Yellowstone Wildlife as the Park Awakes from Winter
It is hard to admit, but my 50th birthday showed up even though I was strongly against it. To make the eventful day a just bit easier, Betsey and my Mom set me up on a wildlife photo trip of my choice. Yellowstone and wolves were the target choice, and after a bit of web searching I settled on a spring adventure with Yellowstone Wolf Guides. The hosts are Nathan Varely and Linda Thurston who are highly respected biologists, have an intimate knowledge of the park and are dedicated to the preservation of this diverse eco-wildlife system.
The trip started at the Bozeman airport, with introductions all around and light snacks. This was a harbinger of things to come, as the food was plentiful and ran the gamut of picnic to gourmet. First stop: Nathan's parents house to pick up what would be a string of goodies baked by his Mother, yum yum!! We were then off to Gardiner for the first 2 nights. Along the way we had a picnic lunch on the banks of the Yellowstone River, where Linda gave us a lesson in telemetry.
That night we dined at Sheepeater Cliff on elk steaks, salads and the company of marmots and a friendly elk cow.
Gardiner, Montana was our base for the next two days. The itinerary was simple. Up at 0430 to meet the group at 0500, and into the park to grab the best viewing times. We hit pay dirt Sunday morning in the park as I caught my first glimpse of wolves in the wild. Since Nathan and Linda were continuously gathering intelligence on the wildlife activity, we were constantly moving in and out of different sections of the park to pursue the best viewing. So in order to keep this tale fairly organized, I will be skipping around the timeline to bring you the highlights of each area.
The wildlife was everywhere as we cruised around the Tower-Roosevelt area. We came across big horn sheep, black bears, grizzly bears, bison, moose, owls and osprey. On Monday morning as we were taking a rest break at Roosevelt Lodge, one of our group members saw activity in the open plain across the road. The scopes were set up, and lo and behold -- there was a grizzly defending his kill from three rather aggressive coyotes! We watched in amazement as a jogger proceeded down a dirt trail right towards the on-going cat and mouse game. Luckily for him, he quickly became aware of what was going on and he slowed down, jogged in place and then wisely and quietly turned around and slowly made his way in another direction. Not your typical city jogging encounter.
Lamar Valley & Silver Gate
On our first trip to Yellowstone, Betsey and I did not get to this spectacular corner of the park. As we drove from Antelope Valley and swung out towards the northeast corner, the topography shifted to wide open high-attitude plains, ringed by snow covered peaks prime habitat for a wide range of Yellowstone wildlife. It was an interesting comparison to my home range of the Sierra Nevada. At the same altitude you are ensconced in narrow valleys, jagged peaks with wide open views only available by climbing a ridge. I fell in love with Lamer Valley and hope to return in the Winter to see it at its peak.
We were back the next day, after our grizzly and coyote sighting at Roosevelt, and soaked in some warm sun and put another tasty picnic breakfast under our belts. There was plenty of scoping as we moved around while the morning went by quickly, and soon it was time to head to our next stop, central Yellowstone and Hayden Valley. We will get to that shortly, but first back to Lamar Valley.
When we started our return to Silver Gate the weather rolled in as we climbed over Dunraven Pass from Canyon Village and that white wet stuff came down. And it stayed with us for the rest of the day and night. Wow, just like the Sierra it can be any season at any time of the year. It makes me smile. We got into our cabins and cranked up the heat and got ready for a visit to a local gallery and dinner in Cooke City. The Wildlife Along the Rockies gallery is owned and operated by the accomplished photographer Dan Hartman. We were graciously ushered into his living room for a talk and a viewing of a British short subject on elk mating that he helped produce. Typical British humor and a good laugh for all. I was able to get some close ups of bird life and the swirling snow/rain also created some nice photo op's. After a saloon dinner and a comfortable night on a bed of feathers, we were off to our last night at Chico Hot Springs. And that tale will be told later on. For now some more visuals....
As we traveled towards Canyon Village, our base for exploring central Yellowstone, we were treated to resting elks and mud geysers at Paintpot Hill. And as we stopped for a rest break, a coyote was prancing thru the parking lot with a large marmot in his mouth and dinner for family that night. It was a good sign.
Lamar Valley was my favorite section of the park but Hayden Valley and its surroundings was the most photogenic. A lot of landscape variation, points of interest and an abundance of wildlife at every turn. We arrived at Old Faithful to walk around and have another fabulous picnic dinner. This time elk sausages were on the menu, and even though it started to rain, no one dashed to the mini-vans and the sausages were all gone by the time we cleaned up. I had an enjoyable time following the geyser boardwalk and seeing Old Faithful live up to her name. One other treat was to see the newly refurbished Yellow Buses around the park. They came online on Monday June 4th just as we started our trip. An interesting story of how the buses were sold off to individuals, then collected by a touring company in Skagway and eventually found their way home after some extensive upgrades. Quality and design always speak across the line of time!
We stayed at the Dunraven Lodge and continued our 0500 madness. By now it was just habit. The early morning always had some secret to reveal as the light would bring focus on what had just been obscured by darkness. On one day, we were witnesses to a rather large grizzly finishing off a meal of elk fawn and then heading right towards the herd that had moved away to a safer ridge. I was expecting the crowd to scatter, however, they just kept a wary eye on the moving bruin and he went on his way. The balance of nature in play. While we were here we hiked along the southern rim of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone River, had a first class meal at the Yellowstone Lake Lodge and saw large herds of buffalo, elk, grizzly bear, mule deer, white pelicans, tri-colored heron and birds galore.
Mammoth, Gardiner & Chico Hot Springs
Well, all good things must come to an end. In this case they came to a wonderful end at Chico Hot Springs. Located just a few miles outside the park in Pray, MT, this resort has been in operation since 1900. It is a favorite gateway for some of the rich and famous, but it welcomes all with fine dining, accommodations from rustic to luxurious and a hot spring-fed pool that is just the ticket after a long day of doing anything. We had dinner in the Wine Room with many friends that we had come to know in the short week. We ate, we drank, we laughed and we reminisced about a special journey that had taken to us to a magical place.
As John Muir said, " Whenever we go into the mountains, we find more than we seek" -- The perfect summation for this trip.
May our paths & errands meet
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