Wildlife Along Beartooth Highway

Mountain goats along Beartooth Highway.

Following are some pictures of the mountain goats we saw at one of the overlooks on the Beartooth Highway. The Beartooth Highway runs through the Absaroka Mountains. Mountain goats are not native to the area and were introduced from 1941 to 1958 by Montana Fish and Game (source fwp.mt.gov).

Baby mountain goat along Beartooth Highway.
Mountain goats along Beartooth Highway.
Mountain goats along Beartooth Highway.
Mountain goats along Beartooth Highway.

After having a hard time with low light conditions getting a picture of the marmots and pikas, I went back up the next morning and was successful in getting some video and pictures.

Marmot along Beartooth Highway.
Pika along Beartooth Highway.
Pika along Beartooth Highway.

Following is the video of the mountain goats, pika, and marmot.

Our propane heater is broken and we were boondocking in Limber Pines in the Custer-Gallatin National Forest. It went down to 37 degrees the second night, so it was very chilly in the motorhome. If I wanted to freeze while camping, I could do it a lot less expensively in a tent. We reached out to our next campground and they could accommodate us early so we left. We went from 37 degrees in the morning to 85 degrees when we arrived in our new campground.

Pika along Beartooth Highway.


A view from our campsite in Limber Pines in Custer-Gallatin National Forest.

We left Livingston, Montana to head to a National Forest Service campsite south of Red Lodge, Montana with no utilities and no cell phone service. After arrival and set up, it began to hail. It looked like miniature snow balls. If it lasted a little longer, we would have been in a winter wonderland.

The next morning we headed off on the Beartooth Highway which traverses the beautiful Absoraka Mountains. This is one of the most amazing scenic highways in the U.S. We stopped to get some pika and marmot pictures but the area was in shadow so the pictures didn’t turn out well.

Scenic view from the Beartooth Highway.

We eventually saw some mountain goats on a scenic overlook. I had been wondering if there were mountain goats in the area and the sighting answered my question. There were 2 adults and 2 kids. We were fortunate to get some video. This was an amazing gift of the day. (The pictures and video will be in the next post.)

Dart loves the snow, so we stopped at a place that had easy snow access. Dart enjoyed it but his age is showing and he wasn’t as exuberant as a couple years ago. We were on a short dirt road that looped around back to the highway. We could back up or go over a short patch of snow. We opted to go forward and once we got stuck in the snow, Regis made a profound statement “That was a mistake.”

Dart and Regis playing in the snow off the Beartooth Highway.
Regis digging snow. We had to move the car back over the way we came. It was not possible to go forward.
Scenic view from the Beartooth Highway near where we got stuck.

I was embarrassed because we have Florida license plates and we were very stuck. It took over two hours to dig ourselves out. We had to solve the problem with less than perfect tools at our disposal. We used a dust pan and a lug wrench to dig out. We have some mats in the back of the car to protect the carpet from dogs and used those and the floor mats to help get traction. We made slow progress until we were a few feet away from victory and could not get the last couple feet.

A few women showed up and asked if we needed help. We asked if they were willing to push and they did. It was just the oomph we need to get through the last few feet. These four women saved the day. Woman rule! We would eventually have made it out, but they saved us a few more hours at least. I adore them.

After that, we lived happily ever after that day. We drove to Cooke City to check out camping options for a future stay. It is at the northeast entrance to Yellowstone National Park and in bear country. You must camp in a hard sided vehicle/RV. We got information for a future stay. This is a tough area to access with a motorhome and we now know there are two routes to take and one of them works best coming from the east. We would need to go over the Chief Joseph Highway to the Beartooth Highway into the US Forest Service campgrounds at the northeast entrance to Yellowstone NP. After checking out the campgrounds, we are comfortable doing this on a future trip. Coming from the west, you would need to go through Yellowstone National Park.

Scenic view from the Beartooth Highway.

After spending two hours digging ourselves out of snow and driving the entire Beartooth Highway, we were done when we got back to camp. We were grateful our stuck situation wasn’t worse.

