For Summer 2021 we decided that the Yellowstone area would be a fun place to stay and explore everything we can. Yellowstone National Park is our favorite park. With the wildlife, the geysers, and geological features there is nowhere more interesting. Here are our top 10 things we saw in 2021.
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1. Baby Bison Birth
Arriving on May 3rd a week before starting our jobs we found a campground outside of West Yellowstone to stay at. Most campgrounds haven’t opened yet but will be in the next week or so. After settling in we decided to drive into West Yellowstone and meet up with our boss and see where we’ll be staying for the summer. Once that was done we decided to take a drive into the park and see what was going on.
As we drove toward Madison from West Yellowstone we came across a parking lot that was full of cars and could see a lot of people standing around with cameras on tripods. We did a U-turn and came back to see what everyone was looking at. A dead bison was laying on the other side of the Madison River not far from the bank. Something had been eating it but was not there at the time. Come to find out some photographers got pictures of a black wolf dining on the bison carcass. Disappointed that we missed it we vowed to come back early the next day.
The following morning we arrived at the parking lot at 8 am. Not as many photographers were around this morning. Stopping to talk to a few people we noticed that the carcass was way more consumed than the previous day. We hung around for about an hour before deciding to hit the road.
At the Madison Junction, we made a left heading toward Mammoth Hot Springs. About a mile down the road we came to pull-outs on both sides of the road with a few cars in each. Pulling into the one on the opposite side of the road we noticed a dozen or so bison in the meadow. One cow you could see recently had a calf but she was laying 5-10 feet away from the newborn. Thinking something was wrong with her or the calf we kept looking over the herd. Then noticing another cow with something sticking out of her rear.
From our vantage point about 100 yards away it looked like she was about to deliver a calf too. We watched as she looked like she was grazing which threw us off of what was going on. We thought we must be wrong about her having a calf. But soon she laid down and gave birth to the little one. It was an amazing sight. About a minute and a half after giving birth the new mother got up and started cleaning her new baby. We realized the mother wasn’t grazing before giving birth she was clearing the snow off the ground to have a warmer place to give birth to the calf.
We watched for about 30 minutes until the newborn calf was on his feet and starting to nurse. It was a very cool experience. One we hoped for but didn’t think we’d get lucky enough to see on our second day in the park. Once he was on his feet we went about our day. Three hours later we came back by in time to see momma taking her baby to the safety of the nearby woods. See our video below.
Even with all the amazing things we saw this summer, this was our number one experience this summer. We’ve talked to so many people that have spent a lot of time in Yellowstone and never seen the birth of a baby bison. We’re so thankful we had this opportunity. It was amazing that while this birth was happening we were one of three cars in the pull-out and a number of cars pulled up asked what we were looking at then drove off without staying.
2. Bear Fighting with Wolf
During the Bison rut, we saw a video on Facebook of a bull bison killing another bull in a fight. The dead bison was too close to Slough Creek Rd so the Rangers moved it to the opposite side of the road about 100 yards away. We went to check out the animals feeding on the dead bison on our day off of work. Getting an early start from West Yellowstone we arrived at the carcass at 6 am. We were lucky enough to witness five wolves come and go feeding on the carcass. After watching for a couple of hours we left to look for other animals.
The next day we decided to go after work and check out if any more animals were feeding on the bison. We arrived at about 7:30 pm, and watched a couple of wolves eat then move away and lay down. At about 8:30 there wasn’t much going on so we decided to head home.
As we got in the car we heard people yell “Bear”. We got out of the car and back to our spots overlooking the kill. A grizzly bear was running down the hill toward the dead bison. When he got to the flat area where the bison lay he slowed down and started sniffing around. The wolf that was on the carcass moved up to an area overlooking the kill. The bear found the carcass and started nervously feeding with the wolf watching him. He ate for a couple of minutes looking up and around then decided to climb the hill where the wolf lay. He walked up the hill when within a few feet of the wolf he lunged and took a swipe at the wolf with his huge paw just narrowly missing, then headed back to eat.
Unfortunately being well after sunset and nearly dark our video turned out too dark to upload normally. The only way we could create a video was to do a cell phone video of my wife’s camera playing the video. It’s still one of the coolest things we saw all summer.
3. Wolf Close Up
Hearing about a bison kill in Lamar Valley we decided to take a trip there on one of our days off early in the season. Arriving in the valley we could see cars lining the road. As we approached the parked cars we came to a point where traffic wasn’t moving in either direction. Stopping in the middle of the road we got out cameras and binoculars in hand. We asked about what everyone was looking at. Someone said “Nothing right now there is a kill over there.” pointing to the dead bison. We stood watching when on the opposite side of the road I noticed a black wolf laying 30- 40 feet away wanting to cross the road.
