Monday, May 26, 2008

Yellowstone National Park – Part 5

We have had a mixed bag of weather the last few days. We had two days of intermittent snow and rain showers. About an inch of snow accumulated both days but melted quickly once the snow stopped. We have had a few days of dark and cloudy, but only the briefest of showers. We used these days to read, play tourist, and do laundry.

Upper Geyser Basin

Old Faithful has to be the most famous geyser in the world; rightly so as it does go off every 90 minutes give or take 10 minutes. However the Upper Geyser basin where Old Faithful is has so much more. Kathy made some sandwiches and we went back to the park to walk the Upper Geyser Loop (about 3 miles) again. Old Faithful is at the south end of the Upper Geyser Loop. Other geysers are also predictable but their time between eruptions can be hours or days. Most geyser are not predictable which why walking the Geyser Loop is so cool. You walk along and geysers just suddenly erupt and each time you go it is different.

The Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center

The Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center here in West Yellowstone is a non-profit group that gives a home to grizzlies and wolves that can’t live in the wild. They seem to be mostly cubs or pups that had their mothers killed. The center also gives tourist a chance to see the grizzlies and wolves they may not have seen in the Park. You certainly get much closer at the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center than you can in the Park.

Discovery Center URL: Grizzly Discovery Center

Our slide show to Yellowstone National Park Part 5 includes Old Faithful erupting sequence: BirdingRVers Yellowstone Part 5

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Yellowstone National Park – Part 4

Yellowstone National Park – Part 4

As I have said in the previous posting, Yellowstone is BIG, REALLY BIG! We have now driven over 500 miles inside the park and walked all of the geyser basins, today we’re taking a rest day.

As a lifelong Californian I have no experience with snow. I always thought that it melted inches per day. The past 4 days we have had outstanding weather with highs in mid 70’s. The snow has been melting feet per day. (Although as I write this it has been snowing for 2 hours and it is only 35 degrees at mid-day). As you can see in the before and after pictures the RV Park has really cleared of snow in just a few days. Inside the Park, the rivers are rising and the meadows have become lakes. This has pushed the buffalo and the elk even closer to or onto the roads. For some reason Raider doesn’t seem to mind the elk, but barks at the bison that walk past the truck. There is so much snow in the Park it will still take weeks for the snow to melt.


With the exception of the trails

around the geyser basins all of the trails seem to be closed either from too much snow, under water or “Bear activity”. We still have managed to cover enough miles to be sore.

Thermal Features

Wolves, Elk, Bison, and Grizzly Bears are all well and good, but the REAL reason people come to Yellowstone is to see the “Thermal Features”. That is park talk for geysers, hot springs and mud pots. Everyone first goes to see Old Faithful, but the geyser basin it is in has many other geysers. You are walking along and they suddenly go off without warning. There are many geysers, hot springs and mud pots along the road for miles around Old Faithful.

Norris Geyser Basin

About 30 miles North of Old Faithful is the Norris Geyser Basin. In the Old Faithful area is, there are asphalt and boardwalk trails, while the Norris Basin is either boardwalk for safety or dirt trails. It has a different feel than the Old Faithful area and is quite extensive. Again, there are other geysers, hot springs and mud pots in the area.

Yellowstone Falls No trip to Yellowstone would be complete without a trip to see Yellowstone Falls. There is much more snow in that part of the park so, many of the overlooks are closed, but with the rivers rising the falls are spectacular.

Bird Activity

Sunday we did a “Big Sit”. We took a picnic lunch and sat along the Madison River and let the birds come to us; a very restful afternoon. The only new bird we saw for the year list was a Clark’s Nutcracker. Every day we see Bald Eagles, Ospreys and Mountain Bluebirds. One little bird we could hear for days was bugging us, because we couldn’t find him! Finally, Kathy starting imitating his call and he came in closer! It was a Ruby Crowned Kinglet! We don’t have them back in San Jose, CA during the breeding season, so we didn’t recognize his call or song! Mystery solved!

Slide show of pictures taken over the past few days: Yellowstone National Park Part 4

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Yellowstone National Park – Part 3

Yellowstone National Park – Part 3

I said in the previous posting, Yellowstone is BIG, REALLY BIG! In three days of visiting we have driven 370 miles inside the park and still haven’t been to all of the sections of the park. Yellowstone is about the same size as the state of Delaware. Yellowstone Lake is about the size of the state of Rhode Island.

Frozen Yellowstone Lake

Friday we went to the southern part of Yellowstone, the West Thumb area. Yellowstone had the heaviest snow fall in a decade this year and the southern part of the park is covered in deep snow. Anyone coming to Yellowstone for Memorial Day should leave their hiking booths at home, bring skies. Just a very few trails near Lamar Valley, in the northern part of the park are open. Yellowstone Lake is so big that there isn’t any one place you can stand and see all of it. As you can see in the pictures, Yellowstone Lake is still frozen over.