Regis and I are now even. I got the Jeep stuck in a swamp a year and a half ago and now Regis got the Jeep stuck along the Beartooth Highway. It was under a similar situation in that we were on a road with a form of water ahead and believed it was not that deep since it was a road. My Florida swamp situation was easier to get out of but hard to clean afterwards. Getting the Jeep stuck in the snow was harder to get out of, but not as messy to clean. Dart slept the entire adventure.

Mountain stream near Limber Pines campground.
Scenic view from a USFS road in the Custer-Gallatin National Forest.

For those who are a little stressed and would like a zen moment, following are two videos of a mountain creek.

Yellowstone Jaunt

Two young male bison playfighting in Yellowstone National Park.

We are staying in Livingston, Montana before we head to a campground near the Beartooth Highway tomorrow where we will be boondocking (no utilities) for 4 days in bear country and we will have no cell phone service. Our stop in Livingston is only 55 miles to the north Yellowstone National Park entrance, so we thought we’d drop in for a couple hours. We know the park is extremely busy in the summer and it is best to get out of there by 10:00 when the crowds really start to come in. Also, the wildlife viewing is best at sunrise.

We woke up way before the sun to head on our short stay in the park. Our goal was to head to the Lamar Valley early. It is my favorite wildlife viewing area. Regis decided to do the driving and I reminded him to be careful since it will be dark. He said “oh because of the wild animals?” and I said “because of the domestic animals also. This may be range country.” Not too many miles after we left the campground, we came upon two huge white horses in the road. If they had not be white, they would have been more difficult to see. I don’t think either one of us considered the possibility that we would encounter horses in the middle of the road.

The sky was just beginning to lighten as we were about 3/4 of the way to the entrance when we started to see elk. Lots and lots of elk. There were hundreds of them and many babies. The road was too dangerous for a stop and it was still pretty dark, so taking pictures was not a safe or good option. We arrived at the park at 5:44 a.m. Once inside the park, we saw about a half dozen elk. Is it safer for the elk outside the park in the summer?

As we headed toward the Lamar Valley, we came upon a black bear. The sun had not yet come up over the mountain, so there wasn’t much light. Therefore, the picture is very noisy but it was darn cool to see the bear. We were able to stop the car and I stood outside the passenger door with the car between me and the bear. I had a 100-400mm zoom lens, so we are not as close to the bear as it appears and I think it would have walked right by us if cars didn’t show up coming the other way. They scared the bear and it turned into the woods.

Black bear in Yellowstone National Park.

When we arrived in the Lamar Valley we founds lots of bison. They were everywhere and there were many babies. I have a video below of some of the bison. At the beginning of the video, there are two young males play fighting. The bison were too close to the road to get out of the car and use the tripod, so I had to balance the lens on the car door with the window open. We went to the northeast entrance of the park and turned around and stopped at the bison again and got more video on the tripod. There were a lot more bison sleeping when we returned.

Baby and mama bison in Yellowstone National Park.

I was hoping to get an elk picture on the way back. My goal was to get out of the park by 10:00 and we left at 10:02. The line of cars to get into the park was backed up into the town of Gardiner. We have no problem experiencing Yellowstone with other people, but when too many show up, it reminds me of my congested commutes to work. We had to get up early for our amazing short experience in Yellowstone, but it was worth it. But, we didn’t see a single elk on the way back. All those hundreds of elk that we saw on the way to the park were gone. We don’t know where they went, but it was like they all transported someplace else. Unbelievable! We are now on a quest to get a picture of an elk before we get back home.

Regis got the following pictures of a violet-green swallow at our last campsite. I’m am behind on processing photos. When we arrived in the campground, we saw there was an active nest in an outbuilding. Regis took the time to stake it out and try to get some pictures.

Violet-green swallow bringing food to the nestlings.
Violet-green swallow removing a fecal sac from the nest.
Sunrise view at the Blacktail Plateau in Yellowstone National Park.

