Tuesday Sept 14th
Had a glorious 14 days in YNP and it’s time to share it. This is my first trip report. I haven’t gotten all my film developed yet because I can’t afford it all at once (I took 28 rolls!) but from what I’ve seen so far my new lenses were a success. I flew in to West Yellowstone and right off the bat, was greeted by the great sunny weather and the gorgeous sparkling Madison River. Right away I saw animals - numerous Elk - harems of 10 to 15 cows , many with calves, presided over by six and seven point bulls. I heard their calls Whiiiiiieeeeeeeeuhhh all evening, at night and first thing in the morning. It made me cry because this is the whole reason why I chose to come in September.
I saw two lovely swans and dozens of ducks and geese all happily feeding in the river. The ducks were very serious eaters; diving head down so their butts stuck straight up and their orange-ish legs dangled. Took a drive to Fountain Flats and watched a young osprey dive for a fish – I’m guessing young because he made a great splash and came up empty. Watched a Great Blue Heron snag a very large fish, maneuver it into his mouth and gulp it down. Saw lots of fly fishermen (and women) on both the Madison and the Firehole! and wondered how long it would take me to learn.
I camped at Madison and made friends with my neighbors, Eunice and Donald from Portland, Ore. Don lent me his hammer to get my tent stakes in the hard ground. We shared stories around my campfire and Eunice offered her delicious Milano cookies. Made sure the crumbs went in the fire, though. We believe in clean camping!
Wednesday, Sept 15th
Next day I set out fairly early for Norris and points beyond. Stopped at that meadowy place by the trail to Artist’s Paint Pots where the steam from a thermal stream close to the road clouds it over with “fog”. I was getting my camera ready when a soft rustle made me look up. Trotting past me only four feet away was a coyote, mindless of me altogether. I watched him a while and saw he had a friend with him. This Coyote couple eventually got across the Gibbon River to the opposite bank where (I saw later) there were some old Elk bones. That was cool to see.
I went on to Canyon and Hayden Valley; saw Bison and Elk in Gibbon meadows and another coyote hunting in the frost-tipped field. He didn’t seem to mind me watching. He pounced on and gobbled a mouse (or something). Then he wandered up a little stream and I lost him. Saw the beautiful Upper Falls of the Yellowstone River – got some good pictures and talked to some German tourists who spoke very good English. A Red-tailed hawk posed smartly in a bare tree-top. Saw two MORE coyotes hunting in the sage in Hayden Valley and Buffalo all over.
One group was especially fun to watch. A bull was making trouble chasing a rival away but got too close to some cows and calves, starting a mini-stampede. In another spot a young bull was making grand overtures to a seemingly disinterested cow (it was hard to tell from my perspective just what was so irresistible about this particular cow but I guess love is blind even in the animal world.) He would gently nudge her or stick out his blue tongue. Every once in a while she would toss her head nonchalantly in his direction. Was this meant as encouragement? Most of the time she stood stock-still, staring blankly, chewing her cud. He kept up his attentions and once he rested his head on her rump. At this she abruptly moved off a step or two. He watched stoically a moment then followed slowly and began again as she chewed and chewed and chewed. There was an Elk herd high on the backdrop hills and I strained through my binoculars to see a grizzly where I had last July but none were there. (I saw no griz on this trip and only one black bear but I had been forewarned by my fellow Chat Pagers that Sept is NOT the time to see bear. I WISH I could have proven them wrong)
As I sat having lunch watched another red-tailed hawk swoop from the sky and nail something in a meadow. It flew into the pines at the meadows’ edge and feasted on whatever it had just caught. I watched it change lookouts a few times, make one aborted swoop and then it finally flew out of range.
I have so much more to tell but I’m very tired and must close with this first draft unfinished. I just skimmed over what I wrote and I realize I’m going into too much detail. Maybe I should just list the animals I saw on what days in what locations. Oh well, that’s the way it came out. I guess I shouldn’t try to make rules – if you don’t like it, you can skip to the next post! Happy trails everyone. I LOVE YELLOWSTONE PARK!
Thursday Sept 16th
I went up over Dunraven Pass and got my first sight of bighorn sheep, a whole group of them on the rocks in a cleft above the road. (note: my original post called these animals mountain goats. At the time I didn’t know what they were and the person I asked said “goats” quite confidently. I was quickly corrected by the page regulars; someone posted photos of each so I learned the difference and corrected this report) I remember taking pictures last July of this same cleft which then was still full of snow. Two sheep came all the way down to the road which first I thought was lucky. Then I saw why – as a van of tourists passed slowly one held out his hand. The animal came right up and gobbled what was offered – a cheeto!
