Thursday, 12 September 2013

Farewell Road Trip (4): Moosewatch no. 2, Grizzlywatch no.1 and amateur dramatics, Wyoming style

We love guests visiting, especially on road trips. But it piles on the pressure to spot them some North American charismatic megafauna and Nicky Smith was no exception, confiding early in her trip that she would be 'really disappointed not to see a bear'.  I thought this would be be easy: we had practically been stalked by one in Grand Teton the previous summer. So, it was more with a desire to discourage bears than see them, that we set off on the classic Teton Crest trail in Grand Teton National Park.

Two of the three Teton peaks
At least the moose and bison pressure was off: We had watched a mother and calf browse in wetlands for a good half hour the night before the hike, and gotten almost too close to a herd of bison with calves. But we didn't turn down the chance to see a couple of bull moose, and another mum and calf pairing, on our way up Granite Canyon. We slept next to a bubbling creek, complete with dippers hunting for insects, not even ruined by a traumatic midnight nature bathroom visit. 

Best wildflowers of the trip
The next day we ascended to Hurricane Pass through the last remnants of snow for more classic Teton views, then through the most incredible wildflower meadows of our entire two years (its rare you hit them at their absolute best, normally the guidebook says 'delight in the amazing flowers here' as you stare at decaying marigolds).
Our camp spot on Death Canyon shelf ranked as one of the best of the trip; an incredible sunset over one of the huge canyons leading up to the Teton massif. A 6am start meant cold cokes by lunch time at the Jackson Hole gondola and an easy ride down. But, still no bears.

Watching the Wolf Watchers
Three days of 5am starts characterised our next park, Yellowstone, as you need to wake up early and stay up late to spot the wildlife. After bagging a camp spot at sought after Slough Creek (also a favourite with a local grizzly) we set out on our bear-hunt. 

We saw bison swimming across rivers at sunrise, coyotes marking their territory at dusk, a golden eagle chick begging for food, a wolf departing on an evening hunting mission and even a rarely seen American badger snuffling through the undergrowth (oh, and lots of world famous geysers in the world's most active geothermal hotspot). 

I had interrogated waitresses, off duty rangers and even the postmaster for their top bear viewing spots. But, by Nicky's final morning, still not one bear had been sighted and I was now feeling the pressure.

The sun rises over the Hayden valley.  Beautiful, but still no bear...
On our final morning, we drove to Hayden valley and stopped to snap the red rising sun behind a pair of feeding pelicans. As always, we chatted with fellow visitors to obtain wildlife beta and this time struck gold: a bear visible from the next lay-by! Mark navigated through an inconvenient bison herd and there he (or she) was; a huge grizzly foraging in the meadows at sunrise who then obligingly crossed a river and shook out his coat for us. Awesome (although it might have made our mission easier if we'd found out earlier that the locals called this 'Grizzly Overlook'!).
"Grizzly Overlook": I promise you there's a bear in this picture somewhere...

We left Yellowstone and breakfast at a movie-worthy locals' diner heralded our arrival in Cody, Wyoming. The town was created by 'Buffalo Bill' Cody: a Western legend who started as a buffalo hunter/army scout and eventually led a huge theatrical 'Wild West' show around the world (Queen Victoria was a big fan) becoming the first global celebrity in the process. The story is brilliantly told at the Buffalo Bill museum (when the guide book said it was 'world class' we were suspicious, but it was actually excellent) which also charts the demise of the 30 million strong bison herd of the West in the 1850s which numbers just a few thousand left today. 

Yes, it was as bad as it looks...
His story is less brillliantly told, in fact you might say, terribly told, by a group of amateur dramatic locals in a mock shootout in front of the 1905 Victoriana hotel built by Bill in homage to all things English. But we did have the pleasure of meeting two seniors motor cycling across the States (in honour of her eightieth birthday) who demonstrated that new technology can be put to old-school uses by showing us numerous photos of their children on their iPhone 5.

We bid fond farewell to Nicky (at 5am of course) before heading to Montana...

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