Friday, October 23, 2009
Taken from Lake Butte, one of the best overlooks in Yellowstone, rising about 600 feet over the northeast end of Yellowstone Lake and offering a view of Mt. Sheridan at the south end and, on a clear day, all the way to the Tetons. Obviously, this was not a clear day, due to the now-famous forest fires that seemed to burn in all corners of the park in 1988. None of those fires came very close to Lake Butte (although it has since burned, in 2004 or so), but the cold lake always caused the smoke to settle over it. This evening, it was so smoky that you couldn't see the four miles to the other side.
It got much worse in August, though. At this point, the fires probably combined for a couple hundred thousand acres, which seemed extreme almost beyond imagination. Before it was all over, the total would be a million acres "affected" (although not necessarily burned or burned severely) and the smoke had become oppressive. The day before I left, I took some pictures of one of my coworkers standing on the bluff over the lake, right in front of the hotel; the water, only thirty feet away, couldn't be seen in the photo. I rather scorned the employees who ostentatiously wore bandannas over their mouths and noses in that last week before the hotel closed, but some months later I realized that my sense of smell had been greatly diminished and I've always believed it was an effect of breathing wood smoke for over a month; maybe they were smarter than me after all.