May 2010 and 2011 were superb spring jaunts to Yellowstone. Granny and I saw numerous bears and elk, bison, bighorn sheep and etc almost everywhere. Even though fishing season isn’t open in early May in the Park, the amount of wildlife we see makes our two day visit more than worth it. But just like fishing, no matter how familiar we are with the Park, we know we won’t always get lucky with the animals.
Granny and I planned to leave for Yellowstone Monday night, but we cancelled our early departure due to rain and sleet. Camping and cooking hotdogs in garbage weather is even too much for us. Instead we left for the Park yesterday morning at around 7 AM.
The drive began gloomy to say the least. It drizzled and rained all the way to West Yellowstone then rain turned to snow as we entered the West Entrance to Yellowstone. With the snow hitting we had some urgency to get moving through the Park. The roads were already covered in snow and it doesn’t take much for Yellowstone to close the roads.
In no time the snow was falling so hard we could hardly see into the meadows of the Madison River where we hoped to spot some animals. Let alone the fact that I didn’t dare take my eyes off the slippery road to even look for animals. There were a few elk braving the storm but that was it.
Despite the bad roads things were going well for Granny and me. I flipped the Explorer into 4 x 4 and there was very little traffic coming our way. But there was a reason for the lack of traffic. As we approached Gibbon Falls a Yellowstone road worker was frantically waving his arms for us to stop. “You can’t go any further. A bus has skidded and completely blocked the road ahead. And there’s several more accidents as you head towards Norris. Could be a few hours. And that’s only if the snow stops.” said the worker.
What luck, we were stranded on the wrong side of Yellowstone. “Lunch time” I said to Granny. We drove all the way back to West Yellowstone and grabbed some lunch at a bar. We dragged lunch out for a couple hours then drove back to the West Entrance. Our luck changed, the road we wanted was reopened – treacherous, but open.
The drive wasn’t all that bad. By the time we made it to the north part of the Park the snow had not only stopped but there wasn’t even any snow on the ground and the sun was partly out. Along the way we lucked into our first nice animal sighting, this lone black wolf.
We made it to Lamar Valley at around 7. As always there were plenty of pro wildlife viewers stopped in many of the viewing points with their high-powered spotting scopes. Granny and I visited a few but they all said animal sightings had been slow for several days. Then, as I was talking to one of them, I noticed some very nervous pronghorn antelope. I looked the same way the antelope were looking and across the Lamar River I saw a dark spot. It was too small to be a buffalo and I hit it with the binocs. Sure enough, we had our first grizzly bear sighting of the weekend.
Lamar Valley always produces in May. This particular griz was so far away it was no more than adding one to the sightings total. There was no sense in trying to enjoy him so rather than stare at a distant dot we continued our drive. We went all the way to Cooke City, Montana and never found another bear.
One of the main reasons we target Cooke City is because it’s a very cool town. There’s not much there but it’s gorgeous, remote and you can usually take in a little culture with food and beer at the Miner’s Saloon. It’s been a part of this weekend for years. Unfortunately, the Miner’s Saloon was closed for spring cleaning. Not only is that a bummer because our planned fun visit was out, but there are no other options. Last night was an early dinnerless and even worse, beerless night!
Granny and I slept in the Explorer just outside the North East Park Entrance. We got up at 5:30 and were one of the first cars back down through Lamar Valley. Once again we couldn’t see a darn thing. We were caught in a snow squall and visibility for wildlife was near impossible. We thought about waiting it out but for fear of getting snowed in the Park we started the journey back through the Park and home again.
Before we left the Park the weather broke again. The sun came out and we went for a side trip over to Hayden Valley, another great grizzly viewing area. We drove as far as Canyon only to come to a road block. The road was closed due to snow. Bummed but wanting to make the best of things, we did a short hike for a unique view of Yellowstone Falls that we’ve never done before. The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone really is incredible.
On a normal May trip to Yellowstone Granny and I find about a dozen bears. Not this year. We found one grizzly and no black bears. I’ll blame most of it on the weather. Our time was shortened and at many times we couldn’t see well enough in the snow squalls to spot wildlife in the distance. I also think that because we have far less snow than normal for this time of year, much of the wildlife is already in the higher country. You win some and you lose some. It’s always great to get to Yellowstone for the scenery and its neat how different every year can be.
Next on the agenda is back to the artwork. I am still working on illustrations for Boots Allen’s new book and will hit them hard this week. Then, next week Granny and I will head for the lakes of Pinedale, Wyoming to see if we can’t stick a big lake trout or two. For me, two weeks after ice out is always a great time to catch lakers on the fly.