As I new blogger, I am still learning all the intricacies of how to blog. One thing I am learning on this trip is: doing the fun things we write about cuts into our time to write about them 🙂 Needless to say, we are a little behind on sharing our adventure with you.
Our trip to Yellowstone this year is divided into two parts. We are spending a week based out of Gardiner, MT in the north area of the park exploring areas more in depth and hunting for wildlife. The second half of our trip we are based out of West Yellowstone and will explore the southern areas. Our first few days here in Yellowstone were all about finding wildlife. In our past trips here we have always enjoyed finding and watching the abundant wildlife in the park in its natural habitat.
Gardiner, MT is just outside the north entrance to the park. This entrance is the original, historic entrance . It is also the location of the Roosevelt Arch . The arch is very grand and it is the only entrance open year-round. It even has a Mason’s Cornerstone that was laid in a dedication ceremony presided over by President Theodore Roosevelt.
Our days started early, about sunrise, as the wildlife are most active in the early morning and late evening hours. We really enjoy these early morning outings, there are no crowds, the sun angle accentuates all the colors, the steam rises from the thermal basins, and the temperatures are cool. One of the main places to see wildlife is in the Lamar Valley. On our way there we took a short detour along the Blacktail Plateau Drive, just to get off the main roads and see what we might find. It is a rough 6-mile gravel road. To our surprise and excitement we were rewarded with seeing our first wolves ever in our many trips to Yellowstone. Two crossed not a couple hundred yards in front of us and then walked out into a meadow. There was also a third on the other side of the road calling the others. This was a highlight of our trip.
The Lamar Valley is a wide-open expanse miles long that follows the Lamar River. It is a traditional feeding area for a couple of the park’s herds of bison. Hundreds of them. We saw bison cross the road right in front of our Jeep, we saw bison walking along the road right beside us and we saw large herds of bison spread out over the miles of the valley. They are such a prehistoric looking animal, but so peaceful. We really enjoy listening to them and watching them interact within the herd.
One of the sometimes overlooked, but still fun animals to watch are the Pronghorn Antelope. we have found them in almost every area. Small groups of them in the meadows, large groups of them with the bison herds and even a few individual ones.
During our many trips in-and out of the park, we pass by an area just inside the entrance that is known for mountain goats and big horn sheep. The cliffs tower right next to the road and we always search them as we pass by. We saw Big Horn there years ago on a previous trip but they seem elusive this trip. Finally after about 5 trips in and out, we saw a group of about 8 mountain goats not far up the cliffs. It is so neat to watch how they scale the steep slopes.
It is elk rutting season and the elk are just now starting to group into their herds. We have seen a ton of does. Many with yearlings and fawns. They are pretty much everywhere. We have seen them in Mammoth Village, along side the roads, in with the geothermal features, even right outside our motorhome window. However, the bucks still seem to be in the higher elevations. One morning we spotted one just off the road and even heard it bugling. They are so majestic. To cap things off, as we were preparing dinner, a pair walked right in front of our RV site.
Not all the wildlife we enjoy is four legged. While Yellowstone may be famous for its bears, bison and elk, there are also the birds. Some of the more difficult ones to actually see are the Trumpet Swans. There is a pair that live along Swan Lake, catchy name, but it is very difficult to actually get to see them out swimming. We decided to take a short walk out to the lake. We were rewarded with the pair out eating and swimming just off the bank. Graceful and elegant we watched them diving for food. We even got a chance to watch them preening, a truly rare opportunity.
One of the ways many people spot wildlife is to notice an area where lots of cars are pulled over and there are people out with cameras and binoculars. This of course does have a tendency to back up traffic in what the park officials call a “Bison Jam”. We noticed a couple cars pulled into a pull-off with room for us so we pulled in. Across the small stream, up on a side hill, high in a tree was an Osprey nest, with the Osprey sitting on it. I bet a million people drive by that nest and look to see it is empty, it is rare to see it occupied. So we counted this as another highlight along with the wolves.
Our plan was to stay in the north part of the park and see all the wildlife we could find. Overall, it was a success. Seeing the wolves was definitely a very rare thing.
Next up, a day trip on on the Bear Tooth Highway.