The past six days have seen me driving through heavy snow storms, summiting mountain passes, crisscrossing Yellowstone National Park from South to North and West to East, not necessarily in that order and seeing and photographing more amazing wildlife before returning to picturesque Jackson Hole.
Fortunately, the snowstorm only lasted a day so I didn’t have to deal with any road closures (a common hazard here at this time of year) but the evidence of the storms still remains on the higher parts today.
The Elk rut, in full swing when I got here two weeks ago, is coming to a close and the sound of bugling bull elk echoing around the hills and through the forests has all but ceased. Where before it was common to see herds of female elk being mustered by the dominant bulls, now it is more likely for solitary males to be seen roaming and feeding on the plains, their job done for another year.
Lamar Valley in northern Yellowstone is the place to go to see wild packs of wolves in their natural environment. Wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone in 1995 after being wiped out by hunters in the early 20th century. The reintroduction has been a real success story, having amazingly beneficial effects right across the Yellowstone eco system.
I was hoping to see the wolves and to photograph them. See them I did. Five out of a total in that particular pack of 11 were resting on a rocky ridge after feeding on a kill earlier in the morning. The alpha male and his mate, plus three younger wolves made up the group I was observing through binoculars about a kilometre from my position. I did get some photos but they were outside the effective distance of my lens but at least I have got some evidence that I saw them.
Grizzly encounters were frequent. On Saturday, driving over Sylans Pass from Cody back into Yellowstone, I saw (and photographed) a grizzly sow (who I later found out was named Raspberry) and her cub. On Sunday morning, driving up to Lamar Valley, a sow and cub crossed the road just in front of me. Unfortunately, I was not able to stop the car and get my camera out before they disappeared into the heavy pine forest on the other side of the road.
On Monday morning, driving back up to Lamar, I came across what can only be described as a bear jam. Dozens of cars just stopped in the middle of the road. At first I thought it was to allow some bison to cross but when I saw two ladies crouching behind a car, peering around the back of it, I knew it must be bears. Indeed it was, a sow and cub, possibly the same ones I had seen the previous day, were feeding in the trees about 10 metres off the road. I had the perfect shot lined up when car load of tourists with iPhones hanging out the window, pulled up right in front of me, trying to take selfies with the bears. That was it, shot lost, bears gone.
After a long day driving on Monday, I made it safely back to what feels like my second home here, the Parkway Inn in Jackson.
Tuesday dawned quite bleak and cold so I was in no rush to venture out. After a leisurely breakfast, it was nearly 10am before I got back out into the park. Seeking some wildlife encounters in some of the places I had visited earlier in my time here yielded no rewards. It was then that I had a hunch, I wonder if there are any bears in the Pilgrim Creek area (made famous by Tom Mangelsen’s wonderful book “The Grizzlies of Pilgrim Creek”). I had been there several times before but not seen anything.
Turning off US Highway 26 onto a dirt road, I observed a cluster of cars in the distance. Always a good sign as there is usually a reason why they are stopped in one spot. Standing by the cars, was a Park Ranger, a chirpy lady named Liz, who told me that a grizzly had been sighted earlier in the morning in the area, and if I wanted to park and wait, she “might” reappear. Patience and wild life photography go hand in hand, I was more than willing to take a chance on her re-emerging from the forest.
Sure enough after about half an hour she popped out, at first quite a distance away but she was moving in our direction. With the rangers keeping the onlookers at a safe 100 yard distance, we were able to watch this female bear forage and feed around some sage brush for about 2 hours before she eventually faded off into the distance.
This morning, Wednesday October 12, was freezing. Twenty six degrees F according to the thermometer in the car, the promise was for a beautiful day later but before I went anywhere, I had to get the credit card out. No, not to make a payment but to scrap the ice off the windscreen. A definite reminder of my younger days in Glen Innes.
I decided to drive over to Moose (a village) to see if I could find a moose (an animal). Another case of the right place at the right time. Just as the sun popped over the mountains in the east, I came across two moose, a young male and a female feeding in the shallow water by a creek. It made for some nice shots with the frosted grass and steam beginning to rise off the water.
The rest of the day developed into one of those jaw droppingly beautiful days. Clear skies, warmish temperature and no wind. I didn’t see much more wild life but the scenery in this place is epic. Just a great place to be.
David Mackenzie - Photographer/Writer