Yellowstone June 2013 Trip, Last Installment

This entry is for June 15 & 16, 2013.

Day 9 was my last full day in the Park.

I had heard that the Blacktail Plateau Rd had opened the day before, so that was among the first things on my agenda for this day.

So, I headed north from the Norris CG.  It was quite cold on this morning, with freezing fog.  I stopped near the Indian Creek CG for some photos of the fog on Obsidian Creek (still no griz triplet family, by the way).

fog tinted by the rising sun over Obsidian Creek - Yellowstone National Park

morning fog along Obsidian Creek - Yellowstone National Park

By the time I got to the Mammoth Upper Terrace drive, I was predicting a day of extreme temperature shift.  It was a chilly 21 degrees Fahrenheit, but the sun was rapidly burning off the fog.

A female mountain bluebird was puffed up in the cold, but soaking up the morning rays.

female mountain bluebird perched at the apex of a juniper tree

I took two trips through Blacktail Plateau Drive.  On the first, I saw a nursery herd of cow elk with lots of calves.  The were quite skittish.

I also saw my first ruffed grouse of the year.  I’ve been hearing their deep, subterranean sounding, rumbling drumming (reminiscent of a Harley being fired up underground) everywhere I go, but had not been able to lay eyes on any this year until this.

ruffed grouse

Townsend’s Daisies were blooming throughout the plateau, sometimes amidst cushion phlox.

Townsend's daisies growing amidst cushion phlox

On the Elk Creek side of the plateau, I saw a small bull moose (perhaps the same one as seen at Petrified Tree several days before – it’s the same area and it looked about the same) and a black bear.

On my second trip through, a badger cross the road in front of the car that was ahead of me on the road.  That visitor and I both followed the badger on foot, about 300 yards away from the road, to its den.  We both approached the den very slowly, stopping every few feet.  I stopped 25 yards or more shy of the den.  The same can’t be said of the other photographer.   He got down on the ground and slid closer and closer.  His proximity was such that the badger kept a close eye on him, but it didn’t hole up – at least not until another photographer joined me where I stood and the closest photographer stood up to move away.  In any event, we enjoyed a good long visit with it.

badger at sett

badger at sett

The next badger I saw on that day, just a short time later at the Antelope Aspen grove area, had a den only about 10 yards away from the main road, but seemed pretty relaxed despite its proximity to the road, traffic, and lots of onlookers and photographers, napping atop the den mound, grooming, etc.

badger laying on sett mound

badger sitting atop sett mound with head turned to its right

Next on the agenda was a return visit to Trout Lake for another try for the trout lake otters.  This time, I set myself a limit of three hours to be spent there.

Upon arrival, I was greeted by a guardian on the cut log bridge over the outlet of the lake – a bull snake.

bull snake on a trail bridge

On this visit, I spent more time at the shady outlet end of the lake, enjoying the abundant wildflowers, such as this sugar bowl, while waiting for an otter appearance.

sugar bowl wild flower

After a couple hours of waiting, with no otters, I moved to the inlet end of the lake.  Whereas a week previously there had been trout visible in the lake, but none in the inlet, on this occasion there were dozens in the inlet.  So, I found myself photographing fish again.  If anyone had told me that I’d spend more time photographing fish than bears on this trip, I would have scoffed.  Now I’m thinking that photographing fish is so much fun that I need an underwater camera.

I enjoyed the almost abstract quality of the trout in the shallow water, sometimes camouflaged on the pebbled creek bottom.

a Yellowstown cutthroat trout in inlet to Trout Lake, blending in with the streambed stones in an almost abstract fashion

The water there is shallow enough that the fish are exposed, at times, as they pass over shallow spots.

a Yellowstone cutthroat trout skims over the pebbled stream bed, partiall out of the shallow water in the inlet to Trout Lake - Yellowstone National Park

But, no otters or other critters were taking advantage of the easy pickings. I overstayed the 3 hours I had allotted for this visit to Trout Lake but eventually made my way back around the lake, stopping for this tattered mourning cloak butterfly.

mounring cloak butterfly with tattered wings

Back to camp for my last night in the tent…

81 degrees was the high temperature that I observed that day.  21 was the lowest.  60 degree temperature swing.

The following morning I slept in a little bit so that the noise of my breaking camp and loading up would be made after quiet hours ended at 6:00am.  Nonetheless, I was on the road by about 6:30, making my final round trip north, then back south again, along Obsidian Creek to look for the grizzly triplet family.  I hoped the family that welcomed me to the Park for this trip would see me off, but no such luck.

This bull bison with Electric Peak as backdrop was more gracious.

bull bison with Electric Peak in the background - Yellowstone National Park

I never noticed before that, from this angle, Electric Peak’s outline is that of a bull bison.

Really… I never would have noticed it if they weren’t lined up so, but the outlines of Electric Peak and a bull bison are remarkably similar. See it?

head low on shoulders
hump – peak
sloping back

I exited the Park at West Yellowstone and went past Henry’s Lake and then toward the Centennial Valley.  I don’t recommend that route for passenger cars.  For the most part, the dirt road was fine.  However, there were some heavily rutted sections that would be utterly impassable to passenger cars if wet and muddy.  I was able to skirt one such section and get through others without event, but I was carefully negotiating my way through one such hazard (in my Toyota Camry Hybrid), riding on the top of the ruts, when I came over a rise to find the ruts were diagonally cut by a washout.  From where I was, there was no way out but through.   I scraped my car’s bottom though that section.  Ouch!  I haven’t heard any noises and there is no evident damage, but that’s the kind of thing that can do some real damage.   It would have been possible to tear a passenger car apart on those ruts if they weren’t navigated right or if a person got unlucky.   Knowing what I know now, I won’t take a passenger car on the road between Henry’s Lake and the Red Rocks Lake NWR.  The road between the Red Rock Lakes NWR office and Monida is an “improved” dirt road and fine for passenger cars.

I didn’t have much time to do any real birding, but I did enjoy some great looks at Swainson’s hawks and, of course, the scenery is great.

road through Montana's Centennial Valley

Centennial Valley's mountain walls

I did some searching north of Dillon, MT for a burrowing owl nest, but the harsh light and mirage about killed my eyes scoping, and I was not met with success.  I’ll have to make another trip there to look for burrowing owls.  It was time to continue home and get the car unloaded and for me to get a much needed shower.

The trip galleries with more photos from the trip are here:

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>