Wildlife in Yellowstone and the Tetons

Pronghorn and bison, Grand Teton NP, Wyoming

Moose cow, Grand Teton NP, Wyoming

 

Elk cow, Yellowstone NP, Wyoming

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.

Bison, Hayden Valley, Yellowstone River, Yellowstone NP

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.

American Bison, Yellowstone NP, Wyoming

 

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.

Bison Bull, Yellowstone NP, Wyoming

Bison crossing road, Yellowstone NP, Wyoming

 

Large herds were frequently seen in the distance.

Bison herd, Lamar Valley, Yellowstone NP

 

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.

Moose cow, Yellowstone NP, Wyoming

 

One day we had a picnic at Jackson Lake, and new friends quietly joined us.

Jackson Lake and Tetons, Grand Teton NP, Wyoming

Least Chipmunk, Grand Teton NP, Wyoming

Red-breasted Nuthatch, Grand Teton NP, Wyoming

 

Beetle, Grand Teton NP, Wyoming

Hairy Woodpecker, Grand Teton NP, Wyoming

 

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.

Beaver Lodges at Jackson Lake, Grand Teton NP, Wyoming

On the way to see Old Faithful early one morning, we had a closer view of trumpeter swans.

Trumpeter Swan, Yellowstone NP, Wyoming

 

Here’s Old Faithful…so magnificent.

Old Faithful, Yellowstone NP, Wyoming. Photo: Athena Alexander.

 

Some nights we heard coyotes howling, oh how I love that.

 

A flock of mountain bluebirds were busy at an abandoned homestead we found.

Mountain Bluebird, Grand Teton NP, Wyoming

 

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.

Morning Glory Pool, Yellowstone NP, Wyoming

 

This American dipper was busy feeding beside the river, not far from thermal features.

American Dipper, Yellowstone NP, Wyoming

 

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.

Pronghorn antelope, Yellowstone NP, Montana

We also came upon magpies in a meadow.

Black-billed Magpie, Yellowstone NP, Montana

 

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.

Great Spangled Fritillary (female), Grand Teton NP, Wyoming

Elk cow grazing in Mammoth Village, Yellowstone NP, Wyoming

 

108 thoughts on “Wildlife in Yellowstone and the Tetons

  1. What a wonderful narrative, Jet, and such awesome photos by Athena. Yellowstone is one of the many National Parks that I would love to visit. It is so cool to see so many of its inhabitants, both small and large. I knew that bison were big, but the shot of one crossing the road really shows how enormous they are with the car helping to provide a sense of scale. It would be awesome to spend an extended period of time there, taking in the scenery as well as all of the animals, birds, and insects.

    • Hi Mike. I’m happy to hear the bison photo with the car gave a good sense of scale, because they are some really huge animals! They each weigh over 2,000 pounds. I love hearing mammals that big breathe. I agree with you, it would be great to have an extended amount of time exploring there. Really a treat to share this park with you, for all the parks you have shared with me, and all the creatures in them, have been a treat for me. I hope you have a delightful weekend.

      • Seeing the size of a bison makes it almost incomprehensible that some people try to get right up next to them–I think there was an incident at Yellowstone this summer of a woman being gored by a bison. In my experience you really have to respect nature. It’s one of the reason why I like to use a long telephoto, which is safer for me and has less risk of disturbing my subject.

      • Exactly, Mike. Athena, too, uses a long lens. People with their cell phones get too close, just for the sake of putting something on their Facebook page. And you’re right, the bison are so formidable, how can they not notice? It is disrespectful to the wild animal, and often results in danger to the person, and ultimately the animal is then killed, which is equally as disturbing. A lot of folks who visit Yellowstone are not outdoor people, this can be a problem.

  2. You have an amazing gallery of your trip through Yellowstone and The Tetons. It’s a wonderful area. I’ve been 4 times to Yellowstone, and the Grand Tetons and haven’t begun to see to it all, and each visit was completely different from the visit before so I know how you’re feeling.

