Public Lands Retrospective from Co-Owner Greg Robitaille

Over National Public Lands week, my wife Julie and I had the opportunity to spend four days in and around both the Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks. Although this is something I’m fortunate enough to take advantage of most years, for multiple reasons our 2020 time was more memorable and meaningful than any other I can remember over the past 30 years since moving to Montana. 

From a solely selfish perspective, it's often easy to become frustrated with the increasing crowds visiting our national parks and public lands during peak seasons (traffic delays; wildlife “jams”; crowded hiking trails; no parking at many of the trailheads; increasing signs of human impact no matter how deep into the wilderness you go; blah, blah, blah). But this year, my outlook was quite different despite the number of travelers during what is normally the “quieter” shoulder season of the fall. I think it’s awesome, incredible,  and amazing the number of people that have hit the roads these past six-plus months in search of safe and much-needed outdoor spaces. It doesn’t seem to matter if it’s our local recreation areas and hiking trails right outside our door; the countless majestic wilderness areas within a short drive in every direction; state parks that have seen record visitation; or the crown jewels of our national park system that attract millions upon millions of visitors each year. Most importantly, folks are getting out and “xploring.”

When it became obvious to us that more people are smiling (kinda like live music which Julie and I are missing terribly; everyone around you is in a great mood), in one half- day trekking about Glacier National Park, Julie and I counted license plates from 46 different states (and we’re certain there was someone out there from Louisiana, West Virginia, New Hampshire and Connecticut but we just couldn’t find you!). We swam in Lake McDonald without another single solitary soul choosing that super chilly option.

The next weekend, in our attempt to cover the Beartooth Pass from Red Lodge to Cooke City (where we were staying for the night), we went from 60 degrees and bright sunshine in town to exactly 50 yards past the “Welcome to Wyoming” sign almost at the top of the pass, where we were turned back by a sudden hard blowing ice “storm.” It had a handful of rigs off the road being rescued by tow trucks and all traffic was being turned around immediately and as the road closed. But, the ensuing four-plus hour re-routing eastward back down to Red Lodge; north up to Columbus; west over to Livingston; south back down toward Yellowstone through Gardiner; and onto to Coke City through the Lamar Valley seemed absolutely fine on this weekend. We didn’t care because we were in awe of everything around us. We were also enjoying “empty-nesting”with great conversation and simply appreciative of just getting out and about for a few days.

Anywhere we went over those 8 days, it typically only took less than a mile of hiking from the main roads before you felt away from the crowds and in total awe and appreciation knowing that all these places “belong” to ALL OF US! Instead of feeling angst and disappointment that we were clearly never alone and not all the families were “back in school” (and we weren’t the only ones watching a pack of 13+ Yellowstone wolves go about their daily social life under the close watch of hundreds), we felt incredibly proud and honored that Xplorer Maps collaboratively partners with so many public lands organizations and attempts to connect people with these special places in our own unique way.

I realized that for so many, this might have been the first time they saw these national parks up close and personal. Julie and I thought about all the different stories that were being written as we watched these folks from all over the country to travel long and far to “escape” the tough challenges of home we’re all experiencing this year. To be perfectly honest, for the first time I can remember, the crowds did not bother me one bit. Everyone was happy and relieved and seemingly appreciative to have these places set aside for all of us to enjoy. In another week, we’re off again for three-plus days in and around Grand Teton National Park to experience the gorgeous fall colors (and probably some winter mixed in of course), and see the amazing scenery and wildlife of the Jackson Hole Valley (who knows....perhaps we’ll meet some folks from WV-CT-NH-LA?).

We are so grateful that we’re able to take advantage of these places. We’re in awe by the number of other folks that are doing the same. Most importantly, this is a reminder to everyone to never take our public lands for granted. They belong to all of us so please help keep them special. Leave no Trace whenever, wherever, and however possible. Respect everyone else choosing exactly what you have chosen because they, too, need open space and fresh air and healthy escapes from our everyday lives.

Yellowstone Wildlife Spotting

  • Wolves: A pack of 13-16 wolves (with 7 pups) observed two consecutive days in the Lamar Valley. Unbelievable display of family society going about their playful business. Included black-grey-and an “off white” critter. NPS folks reported that this pack numbers over 30 right now; which is huge!
  • Bison: Literally thousand’s over the weekend. More herds and in larger numbers than I have ever witnessed in the park. They were spread throughout a handful of different locations with the Lamar Valley being the most prolific herds spread everywhere the eye could see pretty muchElk: 4or 5 different sightings over the weekend.
  • Mountain Goats: About 6-7 spotted two consecutive days high atop the craggy cliffs.
  • 1 Black Bear busy, feeding in the berry bushes.
  • Pronghorn: Spotted 5-6 different times with one herd numbering about 40 being the largest concentration
  • Mule and Whitetail Deer: By the hundreds all weekend long.
  • 1 Red Fox
  • 1 Coyote
  • 1 unidentified member of the weasel family scurrying over the river rocks.
  • 50+ raptor sightings (hawks-eagles-osprey-and an owl)
  • Dozens of Harlequin Ducks and countless other species.
  • Numerous Raccoons seemingly crossing every road we traveled.