30 September 2008

Yellowstone National Park: whistling elk, burly bears

Butte, Montana sometimes advertising itself as "midway between Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks." That's not exactly true, as it's just a few hours to Yellowstone National Park but a good half-day drive to Glacier. Still, we're close, and many residents of Butte America visit both each year.

Our favorite time for Yellowstone is late September or early October. With clear skies, the night-time temperatures fall to the mid-20s deg F and rise to the mid-70s during the afternoon. It used to be that the tourists had cleared out and the Park was mostly empty, but anymore it seems that all the boomers retired, bought RVs, and drove to Montana. But the park is beautiful in the fall, with meadows aflame with the color of turning willows:

The painter Thomas Moran joined the Hayden expedition to explore what is now the park in 1871, and some of his sketches became the basis for his painting "Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone:"

Moran's artistic record helped convince Congress to establish the park, and Congress liked "Grand Canyon" so much that they bought it and it hangs in the Senate lobby to this day.

The park was originally established as a "pleasuring ground" primarily so that Americans could enjoy its geological wonders. We camped at Mammoth, where it is a short hike up to the Mammoth Terrace. Wonders indeed:

Most of the elk we saw were either hanging around the campground, where the bulls serenading us through the night with their whistling calls (aka "bugling") to the cows. Note how they like to bed just inside the cool, shady woods near the sagebrush prairie:

The biggest bulls enjoy the green lawns around the various park buildings and housing at Mammoth:

There seem to be distinctly fewer elk than in past years. The wolves have been a factor, although the wolf population is also down. Distemper epidemic? We failed to find them on an early morning jaunt through the Lamar Valley but not to worry, we joined others in the conversational art of non wolf-watching:

The buffalo are doing just fine, despite many being killed when they try to escape Yellowstone National Prison during the winter:

Back at camp, there were marshmallows to be toasted (Adler Patch, here):

Birthday cake to be eaten (Adler's birthday, but his sister Kenia seems to be enjoying the cake more than anyone):

Margaritas to be made--my portable drill gets a bigger workout on camping trips than it does on household projects! (Jeff & Celia Schahczenski):

The serious study of subjects such as "how to operate a 35 mm film camera" (Dave Carter teaching Allen "AJ" Puckett):

And a hike down to the "Boiling River" for a soak:

On our way home, Jan Munday, AJ, and I drove out through West Yellowstone via Norris. More wonders, ranging from steaming geysers:

To tiny mountains in hot pools:

To colorful bacteria that indicate water temperature:

There was also a big, lone grizzly bear. At a hundred or so yards distant, it seemed plenty close:

Oh, and a not-so-wiley coyote along the road:

Antelope hunting season begins in less than two weeks, the Yellowstone fall camping trip is behind us, so it can begin snowing any day now.


troutbirder said...

Being one of the pre-boomers we still managed to stay at Mammoth the first week of Oct. two years ago. You described and pictured it perfectly. It will have to do for my Western outing this year as Mrs. Toutbirder twisted my arm into a New England trip tomorrow where we will visit Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream factory and the Von Trapp Lodge in Vermont.

Tom said...

Good reference, Pat, to bison at Yellowstone National "Prison." Step over the artificial boundary and they are on death row. Thanks for caring.

Jayne said...

What a lovely trip and even more lovely photos Pat. Thanks for stopping by my blog and for your thoughtful comments.