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Hey, there is a bison in my yard!

letter to family written 5 June 2016

We just couldn’t leave such a comfy bed early today! A leisurely start… put the coffee on, fire up the computer, and start the task of culling the clearly-not-good photos before we can pick out the best-of collection. 

Out the window Fred and Rickie have brought their cousins — there is a small herd (100 adults and calves) in the sage brush north of the barns and the flower meadow. Most of them are laying down, so look to be enjoying themselves. The male bluebird is on sentinel duty, perched on the top of the nest box outside the window or observing from the slightly higher vantage point of the nearby snow marker as it sways in the rising wind. 

snoozing bison under the kitchen window

I can see 4 baby squirrels wrestling and tumbling at the burrow hole next to the picnic table. One little one threw his sibling down the hole! Very resilient, it pops back up and reengages for more. 

We have lunch and head into town to restock groceries. The local police are on their horses keeping an eye on things. Naturally, we have to swing by a favorite photo gallery (guess who’s!) — we play a game of trying to name the road or turnout the photo was taken from — we know more of them now. 🙂 I go grocery shopping while Dave walks from town up to just north of the airport, a distance of a little over 7 miles.

The sun is hot on the deck as I sit out and begin the task of recounting the last two days. Fred and Rickie are at the far edge of the yard as the sun sets behind them. The herd out the back window is marching in a long line headed south — grouping up around one of the barns. If the light was not so terrible we would be tempted to jump in the car and get photos of the bison & barns with mountains behind. Instead I resume writing the travelogue.

It is one o’clock in the morning. The text is done. The photos will have to wait until tomorrow. Bed awaits. I wonder where the herd will be in the morning?

One Word: Skeeter Dope!

Dave was the ambitious one today. He hops out of bed before 5 and takes to the road to sample various photo spots around the area. I never even heard him leave. He took photos up by Triangle-X Ranch and at the Snake River overlook. He saw small groups of bison that made nice foreground subjects for his landscape photos. He also stopped at the Blacktail overlook. He had the place to himself and had just set up his camera when what should walk out into the open but a bear!? The color is brown, but we think it is a black bear. Now it is 7:30 and I have texted that the coffee is on….

I spend the morning adding photos to the travel log and getting it sent off. I also keep checking out the window to see what the bison are up to. They are a tad closer, but the real excitement is the fight between the robin nesting in the cabin rafters and the magpies. The robin attacked the magpie just outside the dining room window and I literally saw feathers fly. They would get into screeching beak-and-claw fights throughout the day. 

We had lunch. Dave got some work done. He even showed his bear picture to a ranger who confirmed it was a black bear — about half of the black bears in this area are colored brown. Meanwhile I went out and sat at the picnic table reading in the sunshine, the breeze was gentle and cool — a nice change from blustery and ice cold! I went inside to get a drink, and what to my wondering eyes should appear? … but thousand pound buffalos across the driveway from the nesting box! Dave and I grab our cameras and have some fun. But eventually they back off about 50 feet and lay down for a snooze. I go back to the porch to read for awhile — and next thing I know I hear a strange sound and look up to see 2 very large bison that have come around the house to stand twenty feet away. One of them stares at me, so I refuse to look. I have my pocket camera and so I slowly turn it on and put it at my side, aimed at the bull — I look at the camera to see what he is doing so he doesn’t think I am staring at him. Maybe I was making too big a deal over it, but I’d rather be   careful. He must have decided I was harmless and proceeds to use the corner of the picnic table as a back scratcher! He and his buddy walked across the yard, across the road, and joined up with some buddies at Bob’s tool shed. You just don’t get this stuff at Motel 6!!

a lifetime favorite memory

After dinner Dave said, “Let’s ride over to Gros Vente and see if we can find some moose.” We couldn’t take the Antelope Flats road to get there because the herd had decided to cross that road and were in no hurry to do it. We first looked in the spot where we had seen the two bulls yesterday, but no joy. Drove up a little further to a  pull out — one of the most aggressively rutted roads we’ve encountered so far! Bouncing along I spot a moose on the far side. We pop out and aim the cameras, very excited  — the light of the setting sun is lighting this place up with gorgeous color. We each get one snap off — and he heads into brush. We get occasional glimpses of his head. Next thing we know, there are six cars and four nationalities all gathered and asking what we are watching. 

