Yellowstone September 16, 2012

On this day I would have to head home — but not before having some more fun in the Park.

I pulled up my tent stakes and packed up, then headed south from the Norris Campground as far as the Gibbon Meadows. I caught a quick glimpse of a grizzly bear through the morning fog, but he disappeared as quickly as he appeared.

I headed back north to make one last (of this trip) swing through the Northern Range.

It was a peaceful, quiet morning.

Once again, I took the old stagecoach gravel road from Mammoth Hot Springs to the North Entrance and, once again, found only cow elk.
This lovely cow elk, posing with the sun highlighting the gold tones in her beautiful coat, is a view guaranteed to entice any bull elk thereabouts, but the bulls were not to be found on this morning.

beautiful cow elk sure to entice any bull elk during the rut

I drove back up the Gardiner Canyon main road and headed east.

I never drive by the Petrified Tree turnout without taking that little spur road.  I’ve seen moose, foxes, many black bears, and occasional mule deer there.  I was a bit surprised to see this whitetail deer doe, along with two fawns with fading spots.  That’s mule deer country!

There was some interesting bison activity in the Lamar Valley.  There was quite a dust-up occurring in one herd, with a double header of two pairs of bulls sparring at the same time, while other members of the herd were stampeding about.

Two pairs of bull bison butting heads

small bison stampede

Just a little east of the Soda Butte geyser cone, I was excited to find an undiscovered bull bison carcass just about 100 yards from the road — only magpies and I had found it thus far.  I watched as magpies landed on the carcass and pecked at it.  I resigned myself to getting home VERY late that night (or perhaps even calling my boss and asking to extend my vacation).  I positioned the car better so I could comfortably watch and wait for bears, wolves or coyotes to discover the carcass.  The magpies continued to work at it.  I sent a text message to my dad, who was also in the Park, to alert him of the existence of this carcass, which was sure to become an active hotspot soon.  Then there was a flurry of activity as the carcass lifted its head and the magpies took off.   Alrighty, then.  Not dead.  Sick?  Dying?  I debated with myself.  Wait and see what might happen?  Head home?  I decided heading home was the more prudent course.  In the end, that proved to be the right call.  Nothing ever happened there I found in checking with others that were in the Park in the following days.

I wanted to re-visit the talus slope where I had seen the weasel make a strike on a pika earlier in the trip, hoping for a repeat performance.  I didn’t get a repeat performance, but I DID get a great pika show.

Pika eat stems of currant leaves just like kids  (of all ages) eat spaghetti noodles.  Slurp!

A pika slurps up a stem of currant, just like a kid (of any age) slurping up a spaghetti noodle

I dared this pika to try the noodle routine with a long stem of thistle leaf, but he ultimately used a different technique.

A pika with a stem of thistle

My dare prompted this pika to make a smart-aleck remark.

a pika with a teasing tongue out expression

This pika almost ran over my feet.

A pika appears larger than life in a close up view

Not to be outdone, this pika demonstrated his talent for fire eating.

A pika eats a fiery red currant leaf

Meanwhile, a more serious and industrious pika, like any good haymaker, was busy making hay while the sun shines.   Pikas don’t hibernate – rather, they store hay in their dens to get them through lean winter days.

When a red-tailed hawk circled overhead, sending the pikas deep into hiding, I decided it was time for me to head home before my imagination ran entirely away with me.

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