More Wolves

We decided to follow the road along the lake to Canyon and then come back to West Yellowstone via the Norris and Madison areas. As we were driving along we saw a crowd of people at a pull out area. We stopped to ask what they were watching and they said,” wolves”. This area is about 50 miles from where we had seen wolves previously. The wolves had crossed the road and went into some trees. Next they came out of the trees and swam across the Yellowstone River. They stayed in plane sight as they walked about a mile along the river bank and then went into a forested area. As you can see we were much closer than the other day and got some pictures.

Thermal Features

The west Thumb area doesn’t have any geysers, but it does have thermal springs and pools. Some of the springs are under the lake and keep the ice melted.

Near where we saw the wolves is an area known as the Mud Volcano. In the early 1870s it erupted and splattered mud for almost two years then it finally exploded and left a very muddy thermal pool.

One of our favorite features in the park is the Dragons Mouth. It is a thermal pool in a cave that bellows as the water comes to the surface in a boil. It is said that in a quieter time before cars came to Yellowstone that you could hear the Dragons Mouth for miles.


In the areas of the lake that are kept open by thermal springs and along the Yellowstone River we saw many birds some of these included: American White Pelicans, Horned Grebes, Buffleheads, Common Loon and Common Golden-eye. We saw Bald Eagles in several different locations and Robins and Mountains Bluebirds seem to be everywhere.

Raider Report

Raider is an embarrassment to Golden Retrievers everywhere because he doesn’t like water. He refuses to go outside if it is raining or if he can here sprinklers running. However he loves snow! He will go out of his way to walk or run on the snow and even if he falls through up to his chest he continues try to walk through it. Naturally, walking through deep snow is very tiring. Here he is in the back of the truck after a long romp!

Slide show of our day: BirdingRVers Yellowstone Part 3

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Yellowstone National Park – Part 2

Yellowstone is BIG, REALLY BIG! Over 2 million acres, covers an area of 3,472 square miles, the park loop road is 114 miles in total. It takes days to see Yellowstone. The best place to see wolves in Yellowstone is Lamar Valley, so today we went to Lamar Valley. From where we are staying in West Yellowstone it is about 80 miles one way due to some of the roads still being closed. This is not 80 miles of Interstate Highway, this is 80 miles of narrow roads with speed limit of 35 or 45 MPH. Not to mention there are bison wandering across and down the roads.

Grizzly Bear - Wolves

When Birding one of the easiest ways to find birds is to drive along until you see people standing around with binoculars and spotting scopes and then to stop and ask what they are seeing. Finding wildlife in Yellowstone is the same way. Sometimes the traffic will come to a stand still because the wildlife is on the road, other times there will be a crowd of people pulled off the road all looking in the same direction. This was the strategy we used to find wolves. The first group of people we saw pulled over and looking through spotting scopes were looking a Black Bear, but they hadn’t seen it for the past 20 minutes so we didn’t stay to see it. The next group of people we saw pulled over and looking through spotting scopes were looking at a Sandhill Crane sitting on a nest in the middle of a lake. Next we came to a turnout near another small lake with a crowd of people and spotting scopes, just across the lake was a Grizzly Bear sunning himself. While we were there it got up and decided to move on. We have seen dozens of Grizzly Bears on each of our Alaska trips, but this is the first time we had seen a Grizzly Bear in the lower 48 states. Further down the road there was another traffic jam and a Ranger trying to direct traffic. He told us that a Black Bear had been sighted just off the road. We asked where we should look for wolves. He directed us to the entrance of a campground that is currently closed call Slough Creek. He said just look for the spotting scopes. Next we came across a turnout with a lot of cars and a group of people up a small hill including a Park Ranger. They were watching two wolves eat an Elk that the wolves had killed earlier in day. Unfortunately these were spotting scope only views and we couldn’t get any pictures. We continued on the road to Slough Creek Campground. When we arrived there were a lot of people and all we saw were Bison. A little further along the road we saw 4 people with spotting scopes so we headed that way. When we asked what they were looking at they told us the WOLF DEN. We stayed there for about an hour and saw 4 different wolves near the den. This is when we found out about “WOLFERS”.


Serious Bird Watchers call themselves Birders. It turns out there is a sub-culture of serious wolf watchers and they call themselves Wolvers. They plan their travels around where and what the wolves are doing. They know the different wolves in each of the wolf packs by sight. While we were there a Park Ranger came out to talk to the wolvers. Not only did they know this Ranger but the Ranger knew each of them by name. One of the wolver couples, Allen and Sue, were telling us about spending 4 months last year watching the wolf packs here in Yellowstone. What kind of people have that much free time? Turns out that all three of the wolver couples that we met were fulltime RVers that had retired and now watch wolves. When you go bird watching you are Birding. When you go wolf watching are you wolfing?

