Major Snowpack & Yellowstone Bears

April 30 – May 1

Busy, busy, busy as always. Granny and I made a spontaneous decision to head up to Yellowstone yesterday afternoon to do our annual early season trip to check out the wildlife before the hoards of people show up. It’s one of our favorite jaunts of the year even though we don’t get to fish because the Yellowstone fishing season is closed. Early May is the best time of the year for bear viewing and that is our primary reason for this early season outing.

The decision really was spur-of-the-moment. We had intentions of raking and getting things done around the house but the weather still stinks. Granny was as at the laundry mat and I realized with an inch of snow on the ground raking was not in the cards. Also, we turn off our heat April 1st and in the house we are hovering around an uncomfy 54º. Driving around in warm car looking for animals seemed like a great solution.

We left Victor, Idaho about 2 PM. That put through the West Yellowstone, Montana gate to Yellowstone by 4:30. Our snowpack is averaging 50% above normal no matter where you go in the Yellowstone region and quite frankly there is so much snow the landscape looks like February. Because of the snow cover over the Madison River valley we saw fewer than normal numbers of elk and bison. Fewer than normal animal numbers continued all the way to Mammoth when finally the herds of elk and bison appeared. This part of the park is in the so called “banana belt” and has little or no snow on the ground. In turn, the animals congregate here for easier times. From Mammoth to Cooke City, Montana is where our bear watching becomes most serious. We worked in this part of the park in 1986 and know where to find them. From 6 PM till dark we putted along in the Explorer scanning every bear likely area. However, even through our most reliable areas we couldn’t even find a black bear.

Last sunlight was at about 8:30 and we were as far as the Pebble Creek Campground (10 miles shy of Cooke City where we like to camp and eat). From here up to Cooke City increases in elevation and the landscape was beginning to look like winter again with as much as 10 foot high snow banks. It didn’t seem as likely that we’d see that last light bear so we opted to turn around for another lap through Lamar Valley, the bear and wolf capital of the park. Sure enough, right where Soda Creek dumps into the Lamar River we found our first grizzly bear. According to some other bear viewers, this large male was on a mission to return to a kill he’d been feeding on for the last several days. Sure enough just shy of the road by a giant cottonwood tree he and a tailgating wolf that antagonized him every chance he could, stopped in a thicket of willows to feed. It was light enough that we could see fairly well, but it was too dark for a good photo. You need to look real hard to see the bear and wolf.

We watched the grizzly feed and fend off the wolf for about 15 minutes or so before it was too dark to see. Then we packed it up. Just as we started to leave another griz crossed the road ten feet in front of our car. The carcass was about to be a busy dangerous place!

Once to Cooke City we settled in the Miner Bar for dinner but they were not serving food. Bummer! We were absolutely starved. Unfortunately for us, the night turned to chips and beer for dinner followed by a very cold night of camping on the outskirts of town in the back of the truck. Which by the way, we had to be careful camping because evidently there’s a grizzly cruising town every night. Luckily he didn’t come visit us.

It was dark when we rolled into Cooke City last night so we couldn’t see the town’s snow pack. But when we actually woke up this morning and looked around – we were shocked! They might have snow piled up till the 4th of July! It is really amazing. After a few pictures of the winter wonderland, we grabbed coffees and cruised back to Lamar Valley.

We saw three more grizzlies and a few wolves. All animals were separate and one of the highlights was a pack of wolves that killed what looked to be an elk. They were a long ways away even with the binos. They were feeding hard and chasing the ravens and coyotes away constantly. It was a blood bath and this time I don’t have photos because the action was too far away.

However, our next stop, by the Yellowstone River Bridge near Tower Falls, things were different. We found a grizzly feeding only a 100 yards off the road. Our camera has a mediocre zoom and it doesn’t show how close we were, but we were close enough and this was by far our best grizzly sighting in years. This was a massive grizzly bear just gnawing on a freshly killed carcass. Even though we were close, it was hard to tell what the carcass was because there was hardly anything left. I’ll go with an elk. Anyhow, this bear was huge, scarred, blood covered and as ugly a bear we’ve ever seen. He must have eaten the entire animal himself as he was so fat it was unreal. We watched until he couldn’t eat anymore and wallowed back into some trees. Boy, I feel sorry if a hiker stumbles into that bear.

We were home by 2 PM today just in time for an afternoon of baseball and raking (Yes the snow has melted again). It was a great 24 hours. How lucky we are to have such a great backyard!

Some friends and I are heading to a private spring creek on Tuesday and Wednesday. Expect me to get past the “one” trout this year mark!

4 Responses to “Major Snowpack & Yellowstone Bears”

  1. Erik May 7, 2011 at 12:42 am #

    Good luck on the creek.

  2. Jeff Currier - Global Fly Fishing May 7, 2011 at 5:06 am #

    Thanks!

  3. Urocyon May 8, 2011 at 2:33 pm #

    That is one big grizzly. Looks particularly fat for this time of year. Hard to believe you were dealing with tropical heat, lemurs, etc. just a few weeks prior. Pat

  4. Jeff Currier - Global Fly Fishing May 9, 2011 at 12:38 am #

    I can’t believe it either. Now if the Cubs could just win more than one in a row life would be perfect!

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