Trip Report - Summer 1999

Yellowstone in July

Lewis and Debra Demler

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This is the trip we planned for the summer of 1998.  Unfortunately our house fire changed those plans.  Our vacation for the summer of 1999 started on June 25, 1999 and ended on July 11, 1999.  We arrived in Yellowstone on June 25, 1999.  On July 1, 1999 we drove from Yellowstone to Glacier. We spent several days in Glacier.  We stayed at Lake McDonald, Many Glacier and East Glacier.  We left Glacier on July 6, 1999 and drove back to Yellowstone.  We spent the rest of our vacation in Yellowstone, leaving on July 11, 1999.  This trip report covers the period from Wednesday, July 7, 1999 until we left on Sunday, July 11, 1999.

Wednesday, July 7, 1999

Today was the day we had hoped and planned for since we sponsored a wolf collar back in January.  After our winter trip, we talked about doing something for the wolf recovery project and we felt that this was the best thing we could do.  We were too late to have our collar placed on the one of the more visible packs like the Druid Peak pack or the Rose Creek pack.  Those collars had been placed while we were in the park.  We were finally notified in February that our collar had been placed on a gray male born in 1997 to one of the back country packs.  We got in touch with the research team and made arrangements to go along with the interns on one of their trips to see the pack during our summer visit.

We had been trying to set the exact day of this trip during our entire visit.  We called daily, even when we were in Glacier.  Our trip had been postponed several times because of trouble with the Sheep Mountain pack.  This pack's rendezvous site was right next to a grazing allotment on National Forest land.  Cattle were being turned out on this land and all the interns were trying to harass the wolves away from the site.  Unfortunately, the Sheep Mountain pack eventually did get in trouble attacking cattle, and several of them were killed.

It was still dark when we got up at 4:30.  We waited outside our cabin for the wolf research team to get together; it seemed like they would never arrive.  Around 5:15, we finally headed out to the observation area, which was about a mile from the pack's rendezvous site.  I was glad we brought a decent scope.  As we hiked to the site, we could hear the strange warble of sand hill cranes in the distance.

We got to the observation area and were only there for a few minutes, when we saw the first gray wolf.  It was not collared so we knew it was not ours.  The researchers scanned through the frequencies for any wolves in the area.  The signal from our wolf did show up, but it was rather faint at that point.  The signal from the alpha male was just about as faint, so they were probably traveling together.  The alpha female had a stronger signal; she appeared to be at the den.  So we sat and waited a little bit more.  The next scan for the alpha male brought his signal in much stronger.  So then Deb spied a gray wolf up on the hill, about the same place we had seen the first gray wolf.  The telemetry had a strong signal from our wolf.  We think that the wolf on the hill was ours, but it could have been his littermate.  They are really hard to tell apart.  The telemetry had signals from the littermate as well, but not quite as strong.

After a short while, the whole pack came out into the valley.  The alpha female, a black wolf with grizzled gray in her coat, led the way.  An uncollared yearling black female followed close behind her.  Then we saw our wolf and his gray littermate, both of them together, but we couldn't tell who was who at that point.  Finally, the puppies, 2 black and 4 gray, came tumbling out onto the hill.  The whole pack raced across a wide, open meadow to the tree line on the other side of the hill.  They ran in and out of the trees for a little bit, and then headed back to the middle of the meadow.  The pack set up camp near a large tree.  The puppies chased each other around, jumping on each other in mock battle.  The alpha female and the black yearling sat nearby watching them play.   Eventually the two black adults moved off toward the den site.  One of the collared gray adults (the intern who collared him was sure it was ours) stayed behind with one black and two gray puppies.  The other three puppies followed their mother back to the den.  As they got over toward the den site, they met a large gray collared wolf.  The interns thought this last gray wolf had to be the alpha male because his signal was coming in strong.  We watched our wolf baby sit the puppies until he got tired and took them back to mama around 8:30.  We were so fortunate to have seen the entire pack - 2 adult black wolves, 4 adult gray wolves and the six puppies.

We drove out to West Yellowstone for breakfast.  On the way back in from West Yellowstone, we saw 4 elk and then a small herd of bison that had a number of calves.  There were about 30 adults and 15 calves.  As we drove along the Firehole River, we actually saw someone catch a fish.  We'd seen a lot of fishermen over the years, but had never seen anyone catch anything.  Just before Fountain Flats Drive, we saw a few cars pulled over and people looking across the river.  Then we spied a little black bear poking around in some brush.  It finally got behind the brush so you couldn't see it any more.  We decided not to sit and wait for it to come back out.  

We pulled into Fountain Flat Drive where the usual herd of bison was spread out all along the bottom of the hill that rims the meadow.  There were quite a few calves with this herd, too.  The herd had more than 100 animals in it, probably closer to 200.

