11 May 2014

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Hayden Valley, Yellowstone, WY
The south entrance to Yellowstone was open the day before we were due to drive through, but it only stayed open for three hours. So when we got to it the next morning it was still closed which meant we would have to take the long way round. After going back through Jackson Hole, route 22 had a warning saying “no trailers”, so we had to find another alternative. We ran into a few blizzards along the way and texted friends to see if they knew what the roads were like – they had seen people sliding off the roads the day before! We also rang the road conditions number for Yellowstone: most of the roads were still closed and they were recommending snow tires or chains. As we got to the western entrance the sky seemed to clear up and Lindsay decided to ask the rangers what the roads were like: a bit icy, but he decided that it looked clear and the number of cars around would have cleared the roads. He was right. We made it through to Mammoth campground which is near the northern entrance.

The campground is not reservable and although it looked quite busy there were still a number of sites left. We have driven past this campsite a number of times before and thought it looked horrible, but it’s actually really nice. The sites are large (we can park our truck at either end of our trailer) and there is a water tap for every two sites. The rest rooms are close to our site but not too close, have large cubicles, soap and hand dryers and are heated! – which is not the norm. The nearest dump site is 10 miles away, so we use their restrooms during daylight hours.

Only a few minutes old - bison calf 
The first day into the park was mother’s day and we saw a bison calf being born which was pretty special. We got pictures of it but they are a bit graphic so we probably won’t keep them. Unlike the Grand Tetons, there are quite a number of bison calves in Yellowstone. I have never seen so many herds of bison on our previous trips; they are everywhere. Into Lamar Valley we spot Scarface on the plains but he is quite a fair way away. He is a 24-year old grizzly who has seen his fair share of fights hence his nickname and is losing his teeth! As he would come along the valley in line with us, we would get in our truck and move down the valley as he was covering a lot of ground. Eventually he came up to the road and crossed in front of all the cars and went up the other hill.
Grizzly in Hayden Valley 
Grizzly in Hayden Valley 
Each day we see a number of bears, this is definitely the time to visit. Today a cinnamon black bear was sitting on a log with his hind legs dangling on the ground, then he leaned forward as if he was tired. In another location a large grizzly ran over the snow (boy they run fast), caught sight of another grizzly who must have been older, stopped and ran in another direction. Every day has been different, with something new that we haven’t seen before.

Cinnamon (black) bear on the road to Norris
One of the problems in shooting landscape and wildlife is that there are about six settings you need to change on the camera. Some people get around this by having two cameras but we’ve just realized that we can program three custom settings on my camera so all that I have to do is change the dial. That easy!

Seeing the wildlife is often just luck, and perseverance - looking and waiting. On one particular day when we saw hardly anything we heard that different people had seen a black bear sow and a trio of cubs and in another spot a quad grizzly mum – both were on the side of a pond where they were drinking and friends got amazing shots. Sometimes you can be totally oblivious to something really exciting half a mile away.

There is a black bear sow with three cubs that we have been watching and photographing for about a week. You really get to know their personalities, there is one cub that is the dominant one, he suckles on mum as often as he can, and wrestles with his siblings and is always clowning around. If another bear is nearby the sow will tell her cubs to go up a tree and sometimes she will go up too to be a barrier between the cubs and the intruder. Other bears will kill the cubs so that she goes back on heat.

Mum and cubs near Tower 

Sometimes we stay in one place and talk to the people around us as we wait in hope for the bears to appear. So many people come year after year. some as many as the last thirty years! As we are getting to know people better we are being told of more wildlife sightings, it’s not that we are necessarily missing out on these sightings more than other years, but finding out what we are missing!

I'm not moving, I'll eat the fine if you give me one! 

We have been here a few weeks now and the maximum nights you can camp in the park during a one year period July to June is 30 nights, so it will be time to move on soon.

Late yesterday afternoon we went hiking with a friend who wanted to look for some big horn sheep he saw a few nights ago. We were up on one of the hiking trails, something we don’t normally do as the thought of carrying our camera gear all that way is too grueling. The first section was pretty much vertical which really tested my heart and Lindsay’s lungs. We found the marmots but they weren’t as relaxed as they had been when he had photographed them the night before. There was a group of four big horn sheep off in the distance but no sign of the 16 male ones he was looking for. We did have a herd of pronghorn who got used to us and we got some great shots around 7pm, so the light is just gorgeous.

It’s time to leave Yellowstone. When we got here there was snow almost everywhere, then when the snow melted, the grass below was brown. It didn’t take long before the sun turned the grass bright green and the yellow, blue and white wildflowers started to appear. We will be back, hopefully earlier than this year as when there is snow the animals have limited places to go and are therefore easier to find. Yellowstone is huge and when summer comes, they retreat into the backcountry, far from the roads.

4 May 2014

Snow and bears

Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

Tom Tom took us through Idaho which looked longer but a quicker route than the one we took last year, but was the same as the one we took the year before. There were a few times when she got lost and told us we were going in the wrong direction, but we recognized some of the landmarks so knew she was wrong and kept going.

We got into Gros Ventre campground (pronounced gro-vont) in the late afternoon and the lady couldn’t believe that we wanted to stay a week. I had to confirm that Lindsay was indeed serious. Most people it seems only stay a night or two. We have been there three times before and love it. Unbeknown to us, the campground had only been open a day! What luck we didn’t arrive earlier. There was only one loop open, right at the end – why wouldn’t they just open the one closest to the entrance?

The following day we went in search of bears. Lindsay had heard from a guy whose Facebook page he follows that there had been sightings up near the Colter, so that was where we headed. Just outside the campground we had to stop to let a number of bison cross the road, they have a full coat of fur and haven’t started shedding yet. There are no babies to be seen yet and as we saw them by the end of May the first year, that must mean they are ready to drop. We have seen quite a few herds in just one day so it makes me laugh at our first visit here where we walked through a muddy paddock to take photos of a herd so far away that that were just blobs on our photos.

We were going to take the Jenny Lake scenic route but it was closed and as you can see from the photo, the campground is still under a foot of snow.

Jenny Lake Campground under snow
Further up the road I spotted two moose grazing on the side of a hill where the snow had melted and Lindsay got a few good shots with his 600mm lens. Up near the dam we noticed a few cars had stopped. After we slowed down I noticed a grizzly in the marshes. We parked and grabbed the 600mm. Unfortunately at the same time the rangers arrived – the fun police, whose sole reason for working is to spoil our experience as they make us stay 100 yards away. The male grizzly was digging in the marshes, apparently they look for the cache of food that the gophers hoard, if they get a gopher, then that is just icing on the cake. Most of the time he hid behind the bushes, but then he crossed the road and came running at us which made the rangers get more than a little worried: “get back everyone!” That was exciting!

Grizzly near Teton dam
Grand Tetons
There has been a great grey owl spotted down the Wilson/Moose road which is more likely to be seen in early June.

The next day we went back but couldn’t see any wildlife, no bison, no moose, no bears. Just when we were about to go back to the campground we decided to check once more. There were about eight cars around the corner. The male grizzly was only about 50 yards from the road in a clearing without snow or much sage bush. And no ranger yet. So we both set up our tripods and got a few shots, nothing very exciting happened as he was just digging.