Video of coyote in Lamar Valley 10/8/19
Video of the Junction Butte Wolf Pack Lamar Valley 10/8/19
2nd Video of the Junction Butte Wolf Pack Lamar Valley 10/8/19
Fall Colors, Cottonwoods in the Cold Valley
Lamar Valley 10/7
This morning the alarm jolted us awake and we rolled over. We can go later, let’s sleep in a bit. We did.
We drove off a full hour later as the sun was rising over the ridges. It was over 50 F this morning. Weird. As we drove through Tower and toward Lamar Valley, the temp dropped to near freezing.
We drove to our now favorite spot for seeing the Junction Butte wolf pack. As we neared the turn-out it was apparent we were too late to park. There was no room for us. As I drove by slowly, a ranger U-turned behind me. He had just finished doling out a ticket. I moved on, he followed. There were no turnouts with available parking headed toward pebble creek. A large turnout appeared to our left and I turned in to turn around. The ranger turned in behind. Oh Crap, not again. And again this time the ranger drove back toward the popular turn-outs. I turned about and followed. We passed “our spot” where the ranger had another customer. The next spot up the valley had an opening for us. There were people with spotting scopes out. We stopped.
We could see gray wolves in the far distance. They were bedding down and not very active. Three tan colored creatures moved in from the right. The gal beside us trained her scope on them and declared, “Wolf”. While it is unusual to have three coyote ranging together, these were clearly coyote. They were great to watch at less than half a mile. The wolves were about 2 miles away.
Typical for us, though we were freezing at temps around 26 F, we were enchanted with the Valley and stayed for hours. After a while we drove back down the valley, found more people out with spotting scopes, and stopped. This turnout is huge and easily accommodated us. “What are you seeing?” “There’s a grizzly over there, in the tree line.” It was far off. Training our scopes on the bear, we saw the brown lump. “There he is”, but the bear didn’t move at all. Ellen walked up a nearby hill and motioned me over. From there we could clearly see “the bear”. A fellow photographer said, “That’s a Glacial Rock Bear, it moves at glacial speed.” We all laughed. It was a large brown rock. Interestingly, the gal who spotted and watched the bear was the same one who cried “wolf” earlier. Often we see what we want to see.
After watching coyote at (relatively) close range, I am convinced that last year’s light colored wolf was a coyote.
We headed back “home” sometime after noon. Ellen wanted to find some hand warmers (she had one left over from last year that worked marvelously well). I agreed.
Wolves, Far Far Away
See The Wolves? Not the Rocks!
Lamar Valley 10/8
Each visit to Lamar Valley is a treat. The Junction Butte pack is very active this year. It is optimal to arrive before sunrise both for a good parking spot and to see the wolves at their most active. Yesterday, we failed the early arrival goal. Last night I set the alarm another 20 minutes earlier. We were determined to go back to “our spot”.
We left Rocky Mountain RV Park at 6 am. It was cold at 24 F in Gardiner. We expected far lower temps in the drive ahead. Though we were early, three cars were ahead of us at the park entrance. At Mammoth Hot Springs, the split off. They were probably park employees. The roads in Yellowstone are well maintained and easy to drive. Often the speed limit seems far lower than the road could handle. The speed limit is not about the road, it’s about the animals. Around any turn we could be confronted by a bison, prong horn, or even bear. I took driving the roads at less than the posted speed limit. There’s no need to rush past would could be fantastic sightings. In the near dark, we had no sightings and still no need for speed.
We scanned for bear where we saw the grizzly a few days ago; no sighting. Dropping into Lamar Valley, just past the small sign, the pre-sunrise glow was showing over the ridges to the east. We found a spot at our favorite spot and parked with Li’l Beast canted to the right enough to be problematic for the ‘fridge. We turned the fridge off.
Watching the sunlight change as the sun rises over the valley is rewarding in itself. About a mile and a half distant we could see wolves cavorting in the early morning. If you know what to look for, you could see them with your naked eye. Tiny black dots moving about in tall yellow grasses. We could see head, body, legs, tail wagging with the spotting scope. I took some video with the phone scope that is “ok”. Even in the early morning, heat shimmer over a one to two mile range makes focus nearly impossible.
Much Closer than the Wolves
While looking at the wolves, I heard a bugle behind. I uttered, “elk bugle” and was immediately corrected, “Coyote Howl”. In my defense, the first few moments of the call did sound like an elk. “The coyote is right there, on the near ridge beside that aspen.” I trained the scope high on a far ridge and saw nothing. Down a ridge, I saw nothing. Then at the near ridge there was a small aspen and the coyote. He filled the field of view and looked right at me. Gorgeous. He howled again as I mounted the phone scope. At this distance focus was perfect. With IPhone attached to the scope I found the coyote had gone. I had another near miss. No complaints, just seeing him up close like that was great.
