WILD ANIMALS OF GEYSERLAND
ELK, DEER, ANTELOPE, BEAR, AND BISON LIVE NATURAL LIVES IN THE YELLOWSTONE
"SEE that streak of bright pink!" cried Margaret.
"Oh! those beautiful pearly grays!" exclaimed Aunt Jane rapturously. "See how they change to darker streaks until they gradually merge into this jet-black sand right below us."
"Yes," said Mrs. Jefferson, "and over there is deep cream fading into the most brilliant white you ever saw."
"Gee!" Jack exclaimed. "That's a regular Princeton orange. Right there! See? And here's this black below usorange and black, Princeton colors."
"And crimson for Harvard," said Uncle Billy. "Don't forget Harvard. And there's a gorgeous Amerst purple, too. It's a regular intercollegiate meet, isn't it? Only I don't see any Yale blue. How's that?"
"Vassar wins!" cried Aunt Jane, clapping her hands. "Pink and gray are everywhere!"
"And yellow, yellow, yellowmore yellow than anything else!" cried Jack. "That's my school color. Lots of schools have yellow."
"And mauve," said Mrs. Jefferson. "What college has mauve? But surely there are no schools or universities in the United States that cannot find their colors in this wonderful canyon's walls. Even green, Dartmouth's color; do you see? Such a glowing brilliant green down on those far slopes. What is it? That green isn't colored rock and sand like the rest."
"No," said Uncle Tom, "that is vegetation. It is manzanita, surelyyes, and scrub-pine. Look at it through the glasses."
"And while you are talking of green," said Margaret, "do not miss that green and white river down there."
"That river," said Uncle Tom, "is a thousand feet below where we stand. It is very deep and swift. The Great Fall up-stream there is twice as high as Niagara Falls."
"Goodness!" cried Margaret. It doesn't seem so high."
"It is because it is two miles away," said Uncle Tom. "Then, too, this Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is so vast that even the biggest things seem small. Of course, it is not nearly so big as the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River, in Arizona; nevertheless there is no canyon in the world that equals this one for the immense variety and delicacy of its colors."
"I understand why they call it the Yellowstone, all right," said Jack. "It's mostly all yellow."
"Moran's big painting in the Capitol at Washington shows it practically all yellow," said Uncle Tom. "And so it is when you look at it as a whole. It is only when we look right down into it that we can see the thousand other shades and tints of the rock and sand."
"I don't wonder they call this spot Inspiration Point," said Aunt Jane.
"There's your Yale blue," cried Jack suddenly.
"Where? Where?" they all asked, gazing downward into the depths.
"Look up," said Jack.
They all looked up at the azure canopy of sky covering the whole gorgeous spectacle.
"That completes it," said Mrs. Jefferson after a silence. "There seems now to be no color or shade of color missing. My brain is fairly gorged with color."
"Just like another part of you feels after Thanksgiving dinner," said Jack, and Margaret squealed appreciatively.
This was their first day in the Yellowstone National Park. They had come in through the eastern entrance and had seen the wonderful Shoshone Dam and beautiful Sylvan Pass on the way. They had stayed over night at a large hotel and had spent the morning looking at the surging Yellowstone River and the Upper Fall. Then, after luncheon, they had walked down to Inspiration Point to revel till sunset in the magnificence of the painted canyon.
As they walked slowly home a young man passed them bending under a large, partly filled sack. He carried a fishing-rod in his hand.
"He's making believe that his potatoes are trout," said Jack jeeringly. They all laughed.
"Let's have some fun with him," said Uncle Billy with a wink. "Say, my friend, you've had good luck, haven't you?"
"Only fair," said the man, dropping his sack and wiping his forehead wearily. "It was stiffish work lugging these fish up from the river. I climbed too fast and I'm nearly all in."
"Do you mean to state that your sack is full of trout?" demanded Uncle Billy sharply. "Let's see them."
"They ain't so many," said the angler apologetically, "only nine, but they're fairish size."
He emptied his sack on the grass. Sure enough it contained nothing but trout.
"Gosh!" said Jack, and the two uncles knelt on the grass and examined the fish.
"Not much like the trout we caught in the Adirondacks last summer, Jack," said Uncle Billy. "The smallest of these must weigh a couple of pounds."
