Yellowstone Trip Report ~ by John William Uhler
06 November 2010
~ November 2010 ~
Saturday - 06 November 2010
It was a bright clear warm November morning for my last fall trip to Parkadise. I was doing a solo trip today as Carlene wasn't feeling too well. She wanted to come but the ride would be too hard on her back. Tamra, my other normal sidekick had to work this morning, so I was on my own. It took a little while to get everything and everyone situated and then I was on my way. I was hoping to have a nice fall day to do some photography and some videos in Parkadise. There were also some friends from Utah and Montana that were in the park so I was hoping we could meet up somewhere along the trail.
I was on the road at 9:30 AM. It was a nice 39 degrees this morning with just a few clouds and looked like it was going to be a beautiful day. The traffic was very light for the closing weekend of the East, South, and West Entrances. These entrances were going to close at 8:00 AM Monday morning. The only bad thing was an accident just before the Idaho Montana border at the pullout for the spring area. There were police and an ambulance and vehicles and folks standing huddled together and holding each other. It made me sad to see that and I felt sorry for them all. Accidents are never good. And they sure make one take pause to pray for them and to ponder your family, loved ones and your blessings.
By the time I reached West Yellowstone the temperature had risen to 41 degrees and warming. West Yellowstone looked deserted, some of the stores, restaurants and hotels were boarded up and very few people were up and about. There was nary a car on Yellowstone Avenue. This was a real change compared to the trip I made at the beginning of October when the town was packed with visitors. In October it seemed all the hotels and restaurants were full and had folks waiting in line. The season is winding down with mostly locals making a last weekend trip.
I headed into the park and the weather was looking good and the temperature started to climb. This drive from West Yellowstone to Madison was one of the few that was barren of wildlife. No elk, no bison, no swans or ducks on the Madison. There were folks flyfishing the Madison and enjoying the last two days of the fishing season. All the wildlife was hidden back in the forest having a lazy morning waiting for the day to get warmer and maybe more folks to show up to appreciate them. The drive to Madison was very uneventful, but still exciting to be back home. The road was dry except for any areas in the shade had a small covering of snow and were a little icy. The temperature at 7 mile bridge was 43 degrees, sunny with high wispy clouds.
I turned left at Madison Junction and headed north. Just past the junction they had resurfaced the road and it is very nice. The road wasn't in bad condition before the resurface, but since they had been doing the construction at the Gibbon Falls area and north of there they just decided to resurface that entire area. They have done a great job and the road is great and all the construction is finished. That is really nice to see as it had been years in coming and very very slow progress and a bottle neck forever.
When I arrived at Gibbon Falls, I looked over to the right in the falls viewing area and saw three of my friends talking together. I pulled into the park area and grabbed my camera and tripod and headed down the walkway. They (the construction company) had really done a nice job in reconstructing this area for visitors. A nice parking area and a very nice waterfall viewing area. I met my friends along the walkway and we greeted each other and chatted about the weather, roads, friends and how we were going to spend the day. They were going to head south to the Old Faithful area and maybe do a hike to Fairy Falls. They were going to be looking for two other friends that had mentioned on the chat page that they were going to be in the park.
We took some pictures of the new natural bike racks or rocks I like to call them. Kent had to get his bike and be the First Person Ever to use the rocks. Before I headed up to the falls, I noted that the Gibbon Falls Picnic Area was open. It had not been open for almost 10 years since they started construction on the new road east of the Gibbon River. It use to be the largest picnic area in the park with lot of tables and restrooms and probably the most scenic picnic area in the park by the waterfalls. Now it is a much smaller area away from the falls. The road is finished with pullout for picnickers. It is a one way loop drive and the park service will finish it next spring and add some tables and restrooms. I was told by Roadie that there were two new picnic areas just north of the falls and that I should check them out. We had a short fun visit and they headed south and I headed to the viewing area to take some pictures and video of the falls.
When I had finished taking pictures and video at the falls, I packed up and headed north. I pulled into Iron Springs Picnic Area. It is a brand new picnic area just almost completed at the end of October 2010. It is a one way loop drive with pullouts for picnickers. No tables yet and one handicapped accessible restroom. I took a few pictures and headed north.
Just a little less than a mile from Iron Springs I pulled into Caldera Rim Picnic Area. It also is brand new almost finished picnic area. Great views of the mountains and canyon from here. There is an RV and large vehicle parking area as well as one for cars. There are no tables yet but there is one handicapped accessible restroom. There is a small one-way loop at the end of the parking area. I had a little lunch snack here and then packed up and continued north towards Mammoth.
At Norris I turned right or east to go to Virginia Cascades to take some pictures and video. The park service had already closed the Virginia Cascade drive so I turned around and headed west back to Norris and then turned right and headed north to Mammoth. Virginia Cascades will have to wait until next year.
So far the only wildlife was a raven at the Gibbon Falls parking area that was tame and use to visitors giving it snacks. Finally there were a couple bison at Norris Meadows. Usually there are bison and a few elk as well as Canada Geese in Gibbon and Norris Meadows along the way. This trip the wildlife has been very sparse. I looked for wildlife along the way and especially at Swan Lake Flats as there were normally elk, bison and a grizzly sow and four cubs have been hanging out in this area most of spring, summer and fall. Again there was nothing, and that doesn't happen very often.