I was rather horrified. I walked towards the van, calling out “please don’t do that, it’s bad for the animal”. I have no idea whether or not the person heard me (or even spoke English) but the arm came out again with another cheeto. I then said. “I have your license number and I will report you to the Ranger. What you’re doing is stupid and against the law”. The van went on but two sheep remained on the road, looking for other opportunities. I got back in my car and drove on. I stopped at a turnout and looked at the Grizzly Preserve.
This incident kinda shook me up. I’m a raging idealist I know, but it was disturbing to me to see such an enchanting scene ruined by stupidty and selfishness. The animals were SO close and basically posing for anyone on the road. The weather was perfect, the volume of cars was not heavy and between the pullouts and the ample inside curb there was plenty of room for people to stop, watch, take pictures or just observe their agility on the rocks. But this carload had to go one better and impress their friends with a story of “feeding” wild bighorn sheep. I did eventually get over it and I did eventually report the license number to the Tower Ranger Station. The Rangers were sympathetic but said unfortunately it happens all the time.
To get over this I decided I needed an extra dose of beauty so I went on to Lamar. Just crossing the gorgeous Yellowstone River did a lot to lift my mood. And then a blacktail deer trotted up a hillside and looked back at me. This was better. No car-jam; just me and the deer to appreciate each other. Well I don’t really know what the deer thought of ME but I slowed to a stop and and told her how pretty she was. She liked that and went on her way.
There was considerable construction in Lamar so that was a bit of a drag. But the scenery is so awesome who cares if you have to wait 10 minutes for the flagman to wave you on? There’s so much to look at. One thing I noticed whenever I was driving past sage hills – there was a type of grasshopper with bright yellowish-orange wings that makes a really loud snapping sound. I dubbed them snap-hoppers. Has anyone else noticed this? Does anyone know what they are? On the long stretches in Lamar you’d hear this sound and it made me think of a bunch of riding-mowers back-firing. Only much nicer.
I met several wolf-watchers at the various Lamar turnouts (but no-one from this page) The Druids hadn’t been seen since Sunday (9/12). I drove the gravel road back to Slough and checked it out for future use. It’s a great location, beautiful and secluded but a little too rugged for me to solo camp in. I still get scared of bears. But I’d stay there with a group or a trusty friend. I also met one unfortunate couple that had a close call with a resident buffalo. Luckily they were unhurt and the buffalo was completely unfazed but the skid marks will be there till Spring and their car will have a brand new front end in a month.
By the way, almost all the turnouts in Lamar are being re-done so you have to scramble to find a place to put the car if you just want to sit and glass the hills for a while. I’m sure they’ll be great come Spring or summer but I wondered if the noise of improvement had any effect on the critters. I saw only one small buffalo herd, no Elk at all and two antelope. I figured if the game’s not here then the wolves wouldn’t be either. I’d love to know other people’s opinions on this, I know I’m still a novice. I don’t know what was going on at the Lamar River picnic area – lots of heavy equipment in there including a huge hose-like thing, made me think they were pumping water from the river for some reason.
The wild beauty of Lamar really gets me, though. The ruggedness of the cliffs, the carved wideness of valley, the depths you can see and the greater depths you can imagine, the twisted braiding of the River, the soft curves of the sage hills, the welcome pockets of fall colors in each hollow and crease, and Montana’s high mountains looming at the edge. I sat for a long time at the turnout before Soda Butte just listening. Geese honking and squabbling, coyotes yipping, snaphoppers snapping, and dozens of bird sounds, unidentifiable, and overall, the unceasing gurgle of the River. It’s as close to Eden as I have ever been.
When I got hungry I forced myself to get moving again. To end the evening properly, I spotted a coyote hunting in the meadow where Soda Butte Creek joins Lamar. I got a great shot of this little fellow and then went on my way. Somebody said that the coyotes are more visible in the Park because the Wolves have driven them closer to the roads. I don’t know if this theory is truebut I saw a LOT of coyotes on this trip. And I’ve noticed in other peoples trip reports that they have, too. I know some people don’t think coyotes “count” because they’re so commonplace but I lived in Cincinnati for 24 years and New York City for 19 years and coyotes are still charming to me!
I fell asleep to the sound of bugling Elk. That’s my idea of a lullaby.