Sunday, December 16, 2018

Yellowstone Trip: Part 2 (Scenes and wildlife from Yellowstone)

As mentioned in Part 1 of the journey, I was not sure exactly what to expect out of Yellowstone. Upon entering the park, I realized the great diversity in landscapes, habitats, and animals. One part of the park had the ability to look completely different from another part of the park. There were mountains, valleys, canyons, rivers, waterfalls, lakes, areas of geothermic activity (I have more to say on geothermic activity in a future post). It was all beautiful in its own kind of way, but my favorite scenery was Trout Lake at sunset (first picture below). It was spectacular and surreal. High elevation lakes continued to be one of my favorite views throughout the trip. Meadows were a close second if not a tie.

Not only did the geology of Yellowstone vary drastically, but the weather did too. Before heading to Yellowstone, David reassured me that although it would be chilly at night, it would be a “dry cold” and would not feel all that cold. It felt cold. As soon as the sun went down, I braced myself for about 12 hours of misery. Perhaps I am being dramatic, but I'll let you decide with the following pictures. This was taken in August! August!!! First for me! Although beautiful, we fortunately camped just a little lower in elevation than this. It was a close call though.

Although each night was spent with some level of discomfort, the days made it well worth it! Some days we spent more time driving around looking at wildlife and scenery. Other days we spent hiking and fishing. Our search for wildlife yielded many good sightings. Some sightings were easy. For example, there were bountiful herds of bison. Bison in a field. Bison in a river. Bison on the side of the road looking in your window. Bison in the middle of the road creating up to two mile buffalo jam. Grown bison. Baby bison. Bison. Buffalo. Bison. I'll share a good buffalo story in an upcoming post.

Another common sighting was pronghorn antelope and elk.

And check out this handsome coyote!
And this elegant pair of trumpeter swans!
Then there were other really common sightings such as ravens and red squirrels. I think they were pretty fantastic though. I had not seen ravens before and could not get over how big they were compared to crows. And squirrels...squirrels are always fun.

Other sightings were more difficult and/or too far away to capture without an expensive, fancy camera. The best sighting was wolves! The first wolf sightings were so far away. Even with binoculars, they looked like black blobs moving. One particular evening, however, we got a special treat. We were driving through the Lamar Valley looking for wildlife with our friends Michael and Julie. Michael got a tip-off from a wolf watcher (the kind with the nice scopes) that a pack of eight wolves were heading down the valley. We took off racing against nightfall. We parked near the river where the wolves would hopefully cross. Indeed, we got the chance to see a few of the pack members cross. They were mostly black wolves, but a gray wolf was also spotted. Through the binoculars we could tell just how big of puppy dogs these guys really were. It will remain a fantastic memory.

Wolves are cool, but what people are really afraid of in Yellowstone are the grizzly bears. I'm pretty much not afraid of our black bears here in Tennessee, but I had lots of questions about grizzly bears, their aggressiveness, what to do if we saw one, what to do if attacked, etc. The reality that we were in bear country really set in on our Pebble Creek hike where we saw trees with claw marks at least six feet high. It was then I began rehearsing our action plan in worst case scenarios and became more eager to chime in with David as we walked calling, “Hey bear!”

We never did see a bear out hiking. We really did not see much in terms of large wildlife while out hiking with the exception of a large bull elk who spooked and switch backed up a hill in front of us. We did see wildlife from the road, including grizzly bears. Again, Michael was responsible for giving us a tip-off on a grizzly location. Twice we drove to where the kill was to see the bears. The first time we saw one bear. The second time we saw two bears where the second was biding its time until it had the opportunity to get in on the action...or lack was a dead bison after all. Again, lack of a fancy camera prevented a good picture, but here you can somewhat make out a bear through my phone and binoculars combo.

Now back to some other common sightings. As I mentioned, we had the opportunity to do some hiking while in Yellowstone. A common sighting on these hikes was David fishing of course!

