Around The Area - Part 1

As promised in my last blog post, I have some photos to share from our travels around the area this spring. Everything shown in these pictures was seen within a comfortable driving distance of Elk Lake. And, as I suggested, there is a LOT to see outside of the Park in the spring. Today we will focus on what we saw along Hwy 287 between West Yellowstone and Hwy 87. Next time we'll take a trip through the Madison Valley and down toward Ennis.

There was a LOT of snow to be seen along the highway this year. Of course that has been the story this spring. Snow. Snow. More Snow. While things are changing quickly thanks to warmer days and even some rain, the view stayed markedly white for a long long time this year.

We spotted this old homestead surrounded by miles of untouched snow not far from Hebgen Lake. Somehow it looked more like some idealistic painting than something one might expect to see at the end of a busy snowmobile season. Beautiful!

A little further along we spotted a coyote hunting dinner. As I mentioned last time, the coyotes have been very visible this spring. We have seen at least one (often more) each time we've been out. We watched this fellow for a few minutes as he trotted about looking for dinner.

Down the road a bit we came to some Beaver ponds. While no Beavers were in sight, this muskrat provided a few minutes entertainment before he tired of being the center of attention and swam away.

However, along this stretch of road, the sheep are really the focal point. Last time I posted some Big Horn pictures from our daytrip in the Park. While Bighorns are not seen very often in the Park, it is not uncommon to see Bighorn ewes and lambs grazing along 287 this time of year. However, on this trip we were also treated to some nice close-up shots of four rams.

While we watched (and snapped photos) each ram approached the guardrail then hopped over. On the other side of the guardrail is a 30 foot or so shoulder and then a drop off down to the Madison River where it drains out of Quake Lake. Here goes the first ram.

Along comes the next ram. Considerately pauses for his photo shoot. . .

Then hops over with the greatest of ease!

Along comes ram number 3. He too pauses as if to say - so, how do I compare? Not bad, old boy. Not bad!

Then, he too, jumps right over to join his buddies. All told, four good looking rams hopped over as we watched

Together, these four boys made a pretty impressive sight. For us, it was a nice treat. As I said, it is common to see the ewes and lambs. They tend to hang around down toward the junction with Highway 87 all winter.

I suspect the draw, in addition to lower elevation and wind scoured hillsides, is the occasional haybale tossed out by sympathetic humans in the area. This ewe and lamb look like they have wintered quite well - especially compared to some of their larger counter parts (particularly the elk and bison) who spent the winter in the Park.

This trip I was able to get a good shot of what I call the 'guard ewe'. While domestic sheep are far from the most ingelligent animals one might hope to meet, the Big Horn Sheep appear to be a bit more alert to their surroundings. I've noticed it is not uncommon to spot at least one ewe (usually they appear to be older animals) keeping her eyes and ears open for anything unusual. Perhaps that is one reason the Bighorn Sheep seem to have survived, and even thrived, in spite of the hungry wolves, bears and cougars who I'm sure wouldn't mind making them breakfast, lunch or even dinner.

So just because our world has been wrapped in a mantel of white for the last few months, does not mean there is not an amazingly abundant and varied amount of wildlife to delight the eye and tease the camera lens! Especially if one knows where to look!

Lady Of The Lake


Spring In Yellowstone

While computer problems continue to plague my efforts to share with you all the fun adventures I've been enjoying in my 'off' season, I WILL plog ahead. And, although it has been a bit since my visit to Yellowstone, the scene hasn't changed much. Sure, there are more Bison babies on the ground - some dead, some still born (particularly, I believe, in the Madison herd), and the snow is starting to abate, but things are improving very very slowly this spring.

As a result we have actually seen more animals OUTSIDE of the Park this spring than inside - but that is for the next post. Today we'll focus on what we did see in the Park on a cool, mostly sunny day in April.

