And the Ranger said “It’s that time of year”!
by BlueSky on Mon Oct 29, 2012 11:05 am
We arrived at The Mammoth Campground around noon on the 21st. There were very few campers left & the hosts told us that the lower half of the campground would be closing on the 24th. No problem, we were leaving on the 24th, so we chose a spot on the lower half. There was no one around us. How rare was that! The temperature was a bit chilly but not too bad. So we set up & headed out towards Swan Lake. There were lots of clouds & intermittent sunshine. The Tundra Swans were floating & talking on Swan Lake.
We scoped the hills & didn’t find anything, so we moved on towards The Hayden Valley. We stopped at Nez Perce for a quick break & we were once again entertained by the Gray Jays, Steller’s Jays & Clark’s Nutcracker.
We continued on to The Pelican Creek Trailhead. Not a single animal. And amazingly, hardly any people! We headed back towards Canyon & then Norris. So quiet. Before the daylight would fade completely, we decided to take the Upper Terrace Drive. The sun was setting fast & the 3/4 waxing moon was rising. No one else was around which was a little spooky & the dramatic features with their steam & gurgling sounds added to the effect. We shot a few pictures of their orange & green colors & alien looking shapes in the moonlight.
The next day we arose before sunrise. We decided to concentrate on The Swan Lake & Hayden Valley area since this would be our last shot before the road would close for the season. We parked at Swan Lake waiting for the sunrise. Snow was lightly falling & it was much colder. As first light revealed a thin layer of ice on Swan Lake & the swans gently floating about, we glassed the hills for signs of anything else. Nothing except a couple of frosty Bison.
We moved on & just before Indian Creek, found a nice bunch of cow elk & one large bull with snow on his antlers. Very regal. We moved on a bit further & suddenly two shapes traveling at high speed, crossed the road in front of us! Wolves?? No, coyotes. Then a Mule Deer Doe & her fawn crossed the road in front of us going in the opposite direction of the coyotes. Then we spotted another coyote in the sage. And finally another coyote crossed the road & a Mule Deer Doe right after. That’s 4 coyotes & several Mule Deer. The coyotes must have had some strategy in mind & after a few minutes, we no longer saw any movement in the sage. Well, that was exciting!
Along the Yellowstone river we came upon more Tundra Swans.
We headed for The Grizzly Overlook & found that a few Wolf Watchers had 3 Canyons in their scopes. The Alpha Female & 2 grays. One with terrible mange couldn’t stop scratching. The wolves continued to nap so we decided to move on. It was very nice to meet Richard (YSNut) & several more nice folks from Utah!
As we drove along the winding Yellowstone River, Canada Geese were busy dipping their heads under the water, their fluffy white butts tipped up in the air. Suddenly we saw a different sort of bobbing & Kevin exclaimed “Otters”! We pulled out at the next pull-out which worked out perfectly. The Otters came out of the water on a little bank & entertained us with their snuggling, grooming, smooching & their famous “poop dance”! After about 10 minutes or so, it was time for them to move on & off they slid into the water & continued down the river. One other car spotted them farther down & they quickly stopped in the middle of the road & raced to get a few shots as they bobbed away. Only 6 lucky people witnessed the show.
The rest of the day was quiet. Again, especially quiet & void of tourists. The clouds came & went. Snow fell here & there. But the last of the sun & storm clouds painted a dramatic sunset on Swan Lake to close out our day. The roads had a light layer of snow & were a bit icy, so it was slow going down through the Golden Gate. Tonight would be an even colder night.
We awoke to 15 degrees & snowing. Our plan was to still head for The Hayden Valley again. We climbed the hill above Mammoth & the snow was falling fast & accumulating on the road. We rounded the corner at the cliffs & Rustic Falls & were blasted by the wind. Almost a white out. Well we’re not going to see much wildlife in this, so we turned around & headed east . Much less snow but very quiet for critter sightings. The sun actually came out & the weather looked much more promising. So again drawn by the fact that this was our last time in The Hayden Valley, we turned around. The clouds near Mammoth still looked dark & heavy but we continued on. We arrived at The Upper Terraces & found the road closed! Other people were waiting & a Zanterra truck was putting chains on their rear tires. We watched as several sanding trucks rolled by, so we were confident that the road would re-open shortly. After about 15 minutes the Ranger arrived & went to open the gate. As he was doing so, he suddenly disappeared behind his vehicle & landed hard on the pavement. Ouch! “Yep” it was very slick out there! Do we risk it? “Yep”! Nothing like Yellowstone during the dramatic change of the season! We felt that we were prepared with a 4-wheel drive, good tires, warm clothes, food & water, just in case.