Just before the entrance to the canyon headed down to Mammoth I noticed a snake crossing the road to the left. It was just a little over half way and on the other side of the road. I prepared to pull in to a pullout when another car passed on the opposite side of the road. I cringed and worried about the snake getting run over. I pulled into the Rustic Falls pullout at the top of the canyon and grabbed my camera and tripod to see if I could get some pictures of the snake. I saw the snake trying to make its way back from the opposite way it had been going. It was having a hard time getting back. When I got to it, it had just made it back to the side of the road. The car had hit it and I was pretty sure that it was not going to make it too long. It made it way off the side of the road and just stopped and curled up. I took a few pictures of it and left it to itself while hoping for the best for it.
I returned to Rustic Falls and took some photos and video of the falls and the canyon. I took photos and video from the upper and lower pullouts and then headed down the canyon north to Mammoth. The temperature in the Mammoth area was 64 degrees, the warmest of the day. I was going to Tower to take some photos and video of Tower Falls and see what wildlife I could along the way. At Hellroaring Overlook I noticed a friend parked and watching for wildlife. I pulled in and got out to talk to Bill and see how he was doing. Bill is a bear watcher and spotter extraordinaire and we have known each other for a long time. He had seen a few grizzly bears on Friday and so far today it had been slow. He had watched seven wolves early this morning south of the Institute in Lamar Valley.
We chatted for a while. Bill had had a great year watching bears and wolves. It had also been one of the best falls for bear watching and he was hopeful to watch a few more today and maybe tomorrow before the closure of the west entrance. We talked about some old friends that we hadn't seen in a while that had made trips to the park this year. He was really glad to have seen them and I was glad to hear they were still doing okay and life has been good to them. We were losing daylight since they had moved the clock back, so Bill headed west to Swan Lake Flats and I headed east to Tower.
There was very little traffic and I slowly made my way west. I turned in to the Petrified Tree drive. No bears, no bison, no moose. I drove past Roosevelt and towards Tower. Rainy Lake was just a small puddle, just about gone. Some good winter snow will fill it up and bring it back for another year. I do not know about global warming, but I do know that the small ponds and lakes that we had enjoyed watching wildfowl on have disappeared and been dry for quite a few years now. And that is both sad and too bad. We had enjoyed watching the wildlife interaction at these watering areas. We have seen deer, bear, muskrats, and waterfowl at most of them and we haven't seen that for quite a few years.
I took a slow drive past Rainy Puddle and up and past Calsite Overlook. No bears. I parked at the Tower General Store and got out the camera and tripod. There were a few folks there but the lot was mainly empty. I made my way to the falls overlook and took some photos and video. It was a great fall day. The falls were beautiful.
After finishing up at Tower Falls I headed back to Roosevelt and took a few pictures of the Roosevelt area and the Tower Ranger Station. I headed east to the Yellowstone River area to see if the bighorns were out and about. No luck. Next I headed back to Roosevelt and turned right or west and headed towards Mammoth. I took a few more photos at Mammoth. I did not even see one elk at the chapel or the old parade area or hotel areas. It was the slowest or least wildlife I had ever seen in the area. I headed south towards Madison.
I stopped at Rustic Falls and took a few more pictures as the light wasn't the best earlier when I had stopped. As I was taking pictures a lady came walking down the road just all excited. She asked if I had seen the eagle. I had not as I had not been back into Swan Lake Flats yet. She had taken some pictures of it flying and in a tree and she was excited. It was fun to talk to her and to see and feel her excitement. I packed up and headed south.
As I drove out of the canyon past Rustic Falls I noted a lot of cars and trucks in the pullout. I looked to my left and saw the bald eagle flying and diving at something on the creek. It was great to see and watch but too far for pictures. I slowly drove south and in the first pullout on the left I saw Bill's car. He pointed up high on the mountainside on my right. I nodded and drove to the next pullout on the right. I got out and setup the spotting scope. I found a lone large grizzly bear high up on the mountainside grubbing for food. Folks stopped and asked what I was watching. I told them and they pulled in and joined in the fun. There were folks from all over and the pullouts were pretty full of visitors enjoying the bear sighting. One guy came over and asked if we had seen the black elk? I said that I had not seen it. He pointed out where it was.
I had never seen or heard of a black elk. I adjusted the scope to a large herd of elk and found the large black bull elk. That was a first. As we all chatted about this we theorized that the elk had found a nice place to wallow and it was in some black mud. Since I had heard nothing about this and no one else I had talked to had, that was the best we could do. It was fun to see and talk about. There were elk all over the hillsides and mountainsides at this time. Some very nice and large herds of elk in the areas above Swan Lake Flats.
I watched the elk and grizzly from just before 5:00 PM until just past 5:30 PM. Our light was running out and I had to admit I did not like the loss of light with the gaining of an hour! I packed up and said my good byes and headed south and towards Rexburg. I had a nice drive south to Madison and turned right or west towards the west entrance. I did see one trumpeter swan of the Madison River just west of the 7 mile bridge in the fading light.
I was a little sad and melancholy to be finishing my last fall trip and most likely my last trip to Yellowstone for 2010. It had been a great year and season in Yellowstone. This is the time that I really miss not living in Gardiner, Montana and being able to enjoy the park all year long. Oh well, such is life and we do the best we can.
Until next time my friends enjoy the great outdoors wherever you are with family and friends! God Bless and Take Care!
Lamar Valley Map - Yellowstone National Park
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by John William Uhler
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