The view west from the homestead

The view west from the homestead

Sweet Chance

Sweet Chance

Monday, October 22, 2007

Yellowstone Chronicles- October 22, 2007

Yellowstone Park is proving to be to wildlife what Alaska was to vistas. The park is nearly empty of people and tourists and the fall/winter migration of large animals is in full swing. We have set up our base at the Northwest entrance to the park at around 6000 feet elevation and drive in daily for excursions. There is never more than 10 minutes without coming across solitary animals or groups of Bison, Elk, Bighorn Sheep, or Muledeer. We have stopped to watch a coyote feeding on carrion some 20 feet away before he thought better of it and moved on. We stopped several times and talked to “Wolf spotters” who spend a lot of time in the Northern reaches of the park, documenting location and activities of the wolves which were successfully reintroduced back in to the park many years ago. We hadn’t seen any ourselves and it sounded as if most sightings were late or very early in the morning so we have been hoping to get out there at these times. Yesterday afternoon, that all changed.

We stopped at the Mammouth Hot Springs Ranger Station at the start of our drive to check on recent sightings of large predators and heard that there had been both wolf and Grizzly sightings in both the Hayden and Lamar Valleys close to us. We slowly drove the entire route across the upper park to the Northeast Entrance which was beautiful with several hundred bison-probably totaling over 1000 along a 20 mile stretch- grazing and moving very close to the road. We had to stop numerous times whenever a group of them decided that the highway was where they wanted to walk. They would just walk on both sides of the car, looking in our open windows as they passed, snorting, keeping the youngsters in line as they moved to other meadows for grazing. We finally turned back and headed toward home at 4:30 in order to catch the last Red Sox game-priorities you know!! Soon after this, we saw a large herd of Elk moving single file down toward the river close to us, some 60 total with a bugling large male in the rear of the group. They must have stretched over300 yards as they moved along in the late day sunlight. We had to stop and watch and listen of course before we continued west through the Lamar Valley. Five miles down the road, we came across a large grizzly some 100 yards off the road walking through a meadow. We stopped and set up our scope and just watched him amble slowly in front of us for some 8-10 minutes. He was quite majestic with a huge hump. He was within a mile of where we had been debating hiking several hours earlier but both Anny and I both felt too much like prey as we checked out the trailhead through some wooded areas and opted to do car vistas instead. We were quite happy and excited after this and continued on homeward across the Hayden Valley. We decided on one final stop at an overlook where we had heard what sounded like wolves 2 nights earlier and where 6-8 wolf spotters had set up their scopes. When we got out of the car, we knew that something was up as everyone was very excited and pointing out several objects down in the valley below us. We grabbed our scope and binoculars and joined the group to see what they were watching. Sitting right across the valley was a pack of 12-15 wolves, warming in the late afternoon sun on a large grass covered hillside, some 800+ yards in front of us. Also in view were 3 grizzlies, one some 300 yards up the hill from the wolves, 2 others in a creek bed some 3-400 yards to their west. We watched as the grizzly above the wolves came slowly down the hill-it appeared that neither he nor the wolves knew the other were there- until he came within 10-20 yards of where they were laying. Suddenly, all of the wolves were up and surrounded the grizzly as he veered west from the path he had been on. They didn’t appear to want to attack him but many came close enough to him to nudge him with their noses. He would start and stop every few minutes, one time standing up on 2 legs to either look around or make a statement-we didn’t know which. At this time, we noticed that the other 2 grizzlies seemed to know something was up and started to cover the ground between them, moving toward the lone grizzly and the wolves. The light was starting to fade fast now and it was harder to see them in the scope. Our last view of them was the lone grizzly moving toward us on a game trail with wolves behind and flanking him with the other 2 grizzlies gaining ground some 100 yards away from this group moving toward them. We finally decided to go home and will go back today to the Ranger Station to see what may have happened after we departed. It was an unforgettable experience-WOW!!



Gretchen said...

Hey you guys---love the blog.
Things are great in Hawkeye country--except for the fact that the Hawks suck. Eric and I are going to the Michigan State game this weekend to cheer them on and show our support just the same.
Did a leaf tour up to Pike's Peak outside of MacGregor--great hike, bald eagle, waterfall and of course the Mighty Mississippi. Not Denali or Yellowstone, but still pretty effing gorgeous.
Travel safe and go Rocks! (Sorry!) Gretchen

Anonymous said...

Hello Chris and fam, Love the website, Just wanted to wish you a safe and fun Halloween! WE MISS YOU!