Yellowstone Wildlife

Yellowstone is a wildlife photographers dream, there are all kinds of critters large and small.  Not only is there some spectacular landscapes to be shooting in but you’re also guaranteed to see something.  You’ll definitely see a few bison or hundred and most likely a lot of elk as well.

We watched a movie at one of the visitors centers on how park policy toward the animals has changed over the years.  It used to be perfectly fine to feed the bears for example and they had pictures of little bear cubs pressed against 50’s station wagons trying to get scraps of food out of the windows.

Now days they recommend staying away I think they said around 100 yards from the bears and 75 feet from the elk.  We tried our best to follow the guidelines but I don’t think the animals got the same memo.  The bears came up 3 feet away from us and the elk 3 inches, a bit too close on both counts.

The smaller guys are more numerous but faster and harder to find, just take your time along the hiking trails and you’ll be sure to spot a few.  Wildlife photography takes a lot of patience to get just the right shot, far more patience than I have with a fixed schedule to be somewhere.  It takes a lot of patience for landscape photography also to get the perfect lighting, clouds or weather and you aren’t even shooting a moving target.  Read below where we met a real wildlife photographer.

You’d have to be blind to not see at least a few dozen of these guys at Yellowstone.  The bison are not shy at all and practically everywhere!  Passing through in the spring we got lucky to see babies of everything up close including the moose in the Tetons, bear cubs and these cute baby buffalos.

In fact you should really be watching that you don’t come around the corner and plow into one as they don’t seem to mind taking their time moseying across the roads.

Another thing to watch out for are the idiot tourists that stop in the middle of the road causing a “buffalo jam” to take pictures of some 1/2 mile away.  People there are 100’s of them closer to the road somewhere else with a shoulder, dont stop here!


Encountering the bears up close and personal was a bit scary.   We had taken a wrong turn and wound up at the enterance to Bear Tooth Pass instead of Mammoth Hot Springs and were in a rush back across the top of the park to get a camp site before they filled up. We barely made it and got the last one by the way, another guy pulled in 10 mins later and was turned away.   Anyway, we come through some nice twisties and all the sudden bear jam! Bumper to bumper traffic.  This mamma was trying to cross the road but couldnt with the cars so close together, except for 1 motorcycle in the line making what looked like a bit of a gap.  She crossed right infront of us maybe 3 feet away!

In the videos we watched they said to roll up your windows during a bear encounter..  What windows?

Please don’t eat us!  I know Cece would make a nice little snack.

The bears were more interested in eating the dandelions along the side of the road and ignored everything else.  She didn’t care that her baby was quite a ways back on the other side of the road.  The bear cub was huge!  All of the other babies that we’d seen were only at most a month old and pretty small, I’d forgotten that bears are born during hibernation.

Lots of magpies at Ft. Yellowstone.  They were very fun to watch at how brazen and clever they were at stealing snacks from unsuspecting picknickers especially a trio that seemed to work as a team.  A pair of them would be putting on a show to distract the picknickers while the third would sneak up from behind and grab a piece of bread, then they’d all fly off together hahaha.

We took a trip to Mesa Verde National Park just before leaving on this one and happened to camp next to some fellow New Mexicans and Natives from Santa Clara Pueblo.  We were there for 3 days together and each night we would sit around the big fire and tell Native stories of the animals and their personalities and how they got certain features and became the way we see them today.  I loved the stories of Magpie the best.

Another cool bird we found at Fort Yellowstone / Mammoth Hot Springs.  This owl was pretty big but I’m pretty sure it was still just a baby, it didn’t look like it could fly yet though it exercised its wings a few times to try.  All those twigs and debris stuffed up under the eves was the nest, its hard to see in this view that had the better shot of the owl.

Yep the elk in Mammoth Hot Springs pretty much had the run of the place like they owned the joint.  Here they were in broad daylight just layzing away the day on the soft blanket of well manicured medians.  Everywhere around town were big signs DO NOT APPROACH THE ELK.  They were quite papered here, the elk down the valley don’t know what they are missing.

We must have set up our tent ontop of the tastiest grass in the campground at Mammoth Hot Springs.  While we were trying to sleep the elk were tripping over our guy lines and ripping grass out from under the tent!  As our tent is dome shaped they also kept stepping on the edges. I had the hoof of an elk smoosh down the tent and crush my pillow about 3 inches from my nose! ACK! After that both of us had to move to the center of the tent to not get stepped on.

We also found out theres nothing quite like getting thrown out of bed by the squeal of an elk bugaling at 4am while standing right over your tent, nature’s way of pulling the airhorn your sleeping college roomate prank.  Cece was able to fall right back asleep but I wasn’t, all of the babies around sounded like a dog’s squeekie toy and I kept laughing every time I heard one.

We told all of this to the rangers as we were leaving and they told us some hilarious stories.  Aparently we’d not had the roughest night, there was another biker in the spot next to his RV, he was riding a little KLR and just had a one man pup tent.  The ranger was up early to keep an eye on him and there was a dozen elk surrounding this little tiny tent.  One of them grabbed the tent and ripped it out of the ground, shook it around and dropped it.  The ranger watched and watched to make sure the poor guy didnt get trampled.  The elk all moved off and about 5 mins after it had happened the zipper barely opens and his hands pull open the crack for his face to peek out from inside.  LOL!  I bet that guy was terrified.

He said the elk like to grab ahold of anything they dont know what it is and shake it and if nothing happens they go away and leave it alone. He says they always do this to lime green tents a shade lighter than ours.  Well last year a big burley tough biker dude on his way home from Sturgis set up his tent there and sat inside to read his paperback. One of the elk kept nibbling the top of his tent and he thought it was one of his riding buddies messing with him.  The next time it happened the guy punched straight up hitting the doe elk in the face! The elk started trampling and running round and round the tent grabbed the tent, ripped a panel off and took off with it! The very large guy in his leathers was left sitting in the center of what was left of his tent trembling like a leaf.

Our next door neighbors for 2 nights from Ontario.  They’d been on the road just as long as we had and still had a month more to go but with a little more creature comforts in a VW Golf. We gave them some tips of what to do once they reached New Mexico and Santa Fe on their way back.

Our neighbor here was an amateur wildlife photographer.  Its hard to see in this picture but the tree to the just before the camper was full of Yellow Bellied Sapsucker woodpecker holes.  One day he had his camera set up on a tripod with one of the biggest lenses I’d ever seen to take pictures of the birds bringing food to that hole just 8 feet away.  He stayed there patiently waiting for good shots for at least half a day and he’d been at this campground 3 days trying to get the perfect shot of the woodpeckers.  He said he’d been in the park a few weeks and moved north for the elk but then was captivated by these birds right next to his truck and handt left since.

Even if I was retired and had all the time in the world I dont think I could do that 😉 how many bird pictures can one take?

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