Yellowstone September 12, 2012

I couldn’t have asked for a better start to the day.  I pulled up my tent stakes at Lewis Lake Campground before sunrise and made the short drive to the West Thumb Geyser Basin, fingers crossed that the harem that had been there on the evening of the 10th would making a sunrise show.  I was not disappointed.  It was a different bull on this morning, and with only one cow, but he posed beautifully.

A bull elk silhouetted against a steam plume lit and colored by the rising sun - West Thumb Geyser Basin

I mentioned in passing in my trip report for Sept 8-10 that the bull that evening had chased off a spike bull and menaced visitors on the boardwalk.  I neglected to mention, then, that what saved the visitors on the boardwalk was the obstacle of hot spring pools.  The bull on that evening charged at them (from well over 50 yards away), and skidded to a stop when he came to a hot spring pool.  I kept that in mind on this morning, keeping a Black Pool (a large hot spring pool) between this bull and me.  He never made any menacing motions, but I am wary of bulls in rut.  Without the barrier of Black Pool between us, his stare would have made me uneasy.

A bull elk poses surrounded by steam from hydrothermal features at the West Thumb Geyser Basin in sweet sunrise light.

He sure is a handsome gent.

A majestic bull elk in sunrise light.

The view was pretty good looking the other direction, too.

Sunrise in the West Thumb Geyser Basin

After the sun rose, the elk moved off to the west and I walked around the rest of the geyser basin.  Pulling out of the parking lot, and heading north, I encountered the pair again.  The bull was grazing amongst pearly everlasting wild flowers.

A bull elk buries his nose in a patch of pearly everlasting wild flowers

The bulls get most of the human attention this time of year, so I feel compelled to point out how gorgeous his companion was looking with her hide glowing with radiance in the morning sunlight.

Look how beautifully glowing her hide is shining in the morning sunlight!

I went north as far as the Norris Campground, where I put my tent stakes down again before turning south again, but this time along the western side of the Great Loop.  I haven’t stopped to check out The Chocolate Pots for a while, so I stopped at that pullout.

 hydrothermal feature located along the Gibbon River in Yellowstone National Park

The light was right for granting a good view of the red streambed of the Gibbon River.  The streambed is red there and at other sections.  I always intended to do a long exposure of a section of ripples over the red streambed along the Gibbon.  I blew my opportunity to do so easily when I failed to do so before the road was re-routed.  I remain curious as to what makes the stream bed red there.  I asked a retired Ranger who, in turn, asked some former colleagues.  No definitive answer.  I’ll pose my question to a Park geologist next, but I haven’t gotten around to that yet.

In the afternoon I visited a talus slope where I have photographed pika in the past, like the baby pika last May.  At first I was occasionally hearing pika, but not seeing any.  I waited.  Eventually, I saw some pika.  I took a few photos, but I was hoping they would move closer to me, as they had in May.  There was one pika perched on the top of a rock, sunning.  I had my camera aimed at him when he suddenly became alert and ducked into a rock crevice.  Then – a flash of orange colored fur!  A weasel made a strike on that pika!  He emerged from the crevice almost immediately.   His strike had, apparently, been a miss.  He missed the pika, but I caught him!

The pika were apparently not taking any chances on coming out of their hidey-holes after that, so eventually I moved on and found another hunter – a coyote hunting ground squirrels.  He caught 4-5 in a 20 minute period.

A coyote demonstrates its ground squirrel hunting cunning

A trip to Gardiner was in order to restock my beverage supply so I headed in that direction.  I took the old gravel stagecoach one-way road from Mammoth Hot Springs to Gardiner, hoping I’d find a herd of elk.  I found a small herd of cows, but no bull.  Meanwhile, I could tell there was some excitement on the main road down below me, as I could see stopped cars lining the road near the parking lot for the Boiling River trailhead.  Whatever was there then was gone by the time I had made my purchases in Gardiner and was headed up that road.

I made an evening trip to visit the Lamar Valley and found it relatively quiet but enjoyed the peace.

I opted to drive back to Mammoth before heading south instead of going over Dunraven Pass, as I found that route quite depressing this trip, with the mess of construction around Calcite Springs almost bringing tears to my eyes when I went through it.  It’s painful to me to see what they are doing there.

Returning to the south, I saw that the Cygnet Complex fires had been quite active.  I drove the Norris-Canyon road just to check it out and stopped and visited with a fire information officer who told me that it had, indeed, been a very active afternoon for fire growth and that the fire had hopped the road.  Then I retired to spend a very smokey night in my tent at the Norris Campground.

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