Clark Fork River

As we continue our long trek home, we went from Washington State to our first stop in Alberton, Montana where we are camped on the Clark Fork River. The weather has been beautiful. We expected it to be hotter. It was in the high 70’s when we arrived and very nice while sitting outside but hot in the RV. After we went to bed, I had to put the air conditioning on in the bedroom to lower the temperature a couple degrees. Dart couldn’t stop panting. I got it to a comfortable temperature and then the rains came through and cool air came through the open windows. By morning, we had the heat on.

We drove to a nearby bighorn sheep viewing area this morning and did not see any sheep. It was a short drive and nice. On the way back, we stopped at the grocery store to pick up a few things and headed back. I set out to do a couple loads of wash and Regis got some pictures of the surrounding area.

No one has been wearing masks at our campground which includes a restaurant and casino, so I was a little bummed to be the only one wearing a mask. We went into Frenchtown nearby to do some grocery shopping and folks were wearing masks. We continue to wear masks. We have no desire to get sick, much less while we are traveling.

Bridge over the Clark Fork River in Montana.
Morning view with some clouds at our campground in Alberton, Montana. Our campground is on the right and the road on the left is Interstate 90. We hate to camp next to interstates. Sometimes, it is what you have to do.
Clark Fork River in Montana. Notice the tree trunks perched on the granite islands in the middle of the stream.
Local black-billed magpie (Pica hudsonia). These birds are very wary and hard to photograph.

Otters to Sheep

River otter (Lontra canadensis) family with two adults and two juveniles in Puget Sound.

We left Port Townsend this morning and were sad to leave the Olympic Peninsula. We love the area and it is close to Jason for visiting. This morning, while still camped at Point Hudson, I noticed some river otters in the water. I grabbed Dart’s leash and the camera and I sat on a hunk of driftwood on the beach and watched the otters until they came ashore and disappeared. It was a family with two adults and two juveniles. They were too far out to get good pictures, but we have a couple here to post. They were a joy to watch. The adults kept getting food and lifting their heads above the water while the juveniles scrambled around them, perhaps not sure what they were supposed to do. Regis came out to photograph also. I also saw a bald eagle on the spit. It took off with a dead seagull.

River otter adult with two juveniles.
River otter adult with two juveniles.
River otter adult with two juveniles.
River otters with two adults and two juveniles.

It was a wonderful gift of the day to see the otter family on our last morning at Port Townsend. Our plan was to drive to Ellensburg, Washington to camp and then head to Gingko Petrified Forest State Park to see if we could see some bighorn sheep. We originally planned to camp in the park, but camping was closed although the park was open for day use. We altered our plans and stayed in a private KOA campground in Ellensburg which is about 30 miles away from the park. After setting up camp, we headed to the park. I wasn’t expecting to get to see the bighorn sheep since I already had the opportunity to see the otters in the morning.

At this point, Dart must have been truly miserable. He had the longest drive in the RV for awhile and perhaps thought he was in for some relief before we packed him up into the Jeep after setting up camp. After we got to the State park, I missed the turn to the visitor center and took the next one and lo and behold, we saw sheep. I thought I would not be so lucky since I got to see the otters in the morning. It was too much to ask for one day. Wahoo!

Bighorn sheep lamb (Ovis canadensis) in Gingko Petrified Forest State Park.

While we stopped to watch the bighorn sheep, I noticed a rocky/dirt road into the park that was closed but you could get a permit. It gave a phone number for me to call and I did and it gave me the code to get through the gate. We put the Jeep in four wheel drive and headed out on the road. It was terrible. It was so rocky we couldn’t drive more than a couple miles an hour. Dart was, of course, miserable. After driving in a short way, we got some good views of bighorn sheep before they exited stage right. Once we realized we impacted their behavior, we stopped the Jeep, but they wandered off anyway. After they left, we kept going.

Bighorn sheep in Gingko Petrified Forest State Park.

We didn’t go far. I was certain Dart was beyond miserable and the road was no fun to drive, so we turned around and headed back. We headed to our usual place in the park to see the sheep, but there were people there and no sheep. Therefore, we were fortunate to have missed our turn and saw the sheep. We headed back on a scenic route to our campsite and saw lots of wind turbines along the way.

