Friday, July 20, 2012

Yellowstone National Park - Day 3

Friday July 13th

"Unlucky Friday the 13th" . . .  HA!  What another great day to be in Yellowstone National Park, enjoying nature and the beauty that surrounded me.

Overnight we had quite the thunderstorm in the northern area of Yellowstone NP.  At one point the crack of thunder was so loud it woke both Nanc and I up, startling us in our unfamiliar surroundings and beds.  It was around 3:00am so plenty more sleep to be had.  I know I rolled over and fell back asleep pretty easily.  Next thing I knew, it was 5:30am and time to get moving.

Nanc again offered to drive for our morning wildlife viewing and since the front seat area of my van was filled with stuff, I gladly thanked her for the offer.  We headed back out towards Lamar in hopes that we might be early enough to see the wolf pack on the hunt or perhaps the bears grazing in the sagebrush.  Unfortunately, there was little to be seen that morning other than fellow wolf seekers, a lone black bear way off in the distance and the pronghorns.

We stopped by the Yellowstone Institute's Lamar Buffalo Ranch which has been designated a National Historic Landmark.  It dates back to 1907 and the reintroduction of the American Buffalo into Yellowstone NP's Lamar Valley with a mere 28 animals.  The ranch continued to support bison ranching in the area until the mid 1950's.

Today the Yellowstone Association manages the area and uses the facilities to host a number of educational programs throughout the year.  The original bunkhouse (c-1929) now serves as educational classrooms with a kitchen.  There have been several restored and new cabins built for student housing.  The original barn (c-1927) also remains on the property.

After leaving the Lamar Buffalo Ranch we headed back towards Roosevelt so that I could get my car and head out for my day, while Nanc planned a day of hiking in the area.  Before getting too far, we found ourselves in yet another bison jam, with people doing dumb things to get closer to get photographs of the behemoth animals.  Apparently they had not heard that there had already been a couple of incidents this summer resulting in park visitors being gored by the buffalo.

It was 9:15am when I left Roosevelt.  Since I had good success seeing the bear on the road heading towards Mammoth Hot Springs, I thought I'd make the trek back in that direction.  While no bears were seen during this part of my drive, it was nice to see elk around the Mammoth Visitor Center and the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel.  I had heard that they could frequently be seen in the area, but had seen none the day before.  Today, however, there were plenty all around.  In front of the hotel, there were several females with young, chilling out in what shade could be found or snacking on the flower baskets on the yard.  They acted pretty tame, although there were park rangers at both locations to do "human control" as people continued to attempt to get close up and personal with the animals.

I decided to give Hayden Valley another try for the grizzly bears as Nanc had said she often found them in that area.  While I had been through there several times already, I thought it was worth one more try.  When I stopped in at the Canyon Visitor Center for the bathroom, a lady was posting their 11:00am bear sighting at Hayden.  Boy was I excited, although I also knew bears can be in one place and gone out of sight within 30 minutes.

That said, I went about my business and then continued on towards Hayden.  I stopped where the wolf watchers were but there didn't seem to be much happening there.  I asked about bear sightings and was told that they had not seen anything but that at the next overlook there were some people along with a ranger . . . perhaps they were watching bears.

From there I continued through Hayden Valley and yet another bison jam.  Here is what they look like when they are coming up the road from behind you!

I headed on to the next overlook and sure enough there were about four vehicles including the ranger's.  The people had large scopes out and one man had a National Geographic caliber camera set up on a tripod. I pulled in and got a nice central spot overlooking the Yellowstone River and the valley below.  It was around 1:00pm by now.  With binoculars in tow, I asked what folks were seeing today.  They pointed at the black specs (not even dots!) across on the hillside, stating that "Over there is the grizzly mom and her two cubs."  Even with my 10x50 binoculars, I could barely make out the bears.  Much easier was the huge bison midway between me and the specs.

I stayed and watch, waited patiently as we could see the bears moving across the sagebrush.  At one point they made their way into a lush green, grassy area where clearly you could make out that they were brown bears.  The ranger stayed in the overlook for hours, as people came and went, viewing through the high-powered scope that had been set up to help folks view the bears.  He said that the cubs were actually two-and-a-half years old and that is it unusual for the family to stay together this long.  The male cub had been collared earlier in the year in anticipation of his going off on his own this summer, but so far, the family has stayed together.

Continuing to watch the bears, everyone was hoping that they would continue to make their way down the hill and towards the river.   Earlier in the day it had been reported that they had been observed about half a mile down river playing in the water so of course we were optimistic we might see a repeat in the late afternoon heat.  After a couple of hours of viewing and waiting, our patience paid off.  The sow and her cubs swam the river and came to our side of the valley.  It was impossible from my vantage point to get photos, however, as they entered the water near some dead driftwood along the shoreline.  I was able to snap a few shots of them as they came ashore.

Momma bear continued to graze on the sagebrush while her two cubs fell-out and napped after their long swim and run.  They were still very far away, requiring a scope or binoculars to see them closely.  I was able to get a few photos that when enlarged and cropped, provide a decent view.  I only wish there was a better place to view and photograph them.

This photo shows you just how they looked, as the above images have all been enlarged and cropped, while this one is straight off the camera. 

While all of the bear viewing drama was being observed, this lone coyote made its way across the valley, looking for a place to come up and across the road.  With all of the people pulled off onto the shoulder, there was no place for him to go, so he proceeded down further until he could find a safe place to cross.

I spent over two hours watching the bear family and with thunder heard off in the distance, it was time for me to make my way back towards Roosevelt.  My drive from Hayden over the Dunraven Pass was uneventful.  There was a small bear jam of people trying to get a look at a black bear with cubs just before Tower.  By now it was pouring rain. Unfortunately, there was no seeing much of anything so I kept moving on.

When I got to Roosevelt, I thought I would take one more quick trip down towards Lamar Valley to check out what might be going on out that way.  With the thunder, lightning and rain, I didn't expect to see much.  I was wrong!

As I made the slight bend just past the Yellowstone picnic area, there were several trucks and cars pulled off on the right shoulder.  I slowed down and asked someone what was seen.  The young man said that "just above the guy in the white shirt" was a black bear.  I commented that the guy up on the hill trying to get a closer look was a dumb @$$ to which he quipped "Hey that's my brother."  I told him that I didn't care, he was still a dumb @$$ for getting that close to a bear.  About that time the rangers arrived and cleared the area out.

I went up ahead and did a U-turn in one of the pullouts. I then entered the picnic area and turned off my engine.  A few minutes later, maybe five, the black bear came lumbering down the hill into the picnic area and parked itself under a tall pine tree.  Imagine my delight, as well as that of the others in the cars that had parked there with me.  It was getting dark quickly as the loud claps of thunder continued.  The poor bear seemed to be cowering beneath the tree as to be seeking cover from the storm.

A few minutes later, the bear ran across from this point and climbed a tree that was about 20 feet away.  It happened so quickly, that I missed getting a photo other than of its big rump up in the tree.  Moments later, I could hear it vocalize (grunt-like sounds) and next thing I knew, it was backing down the tree trunk.  And imagine my surprise when one-by-one, two little ones came backing down too!  This was clearly the same momma bear and young cubs I had seen the day before, a mile or so down the road.

And off into the sunset the young family of bears went.  What a special experience to have witnessed!  With that, I headed in for the night, meeting up with Nanc back at the Roughrider Cabin.  In bed by 8:00pm, it was still storming well into the night.

Today I drove 99 miles.

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