June 29 – July 13th, 2023
When you think of Yellowstone and animals, I’ll bet the bison is the first that comes to mind. Wiki says that the bison herd in Yellowstone is one of the oldest and largest herds in the US. They estimate that there are just under 5,000 bison in the park. Lots of people call them buffalo, and they are a distant cousin to the Asian Water Buffalo and the African Buffalo, but if you see these beasts in the US, they are likely bison.
Bison thrive on alpine meadowland and grasslands and require a reliable water source. Yellowstone provides both in abundance and the herds have thrived here. Once, there were as many as 60 million bison roaming our country, but by the 1880s they had been hunted to near extinction. The current herd in Yellowstone is said to have grown from just 23 left from the over hunting plus a few borrowed from Lincoln Park Zoo.
Bison males can stand six feet tall at the shoulder and weigh up to 2000 pounds. Females are about the same height, but usually weigh about 1300 pounds. And while they usually move pretty slowly, when agitated, bison can run up to 35 miles an hour. That’s faster than you can run.
You will see some pictures here that look like we are too close. I give props to the new iPhone 14 Pro that has an awesome zoom. You are advised to stay at least 25 yards from bison, elk, most and deer and at least 100 yards from bear and wolves.
Some tourons (tourist/moron combo) we saw didn’t read the many, many signs and got far too close.
Next is my favorite bison video. This guy just rolled and rolled in the dust – like a giant puppy!
We didn’t see any moose in Yellowstone, but when we visited Grand Tetons, Emily found a hike that took us along Moose Pond….sounds promising, right?
We were able to see several moose munching through their day on that hike. Moose are the largest members of the deer family. They can grow to nearly seven feet tall at their shoulders and weigh between 800 and 1600 pounds. Males grow impressive antlers. They shed them every winter and regrow them over the summer in time to show off for the rut.
There are said to be about 800 moose in the Yellowstone/Grand Teton area.
Although there are between 10,000 and 20,000 elk in Yellowstone in the summertime, in winter they roam outside of the park in search of food. We only saw a few of them closely enough to get pictures.
Males are five foot tall at the shoulder and weigh as much as 700 pounds.
Most bull elk drop their antlers in March or April and start growing their new set. The one you see below does not have his full rack yet. We took these pictures/videos in early July. Their antlers are covered in a soft “velvet” that they start rubbing off in August in preparation for the rut. The scent from the velvet attracts females and the males use the hardened antlers to fight off competitors.
The next animal we saw is one that can cause havoc at campgrounds and terror on the trail. Bears. There are two types of bears at Yellowstone and Grand Tetons, grizzly bears and black bears.
You can’t tell which is which based on their color. They both can have several different colored coats.
Grizzly bears have a large hump on their back and are much larger than black bears. They are normally 200-700 pounds – about 1.5 – 2x larger than black bears.
We saw a grizzly bear running through a meadow, but it was too quick and too far away to get a picture. We know it was a grizzly because a ranger was keeping people back and she confirmed.
On another amazing Emily hike (she finds the best hikes) we saw bears munching on wildflowers in a meadow beside the path. We stayed back safely and used the zoom to get this picture.
Both types of bear are incredibly beautiful and can be deadly. It is recommended that you carry bear spray when you hike in the back country (where we saw the bear) and that you know how to use it. Just ten days after our trip to Yellowstone a woman was killed by a grizzly on a trail very close to the RV park where we stayed. I did buy a crazy expensive can of bear spray and carried it with me. I probably would have through it was cheap if I had to use it though!
There was a lot of talk about the wolves in the park. They even have super fans who spend weeks in the park searching for a peek at the pack. We were not lucky enough to see a wolf, but we did see a coyote. This one was near a herd of bison and ran down to the river for a drink. Coyote are abundant in the park.
The parks are also known for their mountain goats and big horn sheep. We were not lucky enough to catch either of these.
We did see tons of the smaller mammals that call the national parks home. This marmot was not far from our bear siting and we saw them in several areas through the parks.
The deer population is huge and there are many varieties. I think this one is a pronghorn, but they are quick!
This is one of the most aggressive animal in the park. The chipmunks and squirrels have gotten very comfortable with the tourists and they will go right in your backpack and grab some chips if you are not careful. Emily had to stop one from running right up her leg!
Make sure you look UP when your re searching for animals in the park. We found this osprey nest right by a river.
And man, do they grow their crows big out west! What looks like a crow is actually a raven. These super intelligent bird is an opportunistic feeder. They will scavenge a wolf’s kill and follow the humans to their favorite picnic areas and parking lots. I understand they can unzip a backpack to grab your snacks!
Look up and look down at your feet while you are hiking too! We saw some snakes just sunning themselves near the path.
And although she was banned from the paths and overlooks in the parks, Reba joined us on several drives through the park. She didn’t even bark at the bison!