THE VIEW FROM YELLOWSTONE
It is bug season in Yellowstone and the warming daytime temperatures and abundant melt water ponds are producing a bumper crop of biters and blood suckers. Evenings are the worst, so go with bug spray and appropriate clothing. A good hoodie with a built-in buff can be useful along with bite-proof gloves and long pants.
I saw the first deer fawns of the season this week. They are hard to spot because they hold tight to the cover and will not move. Plus, their speckles provide them with amazing camouflage. If you do run across a fawn, leave it be, the doe will return in due time to take care of it.
The snow over the weekend made for some great scenics and unsettled weather appears to be here for at least a couple of more weeks. Storm conditions can often be excellent for shooting.
On June 7, 2019 the Park Service released the visitor information for May 2019. Visits were down slightly (2.8%) from May of 2018 but overall for the year to date visits were up 1%. The trend continues to be upward for visits so smart park regulars employ strategies to avoid the crowds when possible.
One of these strategies is what I call the “dirt roads tour.” I use the dirt roads around the park early and late when the light is good and seldom see many cars and very infrequently is there a “bear jam.” These roads are all gravel but in reasonable shape. The washboards and rough spots encourage you to slow down which actually enhances the wildlife viewing. These roads include the following: 1) From the Gardiner High School football field to Beasley Creek, which is the northern boundary of the park on the west side of the Yellowstone River from Gardiner north. The river is actually the park boundary and this road generally follows the river. A couple of miles after Beasley Creek the road brings you to the Corwin Springs bridge where you can cross the river and take the paved highway back to Gardiner. 2) The back road from Mammoth to Gardiner. This is actually the old Yellowstone Trail that used to deliver visitors to Mammoth. It is one way downhill. It starts at a gate behind the old jail in the Mammoth buildings. Look for the short street that leads to the gate on the right just past the ice machine as you first enter the Mammoth commons. This drive is best done early and there are several good overlooks where you can glass for critters. 3) The Black Tail Plateau road takes you for about 7 miles through the country on top of the Black Tail Plateau and ends just before the turn off to the petrified tree when it comes back to the pavement. This road is also one way. I have seen most of the major park animals on this road over the years, often times right along the road. This is also a good place to rest and eat meals at one of the turn outs. 4) The Slough Creek road which is a couple of miles along Slough Creek and ends at a trail head and campground. There are often wolves and wolf watchers along this road. It is a good place to use your scope or binoculars. 5) The Chittenden road at the top of Dunraven Pass is only about 1.5 miles and ends at a parking lot for the Mt. Washburn trail to the Washburn lookout, but it can be very scenic and there are bears at this elevation in late July and August. It can be closed at any time due to bad weather and some years does not open until well into June. An SUV or truck is the most appropriate vehicle for all of these roads.
The dirt roads are good places to look for some of the smaller animals that inhabit Yellowstone like ermine, rock chucks and coyotes. The back road out of Mammoth is in the shade in the late afternoon and is best at sunrise.
Photo tip of the week: If you are relying on your phone for pictures in Yellowstone upgrade to the most current model. The advances in technology the last year have been significant and the top phones of each brand are now taking publishable photos under many extreme conditions. For a few bucks, you can buy a clamp that will allow you to attach the phone to a monopod or tripod. While the top phones have vibration dampening technology the photos seem markedly crisper if you use a burly monopod, selfie stick or tripod to help steady the camera. Good shooting out there and I hope you get the photo of a lifetime.