We knew that nothing could top the night of carnage in Hayden Valley, and we didn't want Kyle to get too jealous that we got to stay for so long, so we packed up the RV, said our goodbyes to Yellowstone, and drove out the East entrance of the park. We drove around the Old West town of Cody and stopped in to wildlife artist Charles Kirkham's workshop. He's a retired biologist who now buys, trades and creates with local and renewable deer, elk and moose antlers. As we admired the elk antler chandeliers, we spoke to Mr. Kirkham about our experience in Yellowstone.
Firstly, he told us that we did the right thing by not taking the bull elk skull out of the park. He asked if the tips of the antlers has been cut off, which they had, and said that the park rangers do that so the piece is not a trophy anymore. Then the rangers will place a tracking chip in the antlers and if and when someone takes it out of the park, they'll show up at their door to give them a $1,500 fine.
Then the conversation moved to the wolves. He, like most of the locals living off the land outside of the park, believed that it was time to start allowing permits to hunt the wolves. When the park reintroduced the wolves, they promised that the pack would be protected only until they were proven sustainable, and not at the risk of any other park species. The reintroduction had been so successful, and the wolves were so plentiful, that they were starting to become detrimental to the other species. That's why we didn't see any moose, the wolves had killed them all, or driven them down to the Tetons.
Also affected, were the elk herds, primary food for the bears, which were already starting to look for alternate food outside the park. The year before, a man had been hunted and killed by a bear. Not in an accidental encounter, but stalked and killed as prey. The wolves were a problem, the ex-biologist told us, and the park was hesitant to deal with the problem because the wolves have become the biggest attraction at the park. Everyone wants to see the wolves.
Before we left, Mr. Kirkham told us one more story of the man from "the city" (L.A.) who brought his family to Yellowstone. The first wildlife they saw were the grazing bison. He lifted up his two year old girl, placed her on the back of the bison, and stepped back to take a photo. The bison shook off the little girl and stomped her to death, as he watched. "And who did the city newspapers blame?", he asked us. Walt Disney. For making wild animals so friggin cute.
From Cody, we took the scenic route to Thermopolis, Wyoming. After two weeks in the wilderness, we needed what Thermopolis had - the worlds largest mineral hot springs.
In 1896 a treaty was signed with the Shoshone and Arapaho Indians, which gave the public use of the "healing waters". According to the agreement, use will forever remain free at the State Bath House, and that is straight where we headed. After twenty minutes soaking in the 104 degree mineral water, we were clean. Refreshed. We joked that Yellowstone had purified our minds, and the hot spring was purifying our bodies. It was blissful. Rejuvenating.