"No," said the angler, "that little feller doesn't weight more'n a pound and a half. You see he's slim. All these Yellowstone River trout are slim. But these others run two and a half or three pound each, and that big feller weighs five pound easy."
"And did you catch these huge things with that tiny rod?" demanded Margaret.
"That's where the fun comes," said the man, grinning. "I got 'em down in that frothy water. I thought I never would land that big feller. I followed him more'n half a mile down-stream and onet I got into the water near up to my elbows. I thought I was a goner for a minute or two, for the water was fast right there. But I held onto a rock and held the fish, too, till somehow I got back ashore. That's where the fun comes in, little girl. It ain't the fish; it's the gettin' em."
"I'd rather catch sunfish," said Margaret with a shiver; but Jack's eyes shone with excitement and the two uncles exchanged meaning glances.
The next day, after a steamer ride on Yellowstone Lake and a near-by glimpse of several white pelicans, one of which, standing on the shore, appeared quite as tall as Margaret, they visited the geysers. The children were silent with astonishment at the vast quantities of hot water which Old Faithful spouted nearly two hundred feet into the air.
"But what makes it spout?" Margaret finally asked. "Is it a big fire-engine?"
They all laughed, and Jack jeered loudly.
"Well, Jack," said Mrs. Jefferson, "you seem to think that very funny. Suppose, then, you tell Margaret what makes Old Faithful spout?"
"Why," said Jack, as the whole party turned smilingly for his explanation, "whywhyit just spouts, don't you see?"
And Jack grew red and uncomfortable as all laughed heartily.
"Smarty!" cried Margaret triumphantly. She capered around him, pointing her finger tauntingly.
Uncle Tom checked Jack's sharp retort.
"Children," he said, "I don't think that any of you, even wise Mother, can answer that question. I looked it up in the encyclopaedia before I left home, or I shouldn't have known, myself. Listen, and I'll try to tell you.
They all gathered around.
"Thousands of feet deep in the earth below us," said Uncle Tom slowly, "perhaps very many thousands of feet, the rocks are excessively hot, so hot that they instantly make water boil. Down among these hot rocks, right under Old Faithful, there is a cave, perhaps as big as a very large room, and from the top of that cave a vent or long hole, perhaps three or four feet in diameter, leads all the way up through the earth into Old Faithful. It is out of the upper end of that long hole that the water spouts.
"Now, there are springs far down in the earth that empty their cold water into that hot cave. As fast as the water pours into the cave, it boils up and fills the long vent-hole above with heated water.
"Now stop and get that into your heads.
"But new spring-water is pouring into the cave all the time and this water turns rapidly into steam. Now, you know that when steam is compressed, as in the cylinder of a locomotive, it acquires tremendous force. So this steam in the hot cave, which is pressed down by the weight of the water in the vent-hole above, and pressed up all the time by the new steam from the heated rocks below, finally cannot stand the pressure any longer and just hurls that heavy weight of water overhead, right up and out. That is what makes the geyser spout."
"It's like on a warm night I just can't stand the bedclothes any longer and kick them on the floor," said Jack intelligently.
"Something like that," said Uncle Tom. "Margaret, do you understand it now?"
Margaret shook her head.
"Listen, Margaret," said Aunt Jane. "Haven't you seen the steam in the kettle on the gas-stove at home get so hot that suddenly it blows the lid off?"
Margaret nodded, her eyes brightening.
"Well, a geyser is just like that," said Aunt Jane. "The hot rocks are like the gas-stove; the cave is like the kettle; and the water in the vent-hole is like the lid."
"Oh, I see! I see!" cried Margaret, dancing. "A geyser is just a kind of a big teakettlebut I'll bet that Jack doesn't understand it yet."
Jack glanced at her contemptuously.
"A boy always understands more than a girl," he said. "I understood it long before you did."
And Uncle Tom had to intervene again by pointing out other geysers spouting in the distance.
"There are several hundred geysers here in the Yellowstone," he said. "Some of them are very large and only spout at intervals of weeks or months. Old Faithful here spouts every seventy minutes. Some of the little ones spout every few minutes. The mud-volcano you saw this morning is nothing more than a small geyser whose vent is filled with soft watery mud instead of water."
