The trail wanders for two miles across the level valley floor, passing numerous buffalo wallows--depressions worn in the red-gray sand by the shaggy giants rolling to scratch their backs and flanks. Crossing the Lamar River at a chilly, slippery ford, the path then climbs the forested shoulder of Amethyst Mountain, eventually breaking out onto a steep, sparsely grassed meadow. From this eastern end of Specimen Ridge, the view rivals many of Yellowstone's more popular attractions. But there is no parking lot on the ridge; no tee-shirted crowd or milling mass of camera-clickers. Only the wind and the ravens break the silence.

Slough Creek, winding down the north side of the Lamar Valley, receives many more visitors than Specimen Ridge. Offering some of this country's best trout fishing, the rocky-bedded creek is far from unpopulated. But, because of the Great Paradox, Slough Creek holds numerous opportunities to avoid the automobile-mounted Yellowstone mobs while catching some truly spectacular cutthroat trout.

Although many people fish the lower portions of Slough Creek, the moderate hike from the day-use parking lot to the upper sections is just vigorous enough to weed out most road-bound and vehicle-mounted tourists. A single wagon track leads up through the scrub, past ponds and small feeder streams, then back down to the creek's upper reaches. Running roughly parallel to the wagon track, Slough Creek meanders through wide sweeps of meadow tinged light tan, green, and yellow. Isolated copses of blue-hued spruce dot the grasslands' higher slopes, pointing like arrows at echelons of geese honking noisily overhead. Red squirrels leap from tree trunk to tree trunk, gathering the tightly scaled cones that form their diet.

Two miles up the trail, in the center of yet another outstretching meadow, the trail to Campsite 2S1 breaks off to the left. Follow the cutoff for a quarter-mile to an encampment in a cluster of house-sized boulders and spotty trees. Slough Creek runs deep and clear along one side of the site. Rainbows frequently overarch the prairies extending to the north.

Despite its less than prosaic name, Campsite 2S1 is renown for its beauty and superb fishing literally right at hand. The creek twists beneath the massive boulders edging the site, before straightening into a lengthy run between grassy banks. Heavy cutthroat trout, displaying their signature crimson blaze, haunt the deep-shadowed pools and rise aggressively to well-cast flies. More than a foot long, these ferocious fighters can be quite finicky, passing up a flashy Royal Humpy or a seemingly delectable Joe's Hopper before slamming into a more traditional Black Ant. After hooking one of these cartwheeling cutthroats in such a classic fly fishing venue, more than one angler has simply packed away his rod. Anything else would just be an anticlimax.

Hiking back down the trail to the parking area, careful observers can spot a lone coyote hunting prairie mice. The normally shy canine focuses so intently that he does not sense a silent hiker. The coyote delicately lifts and places one front paw, then the other in short, jerky, almost mechanical motions. As he closes the distance to the unsuspecting mouse, his noiseless stalk becomes even more pronounced. Then, with his head cocked sideways, the coyote leaps nearly vertically, jackknifes in mid air, and pounces with his front paws! A miss, this time.

Silence and solitude are rare commodities at Mammoth Hot Springs, the park's northern entrepot and administrative center. Two of the park's main roads meet within sight of the famous thermal springs and steaming terraces. Park headquarters and organizational buildings, staff residences, a clinic, post office, courthouse, store, gas station, and the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel complex sprawl next to a large, open lawn that once served as a US Cavalry parade ground. And, amidst the honking car horns, grumbling big trucks, and noisily gabbling legions of tourists, Big Bob, the boss bull of the parade ground elk herd, bugles his rampant, rusty-hinge squeal at his harem of three dozen cows.

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