Fall in Yellowstone

Jim and I spent part of the week sorting sheep and doing most of our fall shipping, so we rewarded ourselves with a quick trip to Yellowstone National Park. After a breakfast in Jackson Hole, we headed north toward Moran Junction in Grand Teton National Park, and a black wolf crossed the road in front of us along the way. I wasn’t fast enough at getting the truck pulled off the side of the highway to get a photo.

The highlight of the day was the raven that followed us around near Fishing Bridge, inside the park. It’s hard to get decent photos of ravens, so I was pleased to have such an opportunity to try to capture the beauty of this bird, with its beautiful black feathers in its textured pattern.

It was a beautiful day, with the changing fall colors providing for brilliant yellows, reds and oranges across the landscape. There were still a lot of tourists in the park, and we laughed that the biggest traffic jams we saw were not “wolf jams” or “bear jams” but bison jams!

This is what the large population of bison and elk have done to Alum Creek, turning it into a mud flat (although the elk population has crashed in recent years). Alum Creek actually looks better now than it did 20 years ago, with some grass species starting to work their way back along the edges. It is still the most degraded riparian area I’ve ever seen in Wyoming. The nearest lodgepole pine trees to the creek (which are up on the hillsides, out of the picture) have been girdled – bison stripped all the bark off the trees for forage in the winter. If our livestock range looked like this, we’d be out of business.

We dug around in a few piles of bison dung and found it was rich with insect life, with a large variety of species represented. That’s one advantage of bison protection inside the park – the use of pesticides outside protected areas results in less insect life in dung. Dung can be an important food source for a variety of bird life, including everything from burrowing owls to sage grouse. We debated bootlegging dung out of the park to perform our own reintroduction process, but didn’t do it. Yes, it would have been illegal. Heck, it was probably illegal for us to be digging around in the dung with sticks!

We were also rather irritated about how much of the park was closed due to grizzly bear danger. Seems that the current thinking is that if grizzlies are present, that’s reason enough to close an area.

There’s certainly no shortage of grizzlies, and no shortage of people who are willing to get way too close. We saw a young grizzly (wearing a radio collar) working his way down a hillside. When we visit the park, we usually see a bear within about a mile of this location, so it’s somewhat of a regular bear crossing.

Unfortunately, people aren’t very willing to give bears much room to cross the highway. The red color on the left edge of the photo below is the car I kept between my body and the bear.

The last images I’m sharing today are of a new outhouse in the park – part of our economic recovery dollars at work. Notice the sign, and a slight alteration that had been added to the sign by a visitor. I know that guy, and drank a beer with him a few minutes later. (He took his handiwork down before we left). He suggested I call this post “A mature couple visits Yellowstone,” but our behavior suggests we’re lacking in the maturity department.

Yellowstone really is a fabulous place to visit, and hopefully we can squeeze in another trip to the park later this fall. It’s a magical place when there is snow falling and most of the humans have left for the season.