Once again, I traversed the upper loop road from Mammoth to Tower, out to the Lamar Valley, and then on to Hayden Valley, then back to Norris, then home to Mammoth Campground.
I encountered a couple of bison jams along the way and a few scattered elk. Though unable to get any photos of him because of the distance, I was able to observe the grizzly that has been camped out on a carcass on the far shore of Swan Lake for the past three days.
I got a few nice predawn shots of the bull elk in town, controlling his ever growing harem of cows, going out over the hills to drive a stray back to the harem if she wandered too far to graze.
In the late afternoon, while I was at the computer processing today’s shots, I heard a bull bugling just outside the campground and it sounded like he was heading my way. Sure enough, I looked out the windshield and there he was cutting through the site directly in front of me and heading for the main road. I gathered up my camera and shot out the door after him and managed to get a couple of decent shots of him before he disappeared over the hill, apparently looking for some company.
Woke up to more rain and threatening skies this morning. Off to the southeast, towards Lamar Valley, there appeared to be a somewhat lighter sky, so, suffering from a little cabin fever from yesterday’s rainout, I decided to chance it and head to Lamar Valley. As I drove through town in the rain, I noticed they had all kinds of traffic barricades up and “elk” control rangers and volunteers all around the common, where there were several cows and calves bedded down on the lawn, with one bull wandering the sidelines. Things apparently are continuing to heat up, elkwise.
The turn in the weather may be what is prompting the elk to move into town in greater numbers. As I headed toward Lamar Valley in the rain, I noticed that the peaks of the higher mountains now had a mantle of white.
No wildlife to be seen on the way to Lamar, with the exception of a few bison herds, bedded down in the meadows. Nothing in the way of wildlife in Lamar either, again except for the bison.
The sun flirted with dark, threatening skies and there was a dramatic bit of lighting on the hills above the valley.
Then the skies opened up and it poured for half an hour or so, then broke just enough to reveal a rainbow. It attempted to form a double rainbow, but didn’t quite make it. This is the third rainbow I have had the opportunity to photograph here in my two weeks in Yellowstone, if only I could have gotten a bison or elk instead of the car for a focal point.
( As always, just click on any image for a larger, sharper version. I do apologize for these shots being a little flat, but there was very little light to work with at 7 AM this morning. )
Out by 7 AM , went through town and scouted for Elk a few miles west of town. Found one large harem being closely bunched and guarded by a large bull, but unfortunately they were just a little too far off for photos. On my way back home I encountered two bulls sparing, I don’t think they were real serious about their little battle, since there were no cows around to fight over, though the jousting did intensify the longer they went at it, so maybe it was a turf war? Either way, it looks like things are starting to heat up around here, but I may have to speak to the fight promoter and have him schedule these bouts about an hour later when there is a little better light.
This guy has a very distinctive profile, according to one of the rangers, he broke his nose last year butting cars, a habit more than a few of these guys have. After watching these bulls for a a week or so, I find it amazing that more people aren’t injured by them here in Mammoth.
There are a lot of people, some doing some pretty stupid things, sharing the sidewalks and roads with these guys, and they are aggressive and move really fast! Plus what I have witnessed so far is before their hormones kick into high gear since the rut is barely starting, no mating has occurred yet.
Out early before 7 even though there really is not enough light at this hour to actually get any good elk shots. Drove through town ( Mammoth ) and found a large group of cows and calves, probably 20 or more, grazing around the employee housing and workshop area, that looks promising, it seems there are more elk moving around every day now.
Figured I would drive south towards Norris a ways to look for some bulls, but caught sight of a single bull right on the edge of town with a cow and her calf, very near the hot springs area. I decided to park and wait with them as the the sun slowly rose over the hot springs area. As you can see from some of these images, this time my patience paid off.
With the rut starting any time now, the park service has at least two trucks out, with two rangers in each, to monitor Bull elk locations around town and help keep elk/human conflicts in check. I really enjoyed spending about an hour or more talking with one pair of these guys this morning while taking photos of the elk around the hot springs. It was early and we were in an area where it was difficult to see that I was taking shots of the elk, so there were almost no other people around, and the rangers tend to stay with any bull they come across close to or in town, so we got to spend time talking about their experiences with elk and tourists, very interesting, a couple of nice, helpful, friendly guys.
I must admit that am not really that much into the hot springs themselves, or all the other geothermal attractions in the park, just not my thing, but in the early morning light, I must admit the hot springs in Mammoth are much more photogenic than I had realized. Just may have to spend a little more time around them the next few mornings, I hadn’t realized just how much color there is here. The image of the springs with the elk on the ridge in the background is one of my favorites so far here in Yellowstone.
Back to the motorhome around 11 AM to process images and finally finish up my 2012 taxes ( about time, right? ). Rain moved in around 2 PM, so no evening photo shoots today, but I guess now I won’t have to miss any of the Patriots/Jets game.