I did some fishing as well. In fact, I may have even experienced my first disappointment over a missed fish. We were fishing on the Yellowstone River and I had the biggest fish I've ever caught on the line, a Yellowstone Cutthroat. I was listening to David as he tried talking me through the fight. Things such as "let it go!" "reel! reel! reel!" "let it go!" Then I heard David say some words. I didn't know what was happening, but all of a sudden the fight was over and there was nothing on my line anymore. Apparently, an even bigger fish came and got on the line also and they both broke off as a result. It was a sad moment. I did enjoy the fishing over all though. Of course, I'm never as passionate about fishing as David, so I would often just watch, look around at flowers, critters, etc. For example, I found myself intrigued by this bee and flower. It was on there as we passed by and still there when we headed back again at least an hour later.

David also found what we believe is a horn of some sort.
So many more animals and sights were enjoyed while we were out exploring and driving around that were never documented and have simply started fading out of memory unfortunately. In my next post, however, I will share some other memorable sights and events that won't leave the memory too quickly.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Yellowstone Trip: Part 1

Two weeks ago, we returned from a trip I have always wanted to do an now feel blessed for having been able to do. I'm not sure what I was expecting out of Yellowstone, but it just seemed like a cool place to visit, to see wildlife especially. With my personal tour guide/loving husband leading the way, the trip far exceeded expectations. I wanted to share all in one post, but it really was too big of a trip to summarize concisely. If I had to summarize though, I would say the west is a wild, wide, and desolate wonder. For those interested in a more detailed version, I am breaking the trip down into different parts. I hope to post more parts as I have time over the next couple weeks. My plan is to highlight the cool things we saw at various places including landmarks, scenery, animals, and maybe an interesting story thrown in the mix.

We started in the evening on August 22 and drove through the night. A little stress, anticipation, Taco Bell, and sitting upright all night meant misery in Missouri and bad times in the Badlands. You have to have one bad experience, right? It all seems like a distant memory now, and the good memories have taken over mostly. As we left the east, I watched as the landscape flattened, emptied, rolled, filled, and emptied again. Our first stop was Badlands National Park in South Dakota. It felt like we were just cruising along, 80mph in some places, then all of a sudden there were badlands. Although I was reaching the climax of my discomfort at this point, I was able to enjoy this strange landscape. This was also perhaps the first interesting mammal spotting, bighorn sheep.

From the Badlands, we drove to the Black Hills and spent the night. The following morning we visited Mt. Rushmore and headed on to Wyoming for Devils Tower and our first night of camping in the Bighorn Mountains. Devils tower is another example of an abrupt landscape change. It seems so random! Below Devils tower, we got to see a bunch of prairie dogs. I'm sure they are pests to those who live in the area, but they are so cute!

In the Bighorn Mountains, I witnessed several new things. First, I witnessed free-range cattle and cattle guards in the roads. I will insert here that I had some misconceptions about Wyoming and cattle stemming from the song "Get Along Little Dogies." I assumed cattle to be abundant, but alas the sparsely brush covered hills are nutrient scarce, requiring more range per cow than I am accustomed to. Second, I witnessed what I thought was a momentary lapse in judgment in my husband who decided to make the cows get off the road. His excuse? He didn't want to hear cars honking at them all night (debatable). His technique? Run at them, throw some rocks, yell at them. Was he successful? Mostly. Meanwhile, I was somewhat apprehensive and stricken with slightly irrational thoughts. After all, these are free range cattle. They might not be as predictable as Tennessee cows, a bit more fierce perhaps.

After camping Friday night next to a man who talked to himself and had a Doberman with questionable temperament, we got up to go explore the Medicine Wheel. Here, I experienced mild elevation sickness for the first time. It was well worth it though because we got to see a pika!!!! It was by far my favorite animal of the trip I believe. I thought the prairie dogs were my favorite until I saw that little pika. Can there be anything cuter? We also saw some yellow-bellied marmots at the Medicine wheel which were also cute.

As thoughts about pikas and marmots were running through my head as we headed back to camp, something caught my eye...some horse trailers and some very excited dogs. Could it be? David answered my unspoken thought with "I bet it is a cattle roundup." We got to see the whole shebang. Cowboys, cowgirls, herding dogs (Australian shepherds and border collies), horses, and of course cows. This was such an exhilarating experience to me that I considered moving to Wyoming to become a cowgirl, but my dislike of the cold and being a vegetarian brought me back to reality.

From here it was on to Yellowstone! More pictures and long narratives to come!