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Yellowstone 2016 - Wildlife in White

Winter in Yellowstone is very different and very special: the traffic jams and crowds of summer have been replaced by those wishing to experience solitude and the more extreme icy and snow-laden landscapes. Our first four days in the park had been very good, following the road from Gardiner to Mammoth and on to the Lamar Valley. Highlights included sparring bison, coyotes hunting, bighorn sheep grazing moose browsing, and a distant pack of wolves feeding.

{img_alt} But the trip really ‘hit its stride’ when we re-entered Yellowstone at the West Entrance and mirrored the course of the Madison River. After a tip off we knew one or more bobcats were frequenting the area, so it was worth looking closely. Our first drive up river proved fruitless, but we heard on the grapevine a cat had been seen earlier in the morning, so we turned around to head back downstream. Less than a mile down the road, we found the bobcat – it crossed the road on its way down to the edge of the river and then gradually picked its way along the water’s edge, moving from boulder to boulder and occasionally through snow. It appeared completely unperturbed and made for some great photo opportunities.

To an extent this set the tone for the rest of the trip: each day there seemed to be something special.

Three days staying at Old Faithful gave us plenty of time to explore the Firehole River Valley and the various geyser basins and other geothermal features that characterize and define the area. In winter this is an ‘other worldly’ place where snow and ice is juxtaposed with cauldrons of boiling mud, super-heated water rocketing towards the sky and swirling stream clouds. Early in the morning frost encrusted bison gather around the hot springs and steam freezes onto their faces and coats.

{img_alt} For the last section of the trip, we again travelled by snow coach, this time from the Old Faithful Area to Norris Geyser Basin and then on to the interior of the park at the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Our base is a Yurt Camp that is tucked away in the forest – most people have no idea it is there. Staying at the Camp allows access to some of the most spectacular parts of Yellowstone, and also provides unprecedented solitude.

During our first night, the skies cleared and we woke to blue sky, a significant drop in temperature and very heavy frost. Shortly after first light, we went straight down to the north rim of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone because conditions looked promising to see ‘the beam’. {img_alt} This phenomenon known as a ‘sun pillar’ arises only when a rather specific set of conditions fall into place (below -20°C, no wind etc.). As we approached the rim, the sun began to peak through the few clouds on the horizon. Conditions looked promising. By the time we had walked the short distance from the snow coach to the view point, the sun had completely forced its way through and in an instant the beam appeared – a remarkable shaft of spangled light spearing down from the sky and illuminating a particular statuesque tree on the Canyon rim. It was magical.

We then spent most of the remainder of the day scouring the Hayden Valley, looking for hunting red foxes, with the best sighting coming at the end of the day. In the late afternoon a rich sunset developed and as the stunning pink alpenglow reached its climax, a fox trotted up the bank towards us and began one last late-afternoon hunt in full view. {img_alt}

On our last full day in Yellowstone, we spent the morning in the Hayden Valley, before backtracking in the snow coaches to Madison Junction and the Madison River. There was one last surprise – another bobcat – that wandered right by us, seemingly without a care. It capped off a superb trip.

Join Nick on our photographic tour in the Winter Wonderland of Yellowstone National Park.