  3. An amazing place, but I hear the crowds (pre-covid) were terrible. The wildlife is probably relieved there are less these days. 😉
    Those bison stats, while hopeful, indicate how far we need to go. 60 Million… can you imagine?

    • Yes, the crowds were an issue, even when visiting post-Labor Day; and I recently thought the same thing you did, Eliza: I hope the wildlife are able to stretch out and enjoy peace during this less-crowded Covid time. Glad you liked the bison stats. It’s a big story, and one of controversy, but I narrowed it down to a few sentences. I’ve seen photos of the bison in the old days, numbering in the millions, and it is astounding. Warmest thanks and smiles to you….

    • Oh how fortunate that you have been to Yellowstone many times, Craig. We ran into folks who lived closer to the park, and they had many stories to tell. One older man we saw numerous times at the geothermals, we ended up talking to him. He was a talkative and friendly guy. He called himself a “geyser geezer.” He showed us his notations on a small notebook in the palm of his hand. He went from geyser to geyser recording the times each geyser erupted. He knew those geysers like the back of his hand. I found that incredible. Easy to see why it’s one of your favorite places on Earth. Thanks so much, my friend.

      • It’s like a step back in time, plus a lot of people. Guess we can’t have everything. I’ve seen all the wildlife except for wolves. They see them frequently these days. I even got to see an otter teaching her pup how to swim.

      • An otter teaching her pup how to swim! How incredibly special and memorable. I’m guessing the adult uses its snout to move the little one along? We spent several hours with “wolf people,” standing on a ridge overlooking a valley where the wolves are known to go. There was a lot of anticipation, because one of them had found a bison carcass that had recently been visited by the wolves. But alas, no wolves showed. Still, it was exciting. Thanks, Craig.

      • Thanks so much, Craig, for taking the time to let me know how she did it. What a very beautiful scene to have witnessed. I’m grateful for your skill with words in sharing it, too.

  4. This post brings back wonderful memories of Yellowstone and Grand Teton for me. I have been to both places twice, but Athena’s photos inspire me to try to go there at least once more. The photo of the Pronghorn antelope is just perfect!

    • I’m glad you’ve been to Yellowstone twice, Hien, and you still want to go back. I really like that pronghorn photo too. They are so difficult to photograph, so fast and skittish. This one was face-to-face and really special. They are such a unique looking creature, so beautiful when they run, too. Thank you, Hien…hoping you get wonderful photographs this weekend. Those recent egret photos were extraordinary.

  5. We have not been to Yellowstone and now more than ever hope to do so one day. The bison comeback is heartening. I know there has been much work in Canada as well. Two years ago they were reintroduced to Banff National Park and are thriving. Beaver are always a challenge to see. The funny thing is that after spending most of my life not having seen one, we see them regularly in the river here in Calgary.
    We hope this finds you and Athena well Jet and those fires far from you.

    • You might want to visit Yellowstone in the winter, Sue, I’m told that it’s less people then; and since you and Dave are so adept with cold weather sports and entertainment, you would probably enjoy all that cold and snow and wilderness. I really enjoyed hearing about the bison that were successfully reintroduced to Banff two years ago. Funny to hear that you see beavers regularly in the Calgary river. I have never seen one. We were pretty excited about seeing the lodges, I can only imagine how elated I would be to actually see a beaver, after all these years of searching. As for the Calif. fires…sigh, they just keep burning. This week we had to evacuate again, not because of fire but because the power was cut off for two days in 105 degree weather. And one day it was orange all day, all over the Bay Area. Difficult times and more trying for others, which is disheartening. We are safe. Hopefully this will end soon. In the meantime, we think about the wildlife in Yellowstone. Cheers my friend, and thanks.

      • Oh dear it all sounds terrible. Our niece posted a photo of the orang skies which looks terrifying. I’m glad you are safe and appreciate the updates.
        Yellowstone in winter. Now there’s an idea!
        As to the beavers here I will clarify they aren’t wandering hither and thither like Canadian souvenirs. However if you know where some of the beaver dams are, and you are prepared to be patient in the evenings, you will often spot one swimming.

