May 22, 2018 Yellowstone National Park

Lamar Valley Hillside
Lamar Valley Hillside

Badlands to Yellowstone

On my last day in the badlands, I headed out on some gravel roads searching for wildlife.

Badlands Bison Grazing in Dogtown
Badlands Bison Grazing in Dogtown

The Prairie Dog towns stretch for a mile or more in places and on this trip I found some Bison Bulls grazing through one of the towns.

Badlands Coyote Looking for Breakfast in Dogtown
Badlands Coyote Looking for Breakfast in Dogtown

In another vast town I came across this Coyote searching the area for breakfast. He would stop and sit at one of the burrow entrances for a minute or two, then probably realizing they were on to him, would move on a bit to another burrow and repeat the action. Never saw him come close to actually catching anything.

Burrowing Owl
Burrowing Owl

I finally came across a Burrowing Owl that stayed within distance of my 600mm lens. Watched him come up out of a Prairie Dog burrow and fly up to this fencepost to check me out. From there he took off and landed at another burrow entrance too far off to get a good shot of him disappearing down the burrow.

With yet another potentially dangerous storm system, with high winds, heavy rain and the possibility of large hail predicted to move through, I decided to leave the Badlands for Yellowstone National Park. Starting out at 6 AM, I headed west straight into the storm system, black skies and flashing lightning, winds buffeting the motorhome, but fortunately, no hail. Turned out to be a very long day on the road and I pulled into the National Forest ‘s Canyon Campground about fifteen miles north of the north entrance to Yellowstone National Park around nine PM.

Yellowstone National Park

I had scouted out the Canyon Campground on Google Earth and hoped there might be a spot open when I arrived, but that was not to be. Turns out there are only three sites in the small campground where I could fit and they were all occupied. Being dead tired and seeing as how it was already after nine, I found a level spot just off the road inside the campground where I set up for the night.

Next morning, one of the three spots I could fit in happened to open up very early, so I quickly moved in and set up among the large rocks and lodgepole pines. This small campground is right off Highway 89, so there is some road noise, and the interior loop road inside the campground is in just awful shape, very deep potholes and ruts, but the site I ended up in actually was very nice, so nice I abandoned my original plan to try and get into the Mammoth Campground just inside the Park and decided to stay here … for the princely sum of $3.50 a night. No utilities, no dump station and no trash receptacles or dumpster, as primitive a campground as you can get, but turned out to be quiet, no neighbors shining lights all night, no smoky campfires nearby, ended up being a nice restful spot.

View Along my AM Drive into Yellowstone
View Along my AM Drive into Yellowstone

Early each morning I would drive the fifteen miles into Gardiner and the north entrance into Yellowstone, passing the scene in the image above, as well as several small herds of elk grazing in the fields along the highway.

Since I usually would go through the park entrance before they were staffed for the day, I avoided any long lines waiting to get into the park. Five miles past the park entrance I passed the Mammoth Campground and noted the ” Full ” sign posted every day, making me glad I decided  to stay at the Canyon campground.

Lamar Valley
Lamar Valley

There are two major hotspots for wildlife sightings in Yellowstone, the Lamar Valley and the Hayden Valley. On my first two days I headed for the closer Lamar Valley.

Lamar Valley
Lamar Valley

There were Bison with new young spread throughout the valley, along with a few Pronghorns.

Bison Mom and Calf
Bison Mom and Calf

There were many small herds of 20 to 50 bison spread throughout the valley and almost all cows had a ” Red Dog ” accompanying them.

Bison Mom and Calf
Bison Mom and Calf
Bison Bull with Passenger
Bison Bull with Passenger

There were a few solitary bulls here and there, shedding their winter coats and looking very bedraggled.

Bison Mom
Bison Mom

A Bison mom takes a roll in the sagebrush, scratching some kind of itch.

Frisky Bison Calf
Frisky Bison Calf

The youngsters, if not nursing, were bouncing around with typical youthful exuberance …

Red Dogs at Rest
Red Dogs at Rest

… or settling down for a nap.

Bison calves in road
Dangerous Timeout

I got a kick out of this group of calves deciding the center of the road would be a great place to settle in for a nap …

Bison Moms Moving Calves Off the Road
Bison Moms Moving Calves Off the Road

… but their wiser Moms roused them out before anyone got run over.

Bison Moms and Calves
Bison Moms and Calves

With all the youngsters in the valley, I really thought I might see some Wolves or perhaps a Grizzly hunting some of the young, but never saw any such thing.

Bison
River Crossing

From my vantage point on the side of the road, I watched this small group of Bison head down the slope…

Bison
River Crossing

( Mom checking on Junior to see if he could manage the calm waters of the side channel )

Bison River Crossing
Bison River Crossing

… with the intention of crossing the river, perilously swollen with spring runoff. Into the river’s main channel they go.