We took a quick trip down to LeHardy Rapids.  On the way we saw a bunch of lone bison, a few elk and a fairly good size bison herd that had some calves.  Down at LeHardy Rapids, we saw quite a few cutthroats trying to jump up the rapids, plus a number or trout waiting in a calmer area.  We stood and watched them crash into the pounding water for awhile.  We took some video, but it is amazing how long it seems to take for one to jump when you are filming.  We have lots of video of the rushing water and an occasional fish.

Thursday, July 8, 1999

We got off to a really late start.  The drive from Glacier and our early morning wolf watching had done us in.  It was almost 11 before we got on the road.  We planned a short trip through the Upper Geyser Basin, since we had scheduled a horse ride/cookout at Roosevelt for the evening.  As we drove by Elk Park, we saw two large bull elk in velvet that really attracted a crowd.  We headed down toward Old Faithful and saw the usual bison and elk.  

We hiked around the geyser basin hoping to catch one of the other geysers besides Old Faithful.  When we checked the visitor center, we found we were within the window for Grand and no one had reported it going off yet.  We rushed out there only to find we were about 15 minutes too late.  

We came back to Canyon for a brief rest and then headed up to Roosevelt for our horse ride cookout.  On the way up over Dunraven Pass, we saw six bighorn ewes crossing the road.  They were rather scruffy looking, still shedding their winter coats.  They caused a sheep jam for a short while until they moved off down the hill.

We arrived at Roosevelt and got saddled up for our trail ride and cookout.  While we were on our trail ride, we went past Lost Lake where we spied an animal swimming in the lake.  Everyone debated whether it was an otter, a beaver or a muskrat.  Since we were not allowed to bring binoculars, we couldn't check it out closely.  We were in the middle of the line of horses, so we couldn't ask one of the wranglers.  Two mother ducks, one with seven ducklings and another that only had two ducklings, were swimming back and forth in the middle of the lake.

We finally arrived at the cookout area.  We had to wait for them to help us get off the horses.  They don't let you get off alone.  After being helped off our horses, we walked kind of funny for awhile.  The food was good, especially for us, since we normally don't eat steak.  The entertainment was nice and included stories of the area and cowboy songs.  On the way back to Roosevelt we saw a black bear up on the hill above the lodge where one normally hangs out.  We finally got back to the corral and they almost forgot about me and left me on the horse.  I was the last one to get off.  As we were leaving, a deer ran in front of the car as we were approaching the Roosevelt Junction.  We went on out to Soda Butte to the Lamar River Trailhead pullout.  We saw a black wolf, 42F, go south and then head west, apparently going back to the den site.  Then we saw 21F, the alpha female, go the opposite direction and head up the Soda Butte Creek.  We lost her in the sagebrush.  It got too dark to see, so we headed back to the cabin.    

Friday, July 9, 1999

We had another clear, wonderful, warm day.  We got on the road about 10:00.  We got out of the cabin a little bit after 9:00, but we were delayed because we had to stop for ice and some benadryl cream for Deb.  She had a terrible allergic reaction to moleskin, and the back of her legs around the ankle area was all red and itchy.  We also stopped and looked at the bison exhibit in the Canyon Visitor Center and renewed our Yellowstone Association membership.  We headed over to the Old Faithful area to tromp around there a little bit.  I had a cut on my leg that was right at the top of my hiking boot, so between Deb's rash and my ankle, we weren't sure how much walking we could do.  The cut on my ankle came from the bed in our cabin.  It had metal flanges at the side that were supposed to hold the mattress in place, but one was sticking out real far and I walked into it.

At Elk Park all of the elk were lying down in the meadow.  All you could see were the tops of their heads over the grass.  Amazingly enough, in Gibbon Meadows, a lone cow elk caused an elk jam.  She was very close to the road, maybe 10 yards away from the road edge.  It looked like she was trying to get across the road.  Of course, everyone had to stop and get a picture of her.

There was a hawk soaring over the Tuff Cliff area

We saw another person catching a fish on the Firehole River.  This was the second time this trip.  The fish must have really been biting, because we hadn't seen anyone catch fish before this trip.  

Heading down toward Old Faithful, we got stuck in a bison jam because the whole Fountain Flats bison herd was crossing the road from east to west in the Nez Perce Creek area.  The jam went back for miles.  It was well beyond the Fountain Flats Road.  When we got stuck in it, it didn't reach back as far as the exit from the Firehole Canyon Drive road.  We were in the jam for about one and a half hours.

We hiked around the geyser basin in the afternoon and then headed up to Observation Point to watch Old Faithful from there.  We stopped to watch Solitary Geyser first.  When we got up to Observation Point, Old Faithful put on a good show for us.

As we headed north from Old Faithful, we noticed that the Fountain Flats bison herd was back on the east side of the road.  There must have been another bison jam when they went back across the road.  A smaller part of the herd was across from Fountain Flats Drive.  There was another fairly large bison herd between the exit and the entrance of the Firehole Canyon Drive.

