Sunday, May 16, 2010

Yellowstone & Grand Teton - May 15 & 16, 2010

After a crazy early wake up alarm (3AM) followed by a couple painless flights, we landing in Bozeman looking forward to 11 days in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. Hertz didn't have the small SUV we reserved and offered a Suburban "for only $5 more a day". That's WAY too much car for where we were going so we settled on the only thing available, a Chevy Tahoe. At first, we weren't happy about such a big vehicle but it turned out to be really comfortable and the extra height made spotting easier. Plus, the 20 MPG we got was much better than expected. Over the course of the next 11 days, the Tahoe earned the nickname of "The Squeaky Beast" due to the many squeaks (brakes, seats, and something from deep in the dashboard) which periodically broke the wonderful silence of the parks.

The weather was great in Bozeman and we set off for the 1.5 hour trek to the Gardiner, Mt. As many folks know, this drive is really pretty and a great way to get prepared for Yellowstone. Along this drive we saw sandhill cranes, elk, mule deer, and pronghorn.

After checking in at the Absaroka Lodge we picked up some food and ate it overlooking the river and 3 marmots that had established a little colony across the way. Afterwards, we picked up our rental scope and passed under the Roosevelt Arch at around 4PM with our critter radar on high alert.

Since we were off to Grand Teton tomorrow, we decided to make a beeline for our favorite part of the park, the road from Mammoth to Tower and the Lamar Valley. Along the way we spied bighorn sheep high on the cliffs before Mammoth and 7 more at the Yellowstone Picnic Area including one male.

There was a bison carcass at Blacktail Lakes which would be the scene of great drama over the next week or so based on the what we heard from other people. But on this day, all we saw was a lone coyote scouting the area. In the Lamar Valley we saw a lone grizzly and a grizzly sow and cub. All three were really only visible through the scope.

Soon after, we spotted another coyote.

This one was being chased by a small group of pronghorn and they weren't too happy to see it. My guess is that one or more of them were pregnant. Coyotes like to prey on little pronghorn before they are fast enough to escape. One of the pronghorn was particularly agitated and "displayed" its displeasure by fluffing out its hair:

After a quick stop at Mt. Baronette for some "scope-a-goat" (we found two), we headed to Tower and then back to Gardiner for the night. On the way, we saw four black bears, including this one:

After a so-so night's sleep thanks to our noisy upstairs neighbor at the Absaroka, we ventured out early knowing we had a long drive to the Tetons that day. Once again, the weather was wonderful which made for some great light in Mammoth and at Swan Lake Flats:

Since the weather was so nice, we decided to try a new hike at Sheepeaters. This hike takes you through a young forest of pines, past a waterfall, and into a really pretty valley. The hike was great because of the scenery and because the critters were everywhere:

After the hike, we headed south and then went all the way to the east entrance for the first time. Along the way we encountered a feisty bison that uprooted a small tree and almost took out a Honda CRV. Thankfully, they put the car in reverse and got out of its way. We also scoped a grizzly and coyote on a kill in the Hayden Valley, had 3 coyotes cross the road in front of us in the Hayden Valley, and made a quick side trip to Le Hardy Rapids to see the Harlequin ducks:

Just before the east entrance, we spied another grizzly below us in a meadow. After lunch at Pahaska Teepee (good lunch, but no fox den there this year unfortunately), we got back on the road to the tetons and only made one quick stop at West Thumb to stretch our legs:

After checking in at Signal Mountain Lodge and getting upgraded to a Lakefront Retreat (let's hope being on the first floor won't be a bad thing), we decided to take advantage of the nice weather and take another new hike. We decided to hike to Emma Matilda lake via the trailhead near the Jackson Lake Lodge. This is a great hike that takes you past ponds and through forests and sage until you reach the lake. The prettiest area was probably Christian Pond which was full of ducks and geese:

About halfway to the lake we stopped because we heard a really low grunting sound. Because we were hiking in bear country, we were very alert but this sound was a bit alarming. Could it be the grunts of a sleeping bear we were too close too? Or possibly road noise that the wind blew strangely in our direction? We stopped and scanned the immediate area and finally pinpointed the sound. It was a blue grouse calling out for a mate:

After the hike, we had leftovers for dinner overlooking Oxbow Bend. It was a great end to our first day and a half in the parks.

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