Photos by Dan Weisz

Web presentation by Douglas Everett @ Hummingbird Market

Sept. 30 was National Public Lands Day.  Yellowstone Park was the first national park in the United states and is widely held to be the first national park in the world.  In honor of National Public Lands Day and celebrating 144 years of serving all Americans and people from around the world, here is a glimpse at one week in Yellowstone Park from this September.

Table of Contents:

Series #1: Elk at Mammoth Hot Springs
Series #2: Other Yellowstone Wildlife
Series #3: Bison
Series #4: Yellowstone Landscapes
Series #5: September Snow
Series #6: Bison in Snow
Series #7: Mud Volcano and, yes, more Bison
Series #8: Old Faithful and Upper Geyser Basin
Series #9: The Final Day at the Park

Series #1:  Elk at Mammoth Hot Springs

We were able to spend a wonderful week in Yellowstone recently.  The first half of our week was with the Yellowstone Forever group in a workshop called “Wolf and Elk Discovery”.  The program was wonderful.  We were housed at the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel where, every fall, elk are present.  The females continue to fatten up on grass for the winter while the males, in full rut, work on building their harems and chasing out intruder males.

This male greeted us on our initial walk to our cabin.  He seemed to be at peace ignoring humans at this time.  Bull Elk weigh over 700 pounds or more and stand five feet tall, not including their antlers.  People need to be aware and keep their distance.  Elk are also called Wapiti, from the Shawnee and Cree word for “white rump” (deer).

A bull elk stands near a cow elk that is in his harem.  He keeps her from straying off while on guard for any intruder bull elk.  While the cows are fattening up on grass for the long, cold winter, the males actually are too busy to eat and they will lose weight during the rutting season.   The elk below looks very alert.  He’ll spend every moment herding his harem to keep them together while watching and listening for other bull elk.

A female elk resting outside of our cabin.

A male resting in a meadow “across the street” from the hotel, just below the Hot Springs.  This male lost two of the prongs of his antlers.  Looks are important as the antler size indicates to females the male’s success at foraging.  Symmetry reflects good health.

An elk grazing.  They were close enough so we could hear the grass being ripped from the ground.

The bull elk’s bugle is described as "starting low and throaty, rising to a high whistle, then dropping to a grunt or a series of grunts. It's a sound that is difficult for the human alphabet to imitate, a guttural bellow, a shrill pitch, and a hollow grunting. A-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-eeeeeeeeeeeeee-oh. Ee-uh. Ee-uh. Ee-uh.”

High sounds carry further across the terrain and deeper sounds indicate a bigger chest and therefore a larger animal.

Elk Bugle

Prime bulls advertise their presence with their voice and by distributing scent to make themselves conscious.  Can you say “cologne”?  Bull elk dig mud wallows into which they urinate.  They roll in the urine-soaked mud and rub their long-haired necks on the edges of the wallows, then rubbing their necks on trees to distribute the scent.

If you look at this handsome fellow while listening to his bugling, you can get a sense of how special this time of year is:

Elk Bull and Cows

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Series #2:  Other Yellowstone Wildlife

You’ve seen some of the Yellowstone Elk from around the Mammoth Hot Springs area.  Besides the Elk and lots of Bison (pictures coming soon), there were many other wildlife in the park.  We saw but did not get good photos of Pronghorn, Bighorn Sheep, Mule Deer, Wolves, Fox, and Mountain Goat.  There were other critters that we saw that I was able to get decent photos of: 

Two young Osprey were in a nest.  While one was feeding on fish, its sibling below was yammering for a bite.

We saw the remnants of a wolf den in the Lamar Valley.

There were a lot of Brewers Blackbirds around.  This female found an old worm to feast on.

Black-billed Magpies are in the Corvid family, so they are cousins to Jays, Crows, and Ravens and are very intelligent.  They have one of the longest tails of all songbirds in all of North America.  We watched this bird take pine cone seeds out of pinecones it found on the ground.

Then, it would take the seeds onto a rock and pound its beak into the seed to crack it open.  We watched it repeat this behavior over and over.

On the Crystal Creek Drainage, we saw the two beaver dams.

Canada Geese were present throughout the park.  This one was along the Fairy Falls Trail above the Grand Prismatic Spring.

This Robin was in a snag near the Canada Geese.

It snowed on us two days in a row.  The Common Ravens were up searching for breakfast well before we were.

While waiting for Daisy Geyser to erupt, this coyote came out of the woods and stopped in his tracks as a hiker was on the boardwalk right where the coyote wanted to cross.  It waited patiently for the person to walk on by.

When the trail was clear, the coyote continued his journey.  He appears to be ready for winter with that thick coat.

And we saw plenty of Bison.  There were many people out looking for them, as this photographer was.  In my next e-mail, I’ll share some Bison photos with you.