  6. A wonderful post, Jet! You guys make a great team. I’ve never been there, but it looks and sounds so amazing! People talk talk about the mega volcano under the park too.

    • Yes, John, Yellowstone is a very unique and special place. The underground activity there and all the geothermals are absolutely astounding. There is nowhere on earth like it. I’m glad I could share a bit of it with you today, thanks for your visit.

  7. Thank you Jet for taking us on a tour of what I believe to be the crown of the USA….It is a part of the world that always amazes me for so man reasons, but especially the vastness of everything.
    I love all the photographs but my favourite is the wonderful Bison Bull. Absolutely majestic.

    I am thinking about you every day and hoping that the fires are not too close. janet x

    • Oh so lovely to hear from you, Janet. Yes, Yellowstone is a very amazing place, the vastness, waterfalls, rivers, mountains and geothermals, and all the wild creatures who live there, it is all such a magnificent place in the world. I like your phrase: “crown of the USA.” I like that bison bull photo too, glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for your kind thoughts on the fires, too. It’s pretty bad here, with fires still raging, new ones popping up. Danger continues to residents, visitors, and firefighters. This week we had to evacuate again, third time since mid-August. It is exhausting to live in emergency mode all the time, espec. during Covid. The power company turned off our power for two days, to avoid starting a fire, but it was 105 degrees, which is unbearable without electricity (air conditioning) or water. We have a dear friend who has hosted us throughout the evacuations. We hope for the best and continue to be grateful for the love that surrounds us, and that our home was not hit this time. Thanks so much, Janet. Hoping your weekend is great fun.

    • I am glad you’ve been to Wyoming, Willy, and I am sure most of it is still the same as it has been for thousands of years. It’s an incredible place. Glad we could venture there virtually today. Thanks so much.

  8. Yellowstone is an amazing place, and it is great to be able to relive it with your photos and words. Not sure if there is another National Park with so much activity and beauty ~ and then a place I really love, which is the Grand Tetons, a mosaic of the American West 🙂 Enjoy your autumn, Jet, take care.

    • Yes, Yellowstone and the Tetons are truly a wonder. How wonderful that you have been there, Dalo, and I’m glad the photos helped you relive your time there. Thanks so much for your warm and kind comment.

  9. thank you for a wonderful feature about wildlife in Yellowstone and the Tetons, Jet. Athena’s pictures are awesome. I hope to see these places someday. the Old Faithful Geyser must be truly spectacular! 🙂

    • I’m so glad you enjoyed the Yellowstone post today, Wilma, thank you. Yes, Old Faithful is, to use your words, truly spectacular. True to its name, it runs like clockwork and erupts every 90 minutes. It sprays up pretty high, and when the sun is shining on it it looks like diamonds. We watched it three times. On the third time we went to the Old Faithful Hotel and ate ice cream as we watched, because that’s part of being American. ha. You would like it. I did a two-part series on the Yellowstone geothermals in 2014, and am going to do another geothermal post again soon, because it’s so interesting. Warm thanks to you.

    • Oh, I’m sorry to hear you had to cancel your trip, Amy. And am glad you’ve been there before, and glad I could refresh your memory with today’s post. We just keep readjusting to these unusual times. Blogging really helps us see the world these days. My thanks and warm wishes to you.

  10. Lovely shots as always, Jet (Athena). 🙂 Yellowstone is a unique and amazing place. I loved seeing how many bison there were during our last trip there some years ago. I haven’t been to the Tetons for some time, but they’re also magnificent. Wyoming has some real treasures.

    janet

    • You read it right, Jan, I’m here at home, not Yellowstone. Mending my ankle, canceling travel plans, and gasping for air in the orange skies of the Bay Area. Something I’m sure you know well yourself. But soon things will turn around and until then, we can enjoy the photos and travel memories. Thank you for your visit today, much appreciated.

