Saturday, May 21, 2016

Yellowstone Day 1 & 2 - May 2016

We can't believe it has been 3 years since our last Yellowstone visit.  It doesn't seem that long but we have been many times before.  In fact, after a quick count, we realized that this was our 9th trip to Yellowstone.  Hopefully, it won't be another 3 years before we hit double digits...

After an uneventful flight to Bozeman and a quick escape through baggage claim and the rental car counter, we were on our way.  Hmmm...a Chevy Traverse.  Not too sure about that...

We stopped in Livingston and Gardiner for supplies and made it through the entrance gate at around 3PM.  We would have driven through the Roosevelt Arch but that stretch of road is under construction.  Looks like lots of improvements are afoot in Gardiner.

We saw nothing of note until reaching Petrified Tree Rd.  At the end, a quick scan revealed something that we had never seen there before...Bighorn Sheep.  There were 5 to 6 ewes chomping on the grass but only a few stayed long enough for the first photo of the trip:

Bighorn Ewes

At the Tower Junction we had our first bear sighting of the trip from a long ways away.

Black Bear at Roosevelt

The quick drive (we did have groceries to refrigerate) through Little America and the Lamar Valley didn't yield any great photo ops but we did see Bison, Pronghorn, a couple Bald Eagles, a Marmot, and an Osprey nest to be visited again in better light.  After a long day's travel, that was all the energy we had for the day so we hit the sack hoping to get an early start the next day.

Well, so much for an early start.  We didn't leave the cabin in Silver Gate until 8AM.  But, some of that was on purpose since the weather was gray, cold and snowy.  We did make a quick drive up to Cooke City where we spotted a mother and yearling moose in the willows:

Moose Mama with Juvenile

We also spotted a Ruffed Grouse along the side of the road on the Beartooth Highway:

Ruffed Grouse

On the way back through Silver Gate we picked up our rental scope at the Silver Gate general store ($40 a day and it paid for itself everyday of our trip!) and headed West.

Back in the park, we made our first stop at the Mt Barronette pullout where we scoped a mama and 2 juvenile Mountain Goats.  Without the equipment to digiscope, a cropped 500mm picture is the best I could do:
Distant Mountain Goats

Back in the Lamar Valley we were able to stop and enjoy the grand vista.  I never get tired of looking out over the Lamar to see 100's of Bison, Pronghorn, Elk, Wolves and more going about their business like they have for generations (well, not quite that long for the wolves).  This is truly the closest thing to a Safari you can find in the US.

In fact, it didn't take long to spot the wolf watchers with scopes out at Hitching Post.  So, we joined them and were just in time to see 3 black wolves from the Mollies pack disappear into a distant grove of Aspen trees.  5 minutes later, or without a scope, and we would have missed them.

The Bison were plentiful in the Lamar and there were lots of calves to watch and enjoy:
Bison with Calves

We stopped at Slough Creek to locate this year's wolf den belonging to the Junction Butte pack.  With some assistance from the always helpful wolf watchers already there, we located it in no time.  Our stop was timely because we were able to spot a female Gray Wolf and 3 black pups around the entrance to the den.  10 minutes later...and they were gone.

So far, our wolf timing had been incredible and we had seen 7 wolves before lunch.  Not too shabby!

We made it all the way to Tower before seeing anything notable.  At Tower, a black bear had just started grazing in the field below the main parking lot:

Black Bear

There were only a few people so we got to enjoy the bear for quite awhile before the first Touron sighting of the trip.  The name Touron (a mashup of Tourist Moron) is pretty self explanatory.  Today's Tourons were from Utah according to their license plate and for some reason they took offense at people viewing the bear from the parking lot in front of their parked truck. With their view partially blocked, instead of rolling down the window to nicely ask people to move, or better yet getting out of their car, they decided to honk the horn long and loud.  Luckily, it only scared the people and not the bear about 50 yards away.  Eventually, they got out of their car which revealed an entire family dressed in camo and plump from one too many meals...I mean, the kids were in camo too.  I wonder if they realized that they had to actually get OUT of the car for the camo to have any effect?  Hmm...not much left to say.  They did get an earful from some folks but I doubt they cared.

Next we headed back to Mammoth and around to Sheepeaters.  I wanted to see if we could find any Pika among the rocks there.  We didn't find any Pika but we did see some other critters.

A wet Marmot:
Yellow-bellied Marmot

Gray Jay:
Gray Jay

Least Chipmunk (I wonder if it objects to being the "least"?):
Least Chipmunk

Back through Mammoth and my obligatory Magpie pic:
Black-billed Magpie

The first disappointment of the trip also occurred in Mammoth.  We had timed today's trip to hit the Grill for a heart clogging Western Chicken Sandwich and fries only to find that they don't make them anymore and that their menu had changed.  It looks like they added...gasp...healthier options.  What the heck?  What was I going to do now to raise my cholesterol levels?  So, I tried the Ham and Cheese sandwich which was absolute crap.  That might be our last stop at the Grill this trip.  Too bad...

At Elk Creek, we came across a forming bear jam which we happily joined.  It turned out to be a mother and yearling Black Bear:

Black Bear with Juvenile

Black Bear Mama

We headed back to Silver Gate for a quick dinner stop and some scenery:
Silver Gate Scenery

After dinner, we decided to head back to Tower to see what was out.  We saw the same Black Bear and yearling, around a dozen Bighorn ewes at Yellowstone Picnic Area and a coyote in Lamar.  The only photo op to end the day was of this cooperative Pronghorn:

Pronghorn

So, the major critter count on our first full day was a good one:
- 12+ Bighorn Sheep
- 7 Wolves
- 3 Black Bear
- 3 Mountain Goats
- 2 Moose
- 1 Ruffed Grouse
- 1 Coyote
- Numerous smaller mammals
- 4 Camo'd Tourons