But, after all was said and seen, the most popular feature with the children was the Yellowstone's wealth of wild animal life. They counted more than eighty deer on their third day, which they spent riding horses over the trails in the northwestern part of the park. Then they lost count.
"They're just as tame as sheep," said Margaret, as a large buck and two does lifted their heads above a mass of low bushes scarcely a hundred yards from the trail. The deer watched them pass and resumed their grazing.
"One of the rangers told me," said Mrs. Jefferson, "that in the autumn, after most of the tourists go, the deer flock to the hotels to feed on the lawns. Some of them walk up the porch steps and take grass and flowers from your hand. They have no fear at all."
"A man in the hotel," said Uncle Billy, "told me last night that he was one of a large supper-party in a bungalow in the northern part of the park when a doe came in through the open door and walked entirely round the table."
"Why are they so tame here?" asked Margaret. "You told me yourself, Uncle Billy, that when you went hunting in the Adirondacks you could hardly get near enough to a deer to shoot."
"That," put in Uncle Tom, "is because no shooting is permitted in any of the national parks. The Yellowstone was made a national park in 1872, and in 1894 a law was made prohibiting all shooting. Since then many kinds of wild animals have increased greatly in number, and have lost nearly all their fear; people do not hurt them here and so the animals have become quite neighborly."
"But I want to shoot them," said Jack. "I want to shoot a bear."
"You'd be afraid," said Margaret.
"I wouldn't," said Jack. "I'd go right up to a bear just as quickly as I'd go up to anyoh!"
Jack, who was riding ahead, stopped suddenly. Then he drew a sharp wavering breath and turned his horse.
"Run" he whispered hoarsely." Run! Quick! Quick! Here, let me pass!"
"What's the matter?" asked Mrs. Jefferson nervously.
"Leggo my horse!" shouted Jack to Uncle Billy, who had grasped his reins as he tried to push past. "Here you, stop that. I want to get away. Don't you see them? Hurry! hurry! Oh, quick!"
The party drew rein and looked into the woods just ahead. Under the trees several hundred yards away sat a large black bear and two cubs.
"Oh, Mother, look at those cunning little bears," cried Margaret. "They're playing with something that moves in the grass. And look! look! See that one climb the tree. Oh, isn't that too cunning for anything?"
The guide, who had been removing a pebble from his horse's foot, now rejoined them.
"How near will it be safe to approach?" asked Uncle Billy.
"It is safe enough," said the guide. "But you stay here and let me see how near I can get before they run away."
He dismounted and, holding a lump of sugar between his fingers, slowly moved toward the bears. Mother bear instantly became alert, watching his every movement with sharp, interested eyes. As he neared them the guide moved slower and slower. Presently he scarcely seemed to move. The cubs, absorbed in play, did not notice him, but their mother rose slowly and regarded him with deepest attention. He did not seem to look at her, though really he watched her closely. He approached the cubs and stood silent for some minutes. When he threw a lump of sugar to the cubs, mother bear rose swiftly upon all fours but, as he made no other movement, she remained still.
But not the cubs. One of them saw the sugar, smelled it, licked it, and then ate it greedily. He tossed another lump and another. Each fell nearer to him, until the cubs were almost within reach. Mother bear watched intently. So did the Jeffersons back on the trail.
Ten minutes later the cubs were standing erect, eating sugar from the guide's hand, and mother bear, now satisfied that no harm was meant, was again quietly seated.
"Let me go feed the baby bears," said Margaret.
"No," said Mrs. Jefferson sharply. "You will stay right here."
Jack asked no permission. He slipped from his horse and started for the guide, but Uncle Tom's firm hand grasped his arm.
"None of that," he said sternly. "Get on your horse."
"It's best not to fool with bears," said the guide on his return. "Some tourists feed them, but they oughtn't to. They don't know bears. It's different with us. We know them."
Moving slowly and quite silently over the trails they saw many wild animals that day. Dozens of sturdy elk loped silently away at their approach. A large moose entered the trail a couple of hundred yards in front of them and did not hurry when he saw them. On a not distant hillside they saw a band of antelope. There were smaller animals, too. They saw three foxes and a coyote.
