Monday, September 19, 2011

animal sightings report: a Sunday afternoon in Yellowstone

Yesterday we decided after church to drive down to Yellowstone: Josh had told me about the beautiful and strange sound of elk calls, and we needed to get down to the park while the elk were still feeling romantic. Lucky for us, it was a romantic day for the animals of this national park.

Here are some things we did not have: a camera, binoculars, sighting scope, video camera, jackets.

Here are supplies we picked up at the grocery store: carrots, apples, ginger ale, Better Cheddars, cheap sandwich cookies (because Josh said you have to have them on a trip to Yellowstone).

Here are the animals we saw between 1:30 and 6:30 p.m. (I kept a tally on my map):
  • bears (probable): 3, from a distance, at least two probably black bears
  • buffalo/bison: I counted 6, and then a huge herd, and then lost count because there were so many in the park, but the last memorable pairs were
    • two by a river feeling quite amorous
    • a mama and little one nursing by another stream, but it looked like the mama was weaning the little one--after a little while, she nudged it toward the grass, and then spun around in circles to make her point clear, and then they were both eating grass
  • coyote: 1, in a field! pouncing on some prey!
  • grizzly bears: 3, up close, as in 40 yards or less (we stayed in the car)! A mama and two cubs crossing the street and then climbing a hill covered in fallen logs close to the West Thumb of Yellowstone Lake! Their ambling steps made the fir on their haunches all silvery in the light.
  • deer: quite a few as dusk descended
  • birds: a lot
  • people: so very many, speaking all sorts of languages, some wearing mittens, many with massive cameras, and many evincing ridiculously risky behaviors to get a good shot
  • moose: 0 (sad face--my one unrealized hope)
  • elk: for most of the drive, I  kept close track: first we saw 2 across a stream, one of them a spike. Then we saw a cow (that's a girl elk) in a stand of trees by a geyser basin. Walking back from the basin, we heard this eerie, beautiful, musical sound. It was a bull elk's love song. If I were an explorer 150 years ago, I would have thought there were fairies in the forest. Then, driving along, we found the probable cause of his song: a harem of lovely cow elk, sitting and eating on both sides of the road. After that, I lost track. When we arrived in Mammoth Hot Springs, the last developed area before the park's North Entrance, traffic slowed and then stopped. It took us a while to realize that there were two bull elk bugling and locking horns in the field to our left! And then as our eyes adjusted to the dusk, we realized that there were maybe two dozen elk in the grassy areas outside the lodge and restaurant. Rangers were keeping people back, but it was all lovely fun. We parked and went inside to use the restrooms, and when we came out the excitement levels were rising: the harem was crossing the street, mamas nudging little ones along, and the bull elk was running at other bull elk, and eventually at cars, to protect his ladies and babies. It was pretty thrilling getting out of there.
And that was our Sunday afternoon in Yellowstone. I guess it's not that typical to see so many bears, so that's a highlight. Also, I can't get the elk music out of my head. You can look up elk calls on YouTube, but I promise, it's much more mysteriously lovely in person.

Also, hint hint, we are now proud owners of an annual pass. Visit us.

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