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Yellowstone April 2017 Trip Report: Days 3 & 4

April 8

Having gone into the park the last two mornings, I planned on staying in on Saturday.  But we already need more supplies, which means heading to Gardiner.  Oh darn, I thought, that means driving through the park.  So we agreed to make the family trip out in the afternoon.

First, it was a lazy morning, but we did go for a short walk into the heart of town and up the highway a bit.  Silver Gate is beautiful right now.  There was a dusting of new snow last night, and it’s so quiet.  Only a few snowmobilers remain riding up beyond Cooke City, and it’s still too early for the main tourist season, so there’s barely any noise or movement… aside from the natural kind, which we don’t mind.

Lots of songbirds are already active.  Mainly juncos and robins.  A couple of hawks are in the area, which riles up the ravens and Steller’s jays.  Fox tracks dot the snow along the edge of the highway and a pile of fresh moose droppings lay in the middle of the road.  Before heading for home, we stopped by a neighbor’s house and saw two pine martens.  I’m not interested in shooting these particular martens since they’re somewhat habituated, but it’s cool to see them nonetheless.  I’m still hoping to see a marten on our property again at some point, but most of the ones in this area are hanging out on the other side of the highway.

After lunch we packed up and entered Yellowstone.  The sky was dropping all manners of moisture at this point in the northeast—rain, hail, wet snow, snow—so I figured we were in for a wet drive in the park.  This was mostly true, though there were some random clear patches both coming and going on our way to and from Gardiner.

We saw very little of note on the drive west.  On our way back, a couple sightings gave me an excuse to stop.  The first was a fox, who was busy marking his territory as he trotted above the road near Elk Creek and then scampered up the Petrified Tree Drive (which is currently blocked off to vehicles).

Red fox

The second sighting was yesterday’s grizzly pair, now further down the hill in Little America and within theoretical photo range.  A gentleman with a rangefinder had them at 270 yards.  Close enough for a shot from my longest lens combo (and still wide enough to include a male bluebird in the frame).

Grizzly bears

The weather continued to worsen as we drove back to the northeast, and the rest of the trip passed without incident.

 

April 9

Silver Gate was hit with more snowfall beginning Saturday evening.  When I peeked out at 5am, there was a fresh coat of powder on everything, making it easy to see that one of the local foxes had visited our porch during the night.

A couple hours later, I was sneaking out (while the rest of the family was asleep) in a steady snow fall.  Visibility and road conditions weren’t great, so I took it slowly heading into the park.

Yellowstone National Park sign

At Lower Barronette, I saw a couple of moose out in the trees, probably 2/3 of my moose family I saw a couple days ago.

Snow continued to accumulate all the way until the heart of the Lamar, at which point everything was just gray.  Plenty of frosty and snow-encrusted bison this morning, as the temperature hovered steadily at 27 degrees.  A few hearty wolf watchers were hopping all over between the Lamar and Slough Creek searching desperately for something to look at.  Ravens flew or huddled together in the cold.

In the western part of the valley, I saw my first little red dog.  It was nursing a fair ways off the road, and two coyotes were stationed attentively a short distance away.  Eventually, they gave up and headed out to look for easier prey.

Since I had promised to only be out for a couple hours this morning, I only made it about half-way through Little America before turning around (after receiving a report that it was slow to the west).  I did note a Northern shoveler in one of the ponds there, adding a bit of variety to the many Mallards and Barrow’s goldeneyes I’ve been seeing.

Birds provided my final notable sighting of the morning, with three sandhill cranes out in the sage in the Soda Butte Valley.  I stopped to snap a couple photos as the wind and snow pelted us.

Sandhill crane

In the afternoon we went for another walk through town.  More falling snow, so it was beautiful once again.  We caught a brief glimpse of a fox running through someone’s property, but otherwise things were pretty calm.  Maybe if we’re lucky, we’ll have a visitor outside the window before it gets dark.

5 Comments

  1. Reny April 10, 2017 Reply

    Great report Max, love the crane picture and of course the bears with the bluebird !

    Is the Petrified Tree Drive blocked because it’s so early in the season or permanently?

    • Author
      Max April 10, 2017 Reply

      Thanks, Reny. Yes, the drive is blocked at the moment because of snow on the road. The drive down to the Hellroaring trailhead parking lot is also closed, presumably for the same reason.

  2. Paulette Attie April 10, 2017 Reply

    Looks like a lot of snow there. 🙂 The webcams in Gardiner/Mammoth tell a different story. But it is the season. Wonderful report, Max. Thank you for the extraordinary sandhill photo. Love. Love. Love them.

  3. Floyd Bond April 10, 2017 Reply

    Beautiul time to be in the Park,thank you for sharing!!! Do you know when the west entrance will open?? Thanks for sharing !!!

    • Author
      Max April 10, 2017 Reply

      Floyd, the west road is due to open on April 21st.

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