Jellystone with Yogi
Fun fact: Bull elk shed their antlers annually (typically in January) and the process takes several weeks. When the antlers begin to regrow in the spring they are in velvet, the only regenerating skin found in mammals. Antlers in velvet can grow up to 1″ per day and in the fall, when mating season begins, the increase in hormone levels causes the hardening of the antlers and the drying of the velvet. They then rub their antlers on anything they can find to remove the itchy velvet and show off their hard true bone antlers. The picture below shows a bull elk in velvet:
Spring time in Yellowstone means the animals are shedding their winter coats in preparation for the warm summer weather and they are looking a bit scraggly in the mean time. Spring time also means that there are lots of little babies all around, bison and elk with their calves, Grizzly and black bears with their cubs, geese with goslings, and deer with fawns. When you see a mother with her young, you feel like you are witnessing a very special moment in nature and you know that mama will do anything and everything to protect her baby, so springtime in Yellowstone, is also a bit more dangerous. Lets put it this way, there is a good reason that human mothers who are very protective are called “mama bears”.
Within 500 yards of entering Yellowstone National Park we saw 3 bison. We were so excited that we quickly pulled over and snapped a bunch of pictures. Then we drove another 2 minutes and saw 10 bison with 2 calves and we were so excited that we jumped out again and took a bunch more pictures. We continued driving and about a mile later we saw a herd of bison 50+ strong with a dozen or more calves and we took a million pictures. We realized at that point, that driving in Yellowstone was an adventure in itself and that we would probably have way too many pictures of buffalo by the time we were done with the trip if we kept taking pictures of them every time. It was pretty cool to see thriving herds of wild buffalo roaming and grazing all over the park. We got to see the calves drinking milk from their mothers, males scratching themselves against the trees to scrape off their winter coat or rolling around in the dirt because they were itchy. In 1967 there were only 397 bison counted park wide, today, thanks to protection from poaching and good management practices within the park, there are more than 3,000 roaming throughout the Yellowstone.
We found a campground and then kept driving around Yellowstone only to realize that binoculars would be a very beneficial piece of equipment. We pulled over at a spot with about 8 cars and asked what they were looking at, it was a black bear sleeping under a pine tree but we could barely see it, someone let us borrow their binoculars and BAM, clear as day. Luckily there was an outdoor store in the park and our $120 investment in binoculars made a huge difference for spotting wildlife the rest of the trip.
That night it dropped down to about 28 degrees, the coldest weather I have ever camped in. If it wasn’t for the investment in long underwear the day before (a very expensive purchase when you buy it just outside the park) then I think I would have gotten hypothermia. Luckily we were prepared with wine, beer, a camp fire, winter gloves, and of course bear spray!
But we survived and headed out on a hike that went through a geothermal area and along the south rim of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.
The geothermal area was cool and the view of the canyon and water fall was beautiful, but we enjoyed seeing wildlife more than the scenery of Yellowstone so we got a backcountry permit. We got to hike 5.8 miles and camp in this amazing valley with Slough Creek running through it. It is an area in Yellowstone known for wildlife, particularly the concentrations of wolves and bears. This backcountry trip was the highlight of our Yellowstone experience. During the hike, there was a buffalo in the path so we had to hike up the hill around him.
Then about 2 miles in we discovered that our trail was full of wolf tracks, thousands of them! The tracks were pretty old but it was incredible to see tracks from wolves in the wild and they were HUGE! Check out this picture comparing my boot to a wolf print:
About a mile from our campsite a small creek that normally had a bridge over it, became a wide fast-moving creek with no bridge because the snow was starting to melt. We used a downed pine tree to walk across part of it and then leap to the other side.
Once we got to our camp site and put all our food in the bear box and set up camp we went to the top of a little hill right by our camp that over looked the entire valley. We sat down and almost immediately we spotted a lone grizzly bear wandering and sniffing his way down the side of Slough Creek about 750 yards from us. We watched him for about 15 minutes just doing his bear thing until he disappeared into the forest. In the picture below, you can barely see the grizzly bear, he’s the dark brown blob in the middle on the frame by the creeks edge (we need a better lens before our Africa trip!)
After watching the grizzly bear, we made dinner and ate it up at our lookout and watched 5 cow elk sauntering along the creek munching on fresh grass and there were 3 buffalo hidden in a small meadow sleeping and eating. We kept hoping to see wolves, they were number one on our list of animals to see but unfortunately, we never saw or heard them. The next morning got up early, still hoping for wolves, but we just saw 8 elk just waking up and beginning their day along Slough Creek.
We packed up and headed out, when we were about 2 miles away from our car we stopped to take in the view one last time and we were lucky enough to see a Golden Eagle soaring high above us. It felt like the valley was saying thank you for visiting and respecting me and all the creatures that live here by leaving no trace.
When we got back to the car we threw our packs in the Jeep and stretched our legs only to realize that by doing so, we missed seeing a mama grizzly and her 2 cubs cross the road by a minute. Oh well, we had a better encounter later with a mama and her cubs in Grand Teton so stay tuned for all the details early next week. Anyway, on our departing drive through the park, we saw Bighorn Sheep, a large herd of buffalo, a large herd of elk, a good number of antelope, and we stopped by Old Faithful.
Old Faithful was a bit underwhelming for us because like I mentioned before, the wildlife was the aspect of Yellowstone we preferred rather than the geothermal and volcanic side. But, it was still pretty impressive.
After Old Faithful, we left for Grand Teton National Park. Stay tuned for the details on the best hike of my life…seriously, it was an incredible day!
Animals we saw in Yellowstone: Trumpeter Swan, Buffalo, Grizzly Bear, Black Bear, Elk, Bighorn Sheep, Pronghorn Antelope, Blue Heron, Deer, Pine Martin, Fox, White Pelicans, Pika, Prairie Dogs, Butterflies, Canada Geese, too many different birds and ducks to mention them all, chipmunks and squirrels.