Snow remained front and center this spring in Yellowstone. Of course that came as no surprise as it has been the main feature everywhere around the Park as well. As a result, however, animals sightings were down. Nonetheless, we managed to catch a few things out and about. In fact, for fun, we had the kids keep track of what we saw. Thus I can report (with at least some degree of accuracy) our six hour trek revealed:

1 Bald Eagle

1 Black-Capped Chickadee

1 Clark's Nutcracker

2 Sandhill Cranes

3 Trumpeter Swans

At least 3 Magpies

4 Robins

4 Rocky Mountain Bluebirds

11 Hawks (primarily Red-Tail)

12 (or more) Ravens

27 (probably more) Ducks

Numerous Canadian Geese - they recorded 43 but we saw at least double that number

1 Rock Chuck

1 Moose

2 Coyotes

14 Big Horn Sheep

17 Elk

271 (at least) Bison

The day started with the birds. We spotted this Red Tail Hawk perched in a tree beside one of the first pullouts along the Madison River which had been plowed open.

Shortly thereafter we found one of the three trumpeter swans seen that day. This one was feeding close to the shore and didn't seem to mind posing for a few photos.

Next came this pair of Common Mergansers, the female of the pair looking like she was enduring a bad hair day! We noted numerous other ducks that day - mostly Mergansers, Mallards and, I believe, a few Scaups.

As we broke into the more open areas along the river, we began to see the Bison. They were scattered across the mostly snow-covered meadows obviously hungry and in poor condition, obviously wondering what had happened to the warmer weather which should have been accompanying the longer days.

The meadows were all cropped close to the ground leaving little vegetation to capture the sun's rays and turn them into nourishing, life-giving green grass. In fact, I have heard these 'overgrazed pastures' are slowly turning to weed beds with few native species still in place. Certainly the Bison in the Madison River drainage appeared to be in danger of losing this year's (and perhaps next year's) calf crops due to poor condition. Sad - but that may actually prove helpful in controlling the over-grazing issues in the long term.

Even the elk looked worn and weary. I'm not sure why an elk would choose to winter in the Park - and these animals certainly appear to have done so. Most of the local elk head to the Madison Valley for the winter. Next time I will post some photos of these animals. They have wintered well, in spite of the heavy snow and slow spring. The Park-wintering beasts, however, looked pretty heart breaking.

The coyotes have been quite bold this spring. I suspect it isn't easy finding food with all the snow. As a result we have seen them on nearly every outting - and that with wolves sighted here and there as well. Typically wolves are said to be hard on the coyote population. Whether true or not, the coyotes have been quite visible this spring. This particular fellow was hunting along the Madison.

At Madison Junction we made the choice to turn northward. Typically the northern route has produced more frequent and varied wildlife sightings in the spring. Thus we chose to forego the 'known' Bison along the Old Faithful route and head for Mammoth.

As we began our decent from the pristine snow-covered meadow set against its pure white mountain peak backdrop to the warmer (and thus less snowy) valley around Mammoth, we traversed what I consider to be the most interesting piece of road in the Park. The Golden Gate stands as an engineering feat which had its origins much earlier than one might expect.

Even today the road is impressive as it swings out over the steep hillside and hugs the huge yellow-gold rocks. So, I guess I could honestly say we traveled over the Golden Gate Bridge that day!

The bison living on the Park's north end were in much better condition than those along the Madison. Certainly it had much to do with the lower elevation which resulted in less snow and for a shorter duration. However, even here this changed quickly as we once again climbed - this time toward the Lamar Valley.

The 'finds' of the day appeared on this, the final segment of our trip. A young moose - a rare sight in post-fire Yellowstone - browsed along the road as we approached the Bison Ranch in the Lamar. While moose are regular visitors in our Centennial Valley world, it was encouraging to see one in the Park. Perhaps, 20 plus years post-fire, their food source is once again returning.

Just across the road we spotted a small band of Big Horn Sheep. Like the moose, Big Horn Sheep are not a rare sight in our 'world'. As I will share next time, we have enjoyed several good photo opps of them this spring. While they disappear into the high country in the summer, winter sightings in the area are the norm. However, spotting these rams in the Park was not a normal occurance for us.

Thus while we did not see a wolf or a bear (although we had seen an untouched dead elk in the Madison River on our way in - and, when we passed by about six hours later something large had obviously been feeding on it - thus we certainly missed a bear or wolf, probably a bear), we enjoyed two other 'rarish' animals this trip.

Living near such a national treasure definitely has its benefits. We are not 'Park crazy' (i.e. we do not live and breathe for time in the Park). After all, we live in the Centennial Valley - a place which in many ways rivals the Park in its untouched beauty and wild nature. Nonethless, we do enjoy having such immediate access to the other special place in our neighborhood!

