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

 

Rainbows and Blessings

Glacier Nat'l. Park, Montana

Glacier Nat’l. Park, Montana

I give you these rainbows for St. Patrick’s Day.  This first one is a double, and I know it radiates with good luck because an hour earlier I could have been dead.

We were driving on Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park, Montana.  It was a road that was clinging to the side of 8,000+ foot peaks on one side, and very steep dropoffs on the other.  Because these glacial mountains were so high and vast, there were hairpin turns and switchbacks in every mile.  It was breathtaking and we drove along in awe.  Then for some reason the car in front of us was stopped, so we stopped.  It wasn’t a good place to stop, so we craned our necks, annoyed, trying to see what the delay was.

Then we saw.  The car in front of us had come to a halt because minutes earlier there had just been a huge landslide that now blocked both lanes of the road.  The mountainside had loosened and tumbled across the road and down into the canyon.  The air was still a cloud of particles and debris, and small pebbles rained down.  While the red Toyota in front of us sat, the two people safe but in disbelief, we backed up, turned around, and high-tailed out of there.

It was a 50 mile road that we had almost reached the end of (it took two hours), and now we had no choice but to turn around and go all the way back.  It was nearly dark and this road wasn’t going to be cleared or opened for at least a day, if not more.  As we drove we counted our lucky stars that we hadn’t been driving in that spot five minutes earlier when the mountain gave way.

Then a huge storm blew through the canyon.  It was a spectacular show of lightning accompanied by trembling thunder and a deluge of rain.  The drive back was incredibly treacherous, but we had the marvel of these rainbows, and the lightning show was glorious.

Maui, Hawaii

Maui, Hawaii

After we were safely back to our lodge we could celebrate our fortune in making it back in one piece.

These other two rainbows are from Maui.  If you’ve ever been to any of the Hawaiian Islands, you know that it rains a lot, in short tropical bursts.  And rainbows pop up often.

I believe we have to all be our own leprechauns.  Sometimes luck is with us.  We didn’t get swept off the side of the road and swallowed up in the canyon.  But sometimes we have to conjure our luck by counting our blessings, moving on to the next thing, and celebrating all the adventures we encounter along our path.

Maui, Hawaii

Maui, Hawaii