Regardless of where we were (Glacier, Tetons, Big Sky), there was one common thread — the presence (and preservation) of wildlife. You couldn’t go anywhere without seeing signs warning of the presence of wildlife — on the roads, trails, picnic areas, etc.
We traveled with 2 other couples on this trip, and all of us have contributed our wildlife pictures to this post. We hope you enjoy!
Da bears (Black and Grizzly, not Chicago)
There is no doubt that this neck of the woods is bear country. There are signs EVERYWHERE indicating such.
These signs are as much about ensuring the safety of the bears, as they are the safety of the humans. Bears will forage for food wherever available – including picnic areas and trash cans. As such, bear resistant trash cans are prevalent throughout the national parks…
And you can’t picnic without seeing some version of the below sign…The slogan “Be bear aware” is plastered throughout this region.
As in the below sign from the Grand Tetons, about 14 bears have to be put down each year in the Greater Yellowstone area due to inappropriate activity with humans. Once a bear associates humans with food (from backpacks, picnics, cars, or otherwise), the bear could become aggressive and a public menace.
Hence the signs that plea for people not to feed bears (openly or inadvertently). As the slogan goes “A fed bear is a dead bear.”
If you should run into a bear, there are signs for that too! The below sign lists what you should do to prevent bear attacks, and how to avoid them if possible. Bears really don’t want much to do with us, but on some of these trails it’s easy to just happen upon them. A mother with her cub is typically the most dangerous type (same with humans, really!).
In the event that we meet a bear on a trail, it’s crucial to have bear spray. This is essentially the pepper spray equivalent for bears…Jeff and I bought some in Glacier and carried it everywhere for the full 2 weeks. Happily, it was not needed!
Now that you’re schooled in bear etiquette — here are some pix of the cuties. [If I ever met one on a trail, I'm fairly sure I'd need a new pair of pants!]
Black bears are a bit misnamed, since they can actually be blonde, cinnamon, brown, or black in color. The below black bear could be found (by everyone but us!) frolicking near the Murie House in the Grand Tetons. (Photo courtesy of L. Davis.)
This one took up residence on the hill in Many Glacier in Glacier National Park. Is he not adorable? (Photo courtesy of B. McNulty.)
Besides their coloring, black bears can also be differentiated from grizzly bears by the flat profile of their face, lack of a hump in their shoulders, and different paw/claw marks.
As with last year, we saw grizzly bears in the Grand Tetons — this time at Oxbow bend. Remember from the last post that we spotted wildlife 1 of 3 nights at Oxbow Bend? That first night we saw 2 different grizzlies. Crazy! The first was walking along the river and then posed at the corner…See the small hump in the shoulders?
Then, not 5 minutes later, a different grizzly appeared out of the grass in the opposite direction. Happily, Jeff was perfectly positioned to photograph him.
He quickly decided he’d rather be on our side of the river, so he went for a wee swim…(they are big, but quick!)
…before getting out on our side and promptly walking up the hill and causing a bear jam in the road (when cars stop and gawk and people get way too close to the bear so they can take a picture).
Possibly the best bear photo on this trip was of the bear that was never seen. Lori and Jay hiked the Highline trail in Glacier National Park in the snow and saw evidence of bear activity on the trail (eg, paw prints, scat) – but the best evidence was the bloody paw print below. They never actually saw the bear…(phew!) (Photo courtesy of J. Wheeler.)
After bears, moose were what I wanted to see most. I never saw one last year in Montana or on our trip to Maine, so I was bound and determined to see one on this trip. Please, oh, please!
Well, I sort of got what I wished for. We saw this urban moose and her calf in our condo neighborhood in the Tetons. Apparently some moose choose to raise their young in neighborhoods where there are fewer predators. Jeff spotted these lounging in our back yard and then eating the neighbors tree…
I’m still on the look for a bull moose…and won’t be fulfilled until I see one. But until then, Barb and Mike spotted a not-so-urban moose on their Beehive Basin hike in Big Sky. (Photo courtesy of B. McNulty.)
In Yellowstone, bison are equivalent to waterfalls in Iceland, or churches in Italy — nice once you’ve seen the first 5 or 10, but after that it’s just another waterfall, church…or bison. Here was the first herd we saw — exciting stuff! (As was the wildfire that you can see to the left — that fizzled out after a couple of days of rain, thankfully.)
Which is the reason there are rules about interacting with wildlife — stay 100 yards away from bears and at least 25 yards away from bison. Clearly, the below tourist wasn’t following the rules. And you wonder why several tourists are gored each year? Stupidity…(oh wait, did I say that? Oops!) (Photo courtesy of B. McNulty.)
And, as always, bison can be expected to create “bison jams” where they walk down the middle of the road and wreak havoc on drivers trying to get from one place to the other. We had 2 bison tag-teaming a jam — one was walking alongside the road while the other was walking smack dab in the middle of one of the lanes. This tag team delayed our route by 20+ minutes. What a power trip…
When people stop and take pictures of bison in Yellowstone, you know they haven’t been there long. By day 2, most people are driving right by them.
Surprisingly, there are more elk than bison in Yellowstone. Below is a majestic bull elk…What an impressive rack! (Photo courtesy of B. McNulty.)
And here is a female elk enjoying the river…
Mountain goats frequent the hills of Many Glacier in Glacier National Park — and interestingly, they weren’t too far from the grizzlies and black bears. I guess they all get along?!??!?! (Next 2 photos courtesy of B. McNulty.)
Here is one of the cuties on their own…
We saw a variety of birds throughout the parks, the most regal of which were seen on the Snake River float trip in the Grand Tetons. As with last year, we saw bald eagles (gorgeous!)…
…but this time we also got a good look at osprey (who remained elusive last year).
The coloring and wing span were impressive…
And unexpectedly, we saw a white pelican fly by…
The mergansers were fascinating. They seemed to propel themselves over the water easily. I loved their red mohawks…
Once in Yellowstone, we saw these 2 ravens at one of the stops. I wonder what they were conspiring about?
Back at Oxbow bend in the Grand Tetons, when we viewed the grizzlies, we were also greatly entertained by the fattest beaver I have ever seen. He swam around, ate some grass, slapped his tail, etc, as we looked on…
On the float trip, our guide pointed out the type of damage a beaver can do. Those little things can take down large trees! Industrious…
We saw all kinds of other “critters” around the parks.
Lori and Jay saw the cutest pika (below) in Cascade Canyon in the Grand Tetons. They sort of look like small bunnies with big ears and no tails. Our ranger on the Hidden Falls hike explained that pikas don’t hibernate in winter, but rather they burrow under these boulders and stock up on grasses, flowers, etc. to eat throughout the winter. Their thick coats require that they live in high elevations — they get too hot otherwise. (Photo courtesy of J. Wheeler.)
For comparison, here is a pic of a cute bunny Jeff and I saw at Crail Ranch in Big Sky. He was not worried at all to have us nearby…
Chipmunks (below) abounded in the parks (along with red squirrels, that were too quick to photograph!). Jeff captured a photo of this chipmunk as he was trying to steal some food from a nearby hikers bag at Inspiration Point in the Grand Tetons. Cheeky buggers!
Despite spending 2 weeks searching for wildlife, there are still things we didn’t see — bull moose (sigh), bighorn sheep, and lynx, to name a few. Jay and Lori braved the early (early!) mornings to watch wolves in Yellowstone and were able to see a pack of wolves run off a grizzly. Very cool stuff!
We hope you’ve enjoyed this wee introduction to the wildlife out west. As with everything, it’s always best if you come out and see them yourself!
Cheers, Lori, Jay, Barb, Mike, Jen, and Jeff.