Late Sept/early Oct. trip

Share your latest adventure in Yellowstone.

Moderators: Bruce, DPS

Post Reply
Posts: 135
Joined: Sat Jul 29, 2017 7:45 pm

Late Sept/early Oct. trip

Post by Dorothy »

Well, I missed getting a report in for our June trip, so I thought I'd try to get something quick in for our Fall trip.

We had a GREAT time! The weather was mostly lousy, at least what people would probably call lousy (most of the time we had rain or snow or both, and it was mostly quite cold), but the parks were lovely and we saw a lot of wildlife and everyone was SO nice and fun to talk to. We talked to folks from all over the country and several foreign countries -- fun stuff!

So, a quick overview of some of the things we saw -- leaves were changing, so both park were pretty (not peak, perhaps, but beautiful) and coming home through our local canyon in Utah it was like a garden. SO lovely!

We started out Friday (Sept. 28) at Market Lake in Idaho -- have really enjoyed that little wildlife management area since we heard about it a few years ago. It was pretty -- quite a few nice ducks, found one of the owls in the little wooded area where they raised 3 babies this summer, and got lost in some of the back dirt roads. Oh, well, made it through, spotted a really pretty hawk on the way out and had a nice time.

On to Yellowstone. Some elk on the way in from West Yellowstone, and then waited just down the way from Madison Junction, as were told that a griz with a couple of cubs had been out there (a carcass down in the meadow) and would likely be back out to eat some more (we'd missed the last appearance by about 45 minutes). Waited for about 45 minutes but no go and still had to get to Gardiner, so left. Sigh. But didn't feel so bac about that when we saw a BIG grizzly in the trees as we were going across the road between Norris and Canyon and were just outside of Canyon. SUCH fun to spot a bear so soon after entering the park. (People have always said there are grizzlies around Norris and between Norris and Canyon, but we'd never seen much of anything along that stretch of road, so this was REALLY something for us!) He moved around a bit before moving up in the trees and disappearing. A coyote near the Petrified Tree. A big bull elk and several cows at Mammoth, so a great "first day" even though we got into the park a bit late. Only bad thing was my camera was acting up -- I couldn't get the auto focus to auto focus (on my 70-300 canon lens). Stopped in a camera shop in West Yellowstone and the fellow there, after cleaning it a bit, thought it was the motor in the lens, rather than the camera body (it had been acting up a bit when I was at Great Smokey Mountain in Tennessee a few weeks earlier, but I thought it was just the humidity). Anyway, upshot was I rented an 18-400 Tamron lens for a couple of days (talk about lens envy! I REALLY want one of those now) and then just made do with the other lens once we dropped down into Grand Teton. Not a lot of truly excellent photos, but everything is photographed in my mind!).

Next day had a mix of snow and rain much of the day (it was pretty foggy heading down from Mammoth to Lamar), but great day, none-the-less. Saw a black bear with a cub on the hillside at the Petrified tree (yay! a grizzly and a black bear already on this trip.) There was a nice black bear on the side on the mountain near the Calcite overlook (right below where the mountain went straight up and very near the calcite formation). Fun to see one so close -- he was busily feeding. Got into Lamar and found a big group of people along the road and above the road -- apparently there was a LARGE pack of wolves (the Junctions? The Lamars? I forgot to ask) way across the way -- up to 13 were spotted at various times, but we mostly (with the help of generous people with spotting scopes, our own binocs and our cameras) were able to watch several black pups and a few black adults (and one or two gray adults) play around. They were in that same spot off and on throughout our stay -- not really close, but one of the best views of wolves we've had in our trips, so it was pretty exciting. We missed the pack chasing a grizzly one of the days, but did see them several times and were really excited about that. Mostly pretty fuzzy photos, even with the 400 lens, as they were a long way out, but still loads of fun.

Also had a chance to see a large herd of bison run across the road and then buck and kick and play around on the other side. Not a lot of "close" bison on this trip, so this was extra fun. A grizzly sow with a couple of second-year cubs on the side of the mountain heading out of Lamar Valley, so a lot of animal activity. Missed a grizzly sow with a cub near the bridge (but made up for that later). Decided to go over Dunraven, as we weren't sure it would be open all the time we were there, and saw a few elk and some swans down in Hayden before returning to Canyon to go back over Dunraven. Spotted some cars down the road toward Norris (and after that griz on the way in, HAD to check it out, of course! Turned out to be a really nice looking bison on a little rise -- we weren't that interested until we looked at him face-on. He had this weed frond hanging out of his mouth and a flower-type thing up toward the top of his head. A HIPPY bison! He was REALLY a nice-looking one and that little "flower in his hair" and his expression made him a perfect photo op! SUCH fun. A small herd of female/young mountain sheep at Calcite and a GREAT experience at Mammoth with the elk. It was cold and wet and kind of foggy at Mammoth when we got there and not much action going on, so we headed up toward the upper terrace, thinking we might go over the top to the Swan Lake Flats. BUT, it was snowing and cold and getting dim, so decided we'd rather wait for that and started back down. There was a small herd of elk on one side of the road and a BIG bull elk (he had obviously been digging his antlers into the ground, because he had big chunks of dirt and grass on his antlers. They ran across the road.

