Marcus the Public Land Llama: The Original Public Lands

With mere weeks before hunting season, Marcus the public lands llama and his trainer, Beau Baty, set off on another packing trip to explore your public lands and to get Marcus in shape before opening day of hunting season. Fresh off a jet boat ride up the Salmon River and deep into the Frank Church Wilderness, Marcus and Baty headed east to the birthplace of public lands: Yellowstone National Park.

Baty and Marcus lead a team of nine other pack llamas and eight guests to Dunanda Falls in the southwest corner of the park.

The guided trip begins at the historic Bechler Ranger Station, which was built in 1911 by the U.S Army. The Army acted as administrators of the park at the time and soldiers guarded the land from poachers and market hunters while using the station as a sort of barracks.

From the station, the troop of guests and llamas hiked through Bechler Meadows, the largest open meadow ecosystem in the West said Baty. The vast, grassy landscape follows numerous creeks, the winding Bechler River and countless huckleberries, which make for easy trail snacks and slow hiking.

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Baty and Marcus lead the troop nine miles across the meadow scape, alongside pools teeming with native trout and, most importantly, away from the bustling crowds of summer tourists. At the end of the trail lay the free flowing 150-foot Dunanda falls. At the base of the falls, geothermal pools allow for a warm soak with a backdrop of free-flowing water.

From their basecamp at the falls, Marcus guides his guests as they further explore the landscape and other nearby waterfalls on day hikes.

“It went picture perfect,” Baty said. “The guests were blown away by the llamas, they really enjoy bonding with them.”

Marcus, the public land pack llama

This is Your Land

Welcome to the cradle of public lands. America’s first National Park was founded by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1872. At the time, the idea that some places should refrain from development was a radical notion. The area that would become Yellowstone was even up for public auction by the U.S. government at one point.

Several expeditions into the area led men like Ferdinand V. Hayden, William Henry Jackson, and Thomas Moran to compile an extensive report on the land with photos and paintings and submit it to the president to convince him to remove the area from auction.

With over 2 million acres, 10,000 geothermal features and the finest habitat for megafauna in the country, Yellowstone is unlike anything most visitors have ever seen.

The Yellowstone, Lamar, Gibbon, Madison and Firehole River all cut their way through the open landscape with 136-square-mile Yellowstone Lake acting as an unofficial centerpiece.

From these rolling, stream-laced meadows, to 11,000-foot Eagle Peak, Yellowstone abounds with readily-seen wildlife. Mule deer, bison, grizzly bears, black bears, elk and wolves make up just a few of the 500 plus animal species that roam the park, while the 1,700 species of native plants and 300 waterfalls make for a picturesque backdrop.

Visitors to the park are free to roam the 900 miles of trails via day hikes. Backcountry campgrounds allow for getting away from crowds and the staggering number of creeks and rivers allow for anyone to experience some of the best fishing on the continent.

For many, Yellowstone is the first introduction to nature and the unparalleled idea of public lands and makes a lifelong impression. Just don’t pet the bison.

Bison grazing in Yellowstone National Park

Public Land Facts

While Yellowstone was the nation’s first National Park, it was not the first concept for a park. California’s Yosemite Valley was designated as a state park in 1864 by President Lincoln. The act set the framework for Yellowstone’s designation and later Yosemite’s inclusion into the National system.

For more than 11,000 years, Blackfeet, Cayuse, Coeur d’Alene, Bannock, Nez Perce, Shoshone, Umatilla and other tribal ancestors hunted, fished, harvested obsidian, performed ceremonies and much more.

The park offers more than 300 backcountry campsites, which all require reservations, or day-of backcountry permits. Several of these sites require travelers to wade across up to 25 foot wide sections, which at times can be over six feet deep. Be sure and check water levels beforehand.

Because of its expanse across three different states and the significant native cultural relevance, Yellowstone is managed through the cooperation of state, federal and tribal governments.

What’s next for Marcus?

Next week Marcus and his new hunting buddy Randy Newberg are headed to New Mexico for an archery elk hunt. This will be Marcus’ first test as the llama and the rest of his team will pack in gallons of water to supply the expedition in the desert climate.

Written by Cavan Williams