A Camera In One Hand And Bearspray In The Other

Published: September 23rd 2014
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What a beautiful morning we woke up to. Clear skies and cool temps with a view out over Yellowstone River along with the bugle call of the bull elk. The fall colors were shining trough the early morning river fog and colors from the sunrise lit up the sky. I could live here. My husband told me before I left that I am going to leave on one of the trips one day and not come back. He may be right. I would send for him and the kids though - just sell it all and come join me.

We stayed in a cabin at Flag Ranch located between Grand Tetons and Yellowstone and of course I was the first up and ready. I took a stroll down by the river while the others finished getting ready and packed up. They later joined me and then we had a big breakfast at the lodge restaurant. We were going to need that big breakfast for we had a big hike planned today.

We got on the road a bit later than I had hoped - it is hard to get 4 people up and motivated early in the morning. Even though we were not the early birds, we were moving in the right direction. We (I) had planned a 6 mile hike through the forest and valley in east Yellowstone and were finally on our way - to Pelican Valley - but had to make a few stops along the way. We stopped at the park entrance for the famous Yellowstone sign and at a couple of waterfalls right past there. They were both nice and we had one all to ourselves. We continued on up the road looking for signs of wildlife but feared our late departure would hinder us from seeing much. We turned toward the area of our designated hike which runs beside the Yellowstone Lake and saw a large group of cars that had stopped - that is always a sign of wildlife. As we approached we saw a rather large bull elk grazing. So we joined the masses. We watched for a while, took a couple dozen pictures and had to almost pry David and Peggy away, for I think they could have watched him all day. But we had more things to see, so back on the road again. Just as we got going I saw a coyote moving on the rocks at the lake. He was moving fast so I was not able to get a good picture. Seeing 2 animals so close together gave us hopes for the rest of the day. We kept watching and continued on to our trailhead for the day was getting warm and time was not on our side.

Pelican Valley trail is not a highly used trail. It is located in a "prime grizzly habitat" and the park service regulates use of the trail. It is only open a few months of the year, you can only access it after 9am (no problem for our crew), you have to be off the trail by 7pm, travel in groups of 4 or more, and carry bear spray. All of the regulations put the fear of the grizzly in you and you find yourself asking " is this trail really such a good idea?" A trail to a remote valley deep in Yellowstone in bear country without people - of course it is a good idea. That is what we want to see - wildlife in the wilds of Yellowstone. Of course there is a bit of anxiety that comes with places such as that - one really has to be aware of their surroundings and take precautions to stay safe. We found the trailhead parking area and there were about 7 cars there. This trail connects to other longer hikes so we knew it would not be crowded, which is one of the reasons I was drawn to it. The trail begins with a big sign warning you to be 'bear aware' and listing all the regulations. We met all all of them.

So with bear spray in one hand and my camera in the other, we set off keeping our eyes and ears open and trying to stay alert as possible. The last thing we wanted to do was walk up on a bear and her come after us. We took a slow approach looking in every direction for any signs of bear or other animals. As soon as we hit the trail, we saw animal tracks - not bear, but wolf. Not sure if that was good or bad. Seeing a wolf would be great, being on the same trail as one would not. The trail itself seemed to be divided into 4 areas - the first area carried us through a large meadow of grasses. Prime area for elk or deer, but we did not see any. The 2nd area took us through an old forest that was burned a few years ago. It had tons of dead trees laying around and new growth sprouting up where it could. It was a prime location for a bear or other animal to hide, but we didn't see any there either. The 3rd area went through an evergreen and pine forest with signs of elk rubbing their antlers on the trees at the edge of the forest. It was there we heard something - an elk hitting his antlers on the trees - at least that is what it sounded like. We never saw him but not because we weren't trying to. The 4th area wound through the valley itself. All 4 areas were beautiful in their own way, but the valley was by far the most scenic. Rolling hills, mountains in the backdrop, stream running through the middle, hawks squalling, elk bugling and bison just hanging around. It really doesn't get much better. Well maybe if the elk had come out for a
sighting and at least one bear that has forced the park service to enforce strict regulations made an appearance, yes, then it would have been perfect.

The buffalo was the first real wildlife we saw on this trail. We did not get close to them, but enjoyed the scene from afar. We took a break for lunch and debated hiking further, but realized that we still had a lot of ground to cover before reaching our destination for the night. So we decided to head back. Even though there were no bear sightings and the wolf who made the tracks was not to be seen, we turned around. I did see an elk briefly on the way, and the threat of animals we felt on the way into the valley did not seem as strong so our feet moved faster and our senses were a little less keen. Somehow the hike back always seems shorter than the hike getting there, including this one. We don't use the bearspray and saw no bears in this grizzly habitat, but it was still a great hike. We saw about 10 people on the trail, some were singles hiking alone and others were couples hiking together. They were not following the rules, but no park rangers in sight to issue any citations. We also met a couple on horseback on the trail and talked to them a bit. If you count the horses, they did meet the 'group of 4' requirement. We got back to the truck, put up the hiking gear and made our way back to the main road. I thoroughly enjoyed this hike and feel that it is a highly underrated hike - not even mentioned in many books/publications. We met just a few people along the 6 mile trek, which I think added to the enjoyment. So many of the hikes are crazy busy with tourists, but not this one. I would rate the trail as fairly easy. Just a few inclines, well marked path and easy terrain. I would definitely do this one again, if given the opportunity.

Back on the loop road, we made our way through the canyon area and over Dunraven Pass. We got a glimpse of the next big hike which I am not sure was a good thing for it is very steep. We will let the weather help dictate when that hike will take place. We stopped by Tower Fall and made our way around to an overlook, but just as we approached the stop, we saw 4 animals on the hillside. I say animals, because we did not agree on what they were. I think they were simply mountain goats, others in my party think they are sheep or rams. I am not sure, but we did see them. After that stop we kept on moving to Lamar Valley - the pristine animal sanctuary. This valley is also very beautiful but the only wildlife we saw were bison and many of them. We later saw about 50 cars beside the road and people sitting with cameras and binoculars in hopes of seeing something come out of the woods. Really? Sit by the road for hours hoping but not knowing if an animal will come into view or not. I don't think so! So we moved on. Our lodging for the night was located at a bed and breakfast in Cooke City. We checked in, went into to town for dinner, then settled in for some rest.

Today was a good day. Saw some things we had not seen before, enjoyed a beautiful and quiet hike and added a few animals to our growing list. Today's count is: 2 elk, 10 pronghorn, 1 coyote, 6 mule dear, 5 mountain goats, hundreds of bison. We also saw many big black birds. That brought up the discussion - are they large crows or ravens? It apparently depends on where you are from. Southerners call them crows and others call them ravens - not sure I agree with that logic. Crows/ravens. Bison/buffalo. Goats/rams. Regardless of the actual name of the animal, we are glad to see so many and are hopeful to keep adding to that list tomorrow.

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23rd September 2014

I think I'm one post ahead!!
The least I can do is write enough to let you know I'm reading your blog. I still think you need to add some characters and write that BOOK!! There certainly aren't animals like you'll are seeing around here. Have fun and be careful!!

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