Yellowstone/GT Oct. 1-6

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Yellowstone/GT Oct. 1-6

Post by Dorothy »

Had a GREAT trip to Yellowstone and Grand Teton early in October, and want to share a few highlights.

My sister and I had intended to take an old school friend of hers with us on this trip, but car troubles prevented that from happening, so it was just the two of us. We left very early on Thursday morning and decided to head up through Grand Teton on our way to Yellowstone, rather than head to West Yellowstone and head up to Gardiner from there (our hotel for the first few nights was in Gardiner).

We are SO glad we did!

We got into Jackson about 9:30 a.m. or so and decided to head over to the Gross Ventre campground to see if there were any moose around. We laughed when we saw the sign that said "if you're looking for moose, park at the Amphitheater" and then go on foot from there (trying to keep people from parking along the road and in people's camp sites. Obviously, we weren't the only people who head there to look for moose! We drove around a couple of the loops a few times but saw nothing ... asked a worker if there had been moose around, he pointed us to a specific loop or two and we tried them again -- people were looking around the trees near the river, but nothing in sight, so we headed back toward the entrance. As we were passing the amphitheater and sis said, "I think there's a moose there." We parked in the amphitheater parking lot and sure enough, there was a very big bull moose heading straight toward the seating area. We stood in the seating area and watched him come straight at the area, go around the seats and head back down toward the river. WOW! What a great moment -- it was awesome! And we laughed again as we saw that sign again -- doubt that those who put those up expected them to be QUITE so literally true -- if you are looking for moose, park at the amphitheater! :)

After a quick trip across Mormon Row (some nice pronghorn) we headed to Moose-Wilson to see what was to be seen -- and there was a bear to be seen! A black bear (well, a brown black bear) was moving near the road as we went up, but there was no place to stop. After a trip back down and then up, it had climbed a hawthorn tree and was busily eating berries. Managed to find a pullout about a quarter mile away and walked back up to watch from across the road. He was a VERY active bear and showed himself many times in the upper part of the tree as he reached for more food. We had a GREAT time watching him.

Some lovely fall colors around Jackson Lake as we looked hopefully for a glimpse of 399 and her cubs (have managed to miss her every trip we've taken this year, and wanted to see her and the cubs SO badly), but nothing -- no 399, no other griz. Oh well, what a great day it had been already so we couldn't complain.

We stopped in at Colter Bay to visit the bathroom. Parked across the way, rather than going around and parking in the bus area (which we'd done last trip, as there were few people in the parking lot and it was closer!). When we got back in the car headed down to the first place to turn around and head back and there was a woman on one side of the road and a man on the sidewalk with a camera pointed toward the parking area. I figured he was seeing something -- maybe a squirrel or a grouse or something -- and didn't want to scare his subject, so I moved VERY slowly around the corner. As I moved forward a bit, I could see it WAS a squirrel, but a closer look was that it was a dead squirrel that was being dragged across the parking lot by ... A WEASEL! We were SO excited! I had a quick glimpse of a weasel several years ago as he darted across some rocks, but my sister had never seen one and we'd been longing to see one. And here was one in a parking lot! I was sure it would dart off, and it did, into a wooded area near the visitor's center, but it kept dashing back out to drag that squirrel closer to the woods. The squirrel was bigger than it was, but it managed.
We got out (leaving the car in the middle of the turnaround place -- just SO excited that we didn't even think -- the only defense is there was room on either side of the car to get around it, and more turnaround places up further in the parking lot, and almost no cars around -- in fact, no car came along until after I'd recovered my senses and moved the car into a parking spot! :) and took up positions to watch the weasel. It finally managed to get the squirrel into the woods and stashed it under a log, then darted around, disappearing then reappearing around the wooded area. SO much fun! It caught a mouse or something small, and stashed that in a different place and eventually ran toward the water (Colter Bay).

What a magical experience. I didn't get a lot of great photos (it was in and out of sunlight and moved VERY quickly), but a couple of nice ones (one of it on its hind legs standing on a rock -- it's from the back, of course (sigh), but it's SO slim it's must amazing) and some pretty good ones of it with the squirrel -- WARNING, some of these photos may be disturbing! I got several of the squirrel -- being dragged by the weasel -- face on and it is definitely dead and some you can see the little tongue sticking out -- ewwww. But that's nature!

We just couldn't stop smiling all the way up to Yellowstone. WHAT a day, and we hadn't even arrived in Yellowstone yet. SO glad we came up through GT!

