Before entering any of these five Yellowstone National Park entrances, North, Northeast, South, East, or West, learn from our previous mistakes and take note of the following photographing tips:
- Have three camera batteries fully charged
- Ensure the lenses are freshly wiped with a lens cloth
- Check to make certain a fully charged battery AND an empty SD card are IN the camera!
- Place camera in or near your grasp.
- GET READY TO PHOTOGRAPH THE MOST AMAZING array of North American animals you’ve ever seen!!
For those of you who want to do more than take photos from inside the vehicle, it comes highly recommended to have a tripod and/or mono pod for use when taking videos or attaching high-powered binoculars for viewing wolves, grizzly bears, etc. that are not usually seen at close range. Every year Phil and I travel to this spectacular destination, we end up offering people the use of our Nikon binoculars so that they can see for themselves the monstrous mother grizzly and her two cubs wandering up the far mountainside, or the pack of wolves chasing a herd of elk in the distant valley.
June 7, 2018 – We arrived at our campsite in Canyon mid-afternoon and were happy with our site. Nicely shaded with a fire pit and a level area for putting up our screened-in room. Thankfully, we had that with us because the mosquitoes were hatching out and hungry! We chose Canyon because of its central location inside the park.
Yellowstone is massive and it takes hours to drive to different areas even without the bear and bison jams. (More on that later.) It also has nice, warm showers, a large laundry facility and due to its higher elevation, cooler weather. There were small piles of snow littered about the campground but snow and chilly nights didn’t seem to deter those pesky skeeters during the daytime and evenings. Thankfully, we were prepared. 😀
Our first day there, we decided to drive to the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and hike down to the Lower Falls, viewing it from the top. I had not been on this trail before and we wanted to check on the Osprey nest we had seen at the top of that trail the previous year.
Canyon Village has two restaurants to choose from, the Canyon Eatery, which is set up like a hospital cafe, or the General Store in Canyon Village which is a short-order style, breakfast, lunch and dinner cafe with decent food and waitstaff from all over the United States and beyond. One side is the cafe and the other side is a small grocery/gift shop with hard ice cream served up in cones, sundaes and shakes. We ate here after our hike down the Lower Falls trail and then drove to Hayden Valley after dinner in search of any animals we could photograph.
Hayden Valley runs parallel with the Yellowstone River and is a wonderful place to view elk, bear (both black and grizzlies), bison, mule deer, and wolves. There are many waterfowl that enjoy splashing about the river and we have seen giant pelicans there on occasion. A set of high-powered binoculars that will attach to a tripod is essential in this valley, along with Lamar Valley which is another very popular site for viewing the herd animals and big predators.
Driving through Hayden Valley, we happened upon a few cars pulled off to the side of the road with people scouring the landscape, eyes glued to binoculars and spotting scopes. Naturally, we stopped to see what they were looking at or for and were told that the Wapiti wolf pack had made a kill over in that area and they were waiting for them to come out. They figured the wolves had their den in the vicinity. We found our spot along the road and set up our tripods with cameras and binoculars in the hopes of viewing and/or photographing these beautiful creatures. We were not to be disappointed!
On the south side of the road, just east of the Mary Mountain Trailhead, we had the privilege of watching eight wolves playfully chase each other, roll in the snow, and behave like a bunch of pups! We counted four blacks, three grays and one lighter-colored, silver wolf in the pack. Just as the wolves started to get close enough for a decent picture, a huge black cloud rolled in from the southwest bringing lightening, hail, snow, sleet and strong winds! We had to abandon watch and bring all of our equipment into the protection of the van, all the while praying that the incredibly strong wind blasts didn’t knock our van over! Such a magnificent storm we witnessed and as quickly as it began, it was over, and the wolves were right back at the location we first saw them. We watched them with our binoculars for awhile but they never moved in close enough for a good photo. Losing the light, we had to pack up and head back to Canyon Village.
June 8, 2018 – Phil was so excited to get to Lamar Valley today, he woke up at 4:30am! A very nice couple from California that we had met while wolf watching in Hayden Valley told us about a mother grizzly with two cubs who had killed, or stolen from a wolf, an elk calf in the Lamar Valley area.
“Dawn is the best time to see animals.” https://www.xanterra.com/explore/active-travel/yellowstone-a-perfect-morning-for-wildlife-watching/http://www.xanterra.com
So, at 4:30am we were Lamar Valley bound! One never really knows for sure how long a drive will take from point A to point B in Yellowstone. Many factors contribute to delays:
- Amount of traffic
- Bison Jams
- Bear Jams
- Photographic opportunities for other animals (elk, moose, wolves, etc.)
- Photographing landscapes, sunrises, sunsets, flowers, etc.
The first interesting scenario while driving into Lamar valley that we had the opportunity to see and photograph, was a herd of elk mothers with babies trying to swim across the extremely swollen and fast-moving Lamar River. The babies were struggling to keep up and the swift current dragged one of them down river while we stood along the road watching helplessly! The group of mother elk that had crossed successfully with their babies, ran alongside the flailing calf, calling to it, urging the newborn to swim to their side of the river. It was quite the dramatic scene and even though we had traveled to Lamar Valley with the purpose of looking for the mom grizzly and cubs, we couldn’t tear ourselves away from the drama that was unfolding before our eyes!
