Friday, June 20, 2014

Yellowstone Part II: Winter Lingers

Specimen Ridge
First an apology .... I know my font is jumping around in size ... but my attempts to fix it have failed.  Rather than retype the whole post I'm going to leave it as is.  

April 11 thru April 14

When we first arrive in Yellowstone, it takes a little while to settle onto Yellowstone Time,  i.e. focusing on where we are and soaking in Yellowstones special brand of wildness.  Some people feel park animals are tame.  We feel this is a rare place where animals havent learned to fear man and respond to man as if man had never taken over their continent.  Here we can be reasonably close to natural behaviors and feel our presence isnt an intrusion as long as we remember there still are limits as to what is appropriate behavior for us.

Our first days are spent checking out favorite haunts.  There really isn’t a lot to check at this time of year.  Only the road through the northern section of the park is open.  It runs from Mammoth to Cooke City and is kept open except during inclement weather … and government shutdowns.  The only place to stay in the park in early April is one half of one campground.  All park lodging is closed.  We stay just outside the park.  
A good friend, Bill Hamblin, pointed out our first bear for the season.  Far off on Buffalo Plateau a grizzly was feeding on a winter killed bison carcass.

Blacktail Ponds still has punky ice.  Not much in the valley for bison to eat, but bison shuffle about taking advantage of old grasses. 

Floating Island is still frozen, but beginning to darken around its edges. 

We ate a lunch at the entrance of Blacktail Loop Road.  Later on it will be a good place for birds, but very quiet this early in the season.  We parked for over an hour and didnt hear one bird call.  Instead we watched snow sublimate, which is just a tad faster than watching grass grow.
Little America has streams and ponds weve never seen before.  Lots of water flowing. It has been warm the past few days and there is lots of snow to melt.  Yellowstone got 150% of its normal snowfall this past winter.  There are bison in Little American, but all we saw in the Lamar Valley was just a few scattered bison bulls.  The stillness of winter lingers in the Lamar Valley.  Deep snow on all but the southern exposures.  Honking from a pair of Canada geese briefly interrupted the quiet.  Two old bison bulls plucked at frosty, dry grasses.  One raven.  Much to come, but not here yet. 

We went all the way to Cook City on the 14th., saw all the snow, and turned around. In the higher elevations we looked for both moose and bear tracks, but found only deep, unblemished snow. Soda Butte Creek is beautiful.  Pillows of snow cap boulders and clusters of icicles hang just over the creek.  They form when water splashes up and drips off low hanging fallen logs.
Leaf Hopper -- this little insect is about one third of an inch long.  He is sitting on one scale of a pine cone.
On April 14th we were surprised to find lots and lots of leafhoppers down near the creek at Lava Creek, in the tall, dead grasses.  They seem an odd find in this chilly weather.  We checked a few days later and they seemed to be doing just fine in spite of nights well below freezing.

Elk numbers are way down from their high.  National Public Radio says there are about 3900 versus 20,000 in 1992.  Wolf numbers have also dropped way down from their peak.  An overabundance of elk made for abundant wolf numbers.  Now the pendulum swings, maybe too far the other way.  Itll take time to find the new normal. 

We both have a strong sense that we have had the good fortune to spend a significant amount of springtime in YNP when it was one of the choicest of times.  We started spring trips about the time of the wolf introduction.   We had far better wolf viewing then than what occurs now.  The good part is we are now seeing some recovery of the habitat aspen and willow are making  progress.  More pronghorns and more foxes.  Even beaver numbers are recovering in the park.


  1. The bison is breathtaking, Elva. (I've had this same font problem when I cut/paste from Word. If you convert the text to plain text before pasting to Blogger, that might take care of it.)

    - Tina

    1. Thank you for the advice Tina .... I'll try that. I was cutting and pasting from Word.

  2. Another atmospheric post, I can almost feel the cold reading your description and that bison is amazing. Thank you Elva for giving us an insight into a different world.

  3. It's fun to go with you on these trips via your posts here. You are a great story teller, with words and illustrations. I love the bison painting. It's just wonderful!

  4. Having been there for a short time last spring, it's fun to hear you talk of places I can attach to memories. Love your stories and art and sharing it with friends and family as ops arise.

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