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Series #3: Bison

In the 1880’s an estimated 50 million bison lived in North America.  By the early 1900’s, only 1000 bison remained.  Through a variety of conservation efforts, the bison have survived.  Yellowstone National Park estimates the population in the park to fluctuate between 2500 to 5500 animals.  We saw the animals below in the Lamar Valley.

Bison will spend a few hours grazing on grasses and sedge, then rest and chew their cud, and then get up and move to a new location to graze again.

Male bison can weigh up to 2000 pounds, females up to 1000 pounds.  The male has more fur on its forehead, beard and forelegs.  It’s horns are thicker than a female’s and we compared the base of the horn to the size of its eye to tell the genders apart.  Males are also much broader in the shoulders than the hips.   That hump is all muscle.

As big as they are, bison are very agile. Signs in the park say that bison are “faster than you are”.  They can run up to 40 miles per hour and can jump six feet in the air to avoid or combat predators.  As the look of this bison says,”stay back”.

Bison calves are red when born and their color changes after about two months.  Most calves are born in April or May, but this calf must have been born late in the season based on its still red color.  Hopefully it will make it through the winter.  It’s sticking close to mom for now.

Even though the rutting season runs from July through August and was “over” when we arrived, bulls will still continue to display dominance behavior towards other bulls.  This bull decided to show his neighboring bull that he was bigger and stronger.

The debate continued.  Notice the two cowbirds going along for the ride?

The two bulls continued fighting and moved away from the herd.  Eventually, they pulled apart and went their separate ways.

After spending a few days exploring the Lamar Valley, we then traveled through the rest of the park.  It began snowing on us and the next emails will show the snow, some geothermal features, geographic highlights, and bison in snow.

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Series #4:  Yellowstone Landscapes

In the Hayden Valley, we watched a family of wolves (the Wapiti Pack) frolicking along the Yellowstone River.  We needed to use strong scopes but were excited to see wolves in the wild.  You’ll just have to imagine them (as tiny dots) across the river in the shot below.

A view from the Upper Terraces of Mammoth Hot Springs.

The boardwalk gives you a sense of the size and scope of this section.

Canary Spring through the steam and mist.

Nearby travertine terraces

One small pool

White Elephant Back Terrace- that “white" is not snow, rather it is the result of the hot water from miles below the surface, combined with a weak acid, dissolving the layers of limestone rock as the water makes its way to the surface.  The minerals dissolved from the limestone are deposited to form this travertine.  I like the look of the limestone “icicles”, the water dripping and the steam rising in this photo.

And the next day, as we drove over Dunraven Pass, the snow began.

For folks like us from Tucson, this was amazing to experience.

Next, the “Grand Canyon” of Yellowstone, some thermal action, and snow.

Then, Bison in the snow…...

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Series #5:  September Snow

On Saturday (Day Six), we woke up in Canyon Village to (what seemed like) thick snow on the ground.  The temperatures had been in the high 70’s earlier in the week.  We definitely were not in Tucson anymore.

How were we supposed to drive this thing?

I felt much better about having a car after seeing this set of bikes.  I felt sorry for that group of visitors!

At breakfast, we were greeted by a sign that had either been designed by the Jetson’s or by Yogi Bear himself!

Through a foggy, misty snow storm, we viewed the Lower Falls.  The Lower Falls on the Yellowstone River plummet 308 feet.  That is twice as high as Niagara Falls.  But Niagara Falls is almost a half mile wide whereas the Lower Falls is only 70 feet wide at the top.

A close-up of the falls, likely the second most photographed spot in Yellowstone surpassed only by Old Faithful.

The green stripe in the falls is caused by a notch in the top of the brink that makes the water deeper and keeps it from mixing with air and becoming frothy.  Because of that, it appears darker as it runs over the edge.

A look across the Yellowstone River from the valley.

Hurricane Vent:  Because of the cold, snowy weather and the amount of humidity in the air, the area around each of the thermal features in the Norris Geyser Basin was very foggy.  This is the one clear photo I was able to capture on the visit there.  Hurricane Vent was once a steamy, noisy fumarole (steam vent) but was calm the day we visited.  

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Series #6:  Bison in Snow

After waking up to snow on Saturday morning, we began the day's touring.  The bison in snow presented a different look than what we had seen the previous days:

Bison spend their days eating, chewing their cud, and sleeping.

Portraits of Bison:  I believe this one is a female.  Her horns are about the same width at the base as her eyes are.  The bull bison have much thicker horns.




Notice how thick this one’s horns are compared to its eyes?  It must be a male.  The look in his face makes this one of my favorite shots.

We visited the Mud Volcano area where there are “turbulent pools of hot, muddy water”.  Bison like this area as well.  Note the bare ground where the bison have “wallowed” to remove biting flies and remove tufts of molted fur.  Bull bison also leave their scent in the wallow and just show off their strength and vigor in the wallow.  The warm springs and ground provide a bit of respite from the surrounding cold.

Next, more photos from Mud Volcano.