Bison River Crossing
Swept Away

Though Mom has no trouble with the swift current, two youngsters are immediately swept downstream …

Bison
River Crossing

… instantly realizing that her offspring is in danger of being swept downstream, Mom quickly turns with the current …

Bison River Crossing
Rescued!

… and positions herself just upstream of Junior to block the powerful current and allow him to get back to a depth where he can hoof it back to shore.

Bison River Crossing
Crossing Abandoned
Bison River Crossing
Turning Back

The lead two Moms decide to abort their river crossing, realizing the youngsters just are not yet able to handle such a strong current.

Bison
Abandoning the River Crossing

They wisely decide to continue grazing this side of the river.

I was able to catch this sequence fairly early in the morning, before there was a lot of traffic in Lamar Valley. Yellowstone is, of course, notorious for traffic, a fact I am well aware of having visited several times over the past fifteen years, almost always after Labor Day. I would never dream of being here in the summer months. Unfortunately, now, after this springtime trip, I would have to say that I would hesitate to visit at any time of year ( well, maybe during mid-winter ).

Knowing that one’s best chance to catch something interesting, wildlife -wise, is to get to a potential hotspot, i.e.. Lamar Valley, early and set up … and WAIT. Hopefully, something will occur during the hours that you patiently wait. More often than not, something does happen. But one needs to be patient. This morning I found my spot, a pulloff, on the side of the road, on a small hill, overlooking the valley and not too far from the river bisecting Lamar Valley. With only one other car there, in a pulloff large enough for maybe ten cars, I set up my tripod, with the 6oomm lens mounted on the camera, pulled out my  folding camping rocking chair … and prepared to settle in for the morning.

I shot the above Bison sequence around 7:30 with only a few other people around, but then a small commercial wildlife spotting van pulled in and dumped out a dozen ” photographers ” who had trouble understanding that the backs of their heads did not make for very interesting shots. I can not understand how anyone can so easily set themselves up only ten or fifteen feet in front of another photographer, and not feel at all embarrassed in doing so.

To then make matters worse, a #%*^#@#! tour bus pulled in belching diesel fumes and deposited another 40 or more folks in my formerly peaceful little pullout. They quickly spread out, blocking views on both sides of the road and pullout. Then, unbelievably, here come not one, but two, yellow school buses, dumping about a hundred ten to twelve year olds, along with several adult chaperones. Now, not yet 9 AM on a beautiful spring morning, there are probably close to 200 people piled three deep all around me. Welcome to Yellowstone!

Needless to say, my plan to patiently wait for wildlife to show was now dead, so I packed up and headed back towards Gardiner. There are plenty of other spots in the Lamar Valley where I could have gone, but by 9 AM the road was choked with traffic ( remember this is only mid-May, not the 4th of July weekend ) and there really was no point in setting up anywhere else in the valley.

 

Yellowstone Osprey Nest
Yellowstone Osprey Nest

Just outside the valley, on the way back to the North Entrance, there is an old established Osprey nest high up in a lightning blasted pine.

Swan Lake Yellowstone N. P.
Swan Lake Yellowstone N. P.

On another day, I decided to get out early and circumnavigate the park loop road. Despite my misgivings about traffic, Yellowstone is still a wondrous place.

I drove south from Mammoth toward the Madison area and took the crossroad east and continued south down to the Hayden Valley. Being at a higher elevation than the Lamar Valley, there was still snow on the ground here and there in Hayden and very little in the way of green grass, and consequently, there was absolutely nothing in the way of wildlife, anywhere in the valley, with the exception of a few Canadian Geese and a duck or two here and there.

Disappointed with the lack of wildlife, I continued south along the shore of Yellowstone Lake and on to the Fishing Bridge area, again seeing absolutely nothing. Making the turn northward again, I proceeded through the geyser meadows, spotting a lone bull Bison here and there, but nothing else, unless you count the endless stream of traffic.

Yellowstone Traffic Impediment
Yellowstone Traffic Impediment

Then, about three miles south of the Madison Campground, I finally encountered some wildlife, a herd of about 50 or 60 Bison using the loop road to travel down toward the geyser meadows.

Yellowstone Traffic Impediment
Yellowstone Traffic Impediment

I had about three or four cars in front of me when I  came across the herd.

Yellowstone Traffic Impediment
Yellowstone Traffic Impediment

This shot is through the windshield ( I took the others holding my camera high out the side window but had to pull my hand in when the Bison on the left of the shot above about took my side mirror off as it passed ).

Bison
Ripe !

I don’t know what these guys were rolling in, but it was RIPE! I could easily have reached out the window and touched these guys as they passed within a foot of the Prius.

