Tag Archive | elk

West 2016: Yellowstone Wildlife

Day 8, 9 & 10, August 12, 13 & 14, 2016

In my last post, I shared several photos of the gorgeous bison at Yellowstone.  Although bison are the most plentiful large mammals in the park, they are not the only wildlife, and I had the good fortune to see many others.

We saw about a half dozen elk, enjoying the “elk candy” grass at Mammoth Hot Springs.

We saw lots of birds, including Trumpeter Swans

 

Trumpeter Swans

Trumpeter Swans

 

Canada Geese

 

Canada Geese

 

Ravens

 

A raven just getting out of the bath…

 

And Osprey!

 

An osprey nest with young ones!

 

We saw some butterflies, but they mostly didn’t slow down enough for a photo…

 

I believe this is a Comstock’s Callippe Fritillary

 

We didn’t see any bears, but they are around!

We didn’t see any bears – just a few closures signs

 

And we were treated to the distant sighting of two Gray Wolves.  One was black (in the center of the photo) and the other gray.  This was the first time I have ever seen wolves in the wild – what an amazing experience!

 

We saw two wolves – they were very far away, so this is the best I could do in photos…

 

Yellowstone was an unforgettable experience for me, with my love of animals.  I am so excited for my next trip there!

 

 

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SW National Parks Trip: Hiking into the Grand Canyon

No day at the Grand Canyon would be complete without some hiking into the Canyon.  When Jon and I (mostly me!) were originally planning our Southwest tour, we were both really interested in hiking to the bottom of the Canyon.  Although it is possible to make the hike in one day, most people recommend hiking to the bottom, staying overnight at the Phantom Ranch, either staying in the hostel or camping, and then making the hike out of the Canyon the next morning.  Unfortunately, as we were only going to be at the Grand Canyon for one full day, we ultimately decided that we wouldn’t be able to do the full hike on this trip.

Earlier in the day, while we were exploring the Grand Canyon Village, we hiked a short way down the Bright Angel Trail.  The Bright Angel Trail head is right next to the Kolb Brothers Studio; it is the longer of the two routes to the Phantom Ranch, with a total length of 9.9 miles from the trail head to the Ranch.  It is also the more popular trail most for day hikers descending only a short way into the Canyon and also for hikers doing the entire route to the bottom.  It is not as steep, and it is situated right at the Grand Canyon Village.

On our hike of the Bright Angel Trail, we discovered that the trail is very popular.  There were dozens, if not over a hundred people hiking on the early portion of the trail, ranging from serious hikers with poles, lots of water and sun protection, to tourists in flip flops charging down the trail with no water and only a cell phone camera.   We even saw a dog, although the trail is clearly marked with a sign indicating dogs aren’t allowed.  But as I  have said before, people are stupid.  There are beautiful views, and lots of places to stop along the trail for photos.  We only hiked about 1/3 mile down, because we hadn’t had lunch yet and hadn’t filled our water bottles.

The Bright Angel Trail is much more crowded

The Bright Angel Trail is much more crowded

After we finished checking out the Desert View Watchtower, we parked along the highway and walked over to the trail head for the South Kaibab Trail.  This trail also descends all the way to the bottom of the Canyon and meets up at the Phantom Ranch.  It is significantly shorter than the Bright Angel Trail, reaching the Phantom Ranch in 7.4 miles.  However, it is also much steeper, with grades as steep as 22% in some places.  And unlike the Bright Angel Trail, the South Kaibab Trail does not provide access to water at any point along the trail, only at the trail head and the bottom of the Canyon.  Plus, the trail head is much more remote, which cuts down on the scores of tourists.

As we walked over to the South Kaibab Trail Head along the Rim Trail, we started seeing our first live elk.  They were literally standing on the trail about 10 feet away from us!  Which left us in a predicament, because the rangers say you are to back away from the elk, but we needed to go that direction!  And the elk didn’t seem to be the least concerned about our presence.  After a few minutes, they moved off the trail and we were able to scoot around them, but not before taking some photos.  And we definitely weren’t at the recommended 75 feet of distance!

Elk just off the trail near the South Kaibab Trail

Elk just off the trail near the South Kaibab Trail

The South Kaibab Trail begins with several switchbacks that take you quickly below the rim; I think there are 9.  It reminded me of Walter’s Wiggles at Zion National Park, on the Angels Landing Trail.  And you are greeted with amazing views!  We hiked 0.9 miles down into the Canyon, to Ooh Aah Point, and I was struck by the view the entire time.  At Ooh Aah Point, we stopped and rested for a little while, before beginning the hike back up to the Canyon Rim.