In Ellensburg, we went through a drive through to pick up dinner. We have had salmon the last two nights and we were going to have salmon again tonight. Having a lousy hamburger tonight wasn’t too bad. There is a story about all that salmon that may be boring but here it is. Regis went to the grocery store very early in the morning and the fresh seafood was not out and he picked up frozen seafood instead. We left some salmon out to thaw. I went to the store later to pick up a prescription and the seafood was out and I picked up a piece of fresh salmon too big to eat in one night. We have had fresh salmon the last two nights. I love salmon, but don’t mind skipping a day.

It was chilly most of the time we were on the Olympic Peninsula. As soon as we got close to Snoqualmie Pass, we began to see sun. By the time we crossed the Cascades, it warmed up. It was in the high 70’s today in Ellensburg but it felt hot after all those chilly Olympic Peninsula days. We better acclimate quick because I suspect it gets hotter as we move forward.

Bathing Gulls

Immature glaucous-winged (Larus glaucescens) gull bathing.

It is our last day here and I was hoping for some sun to get some action shots of some birds. It helps to have some light when you need a high shutter speed to capture the action. The day did not provide, so I made due with what was available.

I went back to the pigeon guillemots and thoroughly enjoyed watching and listening to them. I’m glad we discovered a way to get closer to them at Fort Worden State Park.

Pigeon guillemot (Cepphus columba).

Dart went on a walk with me to an overlook to get this landscape view of the marina/RV park where we are staying. He was beat when we got back since we had to climb a steep hill for the shot.

Point Hudson Marina and RV Park.

This afternoon at low tide, I walked out on the spit and got some pictures of the gulls bathing.

Glaucous-winged gull bathing.
Glaucous-winged gull missing a foot.
Heermann’s gull (Larus heermanni).
Heerman’s gull preening.

It’s been in the low 60’s today. We know when we leave tomorrow we are heading into the heat. I think we are finally acclimating to the cooler temperatures, so it is going to be painful tomorrow when we start heading into the heat.

Gulls bathing.

Pigeon Guillemots and Submarines

Pigeon Guillemot (Cepphus columba). Notice the red legs.

We have not been doing as much exploring as we usually do on our trips. If we venture somewhere that turns out to be too crowded, we turn back. Sitting still and enjoying the wildlife and scenery is just fine. I have no complaints. Over the weekend, I went to Fort Worden and it was crowded so I turned back. We went today and it was much less crowded, so we got to explore a little bit. We had great viewing opportunities of some pigeon guillemots. The science center at Fort Worden has some nest boxes for the guillemots and they regularly nest there. I love the red legs on these mostly black birds.

Pigeon guillemot.
Pigeon guillemot.

As we walked through the park to go to the headland where the lighthouse is located, we found some conifers with a bunch of chestnut-backed chickadees feeding in them. Those little birds move around very quickly and are often hidden by pine needles, so it was tough to get a picture.

Chestnut-backed chickadee (Poecile rufscens)

We walked out to the headland and sat on some driftwood and heard some weird noises coming across the water. We figured out that it was sea lions on the buoy out in the water.

At this point Dart was done, so Regis stayed with him at the headland while I walked back to the car and came back and retrieved them. It is hard to see Dart wear out so fast now when he drove us crazy with his energy when he was younger.

Back at our campsite at Point Hudson, a submarine came by. We have seen a couple submarines come through the Admiralty Inlet but this submarine was not going on the usual route. It was clearly docking nearby and we got a nice close look at it.

Submarine with lots of gulls hanging out on the back.

We leave here on Wednesday so tomorrow is our last full day here. I am saddened somewhat because I love the area but I am also ready to explore some other places.

Merlin says this is a California Gull. It is immature and I have trouble identifying immature birds, so I will take Merlin’s word for it.
Submarine with accompanying boat.

River Otters

River otter (Lontra canadensis) eating a fish.

