Yellowstone is so big and so varied, there is no way you can do it all in the three days I had scheduled. You have to pick your Yellowstone. Mine was going to be concentrated on animals. I’d made the right choice staying at the Roosevelt Lodge which is in the least populated part of the park, up near the Lamar Valley — which has been called The Little Serengeti of America. Even just on my trip in the previous evening from dinner up to Roosevelt, the number of animals increased exponentially the further away I got from The Old Faithful Inn. Early the next morning, I was set for the Wake Up to Wildlife Tour, although its 7AM departure seemed late to me for really seeing wildlife. Turns out my hunch on that was both true and untrue. In subsequent days, when I got out at 5:30 or 6, I saw more total wildlife. But there is also a value in taking a tour. The guide knows some stuff you can’t know.
Amazingly, most people opted to stay on the bus rather than run down to talk to the Wolf Watchers. Three of us did. I should digress and say many of my friends and family were nervous about me doing this epic roadtrip on my own. But surprisingly, I keep finding my people. This day, it was Geoff and Penny from Mystic Connecticut who joined me in trekking down on the plain. We were glad we did because we met Wolf Watcher Dough McLaughlin who we immediately dubbed The Wolf Man. Doug has been watching the wolves of Yellowstone nearly every day for years now.
Wolf Man has also been photographing the wolves — with the same little Panasonic Lumix point and shoot I have — although attached to a $7000 Swarovski scope! And it seems the company or one of its dealers is selling Wolf Man’s pictures of the various pack members on their site. I suggest you buy one. Wolf Man let us look through his scope to observe the Lamar Canyon Pack. I could clearly see each of the adults, including one lovely gray wolf called Big Grey, and a group of little cavorting pups.
After the tour, Penny, Geoff and I decided to join forces for a hike — and not just because your odds of being attacked by a bear go down by 40% when you are three or more versus one or two.
We also saw a Prairie Chicken drama play out as we watched a Red Tailed Hawk swoop and fly off. When we got to where he’d landed, we saw only a pile of feathers and a mother Prairie Chicken marshaling her remaining chicks. Seems we were one second ahead of seeing the hawk grab one. Circle of Life, my friends.
As we wandered through woodlands and then wetlands, we noticed more and more bear signs — which Geoff and Penny, who had been to a Ranger Talk on bears, helpfully pointed out to me. We decided to make enough noise that any resident bears would have the option to move off. Geoff is an acapella singer, so he sang a song about Chief Joseph’s horses. I regaled any resident bears with my Yogi Bear impressions. And just a side note — perhaps that’s why so many tourists are ignoring Yellowstone’s warnings about bears. Some of us have grown up thinking bears are loveable characters wearing fedoras and stealing picnic baskets. So I was yelling out: “Hey Boo Boo! I’m smarter than the average type bear” when another walker came toward us and cautioned us to be quiet. We looked to the left and there was a massive buffalo bull dozing under a tree. In Yellowstone, you take your chances: warn the bears or annoy the bison.
For those of you who still want to call this park Jellystone, here’s a clip of our favorite bear.