Saturday, September 26, 2015

Yellowstone, Because It's Not on Fire

Yellowstone, the alternate destination.
After we left West Glacier, the master plan called for driving around to East Glacier where we were supposed to meet up with Paul and Ruth again for a week.  A couple of things made this unwise.  First of all, Paul and Ruth were back in Washington after Paul developed some increase in his back problems.  They will hopefully get back on the road later this summer.  Second, you will recall that East Glacier is still actively burning, making it a less than desirable destination.  Our ultimate goal was to get to our rental house in the Black Hills about the time the last scheduled tenants for the summer left at the end of August.  We were perfectly happy to take a leisurely drive across Montana, but even we can't drive that slowly.  We had some time to kill.  So we called around and managed to get ourselves a week long camping spot in Gardiner, at the north entrance to Yellowstone.

Group of bison ogling a herd of tourists
We were last in Yellowstone in 2010 and spent a week (half in West Yellowstone and half in Gardiner)  and we went just about everyplace you could go on 4 wheels so we didn't feel we desperately had to see everything again this trip.  We mostly wanted to do some wildlife viewing and were not particularly interested in breathing the sulfur fumes down in the geyser basins.  The one place we did not go the last time was the Lamar Valley, in the far north east corner of the park, so on the first day that's where we headed.  It turned out this was bison country. 

Pairing off
Now normally bison wander in segregated herds, the females congregating in larger groups than the males.  But August is the mating month and they all come together in one big happy buffafamily.  Males and females do some dancing around each other and gradually pair off.  Here you can see a large male staying close to his chosen sweetheart.  Does he protect her?  Provide for her?  Bring home the buffabacon?  Well no, not really.  He is mainly there to drive away competitors while waiting for her to go fully into estrus.  Then he will do his best to get a new little buffalo started before he bolts back to join his brethren and tell bawdy stories about his male conquest for eleven months.  Raising the kids?  That's her problem.  Life is good for the male bison.
How romantic
A lone pronghorn comes to the party "stag".

The elk mate in September, so we were a little early for that show.  The males were all up in the mountains somewhere preparing  their head mounted weaponry for battle, but the females were hanging out around Mammoth Hot Springs and the Gardiner River posing for pictures.  You can see a few here.

Elk cows hanging around Mammoth Hot Springs
Lunch time

Calf crossing the Gardiner River

Out on the prowl
We did drive over to West Yellowstone and visited the Bear and Wolf Discovery Center.  In the old days, of course, you couldn't visit Yellowstone without seeing a dozen bears sitting on the edge of the road begging for tourist handouts.  But now that such interaction is strongly discouraged,  it is pretty uncommon to see bears out and about in the park.  The Discovery Center has about a dozen grizzly bears that, for one reason or another, can't live in the wild.  The most common reason is that they became accustomed to humans at some point and are now considered too dangerous to roam at will.  Rather than just shoot them, they are adopted by the center so we tourists still have a way to get our grizzly fix.  About once an hour the keepers hide food around the display enclosure, then let out a couple of the bears to "forage".  Of course, the bears have learned all the hiding places and they know that if there isn't anything in hiding place A this time around, there is sure to be something in hiding place B or C, so they just methodically make the rounds.  At least it brings them up close to the audience side of the enclosure for a good look, and they are impressive to look at.
Dozens of crows fly in to steal their share of bear food
Grey wolf
There is a similar routine with the grey wolves but there are fewer of them and they only eat a couple of times a day, so you need to be there at just the right time.  The center also has a few eagles and other raptors and, for god only knows what reason, an enclosure for ground squirrels.  These seemed a little out of place amongst all the top predators.  As one of the more interesting displays, they had a collection of maybe 2 dozen "bear proof" food and garbage containers that had been successfully ripped open by determined ursines.  Clearly, bear proof is a relative term.
Bald Eagles
"What the hell am I doing here?"
By our 5th day in Gardiner the smoke from the numerous fires to the west had really moved into the area and going out sight-seeing became more depressing than enjoyable, so we just hunkered down in our RV and read or did chores for the last 2 days.  Then we packed up and headed east again.

1 comment:

  1. I was sure glad that the smoke was all cleared out by the time we got to Montana. It sounded like it was horrible. Haven't been to Yellowstone in several years but I would love to see that Discovery Center.