Yellowstone: Wild Encounters

I’m afraid if I don’t write it all down I’ll start forgetting. I want to share the trip, but I also want to remember.

The next day of our Yellowstone trip was the wildlife tour and the trek to Old Faithful. I think I will come back to the geo-thermal part, and look at that later. There are boiling springs, geysers, pathways that lead you through pools that are holes in the earths crust, and you can hear the wild activity of heat and water roiling down below. 

None of this was my favorite. In a moment I’ll relate a wildlife encounter where we may have been in some danger, but felt no fear at all; yet mincing around those thermal pools so close to the mysterious hot vents of the earth, I was uneasy. I tolerated the hot-spot explorations only for the sake of those in my party.

The main mass of Yellowstone is the caldera of a super-volcano. A dormant but still very much alive super-volcano. A volcano that will erupt again. And while it makes very little difference to the upper western hemisphere whether you’re *there* or *nearby* or simply under the massive ash cloud that will block out the life giving sun in such a circumstance, I still wouldn’t want to like, be there when it goes. The hundred thousand year window for such an occurrence didn’t assure me. It wasn’t a rational thing.

Are you ready for some exciting stuff?

Okay, cool, but I’m still leading up to it.

On the wildlife tour, we felt we hit the jackpot. People go to Yellowstone and wake at dawn with binoculars in the hope of catching a glimpse of wolf or grizzly- perhaps a moose or a Black Bear. All of these creatures are a tad reticient when it comes to human beings. Who can really blame them, eh? But the Lamar Valley is supposed to be a hot spot for critter encounters.

Our tour guide knew exactly what to look for: Rick McIntyre’s yellow xterra.  Rick McIntyre, author of ‘A Society of Wolves’ is an oft-seen local celebrity in Yellowstone. If you sight his car parked by the side of the road, you’ve likely got a wildlife encounter on your hands.

McIntyre is a solid wolf advocate, and he not only roves Yellowstone to observe and learn about the wolves, but he also is there to educate people, to teach them about the creatures. He’s a pretty fascinating human being.

Our little tour group stumbled up the bluff to go see what McIntyre and the crowd above had in their sights.

It was a herd of bison. No, a grizzly. No, a wolf. No- ALL OF THE ABOVE. And the grizzly- at about 600lbs was interacting with the herd, the bull of which probably weighed 2,000lbs. Not a common ploy, even for the tippy-top natural predator. We got to see the herd turn its wall of horns carefully toward the grizzly as he went around the back, looking for an opening. They kept the calves well in the center. 

This was too far our to get a picture of, but the grizzly came close enough to capture the shape of him on the landscape, after the herd moved on.


And farther out, near the treeline, a dark colored wolf ran and paused, and seemed to bend down and commune with- another wolf? Perhaps a cub? It was hard to make out at such a distance, even with our tour-guide’s scope. 

But we were happy. We saw what everyone wants to see. It was a successful journey.

But Yellowstone had more in store. A couple days later, on a drive back from a two night stop in Jackson Hole, we were on an undistinguished stretch between Grant Village and Lake Hotel. A ranger car driving toward us suddenly swung a U-turn abruptly, and very nearly hit the car in front of us. He sped down the road.

We were  busy remarking on how lucky that car had been to slow down in time, and hardly realized that we were coming up on the spot that the ranger had been speeding toward.

Cars were stopped. Some were parked on the shoulder, some just paused in the road. We couldn’t get through, so dad pulled off on the shoulder. Another ranger’s car was kitty-corner across the street from us, and right down the bank from the road we had a good view of what all the hubbub was about.

Did I mention we were snacking on grapes? We were snacking on grapes. I dropped my bunch and groped for a camera. The other ranger was behind us walking forward, the one who almost bumped the guy in front. People were doing what people do, which is to say some were exhibiting signs of brain death, and getting out of their cars with cellphone cameras raised and set to video.

That’s why the ranger’s were there, of course. To keep bad interaction from happening. To warn bears off of snack opportunities and humans off of impending death. But where was the mama, we wondered?

When the ranger hopped suddenly into his car, we found out where mama was. She must have been right on the other side of their car, down on the bank.

And she emerged.

And her cub followed. And so did the other one! And they walked behind the ranger’s car,

along the road- DIRECTLY ACROSS FROM US.

And I caught it on camera through the car window. 


And I couldn’t believe it. We couldn’t believe it. That they were that close, and we were sitting there with yummy snacks the whole time, and they waltzed right by, close enough to see the ripple of their fur. I just couldn’t believe it. 

Can you?


14 thoughts on “Yellowstone: Wild Encounters

  1. great photos. You were so fortunate to see them up close and have the protection of your car. I plan some hiking soon in Glacier & Yellowstone. I am concerned about a close encounter with bears. But, I’m going.

  2. Pingback: Yellow Stones « Stop & Wander

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