Most of the group left Statesville for an early departure from Charlotte. After arriving in Bozeman, MT, we picked up “Famous Dave’s” barbeque to take to the best rest area west of the Mississippi R. The female osprey was sitting on her nest at the rest area. As we stood by the Yellowstone River, we talked about how glaciers were influential in the geology of Yellowstone and in carving out the valley in which we sat. We observed elk and bison as soon as we entered the park. During our hike at Wraith Falls, we saw Uinta ground squirrels, ravens, magpies, and a yellow-bellied marmot.
OVT (Optional Valley Time) in Lamar–> Specimen Ridge–> Thunderer–> Chedder Bombs–> OVT
0515- Some of the group woke up and left Roosevelt for the Lamar Valley. We decided to call early morning and evening Lamar Valley observations “OVT” (optional valley time). Around the Little America pullout in the valley, we spotted a bison carcass with no predators around. Suddenly, while we were watching, two coyotes showed up and ate for a while.
After breakfast, we hiked the Specimen Ridge trail to the Yellowstone picnic area. Linda and Bill gave their expert presentations on sage and pronghorns, respectively. Linda wins the virtual trophy (VT) for engaging the audience so much that several tasted the sage. Bill wins the VT for timing. After talking about pronghorn having twins, we observed a pronghorn and her twins. I am sure he made a call and somehow made that happen. We saw mountain bluebirds, flickers, bison, bighorn sheep, osprey, a peregrine falcon, and ravens along the trail. The winds got up to around 40 mph near the top.
After filling up our water bottles, we drove to Thunderer to observe mountain goats high up on the cliff. This also gave us the chance to soak (or freeze) our feet in Soda Butte Creek (reading 45 degrees C). Bill spotted a moose cow and calf in the river, but they both soon scampered away. We had a good discussion of the wolf reintroduction controversy (see this case study). Trophic cascades were discussed. Dr. Cooper brought up the benefits of eco-tourism and increased visitation to the park. Most felt strongly that wolves belonged in the park. Some could understand the views and opposition of the surrounding ranchers and farmers. All agreed that top predators are needed for an ecosystem to function efficiently and properly
We drove into Cooke City, MT to have supper with our friends from “Buns N Beds.” Chedder Bombs and milkshakes all around.
Canyon–> Hayden Valley–> Mud Volcano–> Yellowstone Lake–> Old Faithful–> Grand Prismatic–> Gibbon Falls–> OVT in Lamar
0630- We left the cabins and headed towards the Canyon area. About 1.5 miles down the road, we spotted our first black bear. Another 0.5 mile and we spotted a second bear. This one was much larger. They were both foraging nonstop.
After breakfast, we headed towards Hayden Valley. With the help of some “wolf-watchers,” we spotted a black wolf in Hayden that was bedded down. Andy, an old friend from years past, and his wife were also there watching. Jim spotted a bald eagle sitting on the ground. Expert Bob explained to us what makes Hayden Valley different from the Lamar Valley (see here).
We stopped at Mud Volcano and Dragon’s Mouth to get a sense of some of the geothermal features the park has to offer. Then, on to Yellowstone Lake where Diana told us it is the largest sub-alpine lake in North America. We walked into a lodgepole pine forest where Will explained to us how lodgepoles are well adapted to forest fires and actually use the fires as a means of propagation (see here).
We watched Old Faithful as it erupted. Then, we made our way to Grand Prismatic. However, we did not get to observe the entire hot spring because of a trail closure. We saw Gibbon Falls on the way back to Roosevelt.
1930- OVT- There is a badger den near Slough Creek Campground. We spotted a grizzly walking away from the bison carcass near Little America pullout. There are lots of bison with calves in the valley.
Calcite Springs–> Silvergate–> Trout Lake–> OVT
0715- We started out the morning with coffee and breakfast at the cabins. We drove to meet wildlife photographer, naturalist, and friend Dan Hartman at the Calcite Springs overlook. We hiked on the west side of the road through numerous meadows (aka black bear territory). We saw lots of bear sign as well as bluebirds, flickers, robins, Cassin’s finches, Audubon’s warblers, hairy woodpeckers, a western tanager, and a female Williamson sapsucker. Dan shared lots of stories from photographing and guiding for wildlife shows.
After hiking, we ate lunch in Silvergate at the “Log Cabin Café.” We then went back to Dan’s house and gallery to look at some wildlife productions that he has been involved with. While there, a pine martin showed up in the front yard.