He walked between us and the car behind us within about 15 feet. As he crossed our dog Ruby started crying like she always does when she sees another dog. This wolf just froze in his tracks in the middle of the road turned and looked to see where the crying was coming from. It was amazing to look at him eye to eye
4. Pack of 13 Wolves
We got word of two bison kills in Hayden Valley both in the Yellowstone River a few miles apart. For most of the summer, we didn’t have much luck seeing stuff in Hayden Valley but decided this might be our best opportunity. We were right. Arriving just as it was getting light we drove to the area we knew had a bison laying in the middle of the river. We heard that there were two bears fighting over this kill. When we got there the Park Service had cones, tape, and signs up saying no stopping or walking in the area. Driving back and forth hoping to get a glimpse of something on this kill we decided to go check out the other one.
Wishing we had come to the second kill first when we realized there was a whole pack of wolves feeding on it. We arrived to catch the end of the feeding for the morning. Counting 13 wolves got us excited. The sun was coming up and all but one of the pack was done feeding. 12 wolves started howling, and you could hear others in the distance howling back. We watched as the pack started making their way down the river leaving the one wolf behind to still feed.
5. Lone Star Geyser Eruption
Some friends of ours told us about Lone Star Geyser. It’s a short 2.5-mile each-way hike on an old service road to this geyser. Lone Star Geyser erupts approximately every 3 hours or so from what we heard. Arriving at the trailhead at about 6 am there were only a few cars in the parking lot. Not knowing what time the geyser may go off we set out on the hike. It’s an easy fairly flat hike along a stream. As we arrived at the geyser cone we could see that we had the place all to ourselves, guess the other cars were hikers hiking in the backcountry. Two minutes after we got to the geyser it started erupting. It was really cool to see. It erupted for about five minutes and shot into the air 30-40 feet. Come to find out we caught a minor eruption. Supposedly about 20 minutes later a major eruption goes off lasting 20+ minutes and shooting much higher. Guess we’ll have to try again next year.
6. The Ruts
The Bison and Elk Ruts are an amazing time of year. It is so fascinating to see these animals in their mating rituals. The bull bison picked their girl out and kept her separated from everyone else. Wandering around not letting any other males nearby. Their tongues out and their grunts make for a hilarious scene.
The bull elk have a totally different mating ritual. They prefer a harem of ladies and bugle to them and to the other bulls that would like to move in on them. It’s interesting to see how worked up they get hearing another bull bugle back to them or to see one of their ladies move to another bull.
7. Swimming Lessons
One afternoon we were driving through Lamar Valley toward the East Entrance. As we drove by the Lamar River we noticed a small herd of bison cows taking their red dog babies across the river. The swift water took each calf down the river as the mother stood on the opposite side encouraging them to swim across. It was sort of nerve-wracking to watch as the calves struggled to make it across the river. But one by one they all made it.
8. Baby Bears
What’s not to love about baby bears? Early in the season approaching Petrified Tree we came across a lot of cars parked along the road. When we got out to ask what everyone was looking at they told us two baby bears were up a tree waiting for their mom to come back. We set up our cameras and waited along with everyone else. You could barely see the two black bear cubs through the tree branches. Occasionally they would move around or play a bit but mostly it looked like they were just sleeping. Two hours later the momma bear came back and called the cubs down from the tree. It was so cool to see them playing running and jumping on her to feed.
We were lucky enough to see moms with cubs at least four times over the summer. Every time was amazing!
One mom and cub we had searched for all summer was Raspberry and her cub Jam. We finally found them a week or so before we left.
9. Harlequin Ducks
Lahardy Rapids near Hayden Valley is an amazing place to see Harlequin Ducks swimming and feeding in the rapids. It is really entertaining to watch them diving and swimming in the fast-moving water of the Yellowstone River.
10. Thermal Features
Yellowstone wouldn’t be the absolutely amazing place it is without its thermal features. With easy access to so many wonderful geysers, fumaroles, mud pots, hot springs, and travertine terraces, Yellowstone is like nowhere else on earth. Every time we would check out the geyser basins it always amazed me. We couldn’t compile the top 10 things we saw in Yellowstone without including thermal features. While many of the thermal features we saw this year are touristy places our plans for next year are to see more of the back country places away from the crowds.
Yellowstone National Park is probably my favorite place in the world now! There is nowhere else like it. Nowhere can you see such a variety of animals and geological features near each other. We saw so many amazing things this summer, so much so that we couldn’t help but plan to come back again in 2022. There is so much more we want to see and do next year. With a job that is 3 days on and 3 days off next year, we’re hoping to get even more time in the park to explore, see the animals and enjoy all that Yellowstone has to offer.
What interesting places have you been to and can recommend? We’re always looking for neat out-of-the-way places to put on our list of must-sees. Thank you for reading our article. If you have any comments or questions we’d love to hear from you below.
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