We particularly enjoy watching the otters while camped on the shores of Puget Sound. We saw them several times while camped on Bainbridge Island and we see them regularly here in Port Townsend. They appear to be very successful catching fish. We often see them near shore as they swim in the water in pursuit of fish. Once they are satisfied, they exit the water and sometimes roll in the sand afterward. They are adorable. Sometimes they exit the water to eat the fish and that’s when Regis saw the bald eagle steal the fish from an otter. We have seen them in the marina and running around outside the restaurants. I heard someone say they often go under the restaurants. They are very difficult to photograph. If the sun is out, the wet otters reflect the sun. A polarizing filter would help, but we don’t have filters for all our lenses. Other times, they are too distant to get a good shot. I think the picture Regis got above is one of the better images.

Yesterday, Dart turned 10. Because of his digestive issues the best treat he got was a little bit of spam with medication stuffed inside to aid in his digestive problems and a few bits of bacon. Regis took the stuffing out of his new bed and put it in in old bed and it worked out well. Dart is clearly happier with his old bed back.

We were fortunate yesterday that the sun came out in time to enjoy a picnic on the 4th. Jason, Dan, and Coco arrived in Port Townsend on Friday and are staying in a nearby hotel. They joined us at our campsite overlooking Puget Sound for lunch and Dan’s parents came up from the Kitsap Peninsula to join us. We picked up some take out food from one of the restaurants in the marina and had a lovely afternoon outside in beautiful weather. Jason and Dan performed a few songs for us with Jason on the guitar and Dan singing. It was a beautiful performance. After they sang “Hallelujah”, one of our camping neighbors stopped by to tell them how lovely it was.

Following are pictures of wildlife at Point Hudson.

Black oystercatchers (Haematopus palliatus). The birds primarily feed on invertebrates but don’t eat oysters. They search for food in the intertidal zone.
There is a pair of belted kingfishers (Megaceryle alcyon) hanging out in the marina. This one is sitting on sailboat spar.
House finch (Haemorhous mexicanus).
Chestnut-backed chickadee (Poecile rufescens).
Barn swallow (Hirunda rustica) gathering nesting material. There are some barn swallows actively building nests under the porch roof of a nearby building.
River otter swimming through the marina. Sea otters are rarely seen in the area. The most common otter in the area is the river otter. Sea otters often float in the water on their backs while river otters are more often seen swimming like the one here.

Point Hudson

Barn swallow (Hirundo rustica).

We have been enjoying walking around the near vicinity at Point Hudson in Port Townsend and enjoying the wildlife. When the sun is out, we sit in our chairs with binoculars and scan for wildlife, etc. Yesterday, Regis spotted a submarine being escorted out of Puget Sound. He pointed out the menacing boat behind the escorted sub. I said it didn’t look menacing and he assured me it was. He also noticed the other boats in front that were part of the escort. He had every boat identified and knew what was happening and I was only capable of maybe identifying the gulls flying by. I appreciated the education. We took pictures but they were on the other side of the inlet with a lot of humid air between us and them and the pictures are terrible.

Barn swallow.
Purple martin pair (Progne subis).
Glaucous-winged gull (Larus glaucescens) directing traffic in downtown Port Townsend.
A black-tailed deer in a garden in Port Townsend. Odocoileus hemionus columbianus
This crow could be a Northwestern Crow or an American Crow. Without a vocalization, I could not tell.

I walked through town yesterday and visited a used book store that I love. I didn’t find the books I was looking for, but found others and was happy to pick them up. I love looking at the local art in the galleries and viewed them from the front window.

Today, I awoke to watch the sunrise and it was foggy so there was nothing to see. I will go with the flow. I later walked the beach at low tide and saw lots of sea anemones that should be green, but they were brown. I suspect that is not good.

The sun came out for part of the day, so we bundled up and sat outside in our chairs with Dart and scanned for birds, etc. with our binoculars. It was fun until the sky turned too cloudy again and it was too cold and we went back inside. My son loaned me his paddleboard so I could use it but it is too cold for me. I have seen people paddle boarding but I am a Floridian sissy and can’t bring myself to do it. I want very much to get out on the water. They rent kayaks in the marina but we are not sure they are open. With Covid-19, things are not normal. The office was closed today but I will try again tomorrow but I understand if they stay closed. We must take things day by day and be grateful for what we have.