      • Despite the hazardous air quality, I just had to have Chinese takeout last night – I couldn’t believe how many people had the similar cravings! There were a ton of people getting take out in my small town. I guess with all the awful news right now, people had risk life and health to have their comfort food!

  11. Yellowstone NP is my very favorite place. It’s a marvelous sample of how great is Mother Nature; complete with forests, mountains, wildlife, rivers, lakes, thermal waters, mineral fountains, etc. It’s really a long list. It really impressed me with its beauty. Great post, my friend. 🙂

  12. It seems to me that the USA is a land of awe. I find it difficult to imagine the reality of it and even with your wonderful posts and Athena’s photography, I cannot think how I would feel actually visiting. Of course I could probably say that of many of the countries you have shown us through your blog Jet and I am pleased to say that they help me to remember what a beautiful country I live in here in Wales, albeit a tiny fraction of the size of the US. Thank you again for an awesome journey 😊

    • Thanks so much, Alastair, for this lovely comment. Your reminder that the US is a “land of awe” is much appreciated, espec. during our challenging time. Knowing you only from our years of blogging, I can say I think if you were to be there in Yellowstone you would be humbled and amazed by the beauty surrounding you, and a little overwhelmed by the throngs of people. It would balance out and you would have a wonderful adventure. If you and your wife ever venture to the western U.S., perhaps Athena and I could meet you somewhere and do a bit of American hosting. Just don’t come until after this crazy election is over. lol. My warmest thanks.

  13. Another fine post, Jet! Full of favourite things, like the big beautiful bison. And the American dipper! And last, but so very not least, the chipmunk.
    I hope all is well with you there, we’re thinking of you. Smoke from the wildfires is drifting over VI today, and the air quality/visibility is dreadful, so what it must be like further south for those in the midst of it all. Goodness. So frightening.
    Take care!

    • Ahh, my friend, always a delight to hear from you. When I was going through Athena’s photos from the Yellowstone trip, I was delighted to find that American Dipper photo. I had forgotten about it. I’ve only seen about half a dozen dippers in my life, and I love watching them. Glad you liked that photo. Glad you liked the array of wildlife. Yes, the fires have been upsetting. Had to evacuate again this week, and the air here is just frightening, as you say. One day it was completely orange from dawn to dusk, very eery. I heard myself saying, “Orange is the new day.” Then Athena said, “Orange is the new blue.” We go on and hope for better times and lives spared. Dear PC, hope your weekend isn’t too smoky. We stay still, don’t go outside, and do a jigsaw puzzle to keep sane.

  14. loved your write-up and photos of Yellowstone. My first time to the park was in the 1960s when you could walk out to Old Faithful but seeing that bison in front of the red truck reminds me when I rode my bicycle thru the park – those bison are really big!!!

      • The scariest bison experience we had was when one walked within inches of our tent one night in Western Montana. The earth shook, we could hear his heavy and wet breathing, and we were lucky he didn’t trip on our tent stakes!

      • woo-hoo! That’s a good one, Nan! I bet the earth did shake when the bison walked by. A thrill, though scary. It’s a thrill when it’s over and you’re safe, it’s terrifying when it’s happening. Thanks so much for sharing this nugget.

  15. What a rich diversity you witnessed there! I know it gets very crowded; you did a good job of scouting out quiet places and times. Thanks for sharing!

    • Thanks so much, Nan. The richness and wealth of Yellowstone is not to be missed, so yes, we did find a way to avoid the big crowds. I’m really glad you enjoyed this virtual visit with us.

    • Hi Andrea. Yes, bison are very dangerous, espec. if provoked. They’re faster than you would think, and can easily gore a human to death. There are signs and warnings all over Yellowstone to not get close to them, due to their dangerous ways. Definitely an animal to be admired from a distance. Thanks so much for your visit and question.

  16. You surely know the story of the Goodnights, who were so important in saving the bison — particularly Mary Goodnight. There’s a nice summary article about the Goodnight herd here. They’re “our” state herd now, and important to breeding programs around the country that are endeavoring to extend genetic diversity.

