March 26, 2010

Yellowstone's Lamar Valley

My recent weekend in Cooke City allowed me a bit of time to explore the Lamar Valley, famous for its wolves and other charismatic megafauna. I headed out at sunrise one morning to see what there was to see. No wolves, but I did see the wolf watchers.

Every morning they gather to, you guessed it, watch the wolves. Using antennas and radio telemetry to locate the collared canids, a core group of wolf enthusiasts spend their mornings (and maybe their afternoons and evenings, I don't actually know how long they stick around...) checking out the pack. I hung around for about an hour, but the wolves never showed themselves.

That didn't stop the wolf watchers from looking, though. And looking. One of them was even kind enough to let me look through their spotting scope for a minute, but all I could see was a bunch of bull elk grazing on a hillside. The elk seemed pretty casual, too, which made it hard to believe there were wolves nearby. But I wasn't going to say anything. They were sure the wolves were there, and they were highly focused. No one noticed when I ambled away...

Did come across plenty of bison though. Bison are big.

This coyote was roaming around, too. Even saw him do the jumping thing where they leap high into the air and then bury their head in the snow to catch a subnivean rodent. That was cool.

Then there were the otters. I was hanging out by the river when they came up, grunting and climbing around and rolling on their backs and then jumping back in the water. It was a big otter party.

How can you not love otters? If I could be any non-human animal, I think I'd be an otter. They definitely have the most fun.

But just because I love otters, doesn't mean that they love me, as this guy made clear. I guess I'll never be cool enough to hang with his crew.

On my drive out I took this shot of the Lamar Ranger Station. Boy, to be a ranger stationed there...

Hadn't spent a lot of time in this part of Yellowstone before this trip, but I'll definitely be back. Next winter I look forward to exploring the Lamar Valley on skis. Maybe I'll see the wolves. I know the wolf watchers will be there. And maybe next time the otters will let me join the party...

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