They say the best way to find wildlife in Yellowstone National Park is to stop looking for wildlife and start looking for people who are watching wildlife. And it works. You just drive along the road until you spot a bunch of cars pulled off to the side. If the people are holding cameras and not zippers, all the better. That's how we spotted our first bison. But it's funny how your attitude changes when you're the person who finds that perfect picture-shooting opportunity and somebody else pulls off the road beside you. The first thought in my head wasn't about how much I was looking forward to sharing their enthusiasm for wildlife, it was "Hey, this is my elk. Get outta here." I imagine the bison photo people felt the same way when we jumped into their camp. Everthing is all hunky dory when you're the intruder, but it doesn't work so well the other way around.
Probably the scariest thing from our trip to Mammoth Hot Springs yesterday was the trip up Old Gardiner Road. This is a one-way dirt road that climbs many, many feet and winds its way from the town of Mammoth over to the north entrance to Yellowstone. It has no guard rails and the turns are somewhat sharp. When we approached the first turn, I envisioned the road ending around the curve and a complete drop off. I don't know why I have these irrational fears. I did what I do best and put my head down, closed my eyes, clutched the center console in a death grip and cried, "We're all gonna die."
After my heart resumed beating and I could see the road again ahead of us, I began to enjoy the scenery. It's very different from in town. Wind-swept mountains to the right with jagged edges, rolling hills and meadows to the left. In a somewhat marshy area, we spotted ears poking through the grass and pulled over. Sure enough, it was a mama and papa pronghorn, plus a couple of babies. I have included a shot of one of those below.
Elk run loose all over the town of Mammoth Hot Springs. As a result, the town has erected signs on every street corner that say, "Do Not Approach the Elk." We watched videos at the visitor's center of elk ramming cars. By the post office, a bunch of elk were sitting under the trees napping. A young male elk approached the herd and the buck stood up to charge him. I asked my husband if the other elk didn't belong to the herd. The buck stopped in his tracks and urinated. My husband said the young elk just wanted what all males all over the world want. That reminded me of a birthday card I once sold to a greeting card company. It was for women. It said, "I know what you want for your birthday. You want what all women want -- a condom and a place to put it."
I decided on this trip to learn about evergreen trees. They all look alike but they are not alike. Although almost 80% of the trees in Yellowstone are lodge pole pine, there are other types of evergreens such as White Bark Pine and Juniper. So, I picked up a hiking book that helps to identify each type. The way lodge pole pine reproduce is by dropping pine cones. But the pine cones don't open unless they are heated, which is why fires are necessary. Sometimes trees have to burn down for other trees to grow.
Above is a photo of Grand Prismatic Spring at the Midway Geyser, and below are photos of a bison along the road, a fishing spot north of Mammoth, the lower terrace at Mammoth Hot Springs, the Travertine Occupants, followed by pronghorn and an elk along the trailhead.
Photos: Elizabeth Weintraub