"In very heavy winters when food is scarce in the mountains because of the heavy snows," said the guide, "the park rangers scatter hay in the valleys. Thousands of deer and elk and hundreds of Rocky Mountain sheep come down to feed. They are especially tame then. Many times I have actually touched the sheep, which are usually the most timid of all our animals."
"All of which," said Uncle Tom, "merely proves that wild animals naturally are friendly. They fear men only when men are cruel and murderous."
For several days Margaret thought and talked of little else besides the baby bears. Chipmunks ceased to interest her and even a young doe which her mother coaxed with a bunch of flowers nearly within reach failed to arouse her usual enthusiasm. Meantime they had lived part of the time in the large luxurious hotels and part of the time in the public camps. Jack preferred the camps. He liked to sleep in the tents, and the big fires which the camp managers built under the trees in the evenings fascinated him. Several days were spent on horseback on the trails. The two uncles fished with some success; once they took Jack but, as he caught no trout, he preferred afterward to stay with Margaret. They saw more of the geysers and the hot springs. Once they bathed in the hot-water swimming pool during a hail-storm, which so battered their heads that they were glad to hurry out.
One sleepy afternoon while the uncles were fishing and the ladies napping in a tent, Jack wandered down the road to talk with a park ranger. Margaret finished her story-book and ran back in the woods for wild flowers. She lay down under a tree and fell asleep.
Waking in the shadows of late afternoon, she sat up suddenly with the consciousness of stealthy noises near at hand. What they were she did not know, but she was frightened. At first she thought dogs were growling playfully, but instantly she knew that no dog uttered the sounds she heard.
Rising slowly and with beating heart she peered around a tree-trunk and gave a low cry of surprise, pleasure, and alarm, for only a few feet away two bear cubs were rolling over each other in play.
Margaret was frightened at first. She did not dare run. She scarcely dared breathe. But there was no large bear in sight and after a while her pleasure in the play overcame all other feelings.
"Oh, if I only had some sugar!" she whispered to herself. "I wonder if I just couldn't touch that littlest one just once."
So she stole slowly toward them, just as she had seen the guide do a few days before. The cubs were wrestling quietly, both prone on the ground, and did not see or scent her. She got down on her knees and crept faster toward them, one hand outstretched and her heart beating in expectation. She felt very daring, and so indeed she was, far more daring, in fact, than she could have known. The cubs played on unsuspectingly, each trying to bite the other's ear.
Margaret's outstretched hand was within a few inches of the nearest cub when a dry stick snapped sharply under her knee. Then everything happened at once.
Both cubs jumped up quickly and one rolled over fairly upon Margaret's head. She screamed and struggled to here feet. She saw both cubs scrambling madly up a tree. She also heard a short, sharp growl and the crash of breaking bushes. A great shaggy, brown head with staring eyes, hanging jaws, and glistening white teeth pushed swiftly into view not a hundred feet away.
Margaret screamed wildly and ran as she had never run before. She heard a snort behind her and fast padding footsteps. She miraculously escaped the trees as she ran. A few moments later she was sobbing in Uncle Billy's arms.
Great excitement, of course, had followed the discovery of Margaret's disappearance. The camp was aroused and a score of searchers invaded the woods in all directions. Uncle Billy was searching the near-by woods when Margaret's scream drew him running to the spot. Uncle Billy saw the mother bear standing at a distance. She probably had followed Margaret only a few steps. After a few moments, assured of her cubs' safety, she returned slowly to them.
It was a long time before the frightened little girl was comforted. According to her story the mother bear was as big as the elephant in the Philadelphia Zoo; it was noticeable that Jack did not offer to go back into the woods and shoot her.
Around the camp-fire that night Margaret had to tell her story many times. She felt herself quite a heroine. When Mrs. Jefferson tucked her into her warm bed and gave her many good-night kisses, not unmingled with loving tears, Margaret said:
"Well, Mother, anyway, I've touched a really, truly live wild bear, haven't I?"
"But Mother's little girl will never, never do anything like that again, will she? Promise Mother."
"Yes, Mother, I____"
But Margaret was asleep.
Last Updated: 30-Oct-2009