Bison, Elk and Antelope play

The wildlife viewing has been GREAT. Apparently the snow melts first near the roads so the grass is greenest there. So, the buffalo, the elk and pronghorn antelope are on the sides of the roads or the meadows closest to the roads. Each day we have had several bison and elk wandering across or down the roads. Today we had 4 pronghorn race alongside the truck in a meadow we passed. We saw a baby bison nursing and several others following “mom”.

Majestic Yellowstone

Of course all of the above is taking place in a beautiful place with geysers, thermal pools, rivers, snow capped mountains, Bald Eagles, Osprey, Sandhill Cranes and Mountain Bluebirds all around us.

Slide show of our day: BirdingRvers Yellowstone part 2

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Yellowstone National Park – Part 1

This is our third visit to Yellowstone. Of course our other trips to Yellowstone were during the summer when the boys were out of school. Twice we made reservations for an “off season” trip to Yellowstone, but both times we had to cancel because important projects came up at work. We had always planned to do an after Labor Day trip, however since Yellowstone is “on our way” from Arizona where we spent most of winter and Alaska where we plan to spend the summer, here we are.

Today we went to the Old Faithful section of the park. The park was perfect today with the snow everywhere, temperature in the 50s, Elk and Bison wandering across the road and in several locations. Birds including Mountain Bluebird, Osprey, Bald Eagles, Dark-eyed Juncos and Townsend’s Solitaires fly around. There was so much going on and places to stop, that we only had stopped at a couple of the thermal features today. It took us two hours to travel 35 miles.

We had been told by two different people that there has been a wolf hanging out near Madison Junction. When we arrived there today we saw someone with a spotting scope. I put my scope on the spot he was looking at and there was a coyote sunny itself. So we will have to keep looking for wolves.

While waiting for the next eruption of Old Faithful, Kathy called our son Tim, who lives in Chicago. He was able to take a picture of us from 1,400 miles away as we waved to the Old Faithful Web Cam. It is amazing what you can do with the Internet.

National Park Service Old Faithful web cam

Some of the 100 pictures Kathy took today: BirdingRVers Yellowstone Part 1

We are in the middle of the above picture. Kathy is wearing a pink vest.

Monday, May 12, 2008

West Yellowstone in May, Rushing the season?

Today we traveled from Pocatello, Idaho to West Yellowstone, Montana. We are at the door step of Yellowstone National Park. When we arrived today about 2 PM the temperature was up to 34 F. As we were leaving Pocatello a snow shower started, but most of the way over it was clear and the road was ice free. We have been told which roads are open and where you can go in Yellowstone changes daily due to the daily snow and the crews plowing to try to open all of the roads by Memorial Day. The forecast for tonight is 19 F degrees and 40% chance of snow. As I write this it has started to snow again, big flakes!

Here’s the slide show of all the pictures Kathy took after we arrived at the RV Park: Grizzly RV Park May 12th

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Golden Spike National Historic Site – Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge

After leaving Moab we stopped for a night in Springville, Utah. This was the first time we have only spent one night at a site since we have been on the road. The drive from Moab to Springville was about 260 miles. Maybe 260 miles for a day does not sound like much, but you don’t pull a 14,000 pound trailer down the road at 75 mph even if it is the legal speed limit! After Springville we went to Brigham City. Utah about 60 miles north of Salt Lake City. The RV Park in Springville was “convenient” to I-15. That means is was right off of the interstate, across the street from a Flying J truck stop and had a railroad track at the end of the property. The RV Park in Brigham City was out in the country. It is 2 miles off of the interstate and surrounded by farms and very quiet.

Golden Spike National Historic Site

About 30 miles northeast of Brigham City is Promontory Summit, Utah, the location where the final spike linking the Transcontinental Railroad was driven on May10, 1869. At the National Historic Site they have replicas for the four spikes used in the ceremony in 1869. The actual Golden Spike was immediately taken by Leland Stanford, then the Governor of California and the President of the Central Pacific Railroad, back to California and today it is housed at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California.

Apparently three of the four spikes used for the ceremony are at Stanford University.

