Yellowstone Aug 22 and 23, 2009

Had a non-typical weekend trip to the Park.

Because we didn’t decide to go until Friday afternoon, I wasn’t packed and got a late start leaving Missoula. Mom and I got to Gardiner where Dad, his sister and her two granddaughters, his aunt and his cousin had arrived earlier in the day. The late night and the large group, including semi-elderly and younguns, resulted in a late start into the Park on Saturday.

We went south via Dunraven (which meant east from Mammoth) taking Blacktail Plateau along the way. I was hopeful the 3 bull moose would be in the neighborhood. No such luck. Furthermore, we missed the black bear that a car behind us spotted and heard about it when they caught up with us when we had stopped for some hawk watching.

Four year old Reannon loves “hot water,” so we spent some time at Mud Volcano. I spent some time with the cracks. :D Five year old Elisha loves bison so she loved seeing them close in the Hayden Valley.

Upon arriving at the Lake Hotel, at which we stopped mostly for the Long Island relatives to see it, we learned that the Christmas in Yellowstone boat parade was that night. So… we decided to watch the parade. That being the case we decided to eat at Lake. My aunt Laura made reservations. Unfortunately, our reservations ended up being for 9:45. Mom and I left the rest of the gang hanging out there and drove to Mary Bay where I know I can pick up cell signal to make plans with Stacy, who was driving from Billings to meet us in Gardiner. As long as we were “in the neighborhood,” we drove up to Lake Butte Overlook before returning to rejoin the rest of the gang.

We had some time before the parade, so we took a drive south as far as West Thumb. There was a six point bull elk there with a small harem. He was exhibiting early rut behavior — he let go with a few weak efforts at a bugle and then treated us to a couple full throated bugles. However, he tolerated the presence of a small bull so not really into full out rut quite yet.

We returned to Lake for the Parade and our VERY late dinner. 9:45 is late enough but I think it was 10:30 when we were finally seated. Got back to Gardiner around 2:30 AM. It’s a long drive that late from Lake to Gardiner. I had to stay alert driving (had to dodge bison and a coyote on the road) so I didn’t get right to sleep when we finally did get to Gardiner. That very late night, as you probably imagine, meant another late start on Sunday.

When we finally got moving on Sunday we again headed south via Dunraven, taking another unproductive shot at Blacktail Plateau along the way. Sunday morning there was a HUGE herd of cow and spike bull elk in Gardiner, resting peacefully but keeping the Rangers busy keeping fools far enough back. We were in three vehicles since Bridger and I would be heading home and the group had one more person with the addition of Stacy. Stacy, Mom and Dad turned back for Gardiner after a picnic at the Dunraven picnic area while the rest of us continued headed for Old Faithful.

Bridger, my cousin, and I stopped at a pull out a bit south of Mud Volcano to watch some bison rut action (a new experience for the Long Island cousin) and got quite the show. 5 bulls interested in the same cow resulted in chases, fights, stampedes of the whole herd, etc. Rather thrilling as they’d stampede around the parked car. :shock:

I was impressed and pleased with how well the Park Service was keeping traffic moving along that stretch that could have been a monumental bison jam. They drove back and forth announcing over a speaker that stopping in driving lanes is not allowed when drivers stopped on the road and telling drivers to use pull outs if they wanted to stop. When we left there and went further south they had personnel on foot waving traffic along or urging them to use pullouts and not allowing a jam to form. With all the additional traffic due to the Madison-Norris section being closed, that was very necessary, well done and much appreciated.

We continued to Old Faithful before Bridger and I left the rest of the gang and headed for the West gate and home. Along the Firehole there were a few small groups of cow elk and along the Madison, near the 7 Mile Bridge, a harem of about 10 with a bull that looked respectable but it was so late and I had a long drive home I kept driving. The rut is getting started!

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