Saturday, September 25, 2010

Elk, Wolf, Bison, Bear

There's a big bull elk bugling and grunting deeply just outside my window as he works on moving his harem of about twenty cows up into the hills for the night. This morning as they passed in the opposite direction, I listened to the sound of a dozen elk ripping up grass--somehow it sounded like caterpillar frass hitting leaves. The bugling often continues all night long but not so nearby--most of the time I sleep through it. I have no idea when the elk sleep. (As I write this, I continually take breaks to look out into the darkness to watch them.)

Most evenings I spend an hour or so watching the elk/tourist/ranger show just outside the dorm. It's much more entertaining than what I remember of television and tonight was an especially good episode. I can't possibly describe the events in a way that will do justice to the chaos when it's being witnessed live. The best action happens when a larger male chases a smaller male--often right at people. Tonight a large crowd of people beside the visitor center frantically scattered as two elk came running right at them. And the elk are very fast--I stood in a doorway with two other people as one being chased went tearing past us before we even had time to get inside. Meanwhile rangers are constantly trying to adjust to where the elk are, moving traffic cones around, closing streets, turning one way streets into two way streets, racing back and forth in their trucks, telling bewildered and/or clueless tourists to stop, to not stop, to speed up, to move, to get in their car.

On the way to today's group hike, we hit a bear jam and pulled off the road to watch a black bear's backside moving up a creek bed. I didn't even bother taking a photo because of the distance, just watched through my binoculars.

We were on our way to visit Rose Creek and the last remaining pen which held wolves when they were reintroduced to the park in 1995. The trail began behind the Yellowstone Association's Buffalo Ranch Field Campus. They offer many very interesting classes and if a winter job becomes a reality for me, I'll probably try to take one before or after the job.

Wolf researcher Rick McIntyre told us the history of those first wolf days during breaks along the trail to the pen, which was well hidden and distant from roads because of death threats. Even so, rangers patrolled and guarded the wolves 24 hours a day. This however was an unplanned stop on the trail as we waited for a bison to move on.

Along the way, we also examined an old elk skull.

And had a nice view of the Lamar River, with some haze from the Antelope Creek fire which as of Friday morning was reported at over 3000 acres, making it the largest of the season.

Along with the treats for the eyes, I made it a day for the nose as well, pressing my fingertips into pine sap and snorting the scent as I moved along the trail. Later I switched to crumpled sage leaves.

Approaching the pen.

The ground inside is still covered with the many bones of their long ago meals. When the time came, this was the gate to freedom and history.


Rose Creek


Woodswalker said...

greentangle, have you died and gone to heaven? What an incredibly beautiful, wonderful, critter-filled, mountain-majestied work environment you are enjoying!

greentangle said...

Well, I think I was getting close to dying before I lucked into this situation, if that counts. Was just telling someone last night as we elkwatched that what with the economy and my own circumstances, I suspect Yellowstone is my new career and I'll probably eventually wind up living in Gardiner (pop. 851) year round. It's either that, or as another employee put it, under a bridge somewhere with all the other employees waiting for the next season to start. ;-)