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So many reasons to visit Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks

Living the Wild Life

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“Ahead of you is a small black bear eating berries, and we will allow you to stop a moment or two to take some pictures,” a wildlife manager for Grand Teton National Park, told us as we drove along the Moose-Wilson Road. “If it is on the ground, you may not see it.”

Not only did we see the yearling bear, but it came running toward the car to get to a hawthorn berry bush that was loaded with berries. It stopped about five feet away and ignoring the thorns, began pulling down limbs to eat the berries as we leaned back to get enough distance for our camera to focus. We left as another car approached to get some pictures.

It was our first opportunity for photos in the two-day trip by my wife, a daughter and her husband into the two local national parks, the Grand Teton and the Yellowstone. Many of the mountain roads in the parks have become beautiful yellow-orange-red tunnels as we traveled them.

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A young black bear stands on it hind legs to reach three hawthorn berries in Grand Teton National Park. | Bill Schiess,

One of our targeted species was moose and during the first day we struck out as we checked areas that we had seen them before. A visit to a pond near Moose Village we were informed that we were just 15 minutes late as a bull moose had just left. Then at Schwbacher’s Landing we were just 20 minutes late of seeing three bulls.

Our first encounter with a herd of elk came between Lake and the Fishing Bridge Junction. It was after lunch and a little warm so most of the elk cows were bedded down as two bulls bugled at each other from different areas in the thick brush.

We decided to hit LaHardy Rapids to see if the Harlequin ducks were still there as it is about time for them to head for their wintering waters on the Washington and Oregon coast. We only saw two in the drab female colors, but we saw six American dippers and a Common merganser. A man approached me and asked if the dippers were the baby Harlequins and if the merganser was the male. We had a great time watching the three species play, hunt and feed in the rough water as it cascaded over the large rocks.

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A Harlequin duck in fall colors plays in LeHardy Rapids on the Yellowstone River. | Bill Schiess,

Hayden Valley had its usual splattering of bison but we did not see any bears, wolves or elk – wrong time of the day for them to be out, so we headed back to Fishing Bridge area. The elk were a little more active as the herd bull elk kept the cows corralled in the trees as he chased the young bull away from them.

Heading for Cody, Wyoming, to spend the night, we encountered our first grizzly bear jam as we were leaving Yellowstone Lake. It was the third year in a row that I had seen grizzlies in that area. A blonde colored sow with her cub was digging up rodents and tearing up rotted trees from the 1988 fire that ravaged Yellowstone.

“She is 14-years old and has been a good bear so she has not been trapped and numbered,” explained one of the two wildlife managers that were at the scene. “Almost every day she and her cub are visible in this area and bear-followers come here to glass the area to find her.”

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A blonde sow grizzly and her cub digs up rodents as they prepare for hibernation during the winter. | Bill Schiess,

A couple from New York informed us that tourists have named the two bears, Raspberry and Jam. The Park employee scoffed at the comment, saying that “she is a good wild bear enjoying good bear habitat.”

About a mile up the road we saw another grizzly as it topped a ridge overlooking a deep canyon. It was a dark colored one headed somewhere fast.

With the fall colors contrasting with the evergreens with the huge cliffs of Sylvan Pass as a background, the scenes were stunning. The drive from Yellowstone to Cody was a beautiful one and we knew that we were in cowboy country.

After a good night’s rest, we were excited for the second day and it did not take long for rewards of nature to kick in.

“There is a bull elk running out in the sagebrush,” exclaimed my wife as we were just five miles out of Cody. “It looks like it is racing us.”

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A bull elk, with a herd of cows and calves, bugles back to a bull elk in Mammoth. | Bill Schiess,

We got about a half mile in front of it and pulled off on a side road to watch it. It was going somewhere fast and was headed toward us, then it crossed the dirt road, jumped a fence and kept heading towards a mountain. It was a magnificent sight to watch its gait as it trotted across the desert land with its head held high as its muscles rippled underneath it tawny sleek skin. A fine dressed gentleman looking for some companionship. What a sight to open an enjoyable day.

We were heading for Cooke City and the Lamar Valley. Between them and Cody, we drove the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway. Some of the beauty was obscured by the smokey haze from the California fires, but it could not hide all of the it as we encountered switchbacks that reminded me of trips over Jackson Pass when I was a kid.

In Lamar Valley we watched as a herd of bison stampeded down a hill, saw a red fox, a wolf and a black bear near Roosevelt. Near and inside Mammoth, we watched as bull elk from three herds bugled, marked their territory and stole cows from each other. The rangers inside Mammoth were very busy trying to keep the tourists from becoming antler decorations.

Leaving Mammoth, we had not seen a moose or a coyote on the trip but we still had the Grand Loop Road from Mammoth to Norris to traverse. After climbing to the high plateau, my daughter excitedly located a coyote hunting the edge of a meadow. We paused long enough to let it work its way to us and it paused long enough for pictures.

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A coyote pauses while hunting for dinner near Gibbon Meadows in Yellowstone. | Bill Schiess,

Another few miles down the Loop we ran into a “moose jam” as a young bull moose filled our list of animals we wanted to observe. The approaching evening made pictures difficult, but it was a great end to a wonderful trip and experience – a great way to celebrate my daughter’s 30th anniversary.

You don’t have much time if you want to experience some of the beauty and magnificence of Yellowstone, the Chief Joseph byway closes on Oct. 12 and most of the park roads will close on Nov. 8.