Lady of the Lake


Spring Snowmobiling

You Gotta Love Computers! After all, they make our lives easier in so many ways. However, the very thing which makes them ‘wonderful’ also makes them the worst thing invented by man. For, when they do not work, you lose a portion of your life!

So, what does that have to do with Elk Lake? Just this: For those of you who wonder why I have been so delinquent in updating Elk Lake News, blame it on the computer. As I sit typing away on my backup machine, I have to have two computers running just to accomplish what I typically do on my normal machine. However, I am bound and determined to get back on track - working computer or no.

This is the time of year when snow gets a little ‘old’. Don’t take me wrong. I LOVE to snowmobile, and spring snowmobiling - in a year like this one - doesn’t get any better. However, there comes a time when the rest of the world is waking up from its long winter nap and yet the winter giant in my backyard wasn’t even showing signs of stirring this April. THAT is when winter takes on a less-than-delightful prospective.

Nonetheless, one cannot let the gorgeous white snow still piled high outside their door get them down. So. . .how do we overcome the need for green? Go play in the white! And, that is just what we did.

The snow was incredible! Without doubt the smoothest, whitest, most luxurious snow of the season. The only bad part - this is APRIL!

Only twice in seven winters have I seen such abundant snow and such excellent coverage. However, this year takes the prize for the most snow in April. In fact, based on pictures from that other ‘fine year’, I believe this year takes all the prizes, all around. Regardless - it is quite the sight to see miles and miles of pristine snow in every direction. It reminded me of the winter fairy-land-dreams of perfect snow I had as a child.

The snow was abundant and so were the moose. In fact, along this one exposed ridge where, with the sun’s help, the dirt was beginning to overtake the snow, there were over 30 moose! We have seen up to 35 moose just riding down Elk Lake Road in the winter. However, this was a first. If you look closely you will see at least 11 moose in this one shot. Amazing!

Typically Elk Lake Road has the least snow coverage. The wind moves things around out there in the valley often resulting in exposed sage brush and even bare patches on the road. However, today was not the day for bare patches. Yes, the sage is beginning to snow - that is a good thing in April! However, the road had full coverage when we road in.

Did you notice the hawk taking off from the fence post to the right? While I did not get many bird photos, they are returning - in spite of the snow.

For those of you who have traveled into the back country - perhaps by ATV or snowmobile or even by foot or horseback - around Elk Lake, that is Brimstone in the distance. Yep, in the summer those are sagebrush covered hills in the foreground too!

Although this ride produced no wolves - nor signs of wolves - we did spot two coyotes. However they did not stick around long. This one appears to perhaps have been chased by snowmobiles. Either that or he has a hot date!

While the majority of the moose were hanging out on the ground exposed by the sun’s warm rays, we spotted a few more in the ‘likely’ spots. This one is feeding at the head of Elk Springs Creek.

And this pair are close to where Elk Lake Road crosses Elk Springs Creek.

Looking to the west along the North Side Centennial Road, you’d think no one lived around here. However, even during the winter this road received little use. Nonetheless, that much untracked snow so close to the snowmobile meca is a pretty sight! Except for a moose, I don’t think anyone has been near this road in awhile.

Of course the North Side road isn’t the only place where the snow has piled thick and deep, changing the scenery in various ways. After the last big snowstorm (yes, the one in April), our back door handle dropped to knee height and the door itself became a few feet shorter.

I believe in an earlier photo I showed the top of the picnic table by Cabin 4 exposed by about a foot. Well, this time of year, theoretically, the snow is supposed to be going away. However, as this photo shows, at least for a brief time after that April snowstorm, the picnic table was nearly completely covered (it is that dark rectangle to the right of the cabin’s porch).

Even the south end of the lake is looking far too much like winter - at least for those I know are anxiously awaiting the ice’s departure. From my viewpoint, that is going to be awhile!

And the cornice is quite impressive, too!

So. . .I must admit there is next to nothing I do not absolutely adore about Elk Lake. In my opinion there really isn’t a better place on planet Earth. And, I thoroughly enjoyed taking a spring snowmobile ride after a big snowstorm. But, to be totally honest, there is a little piece of me that wishes this snow came in March leaving April looking a little more ‘springy’. Be that as it may - there really is “No Place Like Home,” and I, for one, am always thankful I can call Elk Lake HOME!

Lady of the Lake