Monday, October 14, 2013

Chasing the Bugles

I'm a bit of a list maker.  I love to make lists and cross things off.  One of the lists I made before I headed out here was of things I knew I wanted to do while I was here.  A couple of Saturdays ago, we got up REALLY EARLY so that I could cross something off my list.   Yellowstone National Park does a free weekend in the spring and the fall and we decided to take advantage of that to search for some elk bugling.  Thank goodness we went the weekend that we did, since the next week, the government shut down closed the park!

Since it was so early, We threw the girls in the car with their pjs on and let them sleep the two hours from Columbus to Gardner.  Side note- once you pack your clothes bag, don't decide to take something vital out-  like pants- otherwise you might have to wear your pink monkey pj pants all day!  (Although I'm not really sure Addy minded!)  I packed my camera along with my phone (which is camera number 1 these days)  and let Bailey fill in some pics along the way as well.  (Several of these are hers, not mine!)  

Snoozin' on down the road
 Right around 7 am, we were headed into Gardner when we spotted the first and largest herd of elk we saw all day.  There were about 4 or 5 bulls in the heard of about 80 cows.  There was a hunter up on the hill behind us trying to call them up to him, so they were all stirred up and running around crazy.  But it was awesome!  That was actually the only time we heard them bugle all day... so it started out the day on a great note!

blurry, but you get the drift
The bulls weren't really fighting at that time, but they were trying to keep all the cows corralled up and away from whatever was calling them up the hill.  We sat in the car and watched for a while, then I decided I should climb out and take some pictures... from the far side of the car!  Elk are just a little smaller than an average horse... and those antlers are pretty massive... I didn't really want to get TOO close!  

Jeremy, our spotter and informational source, said that there used to be herds of hundreds of elk before they released wolves back into the park.  Now, the wolves keep them thinned down pretty good.  (Almost too good in my opinion!)  This pic of the bulls might just be my favorite one of the day.  If only it had been a little bit brighter!   

The Protectors

After watching for a bit, we headed on into Gardner where we had breakfast at the Town Cafe.  I must have been thinking about my Momma, because corn beef hash was on the menu and I had to have it!

This was my second time visiting the park near Gardner, and I must say, it was way more fun with someone else driving!  Especially when they're a pretty good tour guide!  We stopped at Mammoth Hot Springs at the visitors center so we could get National Park Passports for the girls and I could get mine stamped!  If you like visiting National Parks, Historic Sites and things like that, these are awesome!  There's a list of all the national park system sites by region, a map with their locations and plenty of space to keep track of visits you make!  There's also a kids companion with Junior Ranger Activities and places to write down wildlife, plants and other things you see during your visit.  (I know, I know... nerdy, but fun!) 

That weekend was also the first time it snowed in Yellowstone this fall.  You could see white up on the mountain tops, and as we drove, we hit a couple of flurries. There was even enough snow when we stopped to look at some of the geysers to make a snowball or two!  (which may or may not have gotten thrown!)

Jeremy & Addison enjoying a little steam
Buffalo (Or Bison as Bailey corrected us)  are plentiful in the park... almost to the point that you get immune to the excitement when you see them.  We passed several, including this handsome fellow, on the drive down from Mammoth to West Yellowstone.  There's a lot of warm pockets caused by the geothermal activity in the area and they are pretty quick to find them when it begins to get cold.  

Also sighted on the way to West Yellowstone was this young bull.  According to Jeremy, he was about 2 years old (I hope I'm telling this right).  He had a couple of cows grazing along with him, but I was more interested in the one with horns!  Note... we were sitting in the car when we took this picture... since the elk was about 6 feet away!

We made two stops in West Yellowstone...well 3 if you count getting gas!  The first was at the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center.  Since sighting bears and wolves in the park aren't super common, we decided to increase our wildlife count the easy way!  We also got to see some bald eagles, a hoot owl and golden eagles while we were there!  (Attention any LOTR fans... yes... golden eagles are real... and while they might not be as large as they were in the movie, they are definitely larger than the bald ones!
Grizzly... name forgotten! 

White Wolf
FYI... Wolves and Grizzlies are a pretty big issue for stock owners and hunters out here.  In fact, there are some pretty heated debates happening between environmentalists and the other side about the proper way to manage these predators who are at the top of the food chain and don't have any competition to keep their numbers in check.

Bear Riders
 We had to take a picture on this carved bear!  Our second stop in West was the Timberline cafe for some lunch.  Keeping in mind it's a tourist town, the food was hot, and pretty reasonably priced.  Bailey & I had hot open-faced turkey sandwiches, Addy had chili and J&J had some pretty yummy looking burgers & fries!

After lunch & a quick gas stop, we headed back into the park.  We made it back to Mammoth and ran into this handsome fellow just wandering around.  While we were driving around, one of the rangers, kept yelling at vehicles " KEEP MOVING, HE CHARGES CARS!!!"  Of course, our question was, if he charges cars, what keeps him from charging the rangers on foot?  (crazy people!)  

And now comes the part of the day that I have absolutely no pictures to prove.  One thing you will learn when you visit the park is that any kind of wildlife sighting will cause a traffic jam on the very narrow roads.  Its frustrating when the traffic jam is for something like buffalo, which are everywhere!  But you almost have to stop, because if you don't, you will probably miss something super cool!  We stopped three times to check out what a group of people staring at and were seriously rewarded each time!  Two grizzly bears and a black bear!! They were all so far away that we needed the binoculars to see them, but we did see them!  (obviously, camera 1 and camera 2 were not powerful enough!)  (Side Note:  anyone who wants to contribute to the Katie's new digital camera with telephoto lens fund, feel free!)   

While we were stopped looking for the second grizzly bear, we spotted a some other wildlife in the area.  Out on the Lamar Valley, there was a coyote hunting something, which I will assume was a prairie dog (we couldnt see that one).  While we were watching, it jumped straight up in the air and dive bombed the ground just like you see on nature shows!  There were also several antelope bucks in the area and they were evidently beginning the rut.  This fellow ran across the road right behind my car to run off two other bucks!  

The Antelope that ran right out behind our car! 
 I absolutely love to look out over the country and see the mountains, especially when they've got a fresh coat of white on the tips!  They're beautiful all the time, but at their best when covered with the snow!

We finished out a very long day by traveling back over Dead Indian Pass, (which is a story for another day) and ended up home around 9:00 pm.  The only major wildlife I have yet to find are a moose, and a mountain lion.  (Although truthfully, I'm really not sure I want to meet up with the mountain lion... they're pretty fierce!)

Until Next Time!

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