We decided to head out and see if we could spot our wolf on our own.  We hiked back to the observation hill to watch for the pack.  We got there about 8:00 p.m.  and sat there for about 10 minutes.  Then Deb spied what at first she thought was a rock, but then the rock would disappear and reappear.  I got it in the scope and confirmed it was a wolf.  Then in the next 10 minutes, the hillside was full of wolves.  We saw the black alpha female and then a black pup and a gray pup and the gray adult that Deb first spied.  We watched them come down the hill and out past the tree where they had set up camp the last time we saw them.  The rest of the pack came and joined them.  In total we think we saw every one we saw the day before.  We saw the 2 black pups, the 4 gray pups, 4 gray adults and 2 black adults.  The second black adult joined in right at the end when they started to go back up the hill to where we originally saw them.  Since it was starting to get dark, we figured we'd better head out.  As we hiked back from the observation area, we spied a killdeer.  It tried to lead us away from its nest area by playing injured bird.  On the drive back to the cabin, we saw a moose feeding on willows and 2 bats scouring the skies for mosquitoes.  

Saturday, July 10, 1999

We got going around 6:30.  We wanted to get up to the Lamar area to see if we could catch Rick McIntyre and get him to autograph a copy of his book.  We got this copy to replace the original autographed copy that was destroyed in our house fire.  As we headed down from Dunraven Pass, we saw 2 deer, a buck and a doe.  The buck had a rather small rack.  

We stayed at the Lamar River Trailhead pullout for about an hour.  Rick McIntyre and the researchers were up on the hill across the Soda Butte Creek.  We didn't see any wolves.  On the way back, we saw an antelope.  There was a good-sized bison herd across the Lamar River and individual bison were scattered throughout the valley.  As we crossed the Lamar River Bridge, we saw a large bull bison walk across the road in front of us.  

We saw a few elk lying down in Elk Park as we drove by.  We saw a hawk flying over the Gibbon River just before the area where all the mudslides happened.

When we drove by Fountain Flats and the Nez Perce Creek, we didn't see one bison.  The whole herd disappeared somewhere, maybe gone back up to the Hayden Valley.

As we drove along the Gibbon River before the Gibbon River Bridge, we spied a little dust devil that stirred up the dust and pulled some water up out of the river and sprayed it on the car.  We went back the Firehole Canyon Road.  I was scanning the cliffs for eagles.  We noticed bird droppings all over one rock face.  We stopped to check it out.  It looked like there had been a nest there at one time, but there were no chicks in it and there were no eagles around.  Probably the chicks had already fledged.  

We saw a sand hill crane in the Gibbon Meadows area in the Gibbon River.

Elk Park had Elk scattered everywhere on both sides of the road.  

We stopped in at Norris and toured the back basin.  Steamboat was spouting about 10 feet high.  Echinus was still unpredictable so we didn't get to see it erupt.  We did stop and watch a nice eruption of Veteran.

On the way back, about two-thirds of the way between Norris and Canyon, there was a moose jam.  There was a very young moose back by a pond with a lot of lilies in it, munching away on the vegetation.  We got several pictures and video of him.  It was right before you start down the hill toward Canyon.

We headed out to the Lamar River Trailhead pullout.  By the time we got there, Rick McIntyre and a large party had already left to cross the Soda Butte, so we headed up to Trout Lake to see if we could spot the otters.  We waited until about 8:00 and decided to walk around the lake.  As we got to the back side of the lake, we spotted one and then another one came out and joined it.  We watched them and took videos and pictures for awhile.  As we headed out, there was beautiful sunset, all pink and orange, reflecting beautifully in the lake.

We headed back to the Lamar River Trailhead and waited for Rick McIntyre and his party to come back.  They were just packing up at their viewing site when we got there.  Once he came back in we got him to autograph our book.  

Sunday, July 11, 1999

We got on the road about 7:15.  We got breakfast around 6:30, checked out and got on the road.  We saw two bison walking along the side of the road just about at the entrance to the Virginia Cascade Drive.  The was a cow elk getting ready to cross the road right as we made the turn to go down to Madison.  There were elk scattered throughout Elk Park and Gibbon Meadows.  After the big bison jam of the other day, all of the bison disappeared from the Fountain Flats area.  All we saw were two separate lone bison out in the distance, no big herd.  

It was a clear, cool morning.  All of the geyser basins were really steaming.  There were a few white, fluffy clouds in the sky.  They might have built up into thunderheads, but we couldn't stay for them.  As we were getting near the southern exit of the park, an enormous bull bison stood right near the edge of the road, which was very unusual for that area.  It was in the densely forested area - the tunnel of trees area that is about 2 or 3 miles north of the Moose Falls turnout.

At the Oxbow Bend turnout, we saw a bull moose who was either very young or one whose antlers were just starting to grow.  We also saw some white birds on the river in the distance.  We thought they might be swans, but the scope was packed up for the flight home, so we couldn't verify it.  We saw a mule deer along the road to Jackson, close to the turnout overlooking the Snake River.  

We said goodbye to the Tetons as we headed into the Jackson airport.  We were leaving knowing it would be another 6 months before we could return home.

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