Back to the wolves someone called out “grizzly, there near the tree line by the two rocks”. Finding the two rocks at the tree line was easy. To the right I saw the bear ambling about. He was further out than the wolves and focus was a problem. After a while he went back into the trees.
Daniel the photographer appeared beside us at some point. He had a 500mm lens with a doubler on a 7D body. Even so he didn’t have the reach to get good photos of the wolves. He dragged out a sigma 600mm on the doubler for comparison. He said the added range was disappointing. The 500 was better. We had a wide ranging discussion of travel, photography, and how the best photos tell a story.
More wolves arrived from the left and the right. We counted ten, there could have been more. While watching, a family parked behind us and was curious about what we were seeing. I asked her youngest child, “would you like to see a wolf?” Wide eyed she nodded her head. I broke down my tripod to being it down to her level, centered one of the wolves, and asked her to look. Her immediate reaction was to hold the scope that threw the wolf off screen. I tried a few times, then her mom held her and helped her see the wolf. We share our views with anyone interested, there’s something special about seeing the wolves through this little girl.
Off the Road and Into the Sage Brush
Crossing the Lamar River
Idyllic Turnout headed Home
By around 12:30 we headed off to Mammoth in search of propane. We had two days of very cold weather ahead and wanted a full tank to be safe. Gardiner’s sole propane vendor was on vacation. There is none available in Mammoth. West Yellowstone was our only option. I called ahead before we left. We also called Jessica at Rocky Mountain RV Park to say we would be staying at least another two nights.
What is a Hong Kong waffle
Mexican Food, Closed
As I mentioned earlier, Mountain Momma’s was closed. We had no take-out chicken pot pie. We filled with propane, only 2.5 Gal and drove back toward Mammoth and home. We stopped at most of the turn-outs between West Yellowstone and Madison Campground. The road runs along the Madison River with amazing views We missed taking photos of elk crossing the river and shaking the water off.
The Madison River
Upper Mammoth Hot Springs
Terraces Upper Mammoth Hot Springs
At this time of year, elk take on their winter coat. It starts off as thick brown nubs appearing along their backs. Over time that fills out to a heavy fur coat. Even bison develop a heavy coat over their fore body. It’s amazing to see the daily change in our “home” elk. I’m sure wolves develop a winter coat too, but we’ve not been able to see that much detail over such distance.
Check Out These Winter Coats
His Coat is Filling In Up Top
If you slow down, wait, and go back numerous times to favorite spots you may be rewarded with a once in a lifetime happening. Now and then you may get a ‘one off’, just being in the right place at the right time. More typically that exquisite experience goes to those who spend the time looking for it. That throw away phrase popular 20 years ago, “been there, done that” is so revealing. “There” is different each time if you’re open to the experience.
Trophic Cascade Explained
Hayden Valley and Lamar Valley are often mentioned together. One fellow I spoke with had wolves walk within 20 yards of him in Hayden Valley. He hikes. Before we go and if we can find campsites in Madison, we will visit Hayden Valley before moving to Grand Teton.
There is a citizen’s science group that keeps track of wolves in the park. It is illegal for non park personnel to tag and track the wolves. This citizens group gathers information from rangers and citizen sightings and presents the information on line here.
Rocky Mountain RV Park
Luxury, Cappuccino in Bed
It is 8:54 pm on 10/8/2019. The expected snow arrived early in the morning and kept up until 3:00 in the afternoon. We’ve had about 3 inches here in Gardiner. I’m sure Yellowstone has seen from 6” to two feet in higher elevations. We were concerned about our water tanks and lines. Our water tank was warm to the touch. We’ve left all cabinets that house water lines open. The light bulb in the outside water cabinet has kept it toasty warm. So long as our propane lasts we’ll be fine in very low temps for a few days.
We have a small space heater that keeps us warm. The propane heater doesn’t come on as much. Tonight we’ll turn off the space heater for safety and keep the propane heater at 50 or 55. We have had no condensation on the inside, though there could be some in the walls we’re not aware of. I’m quite satisfied with Li’l Beast’s performance in sub freezing temps. I’m a bit concerned with our diesel gelling, though that’s self correcting in higher temperatures. We should see temps in the 40’s on Friday. If so we’ll push on to Madison (after getting propane in West Yellowstone).