Story and photos by Patrick Orton Explorebigsky.com Contributor

YELLOWSTONE RIVER – After a long winter of snow, icy roads and skiing, spring’s intense, vibrant green seems unreal. The sun inspires us to go see the world wake up from its deep sleep, and watch the rivers refill and flow with their mighty power.

This spring, I got a call early one morning from my friend Matt Stott. He had the day off, he said, and the morel mushrooms were starting to pop.

An hour later I met up with my friend Elliott Bernhagen, and we drove the smooth, winding roads south from Clyde Park toward Stott’s house in Livingston. We cruised past lush hayfields, the Crazy Mountains towering in the rearview mirror. In Livingston, we loaded the raft and drove a few miles down the road into Paradise Valley to launch.

The spring air was crisp, and the Yellowstone River was flowing with an indescribable power, fresh with runoff. We floated slowly, meandering past beautiful pastures and cottonwood trees.

Stott guided the boat into an eddy on stretch of flatwater, and we hopped out to try our luck at finding the ever so tasty and elusive morels.

Hidden from the untrained eye, the little mushrooms were tough to find. Stott was the first to spot a patch with 10 to 15 of them, next Elliott found a patch, and eventually I found some myself. It’s a fun game of hide and seek, searching for these natural treats.

After a couple hours of walking up and down the river our hunger grew, and we knew it was time to go home and cook. On the float to the takeout our conversations were filled with mouth watering steaks and freshly picked mushrooms. We couldn’t get back quickly enough.

Back at Stott’s house, we immediately put juicy steaks on the grill and started washing the morels. When we sautéed them in butter it filled the house with sweet aroma. The steak and mushroom combination is to die for, and the table was silent as we devoured the meal.

I felt accomplished and fulfilled: Friends, food and adventure gave me a deep sense of joy, knowing we’re connected to the land and people in ways word cannot describe.

See more of Patrick Orton’s photography at patrickortonphotography.com.