Friday, June 13, 2008
Well, I expected some snow in Jackson in June. Every time I've been here this time of year we've gotten at least a couple of inches, but it generally lasts a day, maybe two and melts. With the snow and rain, we decided that we should go up to Yellowstone since we couldn't see the mountains. We wanted to look for bears and wolves. Predators are more wary of humans than herbivores, and they are extremely difficult to photograph, but we wanted a challenge, so off we went.
The snow started shortly after we woke up and got continually stronger until we were on the road in white out conditions. Again, this wasn't surprising in the least. The snow wasn't sticking, and the temperature was a solid 35 degrees. This is perfectly normal June weather, so we continued. By the time we reached Yellowstone, there were old snow patches among the trees and the storm had gotten worse. We crossed the continental divide at about 8000', and it looked like winter. There were drifts of snow everywhere! It covered the grass, the trees, the rocks, and even some of the small ponds were frozen. The snow continued to fall. The whole world turned white. It eliminated color, depth, texture, light. Snow was the defining fact of existence. A uniform quiet descended with the myriad snowflakes and blanketed the landscape.
Hayden valley is usually a picture perfect world. The river winds slowly through the green valley full of grass and shrubs. Herds of bison graze lazily on the grass and cross the river as the mood takes them. Armadas of geese patrol the river slowly. Ducks dabble in the shallows, and the occasional eagle soars over it all, eyeing the scene and approving of its beauty. But this day was different. The river, the grass, the bison, the geese, the ducks, the eagle were all obscured by a blanket of white. We checked into our campsite and found that we could only drive part of the way in because of the snow drift that had flowed right into camp.
On a brighter note, we'd heard that there were indeed wolves in the area, so we went back down to the valley to see what we could see. In the afternoon, the blizzard loosened its grip, and we could see some distance, so we scanned the tree line for movement and kept our eyes sharp for wolves. About 6, I noticed two dots in the binoculars at over 1000 yards. The dots moved, so we decided to wait them out. Gradually it became clear that there was a black dot and a grey dot. After over an hour of waiting they came slightly closer and we could make out the profile of two wolves! The one was black as night, and the other the typical grey. They found a small rodent of some sort and pounced and jumped and played. Wolf mothers don't teach their children not to play with their food. After the snack, they continued on out of sight. It was a good sighting. Wolves are the most difficult animals to find in Yellowstone.
The next morning we awoke to a winter wonderland. Merry Christmas!... in June. Oh well. We'd had over six inches of fresh powder during the night, but we kept warm and remained resigned to winter weather.
That day, the plan was to find our wolves again. We traversed the valley back and forth looking for any sign of them. After a while, we decided to sit and wait. We picked a likely pullout and stopped to read our books and keep a lookout.
At one overlook, someone pulled out a spotting scope and found a bear on the far hill. After careful inspection, there appeared to be five bears. Two different mothers each with a cub and one big boar. (Male bears are boars, females are sows.) It was another good sighting, but they were very far away. There was no sign of our wolves except for two coyotes that were impersonating wolves for a little while. In the late afternoon, we decided that we were done with the snow and wanted to go back to Jackson. So we did. On the way, we found bison, elk, and pronghorn. We were driving along in the Grand Teton National Park, and Greg yelled, "Bear!" I pulled over, and a grizzly walked out of the trees 30 yards away! We watched him for no more than 30 seconds before he went back into the trees and wasn't seen again. Six bears in one day! Not bad, not bad at all. We were also able to approach a herd of elk with more than 20 calves. They were running and playing and having a great time. That sight marked the close of a very good day.
Now the weather has cleared, and we are looking forward to some good conditions for photographing. We'll keep you updated as always.