GARDINER - The white rumps of antelope lounging on a distant hillside seem to glow like lanterns across the deep chasm the Yellowstone River has cut 500 feet below the cabin deck where Nick Derene stands.
Pointing, he ticks off the surrounding mountain peaks - Electric, Sepulcher, Everts and Bunson - and then notes that in the distance to the south the upper terraces at Mammoth, Wyo., in Yellowstone National Park can be seen.
"You can see the reason we call it the Yellowstone Overlook Field Campus," said Derene, institute program manager for the Yellowstone Association.
This year, the association is adding three recently purchased cabins to its menu of guided educational activities for its Yellowstone National Park guests. The cabins are surrounded by 80 acres of association land, bordered by the Gallatin National Forest and Yellowstone National Park. The cabins are located about 1.5 miles east of Gardiner along the road to the old mining town of Jardine.
Best known for its educational programs, the Yellowstone Association decided to acquire the property because it has had to turn people away from programs when its Lamar Buffalo Ranch facility, inside the park, is filled. The goal is to serve more than the 5,000 people the association instructs each year, possibly doubling that figure.
Since purchasing the property and cabins, the structures have been renovated and furnished with linens, cooking utensils, gas barbecue grills, area field guides and art for a total cost of about $2.25 million.
But none of the amenities can compare to the priceless views to the south.
"From up here you can see bears and wolves," Derene said. "A couple of weeks ago we saw a sow and two cubs work their way up that hillside. In the summer this hillside is covered with songbirds.
"This is also one of the best places around for fishing," he added, pointing to the Yellowstone River hundreds of feet below.
The river can be accessed by an old Jeep trail that zigzags down the steep hill strewn with fragrant sagebrush and sharp pieces of dark brown basalt.
The two largest cabins can sleep 12 guests at a cost of $400 a night.
The smaller cabin sleeps five and costs $200 a night. Only participants in the association's educational programs can book the rooms.
The association's educational tours range from $495 to $1,300, depending on the number of participants. Multiday tours are offered.
"We still have some dates available, but it's going fast," Derene said. "We've had a lot of interest in it."
For more information on Yellowstone Association activities or to arrange lodging, phone (406) 848-2400.
Reporter Brett French can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.