We were unable to get a decent picture of the calf making it out of the river downstream, but the little one did paddle to the other side and was met by the safety and security of the herd. Sigh!
There were more mother elk with babies getting ready to cross the river but we couldn’t stick around any longer. Reason number one was that my heart couldn’t take seeing one of those little ones drown, and reason number two: mom grizzly and two cubs were out there… somewhere!
An obvious hint that big predators are in the area are mobs of people pulled over to the side of the road, people standing outside with cameras, binoculars and spotting scopes. We traveled on down the road until we came upon just such a scene. After finding a place to park and getting out of the Vandura, Phil ventured over to the “Mercedes kids”, the moniker we dubbed the nice couple from California that drove a Mercedes sprinter van and had transformed it into a camping van. They had been there for at least an hour, waiting for the grizzlies to appear. They chatted while I got out our backpacking camp stove, lit it and started boiling water for coffee. We hadn’t even had our first cup of coffee or breakfast yet and had already experienced quite the exciting morning, but that’s the magic of Yellowstone!
After warming up with a cup ‘o joe and inhaling granola bars, we pulled out our camp chairs, set up next to the Mercedes kids and another guy who had joined in on the conversations, and we got to know each other a little. Jeffrey and Lauren were the actual names of the “Mercedes kids” and Jeffrey began to tell us of his backpacking adventures in New Zealand. He was an intelligent, laid-back, good-looking guy in his late 20’s, I’m guessing, and we enjoyed listening to his stories.
I’m not totally sure how we got on the subject, but he brought up a strange sighting he had while in the wilderness of New Zealand. He said that while hiking, he was scoping a treeline for any animals and saw a large upright figure walk out of the treeline on two legs, look in his direction, then step back into the trees out of view. He said his mind was reeling, trying to put a name to what he had just seen and he had NOTHIN’!! He said it was completely dark, hairy from head to toe, and it did NOT look like any animal he had ever seen… it actually looked human-like but they were in the middle of nowhere and hikers don’t appear all dark and hairy. He still wasn’t ready to use the S word, (Sasquatch) but he was pretty shaken up by the sight and didn’t want to rule anything out.
Our conversations went from a possible sighting of Bigfoot, to the locally famous grizzly mom and cub, Raspberry and Snow, who were seen by the other gentleman that had joined our little group. He gave us pointers on when and where to spot these beautiful creatures that so many people had seen throughout the past few years. We thanked him for the tips and were just about to fold up our camp chairs and drive around when Lauren yelled out, “I see something!!” “I see ears… it’s them!!” We all watched through binoculars as mom grizzly ambled down the valley, two rambunctious cubs in tow!
As you can see from the pictures, they were a LONG way off and the only way to see them clearly was with high-powered binoculars and/or spotting scope. We prefer binoculars because we find them easier to use than scopes.
The bison didn’t seem the least bit afraid of the mom and cubs but kept a wary eye on them. We had the great fortune to observe them digging around for ground squirrels and wandering down the valley searching for edible plants. At one point, mom grizzly laid on her back, motioned her cubs over with her paw, and the cubs responded to her invitation to nurse. It was one of the most incredible scenes in nature that we had ever witnessed!! All of us onlookers were mesmerized by the motherly affection she showed towards her cubs and it is something that will forever be ingrained in my memory.
We watched the grizzlies for over an hour and then drove back to Canyon, stopping for a picnic in the high country, where we spotted this beautiful gray fox.
After our picnic alongside the road, overlooking the vast mountains and valleys, we drove back to Canyon and took a siesta (long nap). Then, once our nice hot showers were taken at Canyon Village, we drove over to Sedge Bay. This is where we were told would be a good place to see Raspberry and Snow, the mother and daughter grizzlies that were infamous in Yellowstone. Not two seconds after we parked the Vandura, an older gentleman pulled up in his car and asked if we’d seen the bears. He told us that he had just been on the other side of the mountain watching Raspberry and Snow and they had meandered over the mountain and out of view, heading in our direction.
We watched and waited, talking briefly with a man from Switzerland, and then a young couple from Austria who cruised up in a convertible sports car. We enjoyed talking with the couple from Austria who told us that we were so lucky to have these vast, wild National Parks because over in Europe, they have nothing like this. Their towns and cities encroach upon the wild places and have forced most of their big animals out. Indeed, we are VERY fortunate!
Well, we never did get the opportunity to see Raspberry and Snow. The last day we were in Yellowstone we talked with a lady who said that Raspberry and Snow had just split up. Snow was now three years old and beyond old enough to go off on her own and find a mate. Her mother had finally driven her off and we were not to see the two this year, let alone together. But, that’s the way the cookie crumbles in the massive and magical, Yellowstone National Park.
I realize that this blog only covers the first two days inside Yellowstone, but there is so much to share!! I hope you enjoyed the adventures as much as I did reliving them! 😀
The next blog will begin with our first hike in Yellowstone 2018, Ice Lake/Wolf Lake trail. Until then… Carpe Diem! ❤