Yellowstone May 20: Wapiti Wolves and Fog

It was supposed to be a relatively clear day, but Yellowstone had other plans.  Which happens a lot.  There was a decent snowstorm earlier in the week, and I think that may pushed some of the wildlife out of Hayden Valley to lower elevations.  That’s not to say there wasn’t anything to see, it just took a lot more patience.

Now that the south entrance is open for the season, the normal route after work is up through Jackson, camping in Bridge Bay or Canyon.  Yellowstone has many campsites, but I won’t bother with first-come-first-served sites.  Mainly because I’m coming into the park in the evening to stage for the next morning.  So most FCFS sites will be filled, and it’s too risky.

So tonight it’s Bridge Bay.  In my last visit to the park, Bridge Bay CG was still buried in multiple feet of snow.  I was surprised to see that it was mostly melted out.  Now it’s just muddy/marshy everywhere.  Which is fine.  I found a patch of grass not too wet and on a slight slope in case it started raining (it did).

With camp made, there is enough light to go eat my sandwich somewhere peaceful, like Lake Butte Overlook.

Saturday, May 20

Hayden Valley was ~25 degrees and socked in with fog.  Mary Bay wasn’t faring much better.

Unfortunately, there isn’t much else to target until the fog clears because the road is blocked off between N Rim Drive and S Rim Drive, due to a water main break.  This cuts off access to Canyon Village from my location.

It started to clear by 9am, but the humidity stuck around.  You can tell in layered landscape like this:

See how each row of trees is more hazy?  It can create interesting depth effects for landscapes, but it will always affect the overall sharpness of wildlife photos.  Bummer.

It didn’t turn out to be that big of deal, because wildlife wan’t very active today anyway.  I moved on to Canyon – the only accessible overlook from my side of the park.  Lower Falls showed a hint of color this morning.

Another pleasant surprise with the snow-melt is the brink of Upper Falls.  The overlook at least seems to be melted out already.  A huge improvement from two weeks ago.  Although I’m not sure what the trail is like.

Visibility is improving in the valley as the day progresses.  Some life starts creeping out from the woodwork, herds of elk at a distance and one up close.

Then before leaving this turnout, a couple Wapiti wolves show up.

It’s the alpha female!  Looks like she is lactating.  The hearsay is that both her and the other female had a litter this year.  The black wolf is a male from the Molies last year, identified with the help of a friend as as 1015M.

The rest of the day was spent scoping and scouting to no avail.  I was surprised to not find a single bear from Canyon through Mary Bay.  Maybe this week’s storm pushed them somewhere else?

Normally mid-day is my preferred time for a short day hike, but the northern range is best for that this time of year.  Unfortunately that’s inaccessible for me today.  So hanging out with the harlequin ducks and some more wildlife scouting will have to do.

As the evening progressed, more weather started to roll in.  Mt Washburn fire tower disappearing from view not a good sign.

Towards the end of the evening, the 2yr Wapiti female was spotted.  I guess she has a collar now, 1091F? (Correct me if I’m wrong)  That was near the Mary Mountain trailhead.

Then it was time to tuck in for the night.  Went asleep to the sound of a steady rain.  Listen to the white noise of rain with the occasional patter of water dumping off the rain fly.

Sunday, May 21

Sometimes I want to be packed up super early, being for work, church, etc.  This was one of those days.  Yeah, I could leave the night before, but I value my time in the park by the number of sunset + sunrises.  Staying in the park another night and heading out first thing in the morning gives me one extra dusk and dawn as opposed to driving home at night.  It also coordinates well with the sunrise over GTNP.

But first I have to get up.  You know how it can be hard to get out of bed in the morning when the house is chilly?  Forget about that.  5am and the tent is encrusted in a layer of ice.  Either it switched over to freezing rain overnight, freezing fog, or something.  In any case, it’s time to get the tent folded up in the bin and tossed in the jeep.  The vehicle temp gauge reported 25 degrees that morning.

The drive off the plateau was socked in with fog, so not much of a sunrise view of Yellowstone Lake.

Passing by Pilgrim Creek Rd @ 6:30, there was a grizzly back by the treeline.  The bear sighting pulls through at the 11th hour of the trip!  But it’s shooting directly against the sun with no time to re-position.  Oh well, challenge accepted!

Forced to go for the silhouette look, shape is key.  Similar to the foggy bison photo, I’ll take a burst of shots, and keep the one with the best leg position and body outline.  This one even has a hint of light shining through his front claws.

Moving on through the typical GTNP overlooks and home by 9am.

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