that these painted cutouts weren’t just decorative…these foam figures help baffle sound in this enormous entry hall.
We could not help but stand and admire this massive and proud buffalo that seemed to challenge us to step further into the galleries.
We enjoyed seeing a retrospective of the history of European wildlife art works. There was an almost overwhelming collection of masterpieces on display and then we moved into galleries with contemporary pieces, including these intricately worked turkey tail feathers by Chris Maynard.
After driving so many miles in such a lightly populated region, it felt right to be surrounded by art that focused exclusively on natural animal life and did not have a single person in any of the works.
As we headed to our car, a series of large-scale spirit totems lined the walkway, and we were surprised to learn that the pieces were created by Herb Alpert of Tijuana Brass music fame. From this vantage point we took a moment to pause and look beyond the vast area of the Elk Preserve to the distant mountains.
After this beautiful and inspiring morning, we fought our way into and out of Jackson as quickly as possible. The town was so overrun with tourists that we crawled along dodging errant cars and pedestrians. Anxious to be back in the open spaces, we headed west and crossed almost immediately into Idaho then turned north for Great Falls, Montana. Glacier was our next destination and snow was in the forecast.
FOR MORE ADVENTURE: This is Part 7 of 12 in our drive from Maine to and from Glacier National Park. If you would like to follow along with us, the first installment was Des Moines, Iowa, and the next stop is in Glacier National Park in Montana.