Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Park
May 24, 2018
Mother Nature did not offer us the iconic panorama views of the Grand Tetons today either, but that did not cheapen our experience. We spent the morning detouring through Elk Refuge Road where we were fruitful in our wildlife sightings; a lone coyote, wide eyed badger, curious yellow-bellied marmot and boisterous bighorn sheep all fortunate enough to call this protected land home.
Despite the National Elk Refuge’s location outside the park, Buffalo Bill briefly shared this area’s history with us. When original homesteaders started building fences to preserve the grass for their cattle, this posed a danger for the elk as thousands of them would starve to death throughout the winter. In 1912, locals began feeding the elk so they could survive the harsh winters. When this became an annual tradition, the townsfolk set this land aside as a winter refuge for the elk. Ironically, this concept has become too successful and today up to 8,000 elk spend winter here. Since it is not natural for that many elk to reside together in the natural space they have, many residents now debate continuing the tradition as the threat of disease becomes more prevalent.
The sun peeped through the clouds long enough to treat us to the beauty of Oxbow Bend. We could feel the clean air and vibrant sunshine satisfy our craving for at least one clear view of the park. Trumpeter swans sailed along pristine water that perfectly reflected the trees along the shore and mountains in the background. The simple colors of a shy blue sky behind white clouds against green foliage never seemed so elegant.
As we drove north into Yellowstone, we noticed an increasing amount on snow piled alongside the road. Even though Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park connect via the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Highway, you can distinctively feel when you’ve left one park and entered another. We first arrived at West Thumb, an important geothermal location where hot springs meet the cold Yellowstone Lake. We found this juxtaposition especially interesting when we learned about the geysers that lie within the lake itself. During winter when the lake freezes over with thick ice, you can visibly notice the location of the hot springs.
Despite the overabundance of warning signs, we still witnessed a middle-aged Asian woman deliberately walking off the boardwalk directly onto the active geothermal area. When Darwin theorized his “survival of the fittest” I am now positive that he considered the number of very well-marked death traps in Yellowstone a huge contributor of natural selection. The rebel woman’s family talked her back into the safe side before danger ensued, but I know that not everyone that curious walks away so lucky.
In keeping with our theme of dawn and dusk wildlife scavenges, Mom and I drove to Hayden Valley for a sunset tailgate. As the sky illuminated the hillside and the temperature dropped to 46°F (around 7°C), we spotted two buffalo in the distance. When one of them took off, it was the first time we got to witness how fast these mammoth creatures can move. Did you know that bison can run up to 35mph/55kph? That’s impressive considering they can weight up to 2,000lbs (over 900kg)! While we sipped wine and nibbled snacks, one of us consistently monitored the front windshield in a constant rotation to ensure we would be without surprise of any other wandering wildlife. These animals live without personal boundaries and the seemingly fresh colossal bison excrement next to where we parked distinctively reminded us. The amount of manure a single bison produces astounded me. It’s pretty incredible to imagine how much of a positive impact this waste has on a healthy prairie in the way of attracting the right sorts of bugs and insects that other wildlife feast on. But what’s even more exciting than finding such a treasure is the ability to take it home with me. I know Anthony can’t wait for us to dawn our new Christmas ornament crafted from recycled bison poop!
Today’s wildlife sightings:
coyote, badger, yellow bellied marmot, big horn sheep, bison, trumpeter swans
Jackson, WY → Elk Refuge Road → Teton Village → eastern side of Grand Tetons → Yellowstone → West Thumb → Canyon Village
Next up: “Dumb Ways to Die”