Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Yellowstone in Winter. Part 2.

People change the nature of the park. The yearly average of visitors is of 3 million but during the winter it drops to around 200,000.  During the peak season there are traffic jams and the park rangers seem to be overworked and short tempered. No wonder, visitors think that the bears and buffaloes are friendly creatures; not a single year goes by that fatalities occur.  So definitely the winter time is the best time to go with the bonus of the snowy landscapes.  At this time, most of the visitors appear to be affluent.

During the winter, most of the park is closed to private vehicle traffic and except for section of the roads; the road from Gardiner (above) in the NW entrance to the park to Cooke City in the NE entrance is the only opened, weather conditions permitting. Why only this road?  It is the only road that provides access to Cooke City residents as well as supplies, not to mention the school buses that bring the students to the schools in Gardiner. Cook City is the major center for snowmobiling in the winter. 

Cooke City is an awesome place to be during a snow storm as seen above…the Bistro was our regular hang-out while there no better place for a Club Sandwich or homemade hot Bowl of Chili.

The Lamar Valley road is a major attraction for the observation and photographing of wolves. One difference I noticed is that during the warm/mild seasons, the majority those are tourists are mostly wolf watchers, but during the winter, photographers outnumbered all others.  There were a few photography tours whose students were indoctrinated into how to behave in the park…these were well meaning amateurs spent their time telling non-tour participants where to go and not to go rather than taking photos.  Some of us got cursed for wandering into the snowfields to photograph frozen creeks claiming that the areas were restricted. This is not true during the winter, only the areas a near the vicinity of the wolves’ liars when they are having babies in the spring and summer are closed.

Photographers line-up along the road searching for their award winning shot.  There are so many people visiting this park during the year that I wonder if these animals are really wild. The buffaloes, elks, horn sheep and even the coyotes, walk by so close that the use of those expensive telephotos are overkill.  Except for the wolves and the pumas; these I consider still wild because they hard to see or photograph. 

I did go into the restricted areas of the park when the only access is by tracked vehicles run by the concessionaires in charge of the accommodations. We rented a Bombardier with a driver to take us around the park in the restricted areas of the park.  Travel is only limited to the regular roads; there are also snowmobiles for group rentals and these area also limited to the main roads.  We stayed in the cabins near Old Faithful.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Winter in Yellowstone (Part 1).

I had been during all the other seasons in this park, but never in winter.  This is the best time because one gets to appreciate the extreme environment to which the large mammals get exposed.  Not only do they have to find food but the stress of being vigilant to protect themselves from the predators.

The buffaloes or bison’s are the most numerous and largest ungulates in the park and they do have a hard time surviving.  The tick fur protects them from the cold, and the strong neck allows them to plow through the snow while moving the head side to side to get to the buried grass.  These beasts are powerful and when running through they look like as snowplows.

Among the cliffs, the horned sheep are seen jumping around for fun I assume.   They used their hoofs to shovel the snow away to get to the grass.  They seem to be more relaxed than the buffaloes and move in families. At times the young males are seen playfully crashing their horns in preparation for future serious battles to establish dominance within the group.

The elks are abundant and very easy to approach.  At this time of the year the females and young ones are in groups mostly separately from the males.  Among the males, there are bachelor groups (mostly young males) and then the adult males that seem to roam alone.  They also have to struggle looking for food but different from the buffaloes and sheep they also feed in twigs from trees.  In one occasion I ran into a herd that was very attentive watching in one direction and then started running up the hills…there was a long wolf at a distance.

And then, we have Bull Winkle, better known as the moose, the largest member of the deer family and differ by the others besides the size, by its palmate antlers while all others have dendritic ones.  Most often one sees a cow with calves, group of young males’ together but are mostly solitary animals.  They eat mostly sage or birch branches.  The males are funny looking with their bells hanging down from the throats.  Their populations have declining and in the North East of the USA they are becoming rare and the reason is not known but climate change, parasite infestations and the reintroduction of wolves are blamed.  And don’t forget the Moose Droll, which is canned in Missoula, Montana by the Big Sky Company; a great tasting beer.   They also brew Scape Goat, Trout Slayer and Slow Elk beer; what a zoo.

Of the major carnivores, mostly the coyotes, foxes and wolves are seen during the winter time: I only got to see mostly coyotes and an occasional wolf at a distance.  The funny looking coyote above is diseased with mange and probably will not survive to the end of the winter.   Mange is a skin disease caused by parasitic mites that invade the hair follicles and can cause immune system disease.  The coyotes feed mostly on the kills of the wolves or of dead animals.  They are usually seen solitary or in pairs.  My major reason for going to Yellowstone is the wolves and in the many visits there, I have never been able to get a decent shot of them.  They are always to far…or on occasions so close crossing a road in front of the vehicle in the Lamar Road that one have no time to get the camera gear ready. So the photo below is all I can offer of a female wolf chasing jays.  I have broken the Yellowstone trip into 3 blogs; so more is coming.