    I’ve never been to Yellowstone, and I’ve never seen live moose or elk. I’d love to — although as time goes on, my desire to go to the ‘popular’ places is diminishing. I’ve seen plenty of pronghorn in West Texas and in western Kansas, and in places where there’s not another human for miles. I’m not at all opposed to sharing natural spaces with humans, but there’s something about seeing free-range bison, antelope, and so on that’s thrilling in a different way.

    Thanks so much for this survey of Yellowstone — and for including the beetle and birds!

    • Thanks for the link to the Goodnights, Linda. We owe a lot to the many generations of humans who have worked on revitalizing the bison populations. I enjoyed hearing about the Texas herds, too. Glad you liked the beetle and birds, too. I love that beetle photo. I think you would enjoy Yellowstone a lot, Linda. Despite the masses of humans, it is a completely unique and glorious place. Thanks so much for your contribution today.

    • The majesty of Yellowstone and the Tetons is something we are lucky to have today, and you’re right, Walt, we need to continue managing and protecting these parks for the future. I’m glad you enjoyed visiting Yellowstone here, and I thank you for your visit and words.

  17. Wow. So many beautiful images. And the perfect time for them considering how crazy things are right now. My son and I couldn’t stop admiring the Morning Glory Pool. Amazing bit of nature.

    • I’m glad you and your son enjoyed the Yellowstone post, Keith. The Morning Glory Pool is mesmerizing, very true, even in the photo. It’s a work of art by nature, and so colorful and beautiful. Thanks for your visit and comment.

  18. Awwwww!!! Jet!!! This is beyond wonderful!!! It’s funny, yesterday another blogger I visit posted about The Grand Tetons. And now You and Athena’s amazing photos of Yellowstone and the Tetons!!! It’s a sign! It’s a sign!!! Visiting these places is at the top of our list. Thank You so much for sharing Y’alls wonderful time! And I am hoping Y’all are well. I’m so sorry to be hearing about all the fires out Your way and have been sending Love and Prayers. Stay safe and Thanks again!!! 🤗❤️😊

    • Oh how I enjoyed your visit and comment, Katy, thanks so much for bringing a smile to my face. I’m happy I could bring a spark of Yellowstone and The Tetons to you. I know you would like it here. Thanks for your kind thoughts. We are well and safe. You be safe too.

      • AH!!! I’m so happy to hear all is well with Y’all!!! And it’s absolutely my pleasure! You (and Athena) always bring a smile to mine! And Thank You….staying safe, indeed! Sending huge hugs Your way…🤗❤️😊

  19. How opportune to see the images of the bison while I happen to be reading about all the wonderful things they used to do for the prairie lands. I was poking around for something to read when I came across “Water: A Natural History” by Alice Outwater. (Hint: the book starts out with a lot of fun facts about the beaver.) Unfortunately, it seems the early settlers were far too good at wiping out many of the amazing lives that were native to this continent. Unfortunately we’re still at it. Good thing there were enough good people to preserve at least some of what once was.

    • Hi Gunta. I enjoyed hearing about the book you’re reading about the natural history of water, and the bison history, too. The history of what happened to all the bison is sickening. But the efforts to revive the bison population and the successes of the people who pushed forward with it, is uplifting. I’ m glad you enjoyed the bison images here, thanks for stopping by. I hope the fires of OR and the displacement of some of your family has settled down a bit by now. Many thanks, my friend.

    • Always a pleasure to “see” you, ACI, thanks for your visit. The two photos you mention of the elk and pronghorn close-up were fun. There was a small herd of female elk grazing on grass near the Mammoth terraces, a geothermal site. They weren’t paying attention to us, but just then one of the females looked up at us. The pronghorn were a complete surprise way out in the middle of nowhere prancing around the hillside. You know well the fun and challenge of photographing wildlife. Many thanks and warm wishes to you.

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