Memorial Weekend in Yellowstone

To visit Yellowstone National Park on Memorial Weekend is to spend a weekend of rain, snow and wind inside your tent or camper, wondering why on earth you thought this time would be any different. But the wonders of YNP are so far beyond the scope of weather, that all the snow can do is enhance it – if you’re lucky enough to have a working heater!

From Bozeman, the nearest entrance to the park is the North entrance by Gardiner. So, of course, we headed south to West Yellowstone and the West entrance. I’m so glad we did! For some reason that we can only guess at, the bison cows were on the move. They may have been migrating, they may have been asked to move by the rangers. Who knows? But move they did – by the hundreds! In the dark of night, a miles-long stretch of cows and calves made their way across roads and past the lake. I don’t know where they had come from or where they were heading. All I know is we saw more drop calves (none more than a week old and many probably less than that) with their mamas in one night than we’ll likely ever see again in our lives.

Taking pictures of bison calves in the dark while in a pickup is not easy! Most cows stayed between their babies and the lines of cars. This is about the best I could do.

Young bison calf at night

We didn’t see too many cows and calves any other time through the weekend. There were several scattered bulls, some alone, some with one or two others, but rarely any more little ones.  Single bulls quite frequently, in fact, decided that they needed the road to get where they were going as well. After all, the roads were built for them. (If you disagree, DON’T try to convince the bison of this! They don’t generally lose an arguement.) Of course, traffic backs up even more when people think that one bull in the road or off to the side is the only one they’ll see through out their entire trip. We saw countless clusters of half a dozen cars all parked to take pictures of some obscure bull bison 1/4 mile out in a field. Guess I’m just a bit pickier about my subjects. Not much, but a bit.

Bull bison sharing the road. Photo by Jeff Linehan.

These things weigh upwards of 2,000 lbs. I’m not sure my car weighs that much! One time when Rich and I were first married and I was driving truck with him, we went through Custer Nat’l Park in SD. As usual, there were a few bison outside of the boundaries. (like the beasties really care!) Rich pulled the Freightliner over so he could “go see it.”

Say what??

He actually got out and went right up to the thing. And this bull was HUGE! Probably closer to 3,000 lbs.  Now all over the parks out here are signs warning idiot tourists (like us) to stay away from the bison, that they are wild and unpredictable. So, of course Rich walked right up to it and around the other side. All I could see of my new husband was the top of his head and his waving arms. (Rich stands 6’7″, so that gives a bit of an idea how massive this creature was.) I’m thinking, “Does our life insurance cover acts of lunacy?”

Fortunately, the bison really couldn’t have cared less who was standing where. He was just mosying his way along the side of the road and wasn’t about to give Rich the time of day…thank heavens!

We saw more elk than any bow hunter ever should out of season. The bulls were in velvet – some with nubs, some with more.

Bull elk in velvet

No calves that I could see.  A little disappointing. Elk calves are tall, leggy and very awkward when they’re new. Beautiful! Also didn’t see any moose. That would have been fun.

Rich kept hoping to see some grizzley or wolves. There had been numerous grizzley sightings, at least in the eastern part of the park. But we never saw any. Did see one young black bear, probably about two years old. He was just sitting up on a hillside, minding his own business. Didn’t pay any attention to the throngs of visitors snapping photos of him.

We also saw some pretty impressive grizzley tracks in the snow. Not something I’d be too inclined to follow.

There were a few other animals – numerous herons and raptors, crows by the hundreds! I don’t know rodents that well, but there was some fat, furry thing that looked like a squirrel ate a volleyball. It was living in the geyser area near Old Faithful. Someone called it a rock chuck. I don’t think it looked that much like them, but who knows?

For those who remember the massive fires in 1988, I’ll post photos of the regrowth on another blog entry. It is looking really good! There have been more recent fires, of course, and they are barely starting to grow in. You’ll see the contrast.


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