Elk nursing in Rocky Mountain National Park

August 23, 2018

The night after we saw the wild mustangs near Cody, it rained hard.  We were hoping that would get rid of some of the smoke.  Instead, it was far, far worse.  Apparently, a cool front brought a lot of the British Columbia smoke to the area.  We could barely see any scenery, so we went to downtown Cody to walk Main Street.  I wanted to go to the art galleries.  It was Sunday, they were all closed except for a photography gallery.  We went in there and I was greatly inspired.

After we left Cody, we went to Casper and saw lots and lots of Pronghorn on the way.  Regis saw a roadside sign that said the 2/3 of the world’s Pronghorns are in Wyoming.  It was very smoky in Casper.  We could barely see Casper mountain.  We had a wonderful visit with a friend and walked along the Platte River the next day.  I went to the Werner Wildlife Museum.  It was free!

I prefer to see live animals but enjoyed seeing the animals close up.  They had a black bear and grizzly bear next to each other with an explanation of the differences.  It was very helpful to be up close and see the details.  Most of the animals were from Wyoming, but they had some from around the world.  My favorite was the Least Weasel.  The weasel is so tiny.  It looks like someone stretched a mouse to three times it’s length.

We arrived in Estes Park yesterday.  The campground host warned us that a mother bear and two cubs frequent the campground.  We saw the the dumpster has a padlock.  We’ve been to places that say there are bears around, but you can really believe it if the trash containers are bear proof.  We woke up to blue skies.  We haven’t see a blue sky in weeks.  It was particularly beautiful.  I was mesmerized by the color.

We headed into Rocky Mountain National Park this morning to drive along the amazing Trail Ridge Road.  We took a side trip along the Old Fall River Road, which is a dirt road.  The scenery was spectacular and it was darn cold at the top of the mountain.  The wind was blowing very hard.

Fall Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park. Our first blue skies in weeks.
Near the Alpine Visitor Center in Rocky Mountain National Park. There is a herd of elk around the center of the photo on the mountainside.
Regis got a picture of another hawk on the wing. It’s cool when you are slightly above them!

On the way down the other side of the Continental Divide, we saw lots of elk.  We saw the males relaxing at a higher elevation and found the females and calves near the Colorado River.  There was one young male in the group.  I was standing on the road taking pictures when one of the females moved close by.  We heard a bleating sound and realized it was coming from one of the calves.  The only female to turn her head was the one closest to me.  The little calf ran up to her and started nursing.  They were so close to me that I had a very hard time taking a picture with my long lens with the extender.  I don’t usually have a problem with wildlife coming so close that I can’t take the picture!!

Male elk in Rocky Mountain National Park
Calf and young male elk in Rocky Mountain National Park
Close up of female elk in Rocky Mountain National Park
Elk calf nursing in Rocky Mountain National Park

After our exciting encounter with the elk, we headed back along the road and stopped near the east entrance at Beaver Meadows to have lunch.  It was nice to sit still and enjoy the scenery and smaller wildlife.  We saw a bunch of birds but the most interesting experience was the ground squirrel.  This was a very brave squirrel who came to find some food.  Dart barely caused it any concern.  We would not let Dart chase the squirrel, so he had to be content with watching it.  It came within six inches of his nose.  I was a little concerned it was going to jump on Dart.  Instead, it chose to jump on top of the picnic table and run up my arm while I was eating a protein bar.  I did not expect it to get that close, so didn’t react to chase it away until it made it all the way to my bar.

Bluebird in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Linda trying to eat lunch in Rocky Mountain National Park. I didn’t expect the ground squirrel to be so bold as to run up my arm to get a bite of my protein bar.

Greater Yellowstone

The morning light in Montana.

August 18, 2018

We left Red Lodge to head to Cody, Wyoming.  I love the Greater Yellowstone area.  It is beautiful and full of wildlife.  It is a large area with few roads.  The distances are long out here.

We didn’t have far to go to get to Cody.  When we arrived, I did some grocery shopping and took my time.  Then, we all sat outside in whatever shade we could find and I got antsy to get into Yellowstone.  I love that place.  It is 52 miles to the East Entrance of Yellowstone from Cody.  But, you get to drive along the Buffalo Bill Cody Scenic Byway.  I convinced Regis we should head out after dinner.  Wildlife is easier to find in the mornings and evenings.  We are usually morning people and go to bed early so we can get going early the next day.  But, I couldn’t wait.

I read that sometimes the moose hang around Fishing Bridge, so that was our goal.  If we didn’t stop along the way, I figured it would take two hours.  We left around 6:00.  That gave us time to enjoy the Byway but we didn’t stop to take pictures.

The Byway was beautiful.  I can’t believe how beautiful this whole area is.  All these scenic highways and byways are amazing.

My timing turned out to be okay, but the skies got cloudy and rainy in some areas.  It cut down a lot on the available light.  We saw some mule deer and elk, but we did not see any moose.

Mule deer in Yellowstone National Park.
Elk in Yellowstone National Park.
Mule deer in Yellowstone National Park. We saw a pair of these guys. Note the velvet on the antlers.
Mule deer in Yellowstone National Park. Not the velvet on the antlers.

I was concerned about the drive back in the dark and rightly so.  There are lots of animals out here and many of them are moving around at night.  There are signs everywhere warning you.  As we were heading down the mountain in Yellowstone, I saw two cars ahead stopped with their flashers on.  As we got up to them, we saw the problem.  There were two Bighorn Sheep in the road.  There was steep terrain on one side of the road and a guardrail on the other.  Apparently, the sheep came down the terrain, got spooked by the cars, but didn’t want to go over the guardrail.  So, they took off running down the road.  They were going pretty fast.  They must have run for a mile and the cars followed behind.  Eventually, they stopped to drink some water pouring out of the cliff on the side of the road.  The two cars in front of me slowly passed them and went on their way, but as we passed them, one guy got spooked and starting running up the cliff.  If we tried to do it, we would need rappelling gear.  Later I got to thinking, the bright orange and blue kayaks on the roof may have been why he didn’t like us.  Those two Bighorn Sheep were gorgeous.  They were healthy, in beautiful condition, and strong.

It took about 2 hours to get home in the dark and I was exhausted when we got back from scanning for animals the whole way.  It’s very dark out here and I tried to space myself from the car in front so I could keep my high beams on.  I came upon a large deer standing on the side of the road.  What scared me most is that no matter how much I was keeping an eye out, I didn’t see that deer until we were right up on it.

Our next best opportunity to see moose are in the Grand Tetons which abuts Yellowstone on the south.  But, to drive there is a long, long way from here.  The other place I’d like to go is the Lamar Valley.  It usually has lots of wildlife and is our best bet for seeing a wolf.  That is also a long way even though we are on that east side of the park and the Lamar Valley is in the northeast corner.  There are only two ways to get there from here and each way would take at least 3 hours, maybe more.  But, the scenery is beautiful.

We have plans for today, but have to decide whether to spend some time in Cody or drive a long distance for the possibility of seeing more wildlife tomorrow.  I’m always interested in the wildlife, but we’ll have to see how much driving we can stand since we still have to go about 2400 miles to get home.