The South Kaibab Trail, with the first set of switchbacks dead ahead

The South Kaibab Trail, with the first set of switchbacks dead ahead

The South Kaibab Trail – if you can see the tiny person near the middle of the photo, that’s Ooh Aah Point

The South Kaibab Trail – if you can see the tiny person near the middle of the photo, that’s Ooh Aah Point

So, what did I think?  Well, it was strenuous, with sections of the trail that were fairly steep.  I’m certainly not a super athlete though, so people that are reasonably fit should manage just fine.  I’m pretty convinced that although I probably could do the entire Rim to River to Rim hike in one day, I’m not sure I would want to.  I think that would make for a very tired and sore Camille the next day.

Me at Ooh Aah Point, with the Grand Canyon in the background

Me at Ooh Aah Point, with the Grand Canyon in the background

The South Kaibab hike did test my fear of heights in some sections, because the trail is cut right into the edge of the cliff, and there is no railing or berm to keep you from going over the edge if you were to lose your footing.  Seems like another reason not to try the entire hike in one day, because fatigue could certainly cause some missteps.  There were some areas where the scree beneath our feet was pretty loose, and made our feet slip a little bit before finding our footing again.

But all that said, I enjoyed the hike, and in fact it was one of my favorite hikes during the trip.  I think we only passed about a half dozen hikers on our entire two mile hike!  It was very peaceful.

Back at the top of the Canyon again, we walked the half mile back to the car, seeing that the elk had multiplied since we last went through.  As it was getting close to sunset, it made sense that they were out looking for their evening meal.  We still tried to give them their space, but it was difficult as they were literally all around us!  Fortunately, they showed no aggression towards us at all, and we were able to get back to the car without a mishap.

This guy wasn’t bothered by the elk – too close for my comfort!

This guy wasn’t bothered by the elk – too close for my comfort!

Our very full day at the Grand Canyon was coming to a close.  We got into the car, and after navigating the car through dozens of elk walking in and near the road, we headed back to Williams.  Our time in the car was spent recapping the day and all the amazing experiences that we had.  Jon had originally not been that excited about the Grand Canyon, because of the high numbers of visitors, but it ended up being one of his favorite places.  Amazing geology, historic buildings, stunning views, California Condors, crazy squirrels, stupid humans, elk, and the hike of a lifetime.  We packed a lot into one day, and I can’t wait until we have the opportunity to return!

Back on the Rim Trail, as the sun starts to sink low on the horizon

Back on the Rim Trail, as the sun starts to sink low on the horizon

What was your favorite part of the Grand Canyon?  What do you still want to see and do there?

 

Olympic National Park: Lake Crescent and the Hoh!

Our second day in Olympic National Park was a big day.  We were going to spend the day in the Hoh Rain Forest!  We got up super-early (5:40 am!) to make the several hour drive from Sequim over to the rainforest.  The night before, we had gone to the grocery store, and made sure that we would have enough snacks for a long day of driving and hiking – plus a new sweatshirt for me because I forgot to bring a warm sweatshirt from home.

We headed out from the hotel in the dark.  At the beginning, there was some misty rain – we chatted about how much it would suck to spend the whole day hiking in the rain.  But soon enough, it gave way to a beautiful morning!  Our first stop on the drive was at Lake Crescent, which is about 17 miles west (and slightly south) of Port Angeles.  Lake Crescent was created during the last Ice Age when the glaciers carved a deep valley; it drained into the Elwha River, which is one of the major rivers in the park.  About 8,000 years ago, there was a giant landslide that created a second lake, Lake Sutherland, and cut Lake Crescent off from the Elwha River.  Fish were trapped in the lake and began to evolve; today there are two subspecies of trout that are genetically distinct from nearby trout.

The moon over Lake Crescent

The moon over Lake Crescent

We were at Lake Crescent just after sunrise, and the lake was absolutely beautiful.  The water is a deep, clear, turquoise blue, a result of the lack of nitrogen in the water, which inhibits the growth of algae in the lake.  Lake Crescent is officially the second deepest lake in Washington state (the first is Lake Chelan), with an official depth of 624 feet.  However, unofficial depth surveys have recorded depths of more than 1,000 feet!

After our quick stop at Lake Crescent, we continued on our way to the Hoh Rain Forest.  The Hoh Rain Forest is one of the United States’ temperate rainforests, with average rainfall of 140 – 170 inches of rain per year.  That’s 12 to 14 feet!  I know some of you think that it rains a lot in all of Washington, but to give you some perspective, Seattle receives an average of 36 inches per year, and New York City receives 45 inches.

Welcome to the Hoh Rain Forest!

Welcome to the Hoh Rain Forest!

When we got to the forest, we stopped off at the Hoh Rain Forest Visitor’s Center and got our National Park Passport stamps (one of their stamps is a banana slug!) and set off for a hike.  We started off in the Hall of Mosses, an easy 0.8 mile jaunt near the Visitor’s Center, with signs letting you know which species are out there, and information on the rainforest ecosystem.

