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.
( 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.
I travel 100 miles a day and put in my 6 to 10 hours a day searching out magnificent bull elk, while this guy just rolls out of bed and opens the window.
I had initially figured to get back down to Hayden Valley today, since I wouldn’t have to go through the road construction on a work day, and thus avoid the frustrating delays there. But since yesterday was a total loss ( first rainout in quite some time ), I decided to make it a trip around the entire Yellowstone loop road today. The weather was in and out all day with intermittent showers. Didn’t really see much other than the occasional roadside bison and a few herds of bison in the distance as I made my way to Hayden.
Surprisingly little in the way of grazers in the northern portion of Hayden Valley, just a single bison here and there. I stopped at one of the large turnouts that was packed with cars with people out scanning with binoculars. About a mile out I could just make out a dark shape moving through the sagebrush, so I joined the others and got my binocs out. The dark shape turned out to be a black wolf soon joined by a white wolf. Now, I suppose this was a little exciting, though I can’t get real worked up about spotting wildlife that I can’t photograph.
Just below Hayden, I came on a minor traffic jam at a roadside meadow and stopped to investigate. The subject of everyone’s attention was a very healthy looking male coyote hunting down meadow voles or mice in the roadside meadow. As you can see, he was a very cooperative subject, except that every time he did his leaping in the air to dive for a rodent, he insisted on doing it facing away from the camera.
Since I was in the area, I checked out the Fishing Bridge campground. This campground is restricted to only hard sided rigs because of bear activity in the area and also is the only campground in the park that has hookups, for which you pay a pretty hefty premium. After driving around a couple of the loops, I would have to say that you would want to have the hookups pretty bad to want to stay here, the sites are wedged in so closely that one’s slideouts would all but be in contact with your neighbor’s, the spaces are really, really tight. Looks quite rundown and dated also, but it does offer hookups.
Stopped at the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and walked around a bit at a couple of the lookouts. Pretty amazing colors in the canyon, but with today’s rain and overcast skies, I guess I will have to come back another day for pictures.
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.