Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Yellowstone - May 11 & 12, 2009

I am lumping two days into one report for reasons that will become apparent if you read on.

We were pretty tired so we slept in a bit and didn't leave Gardiner until 7AM. We spotted a bald eagle on the way to Mammoth near the Boiling River. Just before Blacktail Plateau Drive we had marmot sightings. They were on the side of the road. We pulled off to get some shots and one did cooperate long enough to get a couple photos:

Yellow-bellied Marmot

Not 1/4 mile later we had a red fox sighting. It was on the shoulder of the road and then trotted down to a meadow as we stopped. I only got a few shots in before it lept away spooked by additional cars. I didn't realize it until after looking at the picture, but the fox was loosing its winter coat tail first:

Red Fox

We were headed to Silvergate to pick up our rental scope so we cruised through the Lamar Valley. The weather was perfect and the valley was full of bison, elk and the occaision pronghorn. The conditions were so nice, I couldn't pass up this reflection shot:

Lamar Reflection

The only major sighting in the Lamar was a Coyote at the Footbridge parking lot that quickly ran away before I could get the camera out. We picked up our scope and headed to Barronette for a round of "Scope-a-goat". This would prove very challenging given the large amounts of snow on all the cliffs but we did manage to find 2 bighorn sheep high up on the cliffs across from Barronette. We stopped near Pebble Creek and finally saw 1 mountain goat from there. But, the light was perfect for landscapes and I couldn't pass this one up:

Pebble Creek

At the Yellowstone River bridge we had a black bear encounter. Ranger John was there and did a really good job balancing people with the bear. He correctly predicted that the bear would come up and cross the bridge. But, I managed one or two nice shots before it crossed and disappeared back down to the river:

Black Bear

Later, we spotted another black bear at Elk Creek and yet another near Roosevelt. We only had a glimpse of one last fall but had seen 6 in about a day so far this trip.

After lunch, we headed back out to the Lamar to look for wolves. We were in luck. Two black wolves were easily visible from Hitching Post. Only one was visible at first but after it howled for a while, the second showed up and then a bit later a third one showed up. The end of day light was really good and the animals seemed to cooperate nicely:

Female Pronghorn

ElK on Alert


But, the highlight of the day occurred around 8:30PM has we passed Blacktail Pond. A shape crossed the road ahead of us and stopped to look at us as we stopped to look at it. Even in the dying light, we could see it was a beautiful gray wolf and was our closest wolf encounter to date. After a few seconds, it moved on but I did get a couple keeper shots in the low light including this one (the D300 and VR lens saved this picture):

Gray Wolf at Dusk

Tuesday started out well enough. We wanted to head to the Hayden Valley so we were out early. The weather was overcast but didn't look too bad. We hit the Canyon area and the snow started to come down lightly. We didn't know how long it would last and didn't want to get caught on the wrong side of the park if they closed the road from Canyon to Norris (which was closed last May during similar weather). So, we decided to head back to Norris. Bad idea. The snow just dumped and I am sure the temperature dropped a lot. Even though we were driving slowly, we lost traction coming down the first steep hill. A couple swerves later and we were in a snowbank and some small trees. No injuries at all but the 4Runner was stuck. It took 7 hours to extract the car, get it towed to Gardiner since it didn't look driveable, and have it serviced.

In retrospect, there are a few things we should have done differently including just waiting out the storm in Canyon. So, we will handle the same situation differently next time. The good news is that just after we climbed out of the car following the initial crash, a pine martin ran across the road, not once, but twice. Since the bills are $850 and climbing, that has turned out to be one expensive pine martin sighting.

The even better news is that the Tire Iron in Gardiner gave the car the OK to continue. Besides some body damage and a broken blinker, we were good to go. So, we were back out in the park at 4PM having lost 8 hours on our stupid adventure. We spotted a black bear at Phantom Lake and a lone black wolf past Hitching Post. But, what really salvaged this day was seeing the mother grizzly and two yearling cubs frolicking across the valley near Soda Butte. The yearlings were racing around the mother and playing with each other. It was very entertaining but the experience was cut short by yet more snow, so we made a long and cautious drive back home and called it a day.

No pictures worth posting for today.

1 comment:

Western Skies Photography said...

Glad you are safe, and I am sorry to hear about your misadventures. Goodluck with the rest of the trip.