Mother and cub near Tower Junction.

Wild families abound

But the really big crowds have yet to descend on YNP

Yellowstone National Park and in particular, the country from Tower Junction to Pebble Creek along the Lamar Valley, truly is America’s Serengeti. With the onset of the green grass, the amount of wildlife on display is amazing. From the turn at Tower Junction there is an abundance of buffalo and antelope along with scattered groups of elk and deer and the occasional band of bighorns. 

     Many pro photographers concentrate on this area alone because of the density of the wildlife. One late-afternoon foray for wildlife viewing included a black bear sow and her cub, who was the epitome of cuteness as it frolicked with its mom, explored a boulder and practiced climbing skills on the nearby trees. Later in the evening, a large grizzly was in view from the overlooks above Elk Creek. He grazed in sight for about 30 minutes. The bears are very active with one photographer reporting they had seen 11 for the day. Although as I drilled down on that fact, it came out this person may have seen some bears more than once and some of the sightings were with a spotting scope along the Lamar Valley.

     Of course, with bear activity, the first bear jams have appeared along with hordes of photographers with their big cameras and lenses. The bear rangers are out managing the traffic and keeping everyone a safe distance from the bears so take your big lens and tripod for maximum reach. The traffic is still not bad, although a few tour buses have started to appear. The road construction between Norris and Mammoth creates slow travel in that area. The Gibbon Meadows are covered with a lot of standing water. Most of the snow along the roads has melted. Because of the significant standing water, there are geese and ducks everywhere. The geese are nesting, and goslings are appearing with their photogenic yellowish down.  

     Three significant road openings occurred this week. The spur road to the Petrified Tree opened. While this road is short, it is along the creek with good cover and feed for the bears. The barricade at Tower Junction was removed so you can now drive to the Tower Falls parking lot. The road above Tower Falls over Dunraven is still closed due to heavy snowpack, but the terrain from Tower Junction to the Tower Falls parking lot is some of the most productive bear country in the park. If it is bear viewing you want, patrol this section early and late. Finally, the Slough Creek Road is open all the way to the Slough Creek Trailhead. This is excellent country to view the Slough Creek wolf pack and scopes are the preferred equipment. 

     The buffalo calving season is in full swing and there are calves everywhere. There are no elk calves yet, but the herd that wintered north of Gardiner is steadily filtering uphill with elk showing all the way to Little America. Once the elk start calving, the grizzlies will start hunting for elk veal in earnest. The best place to glass for hunting griz is the Swan Lake Flats. Pay particular attention to the willows on the far side of Swan Lake. Many elk hang out around Mammoth to avoid the wolf pressure (the wolves will not normally come into an area with dense human activity) and the griz also can be spotted hunting elk calves east of Mammoth toward the Gardiner River Bridge.

     Photo tip of the week: Shoot early and late during the golden hours, which are the hour after sunrise and the hour before sunset. The light tones are less harsh with good yellows and well-defined shadows, which will add contrast to your photos. It is difficult to drive east from Tower Junction with low sun at dawn, so a good strategy is to be at the Pebble Creek parking lot before dawn and then drive back to Tower Junction with the rising sun behind you. Good shooting and I hope you get that shot of a lifetime. 

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