Back to Mammoth, the cows were up and there was a BIG bull there, rounding them up, bugling a LOT and giving us a good show. We watched there until we felt like we ought to get back to Gardiner before it got really dark. Just a little ways past the campground, ANOTHER herd of elk with ANOTHER really big bull. He was bugling a lot, too. Wow! Then, just before we got to the entrance station, ANOTHER herd with ANOTHER really bug bull. WOW, WOW! A great elk night, for sure!

Next day headed to Livingston on a VERY snowy morning for church and got back to get into the park about 2:30 or so. Lovely day with quite a bit of snow on the ground, but the roads were pretty good despite intermittent storms of snow and rain. Some really beautiful scenery moments, with snow-covered hills and trees and spots of fall colors and neat clouds. More wolf moments in Lamar (Dunraven was closed, so stayed in the northeast part of the park for the afternoon). Some lovely shots of various hawks in snow-covered trees. And FINALLY we were leaving Lamar and got to the little area where the grizzly sow with one cub had been hanging around when she was there. Nearly froze to death (forgot to put on gloves!) by staying way to long to watch here. She had the strangest-looking cub I've ever seen. It looked like it was a pinto! The mom, in various lights, had some mottling, and for sure a blond "saddle" across her shoulders, but this cub -- well, I could never get a good shot of him -- but he at times looked like he was basically white with a brown spot or saddle across his shoulders and another brown spot near his back end (or on one side). He looked different every time he changed position, and for some reason, I simply couldn't get a really clear shot. Best I could come up with is it has a dark head, with some white coming between its ears and across its neck, a big dark spot then a white "saddle,' then some light brown/black fur from there to its tail. And in one shot, when they were side-by-side, it seemed they had mostly the same markings, with the mom must being darker overall, but with the lighter colored neck, the dark "hump" and the lighter saddle, with a dark (but still with a lighter underneath layer) behind. Whatever -- it was an incredible-looking pair of bears! (Maybe the light was weird and I didn't have my settings on the borrowed lens right!).

More great elk moments in Mammoth, with some really fun "through the snow" shots of the bull bugling (yes, it was snowing).

Next day our last in Yellowstone -- saw a couple of coyotes, said goodbye to the wolves, then headed over to the Swan Lake Flats side of the park to go down to return the lens -- saw some pretty grey jays at Sheepeater (marmots must be hibernating by now :))!! More elk as we headed out to West Yellowstone, then back over to Hayden to head down the Grant Teton. Lots of birds on the waters (had to stop at LeHardy -- no Harlequins, of course, but a nice Merganzer). Just missed some pika just past Lewis Falls (I think I got a glimpse of one, but he scampered under a rock and no others came out -- some day!). A pretty reflection with lovely fall colors at Oxbow.

We were hoping to see bears along Moose-Wilson, but we seemed to have missed "berry season" by a few days -- we try to time it so we're not there at the height of the season (when they close the road a lot and then hurry people through when it IS open) but when there are still a few berries left, so we have a shot to see a few bears. Since there's never a sure time when berry season is at the right time, and this time we missed it. Oh, well. We DID see a lot of moose (which was another things we were hoping for). A cow and a small bull near the Gros Ventre overlook the first day, and a BIG bull, a smaller bull and three cows at the Gros Ventre campground the second day. But I was surprised at the people there -- obviously, a lot of folks taking photos, but several with really big, big lenses were literally chasing the big bull -- he was in the trees to start with and moved back in a ways, and a whole group of photogs ran down to within about maybe 10-15 yards of it and set up their cameras and snapped away. When he walked back and started up toward them, they moved a bit back, but when he moved toward the cows, they followed him to set up their cameras. When the smaller bull made an appearance and the big guy went to meet him, they were literally running after him and setting up cameras almost right in the faces of the two bulls. REALLY???? You have ENORMOUS lenses, you don't have to be that close to fill your frame with the moose! Nothing much happened -- a little posturing (I FINALLY got a shot of a moose "lip curl" (from about 30 or more yards back) and a bit of herding here and there, but the little guy knew he was outmatched. Such a fun "moose moment" for us -- we had really hoped to see a really BIG bull moose!

Before that, however, on Tuesday, we had a REAL treat -- a Great Grey Owl at Sawmill Pond. He was sitting on a small stump across the pond on a cold morning (with occasional rain/snow) and we were able to watch him for quite a while, then he flew down into the bottom of another tree where you could still see him, although not really well. WOW! We see quite a few Great Horned Owls, but almost never see a GGO, so this was really special. What a great moment for us! Also stopped in at Lupin Meadows and there were some Grey Jays in the trees, and one electric blue Stellar Jay that didn't give me a chance to get a photo of him. Rats!

