Monday, 22 October 2012

How to Spot an Elk

For our second day in Mammoth Hot Springs we decided to drive south toward Norris, with the aim of seeing the Norris Geyser Basin. I was driving this morning, which meant that Dave was chief wildlife spotter. We had quickly learned that one of us had to keep our eyes on the passing scenery every second, as although some animals were easy to see – such as bison, which were everywhere – others were shy and secretive and you could so easily miss something spectacular.

I was still finding the memory of my first bison encounter quite funny. I’d been so excited to see those animals behind their wire fences, insisting we stop so that I could take pictures of the iconic beasts in case we didn’t see any others during our stay. And now here we were becoming quite blasé about seeing truly wild bison, which were clearly extremely common in the park. We’d seen them laying down, rolling in the dust, quietly grazing, standing still in the sunshine, and strolling casually down the sides of the road. I was even beginning to feel a little guilty when an interesting dark speck in the distance turned out to be “just another bison.”  
Just another (magnificent!) bison
Our wildlife vigilance was to pay off this morning, though. As we drove out of Mammoth and on toward Indian Creek, Dave suddenly said, “Stop, I’ve just seen a coyote!” Fortunately there was nothing following us, so I was able to bring the Jeep to a stop and slowly reverse back up the road. Dave used his “man overboard” sailing training (you never take your eyes off a person who has fallen into the sea – they are astonishingly hard to find again if there is even the smallest swell) to keep the spot where he had seen the coyote in his line of sight. I have to say that I didn’t expect it to still be there when we reached the right bit of road, I knew coyotes were shy. Luck was smiling on us however, because just as we drew abreast of where Dave had seen it, there it still was, its head just visible behind some sage brush. We didn’t have time to get the camera on it because as soon as it realized we had seen it, it slunk off. We caught sight of it a couple more times as it moved further away, and then it was gone. Yet another animal to tick off our list! It wasn’t quite a wolf – the one animal I longed to see and was quite sure I wouldn’t – but it was pretty close. I was proud of Dave for seeing it because it had been quite well camouflaged.

We drove on to the Norris Geyser Basin and spent the morning looking at the geysers and hot springs. It was another hot day but there was some light cloud which muted the sun’s glare. The calcified deposits around the springs could be startlingly white and even with sunglasses the brightness hurt our eyes. Once we’d finished at Norris we went on to Canyon Village, where we treated ourselves to ice creams. Dave wanted to video the lower falls and left me sitting in the shade – my foot was sore after the mile and a half walk around Norris and I was happy just to sit and wait.
Canyon Falls

After such a busy day, we headed early back to the hotel. For supper we had decided to go into Gardner, which was just outside the National Park and also just over the border into Montana. There was a nice restaurant where you could sit overlooking the Yellowstone River. As we arrived back in Mammoth though, we found something to delay us. Yet again my preconceptions about how hard it would be to spot Yellowstone’s wildlife were completely swept away by the large herd of female elk that were milling about in front of our hotel. There were around 30 animals altogether, and some of them were youngsters. These were so sweet with their dappled coats and large, soft eyes. The adults seemed totally unfazed by the cars and people surrounding them as everyone tried to get good photographs. The elk grazed the lawns around the hotel, or lazed in the shade of the trees growing on the roundabout, or strolled casually down the middle of the road, making the cars creep slowly behind them. I was entranced and we took many photos and even some video clips, getting pretty close to one mother and her fawn. Not too close, though – those mother elk were pretty large!
Elk babies at our hotel

1 comment:

  1. Aw. Nice pictures. Wyoming is something else, isn't it? I've got family living in the northern part of the state and spent a couple of summers there. I've got quite a fondness for it.