The Hoh Rain Forest is dominated by Sitka Spruce and Western Hemlock, which grow to extreme sizes because of the abundant rainfall.  The Hall of Mosses shows that there are many types of mosses and lichens too; the lettuce lichen is a favorite of the deer and elk in the forest.  Animals in the Hoh Rain Forest include deer, Roosevelt elk, black bear, cougar, bobcat, tree frogs, spotted owls and of course, the banana slug.

These trees in the Hoh Rain Forest are massive!

These trees in the Hoh Rain Forest are massive!

That's a lot of Moss!

That’s a lot of Moss!

Piddles the Traveling Owl Posing with some of the Hoh's Lichens

Piddles the Traveling Owl Posing with some of the Hoh’s Lichens

After enjoying the Hall of Mosses, and watching Jon play with the camera for awhile, we hiked out the Hoh River trail, a trail that stretches for over 17 miles near the river.  You can hike out and camp if you want, or you can head out as far as you want and then turn around and come back.  There are several small trails that lead to the river, and after running into some other hikers who tipped us off to where the elk were, we took one of the small trails over to the river and found a herd of elk grazing and sleeping along the banks of the river.  We watched them for awhile, trading the camera and the binoculars back and forth.  Seeing the elk was really the highlight of the rainforest for me!

A Roosevelt Elk Bull with two females in the Hoh Rain Forest

A Roosevelt Elk Bull with two females in the Hoh Rain Forest

When we were there, we were mostly alone.  We ran into other hikers about every 15 or 20 minutes, but otherwise, it was just us.  It is not a difficult hike either, with most of the first several miles relatively flat.  And even better, the whole time we were at the Hoh Rain Forest, there was no rain!  I have no idea how that happened, but we certainly lucked out.

Newhalem and Some Elk Sex

As we continued toward home from Chelan, we traveled further west on Highway 20 past the town of Newhalem.  Newhalem is a company town that was founded in the 1920s, to house employees of Seattle City Lights’ Skagit River Hydroelectric Project.  The Gorge Powerhouse began generating electricity in 1924, and is still operating today.  The building has a beauty that industrial construction just doesn’t seem to have anymore.  Even now, the power plant is operating and Newhalem is still a company town.  We were there after things closed for the day, but I have heard there is a historic general store and some information about the town and the electric project.  It would be be neat to come back and visit when things are open.

For more information about what it was like to grow up in a remote company town, you can check out Tobias Wolff’s book This Boy’s Life, which is about the author’s experience growing up in Newhalem in the 1950s.  This Boy’s Life was made into a movie starring Robert DeNiro and Leonardo DiCaprio in 1993.  I’ll have to check it out.

The Gorge Powerhouse at Newhalem

The last stop on our scenic drive home from our weekend in Chelan was at one of the elk viewing sites near Rockport, Washington.  There are two big fields along the highway where elk spend a lot of time in the fall and winter months.  There are signs posted there with information about the herd, but I’m not sure if they posted the signs because the elk spent time there, or if they starting feeding the elk there so they would come.  If anyone knows how these elk sites work, please let me know.

So anyway, back to the story…  Jon and I were driving down the North Cascades Highway towards home and I made him promise that he would stop if we saw elk.  He promised.  I think he was hoping they wouldn’t be there.  So when we saw them, I made him turn around and go back to the parking lot.  He was kind of cranky for some reason, and when I asked him if he wanted to get out to go see them with me, he said gruffly, “I’ve seen elk before.”  Whatever.  Suit yourself.  I took my camera and got out of the car and lined up with all the other tourists and wildlife enthusiasts and watched the elk.

So here are some pictures of the elk, including them getting up to some hanky panky…

An Elk Herd

Elk Chillaxin’

Elk Sex – I Think the Guy on the Left Looks Jealous

And the last part of this story is the funniest part.  When Jon and I got home that evening, after a long and beautiful drive, after moving from drought and earth charred from wildfires, to beautiful rivers, wild west towns, majestic dams, and mating elk, I gave him a hard time about being so grumpy when we saw the elk.  I razzed him, in my snootiest voice.

Me (imitating him in my snootiest voice): “I’ve seen elk before.”

Jon: “Well, I have.  They are just male deer.”

Me:  “Male deer?”

Jon: “Well, aren’t they?”

This is where I burst out laughing, first, because they aren’t male deer.  Well, to give him credit – some are male.  And second, because clearly he hadn’t noticed the elk were getting busy.  Yes, perhaps I’m juvenile, and easily amused…  It was a perfect end to a great trip, and one I can tease him about for years to come…