“Yellowstone is my happy place”

Day 5.

One week ago today I saw five different kinds of large mammals, plus a jackrabbit.  ETA:  Actually, it’s a snowshoe hare, or so I am informed by a reliable source [g].

Sunday was the best wildlife-observation day I’ve ever had in the park.  Partly this was due to the time of year — bears just out of hibernation, nobody having headed up to the high country yet, etc.  Partly it was due to having a passenger in the car who could devote her eyeballs exclusively to looking for critters, and partly it was due to having a travel companion to drag me away from the geyser basins, where I tend to stay when I’m in the park by myself, to look for critters.

So.  We headed out east from Old Faithful on Sunday morning, and crossed the Continental Divide twice on our way to West Thumb.  The snow was pretty deep on either side of the road at the Divide and part of the boardwalks at West Thumb were snowed over, but not all.  We got out and were strolling on the clear parts, enjoying the springs and the views of the lake, when L said, “look!”  And there was a rather large jackrabbit snowshoe hare sitting by the side of the boardwalk, his mouth full of the grass growing there where the soil was warm.  It was the first time I could remember seeing a jackrabbit snowshoe hare in the park, which was nifty.

West Thumb geyser basin

Jackrabbit Snowshoe hare

After we left West Thumb, we headed north and drove around the shore of Lake Yellowstone, stopping to take some rather panoramic pictures along the way.  I have seen pelicans and gulls and other waterbirds along this drive, but not when the lake has been frozen over. 

Absaroka Mountains across Lake Yellowstone, with West Thumb steam

When we got to Lake village, I showed L what I’ve always thought of as “Tara on the Lake,” then we headed on towards Fishing Bridge and the Hayden Valley.

I am accustomed to seeing bison in the Hayden Valley, which is where one usually finds the herd of females and their young offspring during the summertime.  I’m not used to seeing wolves there.  But we did, across the Yellowstone River from the road, close enough that when I enlarged my photos to 100% on the computer, you could actually tell they were wolves as opposed to the dots in the pictures from my other sighting four years ago.  They are beautiful animals.

Wolves in Hayden Valley
Wolves enlarged

After goggling at the wolves for a bit, we stopped at the Mud Volcano, then drove on to Canyon and went out to Artist’s Point.  The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone still had some snow in it, but the falls were running free.  It truly is a lovely place, and this time of year it wasn’t crowded at all.  We stopped for a bit at the fabulous new (not more than five years old, at any rate) visitor center at Canyon, then ate lunch on the road between Canyon and Norris.

Mud Volcano area
Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and Lower Falls

Somewhere along in there I got frustrated at the lack of bison herd, among other things, so decided to take L up to the Lamar Valley.  Dunraven Pass (the shortest route from Canyon to the Lamar Valley) being still closed due to snow, we took the long route — Canyon to Norris to Mammoth to Roosevelt to Lamar, then back to Old Faithful.

It was so worth it.  Bears, one of which was actually close enough to photograph on two different occasions (coming and going), antelope, which were flopped down practically next to the bison, a coyote (the only critter I didn’t manage to get a picture of), and the bison herd!  with red dogs!  (red dogs are the local name for baby bison, for good reason). 

Oblivious bear

Bison herd, waiting for their shot in Dances With Wolves [g]
Red dogs!

I drove almost 200 miles that day, all in the park, but it was the best animal-sighting day I’ve ever had in the park, or anywhere else for that matter.  I was exhausted by the time we got back, but I am very glad we went.

Oh, and what was the fifth kind of large mammal?  The elk at Mammoth Hot Springs, of course.

Tomorrow, more geysers and the Old Faithful Inn.