Saw swans on the way up through Hayden, but no bears or wolves. Nothing else (other than bison) until Mammoth, then some fun elk action with a couple of big bulls and many cows. But also a really scary and frustrating moment. The biggest bull was patroling the the grassy area between the main road and the road in front of the visitor center. As I was heading toward a parking place near the visitor's center, the big bull crossed the street toward the hotel after a stray cow. And there was a couple with a small child (probably between 4 and 6 years) walking in that grassy area near the hotel (I didn't see if they came around the corner from the back or had come from the steps of the hotel) and heading toward the cow ("here, sweetie, let's go over and pet the nice elk!") The bull was headed toward the cow, but when he saw the trio, he headed straight toward them. The rangers were screaming in their megaphones "GET BEHIND THE TREE" and the trio did so, but the nearest tree was a skinny one that would not stop that elk from getting to them if it wanted to. And it seemed to want to, but the tree slowed it down a bit. I didn't see the next few moments, as I was paying attention to parking, but I heard the megaphones and the sirens and the bullhorns as the rangers tried to stop the bull's charge. When I looked over again, the elk had retreated a few yards away from the tree and a ranger had run over and grabbed the folks and herded them back to the hotel steps.

Yikes! That elk could have seriously hurt (or even killed) and one or all three of those folks, doing nothing but what came naturally. How STUPID can you be, to be walking around ANY elk (even "just" the cow) but especially around a bull elk in the rut. And to take a child out there, too! I don't know what happened to the folks who did this, but I hope they were scared straight AND I hope they were fined (that helps the memory, for sure). Everyone around us was simply furious with the people, and so grateful nobody was hurt.

Another elk herd (with another big bull) as we neared Gardiner, and a few mountain sheep on the road down to Gardiner, so by the time we ended our about 13-hour day we were exhausted but SO happy. If we saw nothing else the rest of the trip, it had been a great animal trip!

The elk were at rest when we drove through Mammoth the next morning early, so we headed toward Lamar. A ways past the bridge, we got an "escort" into the park. Many times, we've had a bison escort as we've come into the park -- a big bison walking on the side of the road or IN the road to "escort" us into the park -- but this time, it was a black bear! Just before the Undine Falls pullout, there were brake lights ahead around a corner, and as we joined the small 3-4 car line and looked over and there was a bear walking along the side of the road. Everyone gave it plenty of room, and it came into the middle of the road, looked over to the other side as if considering if it wanted to cross, then decided not to and moved back to the same side of the road, walked along the road a bit longer and then walked into the woods.

Welcome to Yellowstone!

MANY bison on the way through Lamar (we got into 4-5 "bison jams" during our trips in and out of the valley) and ... WOLVES on the hillside just past the Yellowstone Institute. Yes, they were a ways away, but with binocs and a zoom lens, they were VERY watchable and we were able to get a few decent photos. WHAT fun! We saw 8 or 10 of them out there. We watched for awhile and really enjoyed it. Then on to Pebble Creek (no moose) and we decided to go on up to Cooke City, then went about 20 miles up Beartooth Highway. Some lovely colors, but not much wildlife (well, some "wild" cows on the road, along with, in one case, a cowboy on a horse with a dog!) and a gray jay enjoying some road kill.

More wolves on the way back through Lamar, and then we decided to try to head down toward West Yellowstone for a few hours. Again, nothing much wildlife-wise, but we happened to head through Firehole Lake Drive at just the right time to see Fountain Geyser go off. What fun! More elk in Mammoth and we took the "old" road from Mammmoth to Gardiner and enjoyed the views and glimpses of elk, mountain sheep (on the top of the cliffs on the other side). Some nice view of the full Harvest Moon, too. Another great day.

A coyote crossed the road in front of us the next morning, then there was a fox in the grass (and later crossing the road) a little later. After another look at wolves once we got to Lamar, we had a "three dog day" (isn't that what Max calls it?). That was fun! Bison, pronghorns, hawks and more fun elk action -- and a late bluebird along the "old" road -- rounded out the day.

Mountain sheep bid us goodbye the next day as we headed toward Mammoth for the last time this trip. More elk at Mammoth, swans in Hayden, along with some coyotes (at one point, a lone coyote down by the river was called a wolf by a VERY excited tourist. I gently thanked him for pointint it out but said it was a coyote -- "No, it's a WOLF" he insisted, so I just thanked him again and moved on. Why rain on his parade? (But brought to mind a VERY excited tourist along the early part of Moose-Wilson road one evening when we were headed back. We had seen a deer with twin fawns earlier in the day, so when we came back through that little patch of trees before you get to the Murie turnoff and saw a couple of cars pulled over and a fellow walking over to the side, we figured we knew what he'd say when we asked what he was seeing. He very excitedly said, "There are two SMALL ELK down there!" Couldn't bear to rain on HIS parade, so we thanked him and drove off and simply laughed and laughed -- wonder when they'll grow into BIG elk!?!?) Some merganzers, young female harlequins AND an American DIpper at LeHardy, and some grouse and squirrels (which had survived the weasel) and chipmunks at the Colter Bay parking lot (will have to always take a turn through that now -- there was a weasel there once, and if we go there often enough, there may be a weasel there again!). A bull moose quite a ways out near Sawmill Pond, and that ended our first day back in Grand Teton!

