It was nearing dusk when I spotted them, a group of 50 or so people gathered on a hillside overlooking the Hayden Valley in Yellowstone National Park. As usual, there was nowhere to park, so I leapt from the rolling car while my mother journeyed onward, hoping to find a piece of ditch where she could pull over.
These people were wolf spotters, who gather each dawn and dusk to look for one of the wolf packs residing in Yellowstone. Some onlookers were actually there to study wolf behavior and were on that overlook at 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. daily searching for
them; others like me were just drawn to the crowd. This particular wolf pack had kits, we were told, so we waited until the sun went down trying to spot them far away. One of the watchers loaned me his omniscope to spy on a herd of elk on the hillside across the valley from us. The one thing that nature-lovers seem to have in common is that they are friendly and helpful in spotting wildlife, or telling you the best spot for viewing, or even what you may see around the next curve.
While we didn’t see any wolves that evening, I caught the fervor that these fellow travelers at Yellowstone had to locate and observe the Park’s most elusive wildlife.
Bison near, bison far, bison right in front of your car
Bison do not qualify as elusive wildlife in the Park. We spotted one the minute we entered the Park and glimpsed our last just as we were leaving.
Before traveling through Yellowstone, I imagined bison as ugly, hairy, lumbering creatures. But after
spending some time in the park and encountering them constantly, discovered they had personality. Watching mothers care for their calves, a male protecting his herd from humans, a bison just resting and enjoying the fine fall day, two bison friends out for a walk without a care in the world, I came away with a fondness for these large, hairy creatures.
Large packs swarmed the road in Lamarr Valley, tying up traffic and causing otherwise sane individuals to approach within arm’s reach for a photo. Don’t try this! There was the large male bison that stood in the road and stared us down as if he was going to charge our car, while the rest of his
herd safely crossed the road behind him. We encountered two male bison, apparently friends, who plodded side by side down the road toward Mammoth Hot Springs, leading a parade of cars for miles until
they were able to pull off the road (at a parking lot). There were many bison mothers caring for calves and several lone buffalo either grazing or resting by the side of the road. Ok, there are a lot of bison in Yellowstone, but after a while I grew to love watching them.
Then there are the bears, such as the black bear I and several others chased alongside the Yellowstone River on a cold, foggy morning (the bear mostly ignored us, thank goodness, don’t try this!). Or the grizzly bear that suddenly charged out of
Hayden Valley into a packed parking area (no one was injured).
A copious number of elk, antelope and big horn sheep also grazed contently near or in the roadway.
There may not be lions, elephants and zebra, but there is still plenty enough wildlife for an American safari adventure. You can spend a small fortune on a bucket list safari to Africa, but first try a safari in one of our own National Parks.