Yellowstone in the Spring
We took our annual spring trip into Yellowstone National Park this past weekend. It is always a spring highlight and helps to get our minds off the frustrating road department who 'still' has not opened the road! We always see wolves and bears or at least wolves or bears. Of course that is in addition to the bison, elk, coyotes, sandhill cranes, eagles, and other critters. The best part, however, is the lack of people. While there were more people out and about than we had expected, with the exception of a handful, they were all ‘local' folks (Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, and Utah).
Compared to last year, which as most of you know was a BIG snow year, I was surprised. There is a LOT of snow still in the Park. In fact, the Lamar Valley - usually our best bet for a wolf sighting - was nearly completely snow covered. A few bison and a lone coyote were all we saw. Of course there were folks with spotting scopes watching three WAY UP on the hill, but without a fancy scope (which we do not own), they were invisible.
The highlight of our trip were three wolves and one coyote. The coyote was running down the road in front of us. With the river to one side and a snow covered bank to the other, he was not too interested in moving off the road. When he eventually did, he did not go far. This afforded me the opportunity to take a couple nice photographs.
The wolves were close. A rare treat. Granted we've seen them as close at the lodge, but when they are in your back yard their interest does not outweigh their danger. These three wolves were hanging between the road and a small lake between Norris and Mammoth. They were a bit shy, but did not appear afraid (kinda like the wolves who came to visit us at the lodge).
Because the wolves only appeared, were visible for short periods of time and then disappeared around a group of trees, the crowds did not gather. We did hear the Cougar Pack has now become the Gibbon Pack and consists of about 20 animals. Perhaps these were part of that newly formed pack.
The day's disappointment was our failure to see a bear. Granted we spent less than 6 hours in the Park and someone else reported seeing a Grizzly, nonetheless, we had hoped. However, while there are reports the bears in Yellowstone are coming out of their dens, I have read of bears in other areas in Montana which are still not out. It made wonder if the local bears weren't moving a little slower than usual. Of course a recently Grizzly track sighting on Elk Lake Road proves at least one bear is awake near the lodge.
The most encouraging thing this year was the condition of the bison. Last year at this time, all the animals we saw on the west side were scrawny, pitiful looking specimens. While the slaughter of about 1,000 animals which wandered out of the Park last winter prompted a large protest, I must say I think it improved the conditions considerably for the remaining animals - at least based on what we saw.
There were also more ‘visible' bison, this trip than I had ever seen on a past trip through the Park. Still no calves, but several cows looking close. The elk, on the other hand, were scarce. We only saw a few on the west side and a few near Mammoth. Apparently they are still making their way back from their wintering grounds.
As we drove through the beautiful country which makes up this national treasure, I was struck again at the privilege I have of living so close to such a beautiful place. While other parks may boast more unique landscape, no park in the lower 48 offers a greater variety of wildlife or such unique geological features. It truly is a treasure. I hope those seeking to restrict our access do not win out in the end. I hope our children and grandchildren can continue to see and enjoy this special place for many, many years to come.
Lady of the Lake