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The Hayden: Yellowstone's Great Sensuous Valley

In America's First National Park, This Vast Vale Gives Winterkeeper Steve Fuller His Center Of Gravity

January 14, 2018—'Backyard Haunt Pulling At My Soul'

Steven Fuller writes, "With a long lens, the view from my stoop, my front step, looking eight miles to the south across Hayden Valley where steam rises from one of many complexes of hot springs, geysers, and mud pots found throughout the valley."
Steven Fuller writes, "With a long lens, the view from my stoop, my front step, looking eight miles to the south across Hayden Valley where steam rises from one of many complexes of hot springs, geysers, and mud pots found throughout the valley."
I once had a lover with whom I delighted to trace the sensual topography of her form. Similarly, there is pleasure in exploring the sensuous contours of the Hayden Valley, a landscape that is the antithesis of the craggy manly mountains that surround the Yellowstone Plateau where I live. On foot, on horseback, on skis. Hayden Valley is the place of many of my most delightful dalliances in nature.

Water abhors Euclidean geometry. In Taoism water is the most feminine of the five elements. Water was the genesis of the Hayden Valley millennials ago when the melt of the last glaciation created a Greater Yellowstone lake that included the basin we know in our tenure here and now as Hayden Valley.

Fuller observes, "Hayden Valley is riven with many of these hydro-thermal areas, most unnamed and little known.  Difficult and often dangerous winter conditions and an abundance of summer grizzly bears deter most visitors from exploring the region beyond the edge of the highway." Photo by Steven Fuller.  Click to enlarge.
Fuller observes, "Hayden Valley is riven with many of these hydro-thermal areas, most unnamed and little known. Difficult and often dangerous winter conditions and an abundance of summer grizzly bears deter most visitors from exploring the region beyond the edge of the highway." Photo by Steven Fuller. Click to enlarge.
As the ice melted the sand, gravels, and rocky debris that the ice carried were released to drift down to the watery floor of the basin lake where they accumulated in communities of curvaceous mounds. Once the greater lake receded to the remnant we know as Yellowstone Lake remained as the sensuous hills and hillocks on the floor of contemporary Hayden Valley.

Hayden Valley lies at the geographical, and in my mind, spiritual heart of Yellowstone. And it begins just to the south of my home at Canyon. It is dissected by the Yellowstone River upstream from where it flows out of the Yellowstone Lake to where the river falls precipitously more than 300 feet into the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.

From my front door stoop I have a clear view to the south across eight miles of the valley to one of its’ many complexes of hot springs and mud pots. And, there are many other interesting sights, both geographical and animal, in between.

The dimensions of the Hayden Valley are about 8 miles east/west and north/south (some say 60 square miles), but within these relatively small parameters motorized mischief is prohibited so the valley is made large and enhanced because we enter on foot and so can enjoy a space within which there are dimensions enough for peace, quiet, delight, and danger.  

What is the sound of wilderness to me? It is the wind, not a four- or two-stroke engine, nor the sounds of gears.

Hayden encompasses a combination of unique geographical and geological characteristics that are unknown anyplace else on the planet. Seasonally the valley has two faces, in summer it is a verdant Serengeti of wildlife like the Lamar, in winter the valley is an albino desert of great dunes and snowy maria plains.

On skis I am a speck in a frozen oceanic topography of snow, ice and frost.  But there are temperate islands hidden though out the valley where I can make land-fall and de-ski and walk on the snow free geo-thermally warmed earth amid the steam, the smells, and the sounds of lost worlds. 
Fuller observes, "This rime ice was formed when wind driven “steam”, that is super-cooled liquid water vapor from the nearby hot springs, bumped into this dead tree and instantly froze on contact. Further deposition causes these needles of rime to propagate into the wind." Photo by Steven Fuller
Fuller observes, "This rime ice was formed when wind driven “steam”, that is super-cooled liquid water vapor from the nearby hot springs, bumped into this dead tree and instantly froze on contact. Further deposition causes these needles of rime to propagate into the wind." Photo by Steven Fuller
There are lush green carpets of moss that are nourished by frequent snow-melt water  and green succulent like plants that hug the perimeter of hot humid steam vents.  Other warm pools sustain micro-climates where brine flies in their thousands graze on green algae mats where in turn they are taken, like sheep, in their hundreds by large predatory spiders. It is a place to listen to the pantheist whispers all round and for a little while I am free of the twattle of the secular world that fills most of our minds most of the time we are alive.

There are many tracks, those of a solitary bison or of a small cow herd whose tracks are often over ridden by those of wolves and coyotes.  Sometimes there is a bison holed up in one of these islands.  There is little to forage but he or she saves energy by not having to make way through the surrounding deep snow drifts.  Sometimes I find him dead, wolf-killed, other times “winterkilled”, that catch all word that encompasses all the makings of mortality… age, injury, starvation, exhaustion.

Zen mind…Sking back, sometimes eight miles, usually as the light is lowering, but sometimes at dusk or by moon light, always with the prevailing southwest wind at my back, I contour through the snow softened topography. The rhythm of skis and poles quiets the mind.  When snow conditions are just so I seem to move effortlessly. Other times, when fresh powder is up to my knees I may make a mile in a couple of hours and the physical trumps the mind.
"Snow cornices resembling albino sand dunes grow on the lee side of the hills in the valley. The opposite windward side of the hills is mostly swept clean of snow allowing these bull bison to graze on the forage on the crest, poor as it is, but with a minimum expenditure of energy," Fuller writes.  Photo by Steven Fuller
"Snow cornices resembling albino sand dunes grow on the lee side of the hills in the valley. The opposite windward side of the hills is mostly swept clean of snow allowing these bull bison to graze on the forage on the crest, poor as it is, but with a minimum expenditure of energy," Fuller writes. Photo by Steven Fuller
Later, as I ride up the trail to the house on my snowmobile a small welcome light shows through a window in the house half hidden in deep drifts of insulating snow. Inside the frost and icicles on my moustache and beard melt and drop off in the warmth of the mud room as I de-boot and change into house clothes.  A couple of cats get up from where they have been napping, stretch, then come over with their tails in the air to greet me. A good day has been had by all.

Click here to read all of Steven Fuller's accumulating journal entries for "A Life In Wonderland" and this Mountain Journal profile of Fuller, "Twilight of the Winterkeepers

Steven Fuller
About Steven Fuller

Steven Fuller has been the "winterkeeper" at Canyon Village deep in the heart of Yellowstone National Park for 45 years.  Well traveled on several continents, he is also an award-winning nature photographer.  Follow him at A Life In Wonderland appearing exclusively at Mountain Journal.  His collectible photography is also available through Yellowstone Gallery.  Steven Fuller profile photo by Neal Herbert/NPS
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