Elk are everywhere! Females are rearing their young – BEWARE! Male’s antlers are growing.
Interesting things happen here. They may be when I am at work, at play or …just in between both. First, let me tell you the law of the land. ALL ANIMALS IN YELLOWSTONE ARE WILD! And supposedly, visitors (Read: Humans) are intelligent, can read the warning signs, and comprehend the environment.
So let’s get the most annoying out of the way first. Humans. When you are on a highway, don’t stop in the middle of the road and get out to take pictures. This may be YOUR first bison (or elk) but I assure you …YOU WILL SEE MANY MORE! There are numerous pullouts and areas where you can take pictures. (There are road signs telling humans not to stop in roadway). Second, these animals can …and will, hurt you. Bear and wolves are predatory animals, strong and territorial. Get no closer than 100 yards. Elk and bison are wild …and will protect themselves, especially their young. Get no closer than 25 yards! (There are signs everywhere telling you this).
Mommy elk and her youngin’, massive bison in Nez Perce Valley, and a grizzly on the shores of Yellowstone Lake
At Mammoth Hot Springs for training last Tuesday, an elk attacked a female worker. Mommy Elks are coming in to the villages with their young. And this woman came from the dining hall and not paying attention, got to close to this Mommy. The woman tried to escape and attempted to roll under a parked car. The elk got her first. She was airlifted to the hospital with multiple broken bones and a concussion.
The next day, Deb and I were on a 3 mile walk on the main road. On our way back we were surprised by a female elk and her youngin’. She popped out of the thick roadside pines …25 feet in front of us! Startled, I grab my bear spray (don’t leave home without it!). After my heart rate came back down below 200, it became a photo shoot. At first I didn’t see the baby and quickly took some photos. Then I noticed as the pair stammered up onto the roadway. Deb and I quickly backed up to a safe distance of 30+ yards (90 feet). They meandered across the road, stopping traffic, and disappeared into the woods. Close encounter. But there are ways of keeping yourself safe. Read the signs.
On that same trip to Mammoth, people were stopped along side the road north of Canyon Village. There it was! An adult black bear, 30 yards off the road foraging in the ground clutter looking for food. And humans on the roadside, out of the safety of their vehicle, taking pictures. Are you starting to get a picture of why people get hurt here?
Bison can go 35 mph. I wonder how fast she can run?
So, what is there to see here? Let’s start with the drive in from Cody. There are 5 entrances to Yellowstone; 4 main ones and 1 snow-covered one. Gardiner, MT is the North entrance. West Yellowstone, MT (just north of Idaho), is the West one. The one south of Grant is the South one. And Cody. (More about the 5th one later.) Cody is the quintessential western town. It gleams of western frontier. And it is what it sells itself on. Everything Western can be found in this town that has everything. Horses, cattle, ranches, and rodeos; you name it, its here (yes, a Walmart too). And scenery. Wow! The Absoroka Mountains in Shoshone National Forest give a great backdrop for this beautiful area. You almost expect Clint Eastwood (or even John Wayne) to come galloping in on his horse!
Roosevelt Arch, Buffalo Bill Tunnel, Bison resting, skyline looking west from Cody
On the ride out of Cody heading west, the flatlands meet the mountains. The road follows the Shoshone River (and its accompanying canyon) into Buffalo Bill State Park. The road passes into the mountain. The tunnels (there are 3 of them) are pretty amazing (but I wish drivers would have their lights on). Exiting the last one you are greeted with the Buffalo Bill Dam. I can’t overstate the beauty! It is just amazing (videos are better than pictures). The reservoir, created by the dam, supplies power and drinking water to the townspeople. The drive continues exiting the state park and entering into Shoshone National Forest. There are businesses along the way like restaurants, gift shops, lodging, and a ski area but they do meld well with the rustic western frontier. Then there it is; the entrance to Yellowstone!
Views on the way in
The Yellowstone ride continues the climb as you have steep ledges on one side …and steep cliffs on the other. When you drive, you better pay attention. Sightseeing is for the passengers. After the “cork screw” you will soon be at the top of Sylvan Pass – elevation 8550 feet! And here is your first sight of Yellowstone Lake! Look closely; the Tetons, sharp, jagged and piercing the horizon, are visible to the southwest. Pretty amazing!
Once you pass the YNP gate, it is wilderness, 100%; No businesses, just trails and pullouts; And vistas! Wildlife can appear anytime, anywhere, but is most likely when you get near the lake. We have spotted many bison and elk around the Lake and an occasional grizzly. And as you pass through Sylvan Pass, there are still snow banks and snow-covered areas, especially if they are shaded from the sun. The view from the lake shows these same mountains; strong, peaked, reaching for the heavens with their snow capped crowns. And this is my view…every…single…day.
Yellowstone Lake with Red Mountains
I haven’t been to West Yellowstone yet. I’ve been told it is the least aesthetic of all the entrances. But keep in mind the bar is set pretty high. If you come in from the South, you pass the Grand Tetons! Absolutely gorgeous! (many consider the 2 National Parks as one – often referred to as the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem – GYE.) Coming in from Gardiner, Montana (North entrance) you will pass by the iconic Arch. It is also where the main office is. And very aesthetic; just not as nice as the East entrance.
And the 5th entrance – the Beartooth Highway! This entrance is more remote, and often snow covered. They just cleared the road of the snowdrifts. It opened June 5th. Our goal is to travel this road, if for no other reason, just for the experience. It is out of the way, probably a 300 mile round trip. Lamar Valley is on this trip, another good reason to do a day-trip. Besides bison and elk herds, a large wolf pack and grizzlies occupy this area. The trip is sure to be a wildlife experience! (As if we haven’t already had that!)
Yes, understating it; “interesting things” are sighted daily.
STAY TUNED! More “tales from the campah”!
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Coming Soon!!! YouTube channel with movies of the adventures!