He plays hide and seek with us, but after 15-20 minutes we give up waiting for him to come out and go up the road a few hundred yards to another turnout. There is a moose laying in a thicket across the river. We can see only his head for the longest time. When he stands up we get a few nice photos but then he also goes deep into the woods. More folks stop and ask us what we are watching — and we all track glimpses  of him as he nibbles his way along. Sometimes all we can see is the brush moving. The new arrivals tell us they saw two female moose just back down the road a bit and show us on the camera replay. Aack! That is where we were before!! 

folks from Germany grabbing their chance at seeing a moose — I know how they feel!

We lose the sun and start taking photos of the landscape instead.

how do you capture an glowing amber ceiling?

The evening clouds are a glowing canopy over our heads creating the most ethereal light to stand under! I have the binoculars so I start scanning down river to see if the lady moose are coming to join the lads. Instead I see two beaver working in the dusk. The river is swollen with snow melt from the high temperatures and it pushes the beaver around. Soon, my camera can barely make out the shape of the beaver — and the mosquitoes have been eating us alive for hours! This is the first time they have bothered us. When we do this tomorrow we are going to be sure to slather up in skeeter-dope!!

Mr. Bear, what do you eat?

Over breakfast we consult hiking maps. We decide to hike the lake at the Laurence Rockefeller Preserve again. Packing up our gear, it feels strange not to jam gloves, hats, scarves, etc. in the sack. 

To add some length to the hike we had a section of trail called the Boulder Loop. It winds through a lovely part of the forest that feels very open — there is very little under brush. Massive boulders are scattered on the hill side like a child’s game of jacks. 

In one spot we see a few large feathers and a lot of down. At first we think maybe a bird has been eaten — but we don’t see any blood or bone. Maybe it was a nest lined with feathers that got blown apart in the wind. We contemplate it a bit longer and then march on. 

Quaking Aspen with trunks twelve inches across and stunning height cluster in groups along our walk, their crisp white and charcoal gray bark an echo of the snow on granite mountains above our heads and out of view. Woodland Strawberry blossoms with their five white petals and round bright yellow centers hug the ground beneath Lodgepole Pines.

Over our days in the park we have seen plenty of elk, bison, deer, and coyote scat on the trails. Today we saw at least five contributions from bear, a couple noticeably fresher than the others. We do a lot more talking this morning. 

The boulder loop rejoins the lake trail. For the first half we see no other people. A dozen or so groups of hikers meet us on the back half. Not a breath of air disturbs the surface of the lake. A single duck’s passing barely distorts the mountains’ reflection. Dusty yellow pollen paints the shallows at the waters edge in abstract swirls of light and dark. Drifts of fragrant white Serviceberry shrubs line the path. I look for Ladyslipper orchids, but am not lucky.  A pale columbine blooms near the trail, three weeks early. Delicate and deep purple Upland Larkspur and pink Sticky Geranium stand in contrast to the strong yellow clumps of Balsamroot flowers. This is just the beginning of the explosion of wildflowers that will come after we have returned home. 

pine pollen eddy at lake edge

The temperature is climbing and the shade no longer feels as refreshing as it did at the start. I am looking forward to the end! 

The visitor center here at the preserve has elements of Frank Lloyd Wright mixed with modern architecture, using the familiar staples of stone, pine, and metal. The stone fireplace mantle is a steel I-beam painted black to match the fire screen. Acoustic wall panels look like rusty screens. Sounds weird to describe it, but it was quite well done. One of the unique aspects of this preserve within the area’s park system is crowd control. The parking lot holds fifty cars. That is it. No parking on the side road. You come after the lot is full, you wait in your car for someone to leave and then you can have the spot. There was a line of three or four cars waiting when we left, having completed eight miles.

We went moose hunting along the Gros Vente again after dinner, this time armed with bug repellant which helped a little. At least it cut down the biting if not the swarms around your head! One big bull is all we saw — laying down across the river — unmoving for over 1.5 hours!! Very inconsiderate — I chatted with a fellow visiting from Denmark who was very disappointed to come all this way and not get a very good look at a moose. I tried to catch the beaver, but they called it a day pretty early. The bugs finally drove us back to the car.

Dave decided to pull into the campground that Aunt Betty Jean had recommended. We didn’t see an obvious place to sit and watch for moose, but we could see that the storm clouds were catching the rays of the setting sun above Blacktail Butte. It was too far to go to see the sunset over the Tetons, but we did catch quite a show from the dump station of the campground!

clouds showing some vertical development over Antelope Flats
Dave with camera silhouetted against the sunset
sunset over Blacktail Butte, from the road into Gros Ventre Campground

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