In the northwest corner of Wyoming in the American West is a large complex of parkland which includes both Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park.
The two parks and surrounding forest and mountains comprise a large outdoor complex: the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.
We were on a two-week road trip from California to Wyoming in early September, 2014.
We saw over one hundred wild bison in our first five minutes in Yellowstone, and would continue to see large herds throughout the visit. They are the featured star of Yellowstone–have free range to roam wherever they want within park boundaries.
It is a miraculous success story that there are any bison today. North America’s American bison populations have fluctuated dramatically from over 60 million in the late 18th century, to only 541 individuals by 1889.
Reintroduction efforts were successful and today there are approximately 31,000 bison on the continent, with 5,000 in Yellowstone.
Bison were by far the most prevalent megafauna we saw in Yellowstone.
A good close-up opportunity often occurred when a bison decided to cross the road, stopping traffic, sometimes for miles. Sometimes they sauntered so close to the car that we could hear their breathing.
Large herds were frequently seen in the distance.
Other megafauna were not easy to find. We searched for days before we found one moose, in the distance (two photos, the same individual). There were so many people in the park, the mammals stayed as far away as possible.
One day we had a picnic at Jackson Lake, and new friends quietly joined us.
We sat across from these giant beaver lodges, hoping to see beavers. No beavers revealed themselves, but we spotted trumpeter swans in the distance, a bird lifer (never before seen) for us.
On the way to see Old Faithful early one morning, we had a closer view of trumpeter swans.
Here’s Old Faithful…so magnificent.
Some nights we heard coyotes howling, oh how I love that.
A flock of mountain bluebirds were busy at an abandoned homestead we found.
Another spectacular attraction unique to Yellowstone are the geothermal features; there are over 10,000. We spent many hours marveling at the geysers, hot springs, mud pots and fumaroles.
This American dipper was busy feeding beside the river, not far from thermal features.
One day we ventured far out on gravel roads, on our own safari drive. I drove while Athena stood up and photographed from the sun roof. Using the car as a blind was the only way we could sneak up on skittish pronghorn.
We also came upon magpies in a meadow.
America’s first national park, Yellowstone hosted Native Americans 11,000 years ago and continues embracing park enthusiasts today with its vast open space, mountains and grasslands, rivers and waterfalls.
You could spend a lifetime exploring this area and still never know all of what’s here, but I’m grateful I had a good start.
Written by Jet Eliot.
Photos by Athena Alexander.