Our travel along the roadway was a mixture of ice, frozen slush, snowpack & wet pavement. The journey between Norris & Canyon was especially icy & snow packed. When we arrived in The Hayden Valley it was very quiet. Even Grizzly Overlook was empty! We stopped at Nez Perce again & had the place to ourselves…except for “Mr. Peeper’s” the Red Squirrel, who entertained us with his pinecone antics. He had a deep hole in the forest floor at the base of a tree, that he would stick his head into & pull out his prized possession. It must have been lunch time & he perched himself on just the right branch with his tail curled perfectly over his back & head & proceeded to tear apart the whole pinecone. Then it was back to collecting, transferring & stashing more pinecones for the long winter into several different storage holes that he had on the forest floor. He then came up to me, & looked into my camera lens like saying, you want a close-up? Now too close for a picture!!
We thought we should start heading back towards the valley. Where were all the people? Now it was really quiet. We had a quick glimpse of a Muskrat on a rock along the river near the Otter Creek Picnic area & turned around to see if we could get a shot. Never saw him again. We decided to stop for a look at the Upper Falls with the fresh snowfall. The parking lot was empty! That was a first! Where are all the people?
Well, it was time to head for Mammoth. The sun had been out & the weather wasn’t too bad, so it should be an easy drive back. We arrived at Canyon & found a Ranger with his lights flashing & a road closed sign! Uh Oh!
The Ranger told us that, there had been several accidents & that the road was closed. He told us that everything else was closed except for the South entrance. That would mean spending the night in Jackson. He said, that they were going to try to get it open, but… “there is no guarantee’! “It’s that time of year”! He then said “that you are welcome to wait at the visitor’s center & that they would come & get us if the road re-opened”. We saw a sanding truck head out so we thought…O.K. maybe they are going to try to get us out of here. So we took another drive back to Otter Creek to look for the muskrat while waiting. Didn’t find the muskrat but found a cow elk attempting to cross the river & a coyote crossed our path. Well, that was cool. With all the roads closed at this point….it was REALLY quiet. Now feeling like we should be back at Canyon in case they do open the road very briefly, we turned around & parked in the gas station lot so we could see the ranger & his road closed sign. There were a few other people waiting & the gas station attendant was busy plowing the snow around the pumps & parking lot. Construction workers were still working at Canyon. So clearly, the road would be travelled. We waited a little longer & suddenly the Ranger pulled the Road Closed sign & we all lined up, ready to be escorted across the road from Canyon to Norris. The opposite direction would remain closed, so there was no on-coming traffic.
We progressed slowly along the icy road & turned at Norris to find a mostly wet & then again, icy road. We came across a sign that said, “Surveyor Crew Ahead”. Really?? “Yep” they were still working. Don’t know why… but those guys are pretty resilient to be working in that weather.
Just past the surveyors, we found a car off the road into the rocks. It had done a 360 & ended up off the road & wedged on the rocks right before Obsidian Cliffs. We continued our travel along the icy road, verrrry slowly.
We eventually made it back to Mammoth & were grateful for the efforts of The Rangers, the sanding trucks & The “Plow guys”! You guys “Rock”!!
Our last morning we awoke to fresh snow. It was beautiful. We wanted to take one last look to the east & found the Wolf Watcher’s at Hellroaring. The “New Pack” was in view, at least 8 members. That was neat. Then we encountered a very fluffy fox at Phantom Lake.
Yellowstone was again another adventure & the dramatic change in weather kept us on our toes. That’s just the way we like it!
“It’s that time of year”!
We’ll see you out there.
T & K