May 11 - 17 2008 Trip Report
Unfortunately, I do not have the writing skills of Yellowstonefan, however, I hope my report will give first timers an idea of what to expect and where best to look for Wildlife…
We had a very early start on May 11 in Las Vegas and drove all the way to West Yellowstone in one day (we shared the driving between three of us so the 13 hour drive wasn’t too tiring). We were lucky enough to see a Moose at the side of the road as we approached the outskirts of West Yellowstone and spent a short while watching it standing in water up to its knees eating ‘pond weed‘.
We awoke on May 12 to find that it had snowed over night! Luckily we had planned a late start and visited the Bear and Wolf Discovery Centre before heading into the Park before lunch, by this time the roads were clear and safe to drive on. It continued to snow throughout the day, but we were able to start showing my parents the thermal features between Madison and Old Faithful. We arrived at Old Faithful in time to watch it do it’s thing, unfortunately, we stood on the wrong side and my parents were a little disappointed. We visited the gift shops and the grill for a hot drink and 90 minutes later we went back out to Old faithful to watch it from the other side! My advice is to check which way the wind is blowing and stand up wind, this will give you the best view of the water spraying out. My parents were very impressed the second time!
We spent the next couple of days looking at the thermal features and going on short hikes around Southern Yellowstone. We saw more Bison and Elk than you can shake a stick at. The Bison had started to calf, however, we were too early to see Elk calves.
We had problems getting to Hayden Valley due to a burst water pipe, so this hindered our wildlife viewing chances a bit. Please note the water main is now fixed and the road mended. We did see a few Marmots sunning themselves on rocks near the Gibbon River between Madison and Norris.
We took several slow drives, on our way in and out of the park, past the Bald Eagle nest and saw one of the parents on the ground next to the river with a fish. It surprised and annoyed us that so many people were completely ignoring the signs telling people not to stop! Please do read the signs and do not go into areas where you may disturb the wildlife.
On May 14 we moved to Gardiner and our wildlife viewing stepped up a gear! We had seen a moose and her calf near petrified tree last May and we were lucky enough to see what may have been the same calf near there again. We saw a black bear eating grass at the side of the road between Roosevelt and Tower Falls at 16:40 and at 17:50 we saw another Black Bear eating an old Bison carcass under the bridge not far from the Tower-Roosevelt junction. The Ranger told us that the carcass had been there for more than a month. It was fascinating watching the bear trying to find something worth eating, after turning the carcass around ‘he’ managed to find some maggots in the head (yuck!)
On May 15 we had an early start and we ventured to the Lamar Valley. We saw lots of people looking out for the Slough Creek Wolf pack to return to their den, but we had no luck in seeing them. Later that morning we moved further up the valley and spotted a Ranger and group of people spotting something near a pull out. We pulled in and started looking but could not see what it was, so we asked the ranger. Some more advice for first timers to Yellowstone and wildlife viewing, please do not drive along side people viewing wildlife and shout to ask what they are looking at, this really annoys ‘real’ wildlife viewers. Please park somewhere safe, in a pull out or with all wheels outside the white edge of road marking, walk back to the area, try and spot what they are looking at and then ask if you can’t see it, you will always be told what and where to look. Back to the story… the Ranger told us that they had been watching a Grizzly bear cross the river and it had carried on walking and was in a dip where they couldn’t see it. Just then it came into view heading towards the next pull out, everyone packed up and moved on. We waited a while and decided to move to the next one after that. About 15 - 30 minutes after we moved (around 11:00) the Ranger pulled into our pull-out and asked if we had seen it. They hadn’t managed to see it where they were. Next thing the Grizzly came over the horizon and walked into the little valley near our pull out. We stayed and watched it eating grass until my Mother needed to visit a restroom! We used the pit-toilet at the picnic site not far from Tower-Roosevelt junction and we were rewarded with a close viewing of a red fox.
We headed back to the road leading to Tower Falls and at 15:30 I spotted my own black bear (i.e. I was the first one to see it) we pulled into a pull-out and watched it from the car until other people spotted it and a Ranger turned up to control the traffic. We were then brave enough to get out of the car and walk up the road to stand with the crowds to watch the young bear. The Ranger said that he thought the bear was one of the two cubs that were with ‘Rosie’ last year. We had seen ‘Rosie’ and her two yearlings last year, so it was fantastic to see that one of them, at least, had managed it to independence.
The Ranger told us that there was another much larger bear only a few minutes up the road nearer to Tower Falls, so we headed towards it to see if we could find somewhere to park. We were lucky enough to find a parking space in the pull-out for the Calcite Springs Overlook and walked back down the road to sit on the road edge and watch the large black bear until he moved away out of sight.
On May 16 we had another early start and we headed to where the Slough Creek Wolf pack den could be spotted from. We were only the second car to park up and we didn’t know exactly where to look, so we headed up the bank to a couple with scopes and asked where we should look. They were really kind and gave us all the latest information on what had been seen in the last few days and exactly where to look. We returned to the car and scanned the area and saw two wolves near the den (they were dots, but we knew they were wolves from what we had been told and their colouring). A few more vehicles arrived and we were offered a look through their scopes and they told us that the Druid Pack had been seen in Lamar Valley near Soda Butte on a carcass not far from the road. We decided to head that way just in case we may see them and again were rewarded with spending several hours of watching seven of the pack coming and going from the carcass. They were not close enough to get a decent picture with my 100-400mm lens but through our binoculars you could clearly see they were wolves and see what they were doing. A really nice couple from Ohio allowed us to share their scope and we had our best ever viewing of wild wolves!
My Mother had a bad headache after looking through the binos for so long so we took my parents back to the hotel in Gardiner before returning back to the Park for one last look for black bears. We had heard that ‘Rosie’ had two new cubs, one black and one cinnamon and I so wanted to see them. Luck was with us again and at 17:00 we found a crowd of people watching a black bear on the road leading to Tower Falls. We were told that it was ‘Rosie’ and that her cubs were in a tree. We spent two hours waiting for the cubs to come down and when they eventually started to move down the tree they were so tiny we were both speechless, it was such an amazing experience watching them chasing around the bottom of the tree as though they had no cares in the world. That memory will stay with us forever.
On May 17 it was time to head south to the Grand Tetons and say good bye to the bears, but the bear viewing wasn’t over, I believe we saw the same young Grizzly bear digging for grubs as Yellowstonefan. It was around 10:00 and we managed to park a good ten minutes walk up the road from the bear in a pull-out. No-one else was willing to walk that far back to the bear! When we got back to the bear ‘he’ was up walking around and digging, I managed to get some nice shots of ‘him’ from sitting on the edge of the road.
And then it was time to move on out of Yellowstone… we did see one more Grizzly this time in Grand Teton in the Willows! This was the first time we had ever seen a bear in the Tetons!
Before going back to Yellowstone this year I thought maybe this would be the last time for a while, but I have found myself even more in love with the Park and I would be happy going back every year. I want to see if ‘Rosie’s’ cubs make it to be yearlings and I am already making plans for my return next May!