Monday we headed to the Gross Ventre campground early, and were treated to a nice "moose" show, with several moms with this year's calves (bulls not going to get much fun out of them) and three bulls -- one VERY big one, on BIG one and one pretty small one. At one point the VERY big one and the BIG on headed straight toward each other ... what would happen? Nothing -- they moseyed right past each other without even a glance at each other! A very active black black bear along Moose Wilson. Again, found a decent parking place and walked back to where the rangers were letting people stand across the road to watch and had a wonderful time watching the bear in the trees -- one of the trees he was in was a really nice red one so the photos were gorgeous. As we were standing there, a nice lady was talking to us (she worked in Wilson) and we noted we were really hoping to see 399, as we'd missed her thus far (we refereed to 399 as "her" and she said, no, the bear was not a "she" or a "her," she was "THE QUEEN!") Anyway, she was apparently in touch with some bear trackers, because she said she had heard 399 was approaching the Jackson Lake dam. After a few more minutes watching the bear in the tree, we decided to head to the Jackson Lake dam -- and as we crossed it, there were a bunch of cars in the river access area. We pulled in and found a place to park and sure enough, 399 and the cubs were across the river. After a walk over the gravel trail along our side of the river, we set up with many others and watched the quintet as they all fed in the meadow across the river. We saw VERY little of cub heads, as they spent most of their time with heads down, feeding. Got a few photos of 399 with her head up (looking at the photos after, we thought 399 looked a bit "spent" -- like a 24-year-old bear that's had 4 voracious cubs draining her all summer. The cubs are round and fat and healthy looking, but we're hoping 399 can put on a bit more weight so SHE can get through the winter, too). It was SO much fun to finally be able to see her and all four cubs! A crowning moment of the trip.

We stayed as long as we could stand (about an hour) then moved on (understood she did finally cross the river about 1.5 hours later, but nobody we talked to saw her after that). Saw some spruce grouse up on Signal Mountain (at least, that's what the other folks who were watching them called them) and another moose later in the day.

Our last morning included several moose on Moose-Wilson (didn't try the campground this time around) and near the visitor center parking lot, another bear in the tree along Moose-Wilson, and a bald eagle at Cattleman Bridge (understood there had been moose, otters and 610 crossing with her 2 grown cubs at various times through the previous day or two).

Then homeward bound. We actually got home before dark!

What a GREAT trip. We were tired (spent 10-14 hours in the car every day), but oh so happy. Gorgeous scenery, many animal encounters ... and a WEASEL! AND 399. Can't get much better than that.

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Re: Yellowstone/GT Oct. 1-6

Post by karenandbill »

Dorothy, Wow! What a great trip. We are so glad you got to see 399 and her quads as well as all the other stuff. 399 is actually looking better lately than she was earlier in the summer. For all 4 cubs to have survived and look so good is a true testament to her abilities as a mother. Sure hope she makes it for a few more years.

You really seem to hit the jackpot along Moose-Wilson Rd on every trip. We have seen little the times we traveled it this summer. Good for you!

That was quite the experience with the weasel also. I know what you mean about the tourists who show no common sense. It must be frustrating for the rangers as well.

Exactly where is Cattleman's bridge? I'm not familiar with that location. Karen says she thinks it is at the end of the dirt road near Oxbow Bend. Is she correct?

Thanks for sharing the report of your trip. Sounds like you had a great time.

Bill and Karen

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Re: Yellowstone/GT Oct. 1-6

Post by Dorothy »

Thanks Karen and Bill. It WAS a great trip, and we were so excited to finally get a glimpse of 399 and her famous quads. Really hoping she makes it through the winter and is able to mother the four through the next summer. And, of course, hope she continues on. Just such a special bear. And we're still smiling about that weasel! And truly, Moose-Wilson has been very kind to us this year!

Karen's right about Cattleman's Bridge. It the only road between Oxbow and the Jackson Lake Dam junction. If you're coming from Jackson Lake Lodge (or from the dam and turn right at the junction), it will be on your right just past the "T" sign signaling a road intersecting the main road. It's a gravel road and can be really bumpy at times, and it gets very narrow at times. It leads right down to the river and there are usually several fishermen, kayakers and/or hikers or wildlife enthusiasts at the end where there's a small parking area. We've seen eagles (sometimes in the trees across the river, sometimes on the island across the way with fish kills), moose, merganzers, and a stray beaver once, but have heard of a lot more things that we've never quite been in time for. In the fall (like when we were there) there are several really gorgeous patches of trees with orange, yellow and red leaves (saw a woodpecker in the trees once). We try to go down to the end of it (and it's not very long) at least once each trip, and usually end up going 2-3 times. We often come away with no animal sightings, but as mentioned in the report, it's a great place for wildlife as long as you happen to be there when they are there!

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