Yellowstone Traffic Impediment
Yellowstone Traffic Impediment

They were walking at about what I would guess was around four or five miles an hour, obviously not in a terrible hurry to get to their destination. They used both sides of the road where it was clear of traffic heading north, as I was. When the last of the herd passed, there was a line of traffic bottled up behind them, and that line stretched back to the Madison Campground, about three miles back. People in that line, more than likely were destined to take a couple hours or more to get the 15 or so miles to the geysers, since the herd was very unlikely to leave the convenience of road travel as dense new growth forest came right down to the road’s edge.

I ended up very disappointed in my lack of wildlife sightings, and very frustrated fighting traffic and mobs of inconsiderate people in the park DURING the off season. This was in all likelihood my last trip to Yellowstone and so now it’s on to Grand Teton National Park, one of my all time favorite spots to visit, and here’s hoping that the Memorial Day weekend crowds won’t be too bad there.

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September 23-26, 2015, On to the Tetons

Grand Teton
Grand Teton

September 23rd

After unfruitful early morning trips to Many Glacier and back up the Going-To-The-Sun-Road, I decided to break camp and was off for Yellowstone National Park by noon. I made it to Bozeman and stopped at the Walmart there for groceries and decided to spend the night in their parking lot and see if I could get into M & W Repair tomorrow for a lube and oil on the motorhome.

As always, click on any image for a larger, sharper version.

Montana Rangeland
Montana Rangeland

This happens to be one of the better Walmarts for boon docking, what with it’s lush green lawns for the dogs to run around on and the convenient location on the outskirts of Bozeman and just off the Interstate ramp.

September 24th

Took a drive north on the back roads above Bozeman while the motorhome was getting it’s oil and lube done. Interesting farm country and horse range, but I didn’t really find anything to shoot and returned to pick up the motorhome around 4 PM and decided to head on for Yellowstone.

Left I-90 in Livingston and headed south on Route 89 towards Gardiner and the entrance to Yellowstone. I had been told by M & W that it appeared my rear running lights were not working so, as it began to get dark I found a fishing access area just off the highway to spend the night. Really nice spot, quiet, no lights, beautiful, cool, star filled night, and I got myself a wonderful night’s sleep.

September 25th

Greeted this morning by a flat tire on my tow dolly, really discouraging since the tires on the dolly were just replaced back in the Yukon, only weeks ago. I got it changed without any trouble and headed off for Mammoth Hot Springs, arriving there around 11 AM.

Yellowstone Traffic
Yellowstone Traffic

I have never had any desire to visit Yellowstone during the summer months and fight the millions of visitors there during the hectic vacation season so have always visited before Memorial Day or after Labor Day and have never had any trouble getting a spot to stay at the Mammoth Hot Springs campground. But today I am greeted by the attendant and told there are no campsites available !

Told that they have been full every morning by 8:30 since early May. I guess that means that Yellowstone will probably now never again be visited since winter visits are out out of the question with the motorhome and that would now seem like the only time the place will not be full.

Yellowstone Traffic Jammer
Yellowstone Traffic Jammer

So, I decided to head through the park to the Gros Ventre Campground in the Tetons and hope that Grand Teton National Park was not also suffering from late season overcrowding. Traffic was terrible on the northwest loop of Yellowstone due to road rebuilding, but OK once to Madison Junction.

I arrived at Gros Ventre around 4 PM on a hot afternoon and signed in for 4 days on Site #75. Really uncomfortably warm until the sun went down, then cooled off quickly. Unfortunately, the campground was all but full and I unfortunately had rude neighbors all around, lights, generators until 10 PM, car engines running at 11 PM and late arrivals nosily setting up camp at midnight. What ever happened to an “off season” ? These crowds are starting to get to me  !

September 26th

The campground was full last night … and Gros Ventre campground is almost never full, even during the summer ! I am out very early on an absolutely beautiful morning, yet am stuck behind a line of about a dozen cars at the intersection of Gros Ventre Road and the main highway, and it isn’t yet 7 AM. Even at this early hour the main highway is all but bumper to bumper traffic in both directions .. what is going on here ! I have never seen crowds like this here before.

Grand Teton
Grand Teton

Granted, it is about as beautiful a day as one could ever hope for, but, come on, this is supposed to be the off season.

Mount Moran from the Oxbow
Mount Moran from the Oxbow

I head up to the Oxbow and as I round the bend and this wonderful view of Mount Moran appears, I am blown away by the amount of cars and people here at this early hour. The large parking lot is full and vehicles line both sides of the road for half a mile or so. There are easily two or three hundred people here, and that is without any tour buses present. Photographers line the shoulder of the road, shoulder to shoulder !

Mount Moran from the Oxbow
Mount Moran from the Oxbow

This is just too much ! I have got to get away from all these people.