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Series #7: Mud Volcano and, yes, more Bison

On Saturday morning of our trip, we began with a morning walk around Mud Volcano, an area described at full of “turbulent pools of hot, muddy water; hillsides strewn with trees cooked by steam; strange odors; and a bizarre landscape.”  Because the fresh snowfall blanketed the ground and boardwalks and the air was filled with light snow, fog and steam, the area was other worldly.  The high humidity, fog and steam made most photography impossible and many of the thermal features were hidden from view.  Below are a few photos of the area.

If I remember correctly, this is Dragon’s Mouth Spring.

One small “mud pot” that bubbled and bubbled non-stop.  Quoting the pamphlet on site:  “Hydrogen sulfide, steam, carbon dioxide, and other gases explode through the layers of mud in dramatic or delightful ways."

After walking the steep and ice-covered boardwalk for about 2/3 of a mile, we came to this spot on the trail.  Well beyond the group in blue jackets below us, you can see people at the edge of the parking lot.  Unfortunately, this herd of bison was near and on the trail.  Sensing that they likely would spend the entire morning at those spots, we had to turn around and retrace our steps to get back to the car (as did the folks in the blue jackets).

A male and female bison:  Note the difference in size between the two and the difference in the width of their horns.

Churning Cauldron was a busy, raging pool.  We only got glimpses of it between gaps in the steam, but the noise was non-stop.  Churning, indeed!

After returning to the base of Mud Volcano viewing area, we spent time watching the bison browse.  As a teenager, I used to keep a toothpick in my mouth in a similar fashion- casually cool.

This bison had eaten enough and was taking a peaceful nap.

We drove off heading towards Yellowstone Lake, our next destination.   This view of the Yellowstone River defined our day.

This bison was walking along the road.  The white strip on its nose may be frozen snot, but I’m not sure.

Yellowstone Lake is the largest freshwater lake above 7000 feet elevation in the North America.  It is up to 20 miles long and 15 miles wide and is frozen over from December through May.

Next, Old Faithful and the Upper Geyser Basin and perhaps two additional photo e-mails until the end of our journey.

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Series #8: Old Faithful and Upper Geyser Basin

Old Faithful Geyser is the most famous and most photographed feature of Yellowstone Park.  It sits in an area called the Upper Geyser Basin, where there is a concentration of hydrothermal features because of Yellowstone’s volcanic geology.  Magma (partially molten rock) sits just a few miles under the surface.  Rain and snow provide water which seeps down below the surface where it is heated.  This hot water then rises through underground cracks in the earth to produce hot springs, geysers, and other features in this area.  Below is Old Faithful at rest.

Old Faithful is not the tallest nor the largest geyser in the park, but it is highly predictable and thus its name.  It erupts about every 90 minutes with its eruption lasting from 2-5 minutes while shooting 100 - 180 feet in the air.  In the 1990’s, the temperature of the water below the surface of Old Faithful was measured at 244° Fahrenheit.

Other features in the area include Hot Springs (where the water is not constricted as it rises through the surface so there are no eruptions- just steam escaping), Fumaroles (which have little water but vent steam above the surface regularly), and Mudpots (acidic feature with a limited water supply and gases escape through the clay causing bubbles and “plops”).  I did not record the names of all of the features below.  Enjoy the colors and formations.  It is all other-worldly.

You can see water spouting up at the top of this pool.

The colors in and around thermal features are usually formed by ‘thermophiles' (heat loving organisms).  These organisms (algae, bacteria, and ‘archaea’) are simple life forms that have inhabited the earth for almost four billion years and thrive in the hot temperatures.

Daisy Geyser is another regular geyser.  It erupts every 2-3 hours to a height of 75 feet for about 3-5 minutes.  It erupts at an angle.

One more Yellowstone series to go, and it will include more photos of thermal features and one final bison.

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Series #9- the Final Day at the Park

A view of the Firehole River from above Old Faithful, seeing the thermal features on both sides.

Crested Pool

Belgian Pool

The Ghost Trees at Grand Geyser are trees filled with silica, now dead and forever white.

With the ghost trees in the background, Grand Geyser erupted.  This is the tallest predictable geyser in the world reaching heights of almost 200 feet.  Unlike Old Faithful which erupts with a steady column, Grand erupts with powerful bursts instead.  There are actually two smaller geysers right next to it and you can see the one on the left erupting too.  That day’s eruption lasted 13 minutes.  We were lucky to be there at the right time as the eruptions can vary as much as 7-15 hours apart.

Grand Prismatic Spring is the blue hidden in the steam.

A very active mud pot at Fountain Paint Pot

And right next to it was Red Spouter, at Fountain Paint Pot in the Lower Geyser Basin

At Artist’s Paint Pots, this mud pot was blowing bubbles.  We’ve got three here in various stages.

And one final goodbye as we drove out the West Entrance of Yellowstone.

This was quite a week.  The beauty and grandeur of Yellowstone was unmatched.  We are fortunate to live in a country that sets aside wilderness and parks for us to enjoy.

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