At Golden Spike they have running replicas of the two steam trains that were at the ceremony, a nice movie on the building of the railroad and various pieces of equipment used to build the railroad. Twice a day from May 10th to Labor Day they have a reenactment of the ceremony with volunteer docents in period costumes. We were just a few days too early to see the reenactment. In fact, we couldn’t stay at the RV Park over the weekend, because the Golden Spike RV Club was having a rally at the RV Park and were going to the May 10th anniversary celebration. The rail line to Promontory Summit was abandoned in 1914 when the railroad built a bridge across the Great Salt Lake to shorten the distance to California. During World War II the abandon tracks were torn up to be melted down for the war effort. Since the rails are no longer on the rail beds they have two Auto Tours where you drive on the old rail beds. That may be fine for “autos” but it sure felt narrow in a dually pickup truck.

Golden Spike National Historic Site link: Golden Spike

The slide show of our visit: BirdingRVers at Golden Spike Site

Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge

Much closer to Brigham City is the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge Visitor Center. Bear River MBR is just over 74,000 acres of marsh, open water, uplands, and alkali mudflats providing critical habitat for migrating birds. Naturally we were not there at peak season because most of the migrating birds have flown north. At its peak the Bear River MBR attracts almost a million migratory birds! They were quick to tell us that there are birds that nest on the refuge and we were sure to see birds on the 12 mile auto tour loop. The auto tour begins 15 miles east of the visitor center. What they neglected to tell us was that ¾ of the 15 miles were gravel road and that all of the auto tour was gravel road. So, our trip ended up being about 30 miles of gravel road in various stages of repair. Having said that the refuge had by far the most birds of anywhere we have been for months. We added 12 birds to our year list. In fact either this whole area is very birdy or spring has finally caught up to us. At the feeders we put up outside our trailer we had Black-headed Grosbeaks, Lazuli Buntings, Western Tanager and American Goldfinches all at the feeders at the same time. The year list is up to 173.

Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge web site:Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge

The slide show of our visit: BirdingRVers at Bear River MBR

We are currently in Pocatello Idaho, we have spent the weekend doing groceries, laundry and getting the blog caught up. Tomorrow we are off to Yellowstone National Park the forecast is “Snow Likely”!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Canyonlands – LaSal Mountain Loop – Leaving Moab

Canyonlands – LaSal Mountain Loop – Leaving Moab

How did I get so far behind with the blog so fast?

Canyonlands National Park

We need to go back a week to when we were still in Moab, Utah. The day after we went to Arches National Park we went to Canyonlands National Park. Canyonlands is huge!! I didn’t think anything could make the Grand Canyon look small, but Canyonlands does. The Park is so large that it divided into 3 parts: Island in the Sky, the Maze and the Needles. The part closest to Moab is the Island in Sky section, it is 35 miles from Moab. It is primarily made up of a huge mesa that is divided by the Colorado River on one side and the Green River on the other. The isthmus that keeps the Sky Island attached is only a little over two lanes wide and I am sure that the park service will need to install a bridge in the future. The Sky Island is from several hundred to 1000 feet above the surrounding area. If you look close at the slide show you can see a jeep road going across the lower mesa. The jeep road is a 100 miles long just circling the Sky Island and is very popular with jeeps and mountain bikers. At the end of the road at the Sky Island district is Grand View Point. You can see at least 35 miles in every direction and pretty much everything you see is still part of Canyonlands National Park. Access to the Needles district is a dirt road about 75 miles south of Moab and access to the Maze district is from the town of Green River. We didn’t go to either of these areas and will have to come back to see more of Canyonlands National Park.

Canyonlands National Park link: Canyonlands

The slide show of our visit: BirdingRVers in Canyonlands

LaSal Mountain Loop

Another thing to see in the Moab area is the LaSal Mountain Loop. This is a 65 mile drive mostly on very narrow curvy road. LaSal Mountain is the snow capped peak that you see in many of the pictures taken from Moab. It is 12,000 feet high and the loop road goes up to 8,000 or 9,000 feet. On a clear day you can see deep into Canyonlands from the loop road. Unfortunately, the day we did the loop there were clouds coming into the area so the distance view was somewhat obscured. The end of the loop drops into Castle Valley and then follows the Colorado River back into Moab. If you are in the area you should do the LaSal Mountain Loop counterclockwise, because you will be on the inside on the very narrow areas with big drops and you get a great view as you descend into Castle Valley. In a big Chevy dually it was thrilling! We stopped for a picnic along the Colorado River and watched the rafts float by, it was very relaxing.

Bird Note: We saw a pair of Virginia's Warbler while having our picnic along the Colorado River. It was a life bird for both of us.

The slide show of our visit: BirdingRVers on LaSal Mountain Loop

Leaving Moab

Our week in Moab had come to an end and it was time to start heading north, after all we are trying to get to Alaska this year. We have never been to this part of Utah before and we took I – 70 to I – 15. This route had spectacular scenery unfortunately; you can only take so many pictures while driving down the Interstate.

Slideshow on the way to Brigham City: On the road