Grand Teton from the Meadows
Grand Teton from the Meadows

Cottonwood Creek Road is the answer. This very rough dirt road screens out the traffic and is about all that the Prius with it’s low clearance can handle, but it gets me away from the crowds, at least for now. Plus it has this wonderful perspective on Grand Teton, and while not today, it quite often also has large numbers of elk and pronghorn.

Having had enough of battling traffic, I head back to the campground and wait until very late afternoon to venture out again.

Young Bull Elk
Young Bull Elk

I find very little, other than loads of people, as I make a long loop of the park. This young bull elk and his little harem are all I find. Normally I wouldn’t bother to show these unremarkable images but I was pleasantly surprised at how well they came out, since they were taken in the dark !

Young Elk with Harem
Young Bull Elk with Harem
Young Bull Elk
Young Bull Elk

 

 

 

 

 

In fact, these elk images were taken at the same time as this shot of the brilliant full moon.

Full Moon
Full Moon

This happened to be the night before the lunar eclipse, an event that unfortunately was marred by cloud cover here. Really hoping the crowds clear out after the weekend and I get to enjoy this place, one of my favorite all time places to visit.

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September 24, 2013 Yellowstone to Tetons National Park

Bull moose
Bull moose

( As always just click on an image for a larger, sharper version )

Moving day as I leave Yellowstone National Park and head on down to Grand Tetons National Park, with the hopes of being able to add to my moose portfolio. I guess I was all but ready to move on anyhow, but the weather forecast calls for 3 to 9 inches of snow here Wednesday with more on Thursday, and temps in the low 20’s. While the forecast is pretty much the same for Jackson Hole, at least if I get down there today, before it starts snowing, I can get into a private campground with hookups to make it through what looks like a couple of uncomfortable days where I will be holed up inside, and it sure would be nice to have electricity for heaters and such.

Trip down to the Fireside Resort Campground in Wilson, WY., just west of Jackson Hole was a pleasant one, with nice weather and not much traffic. The campground is nice enough, though certainly tight, but no way worth the nearly $60 a night, but it will do to get me through the next few stormy days.

Storm brewing
Storm brewing

Took this image of a the threatening storm front coming over the mountains from a pullout along route 89.

Bull moose
Bull moose
Bull moose
Bull moose

 

 

 

 

 

After setting up, I still had an hour or two of daylight so I took a trip up Spring Gulch Road and into Tetons National Park. As luck would have it, I ran into a nice bull moose as soon as I went through the entry gates to the park, he was moving fast like he had somewhere to go and needed to get there before dark.

September 23, 2013 Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone fall color
Yellowstone fall color

Another trip to Hayden Valley

Headed out early this morning to do the same trip around the upper loop road and down to Hayden valley but in the reverse order of Saturday’s trip. Today was one of those days where I cover a lot of ground, at the proper time of day, but just pretty much come up empty. I may have set some kind of reverse record for wildlife sightings in Hayden Valley. I traversed the entire valley north to south and then again south to north and saw but one lone bison in the distance, no elk, antelope, bison herds, wolves, bears, or coyotes. If you have ever been to the Hayden Valley, you know how rare it is to have it virtually empty of wildlife.

Yellowstone swans
Yellowstone swans
Yellowstone swans and Canada geese
Yellowstone swans and Canada geese

 

 

 

 

 

I did manage to find these swans to photograph. I was excited to see some Canada Geese floating downstream towards the swans, for I seem to recall that the swans are extremely territorial, and will drive off other birds such as the geese. I was ready for some action! But these guys seemed like they were the best of friends.

Roadside black bear cub
Roadside black bear cub

I was rounding a sharp corner and saw this young black bear cub all but in the road grazing on the curbside clover. With no mother in sight and other people stopping and getting within 6 feet of the youngster, for once, I was almost hoping a ranger would come along and break this up before the cub was startled out into the road and struck by a car. At times, his head was only a foot or so from the pavement and he acted as if he didn’t even see or hear the cars only a couple of feet from his head whizzing by, and he was completely oblivious to the growing crowd of people all but reaching out to pet him. I hope he survived this, but with no mother and this lack of fear of traffic and people, it probably doesn’t look like much of a future for this guy.

Bison on the centerline of road
Bison on the centerline

Lastly, a couple more bison shots. I got a kick out of this guy, once again using the centerline of the highway to negotiate his way down the road. They do move at a very slow pace while traveling on the highway, but they can seriously unnerve you as they pass by at only a couple of feet from your vehicle.

Bison
Sharing the road

Especially if you are on a very narrow gravel road, such as the one to the fire tower, and you encounter a fellow like this coming down the road as you head up. At least he was using the shoulder of the road, I assume because there was no yellow centerline on the gravel road.

Yellowstone Bison
Yellowstone Bison