Yellowstone: Day Three

Posted by on October 27, 2011

Day three began much like the others, up early and try to catch the critters while they are yawning.  By this time, we’re starting to do a bit yawning ourselves.  But we get up, pushed forward by the excitement knowing we will see wonderful things today.

We enter the park, and as usual, we are greeted first thing with wildlife.  The silhouetted mule deer on the ridgeline, (one with a bird on its back) brings us into the right frame of mind for the rest of the day; peaceful and calm.  But then of course, pretty much any day this time of year in Yellowstone will bring you that feeling.

As we increase in altitude driving into the park, the temperature drops.  I think this was the coldest temperature we noticed on this trip.  19 degrees is quite chilly for this Texas boy, but it sure does feel invigorating!  I could learn to love this weather.

We decide to make our way to the Lamar Valley again today.  On our way we spot some bison, which, as you have noticed by now, is not uncommon here.  However, the contrast between the bison and the frost covered grass was not to be missed.  The entire place had a sense of “wonderland” to it with the animals, the cold air, and the frost.

After finding nothing but bison hanging out in Lamar this morning, we headed back to Mammoth and then down to the Hayden Valley.  Normally, this would be a short drive over the Dunraven Pass, but that road closed for the winter a few days before we got here, so we have to go all the way around the park.  Someday we’ll make it here when all the roads are opened at once!

Heading south from Mammoth, about a third of the way to the Norris Junction, I spotted this scene and had to pull over.  Something about blue rivers winding through evergreen trees just cries out to me for a photograph!

As we continue south, we begin to see more thermal features.  With a chill in the air, the steam rising from the warmer streams brings an air of mystique to the area.  We’ll see even more of the thermal features tomorrow.

Once in the Hayden Valley we see… more bison.  This seems to be bison day!  They are everywhere.  This herd was just hanging out near the river, grazing on the grasses and resting in the sun.

Continuing on through the valley, we head down to the Fishing Bridge area in hopes of spotting the reported grizzly sow and her cubs.  We drive, and look.  Look and drive.  No sow.  We do however, enjoy the beauty of the scenery and the mountains across the Yellowstone Lake.  Trivia points:  Yellowstone lake is the largest freshwater lake above 7000 feet  in North America and has an average depth of 139 feet.  In the winter the ice on the lake can get up to 3′ thick and stay frozen  from December to May or early June!

After no critter sightings in the Fishing Bridge/Yellowstone Lake area, we head back to the Hayden Valley.  On the way we decide to stop at the LeHardy Rapids, another spot where bear are known to be spotted.  Once again, no bear, but we did notice these little guys sitting on the rocks in the middle of the rapids.  There was a fish and game officer there and I asked him what they were.  He said that they were harlequin ducks.  He also said that he was worried about them because most of the others had already migrated away and wasn’t sure why these were still here.  Here’s hoping that the little guys made it.

Finally tired of driving, we stop at a “wildlife exhibition” area near the Alum Creek pullout.  Nothing here but the ravens.  Karen thinks they are ugly, but I argue that their solid blackness has a certain allure to it.  We begin talking about some of the recent bear attacks and Karen mentions that at least the ravens aren’t known for violent attacks!  Just about that time, the raven sitting on the display sign, hops down to the ground on top of a field mouse, and pecks it to death!  I guess he didn’t like being taken so lightly in the danger department.  He then proceeded to feast on the little rodent right there.  Karen decided it was time to leave.

And speaking of the recent bear attacks, as you can see from this sign, the Mary Mountain trail was still closed due to the recent fatal bear attack on a hiker.  As we pulled up, a lone bison came walking down the trail, as if to say, “Those signs don’t apply to me, and even if they did, who’s going to stop me.”  I guess a 2000+lb bison isn’t worried about a bear.

Another day under our belt without a large variety of wildlife to speak of.  But as we exit the park, we see our only pronghorn this trip.  When we visited the Grand Teton National Park in 2009, these guys were all over the place.  Here in Yellowstone, it appears that the bison have taken over that spotlight.  Still though, it was nice to see and photograph.  Trivia points:  The pronghorn (it is not an antelope) is the fastest land mammal in the western hemisphere, and considered second only to the cheetah for speed.

And never let it be said that Gardiner, MT is a boring place.  Once again, right in the middle of town, more mule deer, feasting on the grass growing in the cracks of the sidewalk.  Karen and I discussed how cool it must be to have wildlife like this just roaming all over town and in your yard.  But then we thought about the mess they would probably leave behind.  I guess the free fertilizer is just the tradeoff for living that close to nature.

Once again, our day is over too soon.  And once again we are thankful for the things we have seen.  And once again, we are plum tuckered out!  I think we’ll sleep in a little tomorrow…

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