Yellowstone – Belated Birthday Visit

It has become something of a tradition in my family to make a visit to Yellowstone on, or as near as possible, to her birthday (March 1).  This year was no exception.

Saturday morning we passed through the Roosevelt Arch around 7:00.  By 7:30 we had arrived at Blacktail Creek where we saw 3,  and possibly 4, moose.  How can it be possibly four?  Well, we saw three for sure.  In one of my photos, where I think two are accounted for, out of the frame to the left, there are two — one standing right in front of the other so it appears to be one moose with 4 ears and 2 butts.  Since I haven’t yet seen a moose thus configured, that photo must show 2 moose.  I do believe it was four moose — a cow, a “teenaged” bull (possibly her calf from 2010) and 2 yearling calves (calves from 2011).  However, I can’t be certain.

Here’s the young bull pulling himself out of a narrow (ditchlike) creek.  I know, you can’t really make out his antler buds, but I promise that I can when I zoom into the photo.

We only made it a couple hundred yards beyond that point, headed up the hill onto Blacktail Plateau, before being turned around by impassable drifts.  A Park Service maintenance crew was working at busting it up with a 3/4 ton pickup truck with a plow, but the rate of new drifts forming was surpassing their rate of drift busting.  We turned around.  A law enforcement office was pulling up just as we headed back.  He told us that a 10 yarder (you know, the big orange plow trucks) was on its way.

We decided that, instead of sitting and waiting, we’d drive back the other way until we saw a plow, then follow it.  We made it back to Mammoth, up to the end of the open road (at the Upper Terraces), and were back down in Mammoth again before a plow headed out.  We followed shortly thereafter.  We had to wait briefly again at Phantom Lake for crews to clear the road, but after that we were able to proceed to the Lamar Valley without any further impediments to our travel, stopping only along the way at the Wrecker Pullout (on the east side of the bridge over the Yellowstone) to snap a few photos of a pair of young bighorn rams.

And what did we see when we arrived at the Lamar Valley?  A whole lotta white.

By 2:30 in the afternoon, my sister, Stacy, and I felt that we’d seen enough white, suffered enough windburn, and didn’t want to get stuck on the wrong side of the drifts when the plows quit running for the day (which, according to the signs, is at 4:30pm).  So, despite Dad giving us a hard time, we headed for Gardiner.

The next morning we again passed through the Roosevelt Arch at 7:00 am.

I was nursing a migraine that morning , so I was especially glad that Stacy had her eyes pealed.  She spotted a couple (not just a pair – a couple) of wolves at Blacktail Lakes.  When she first spotted them, they were doing what couples do in private.  The couple, Stacy later heard from Rick McIntyre, was comprised of a mangy male member of the Blacktail Pack and a female of unknown origin/history.



If you aren’t familiar with the effects of sarcoptic mange, you’re looking at it.  Sarcoptic mange is caused by a mite that burrows into the skin, causing allergic reactions, crusty itchy skin, and loss of fur.  The loss of fur leads to loss of body heat and infected animals can freeze to death.

“Sarcoptic mange was introduced into the Northern Rockies in 1909 by state wildlife veterinarians in an attempt to help eradicate local wolf and coyote populations. Scientists believe the troublesome mite that causes the disease persisted among coyotes and foxes after wolves were exterminated. Since their reintroduction into the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem in 1995-96, wolves appeared to be free of mange until 2002. By 2009, half of the wolf packs in YNP were infected.”


Despite his terrible appearance, this male appeared to be otherwise healthy as he led his date on a snow drift surf outing.

As for weather and visibility, oh what a difference a day makes!

Yeah, yeah…  I should have taken a photo in the Lamar Valley for a real comparison, but that migraine was crippling me when we were passing through the Lamar.  Just take my word for it:  it was bright & sunning and the visibility was great  — as long as the glare of the sun off snow didn’t blind you.

More photos here:

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