Yellowstone – The Magical Spellbinder…
The other day I read this blog article called “Bison and Eagles and Bears, Oh My!” It was written by Rosanne Wagstaff.
This article is about Yellowstone National Park and how she and her husband, Gary, had visited it and fallen under it’s spell. Then how they were delighted when they were invited back to spend 5 1/2 months workamping in the park. and all of their experiences that followed. She gives us excellent advice based on the perspective of someone who actually worked at the park…from how to prepare for your day to where to go and what to do.
This is a great article. If Yellowstone is not on your list of National Parks to visit, that will change by the end of this article.
Go ahead, check it out!
How to get the most out of your Yellowstone wildlife-viewing safari
“Folks, please step closer to the bear so you don’t get hit by a car,” the park ranger cheerily called out. “Well, that’s a first!” a fellow photographer chuckled as we happily inched toward a grizzly foraging for food, compressing like a crowd squeezing into an elevator. Glancing at his camera-faced audience tucked safely on the shoulder of the road, the young bear unknowingly worked its way into dozens of hearts, sure to be the topic of many travel journals. What is it about seeing animals in the wild that thrills people and draws them to Yellowstone National Park from all over the world?
My husband, Greg, and I fell hopelessly under the spell during our first visit to Yellowstone. It’s a strange brew of wonder and adventure, an etching that left us longing to return. Our traveling spirit played tug of war with our heartstrings when we departed. A few months later, destiny showed up with an opportunity to live and workamp in West Yellowstone, Montana, for 5½ months, right on the park’s doorstep. It seemed an ideal way to trade in our tourist goggles for rookie resident specs and experience the park from an insider’s perspective. And that’s how we found ourselves shuffling toward a hungry grizzly clawing at the forest’s edge that sunny, snow-blanketed day.
Through trial and error and locals’ sage advice we gained helpful insights on how to get the most out of our wildlife-viewing safaris. Of course, the park delivers what it chooses on any given day, but there are ways to maximize your opportunities.
Packing a few essentials before heading to Yellowstone’s animal kingdom will greatly enhance your wildlife-viewing experience. Binoculars are a must! Besides observing creatures from afar, they bring you face to face with wildlife nearby. As Greg glued his eyeballs onto his camera viewfinder I found myself gazing into the long-lashed eyes of a pronghorn near the road. Locking eyes for a few moments, I wondered why I never used my binoculars at close distances. Now I do! An optional companion to binoculars is a spotting scope. Its greater magnification reaches beyond that of binoculars, offering more viewing opportunities and up-close images. Have some fun and rent one for a day. Galleries and camera stores in the gateway cities of West Yellowstone, Montana and Gardiner, Wyoming, offer rentals.
Next, add a camera. From smartphones to professional setups boasting an assortment of lenses, the choice is yours. Keep in mind, park rules require visitors to stay at least 100 yards from bears and wolves and 25 yards from bison, elk and other wildlife, but when animals break the rules and stare through your car window, the flexibility of a zoom lens comes in handy!
Collect a park map at any entrance gate and a Yellowstone Mammal Checklist (animal map) at visitor centers. For a sneak preview, check out the maps on the park’s website. The “animal map” shows sketches of wildlife along main roads where certain species hang out and lists park mammals, their habitats and population. The highest concentration of wildlife can be found in Lamar Valley, Hayden Valley and Mount Washburn, including grizzlies, black bears, bison, elk and wolves.
You may want to consider two other tools: two-way radios (helpful at animal sightings) and bear spray (highly recommended if you plan to hike on Yellowstone’s 900-plus-mile trail system).
Add lunch, snacks, water, rain gear, sunscreen, folding chairs and any other items to make your expedition comfortable. We prefer to picnic in Yellowstone’s pavilion of meadows and forests in case lunchtime arrives during an animal sighting.
Finally, tuck patience in your pocket. It’s the secret ingredient to seeing more wildlife and witnessing dramatic animal behaviors. Like the time we watched a mama black bear munch in a meadow for 90 minutes while her three cubs napped peacefully high in a tree. When she disappeared into the woods, we held our positions expecting to see her babies wake soon. Another hour passed. Suddenly, a boar (male bear) raced out of the forest chased by mama. Within seconds he crossed the meadow and scrambled 35 feet up a tree! Mama stood guard for a few minutes before letting him come down and retreat across the road. “Did you see that?” the crowd gasped. We just witnessed mama bear protecting her cubs and the terrifying reality of how fast bears run (more than 30 mph, or 44 feet per second)! Finally, the cubs awoke. What a treat it was to see them chase each other around trees, wrestle, tumble and climb.
When is the best time to see Yellowstone’s wildlife? The answer lies in the heart of the traveler. We favor late spring and fall, but don’t cross any months off your list just yet. Each season delivers unique wildlife, camping and outdoor activity experiences. Keep in mind, Mother Nature is not bound by a calendar and often embellishes seasons on a whim.
Bears, ravenous from hibernation, head to lower elevations to feast on plants and animal carcasses served up by winter’s harsh weather.
Spring is like opening a children’s pop-up book full of colorfully illustrated animals. It’s a time of awakening and activity. Photographers show up in May and June with monster cameras and lenses….
Feature Image: RoadTrippers via Pinterest
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