The Trout Lake trail was next on our agenda. There were lots of swallows zipping around the lake. Allison told us the story of the American Bison. After a brisk hike around the lake, we headed back to Roosevelt.
1930- OVT- Wolf 911M had pulled a drowned bison calf to the bank of the Lamar River. When we got there, two coyotes were feeding. A bison cow had died earlier in the day near the Picnic pullout. We had observed its calf still prodding the cow and trying to nurse. It was very sad. When we went back to this carcass, approximately 15 bison had huddled around it in sort of a bison “funeral” (see excellent video below). Wolves 755M and 689F were nearby, but did not go near the carcass. They did, however, chase several calves to no avail.
16 June 2014
OVT–> Canyon–> Yellowstone Falls–> Dunraven Pass–> Roosevelt–> OVT
0515- OVT- There were 3 grizzlies on the bison carcass at Little America. When we drove to the Old Picnic pullout, wolf 911M and a black yearling from the Junction Butte pack were near the carcass. Soon, the black yearling ran off the remaining bison and started feeding while 911M napped nearby.
We traveled to Canyon for breakfast and saw a black bear on the way. Still no sign of the sow with 3 cubs near Calcite. After breakfast, we went to view the lower falls. We spotted a coyote with a large ground squirrel in its mouth at Inspiration Point. Jane explained to us about the intelligence of the raven. Jane wins the VT for best prop. I am glad she did not get arrested for messing with the wildlife. We had planned on hiking to the fire tower on Mt. Washburn, but heavy snow and high winds changed our mind. However, we did pull out at Dunraven pass for Aspen to share with us the importance of the whitebark pine tree. We saw another coyote crossing the road near the slopes of Washburn.
1530- We headed off for an off-trail hike near the cabins. We saw lots of bear scat. It rained on and off, looking scary at times. Jim talked a little about elk ecology and the history of elk in the park.
1930- OVT- We drove to the Old Picnic pullout to check out the carcass there. Scarface, a grizzly and somewhat of a Yellowstone celebrity, had complete control of the carcass. Scarface, a collared grizzly, is 24 years old (see more info. about Scarface here). The old bear ate a little and napped a lot.
17 June 2014
OVT–> Roosevelt–> Petrified tree–> Forces of the Northern Range–> Mammoth
0515- Final OVT- Most of the group decided to exercise their option of getting up in the gloom to see what was in the valley. We had no idea that this would be the best morning of the trip. On arrival at the Old Picnic carcass, we observed two grizzlies (Scarface and a larger bear), 3 wolves (911M, the black yearling, and another), and even several bald eagles (2 mature eagles and 1 juvenile) in the area. The larger bear controlled the carcass most of the time, even chasing the wolves off from time to time. The wolves did get chances to feed when the bear took breaks. It is no surprise that in 1835, trapper Osborne Russell said the following about the Lamar Valley:
“There is something in the wild romantic scenery of this valley which I cannot nor will I attempt to describe; but the impressions made upon my mind while gazing from a high eminence on the surrounding landscape one evening as the sun was gently gliding behind the western mountain and casting its gigantic shadows across the vale were such as time can never efface from my memory.”
During breakfast at Roosevelt, we noticed a black bear sow and three cubs had wandered near the lodge. The sow sat down as the cubs played around a tree about 75 yards from where we were eating. This was the sow we had failed to see until this point. The cubs took turns climbing the tree, then quickly falling off. In an instant, the sow caught and killed a deer fawn that had been hidden in the tall grass by her mother. As the bear took off with the fawn, the mother deer hopped around, frantically looking for her young. It was sad to watch, but then you realize the sow had 3 mouths to feed. Nature is not always comfortable. The rangers in the area did a great job setting up a perimeter and keeping everyone safe while the bear fed.
We stopped at the petrified tree and the “Forces of the Northern Range” self-guiding trail on our way to Mammoth. At Mammoth, Joei taught us about the hot springs and how they are different than the other thermal features in the park. NPS ranger Grant Marx then took us on a guided walk around the terraces. After eating at K-Bar Pizza, we spent the night in Gardiner, MT.
18 June 2014
Through Paradise Valley to Bozeman–> to Charlotte–> home
-Thanks to all the participants for signing up for this trip. The expert topics were great. Getting to know all of you was the best part.
-Thanks to Mitchell Community College, especially Continuing Education, for offering the trip.
-Thanks to Dan and Cindy Hartman for being so kind and having us into their house
-Thanks to Rick Lamplugh for writing In the Temple of the Wolves
-Nature was observed and appreciated, topics were discussed, facts were learned, memories were etched, and friendships were made.