Then, another highlight of our trip -- decided to head up Signal Mountain during one of the snowstorms. We had heard that they had had to close Signal Mountain a few times in the middle of September because the bears were up there eating berries and some really, really stupid people were feeding them to bring them closer. Of course, berries gone by now, but we were hoping, of course, to see a bear, but really not expecting to. Went up and looked out over the valley (couldn't see much, as it was foggy and snowy). On the way down, I was going carefully around the curves with nobody behind me (at that moment) when I looked ahead around the next curve and saw something brown on the road -- obviously, the back side of a bear. I alerted my sis (hey, there's a bear!) and went around the next curve and sure enough, there was a grizzly in the middle of the road. There was a car stopped coming the other way, in front of the bear (he was heading down). I pulled a bit off the road (a small pullout was convenient) and reached for my camera. By the time I got it up, the bear was moving off the road into the trees, and when two more cars stopped behind me, it ran (and I mean really RAN) up further into the trees and disappeared.

Wow! OK, I'd have loved to get a photo, but hey, this was a grizzly just a few feet in front of our car! It was so cool. And I was kinda relieved it ran and didn't try to approach either car for a handout. My sis and I were SO excited! It was the only bear we saw in GT, but wow, what a fun moment. I did think perhaps I should report it (considering the trouble they'd had in September), so I stopped at Colter Bay and told the rangers there there had been a grizzly on Signal Mountain (they seemed as happy as I was that the bear "booked it" out of there and didn't approach any of the cars. No photos, but a great grizzly moment!

The other highlight moment was on Wednesday before we left -- we decided to try Two Ocean Lake road (as we've had some success seeing bears and some other interesting things up there) -- and we had an AMAZING experience. There was a male ruffed grouse with several hens and the male was in full "display" mode -- he had his tail out and the big ruff around his neck completely displaying and was marching back and forth and approaching the hens -- a real mating dance. WOWOWOW -- we didn't expect to see "mating" behavior in the fall, but this guy was going all out -- SO beautiful. He didn't care a bit that we were there -- we watched for quite a while as he strutted around and the four or five hens mostly ignored him (until he approached one or two of them) and nibbled things along the road. Finally, another car stopped behind us and then another behind him -- they watched a bit then passed by, and when the second one passed by, the male finally left the road and went down into the brush. Another car came the other direction and wanted to know what we'd been photographing, and he was SO disappointed when we told him what he'd missed. When we came back down (after going up to the lake, taking a quick look and turning around), he was still there and said the male had been visible a few more moments, but was staying in the brush.

A truly magical moment -- you see that stuff on nature shows, but I never thought I'd see it in person!

Wrapped up our trip with a quick trip through Seedskadee on the way home (love that place!). Saw golden and bald eagles, prairie dogs,
pronghorn, various bluebirds and hawks, ducks and swans -- AND at least three (could be up to five) bull moose and a cow moose. A VERY Moosey trip!

Anyway, a very fun trip -- when we enter the parks, we always say, "well, we're in our happy place!" We DO love going and this was a truly magical trip.

Posts: 202
Joined: Tue Aug 01, 2017 5:54 pm

Re: Late Sept/early Oct. trip

Post by yellvet »

Dorothy, what an amazing trip....I'm so happy for you. I usually make a trip right after Labor Day but didn't go this year. Are you going to post some pix? Sure hope so because you really hit the jackpot....bears, birds and bison...oh my! Congratulations and many thanks for giving us such a great report! :)

Posts: 129
Joined: Fri Aug 04, 2017 8:50 pm

Re: Late Sept/early Oct. trip

Post by billandkaren »

Sounds like you had a fantastic trip. We were out from October 2-9 but not in the park all those days. We had some good looks at grizzlies and a fair look at the wolves. We may have seen the same grizzly near Canyon along the Norris to Canyon road, but we did not see a single moose! So congrats on getting those great looks and also on seeing the GGO.
Thanks for sharing1

Posts: 135
Joined: Sat Jul 29, 2017 7:45 pm

Re: Late Sept/early Oct. trip

Post by Dorothy »

Thanks for the responses! Yellvet, I'm trying to get a few photos downloaded (and then figure out how to post them). They aren't the really great ones that we get from the great photogs here, but they DO give me a nice record of my trips (and I LOVE taking photos). Billandkaren, how fun that you may have seen the same griz near Canyon. As I've never seen one there, it was a really special treat to see one there!

Posts: 165
Joined: Thu Jul 27, 2017 12:47 pm

Re: Late Sept/early Oct. trip

Post by lah »

Glad you had such a productive trip. Seeing a grizzly on the Norris/Canyon road is pretty cool, since it is rare to find much on that road.

Post Reply