Yellowstone/Grand Tetons Fall 2018

We had been to Yellowstone in Winter (December, March), Spring (late May), and Summer (July, August), but never Fall. We picked the last week of September, hoping to catch the elk rut. So in December 2017 I grabbed 4 nights at a Mammoth cabin no bathroom, all that was available even 9 months in advance. When the trip time got closer I ended up adding 2 nights in a condo in Wilson near the Grand Tetons at the beginning, and a night at Old Faithful Snow Lodge at the end, for 7 nights total. We had thought of camping the extra nights but the weather forecasts of freezing nights changed that plan, and let us travel with less gear. We own two electric cars, a 2013 Model S and 2017 Model 3, which had greater range and efficiency than the S, as well as autopilot. With camping off the plate we chose to take the 3.

Friday the 21st was drive day, LA to Evanston Wyoming, stopping at the Hampton Inn there because they have a Tesla supercharger. Early the next morning we were off north to the Grand Tetons, on a very chilly morning in the 30’s – farmers watering their fields had some interesting ice patterns. There was some fall color along the way. After a stop at the Jackson supercharger, we headed to the park, with a stop at the National Museum of Wildlife Art. A drive along the Gros Ventre river followed, with several scenic stops. It was a busy Saturday, the Lupine Meadows parking area was completely full. We headed south to see if we could check in to our condo, and found a coyote strolling along the bike path. After a break at the condo, we tried Moose-Wilson road again towards sunset, and had our first two black bear sightings, eating berries. The second one was hanging in a tree over the road! Bear management wardens hadn’t reached that sighting yet, they were ever-present along the road.

The next day we had a brown-phase black bear, which of course people mistook for a grizzly (aka brown bear). Then at the old sawmill pond we had moose! A female eating in the pond, then a male came down to woo her and try to mate – he was rejected. Several elk were in the area as well, some bugling. We took a walk along the cliff above the river, seeing a herd of 6 female elk. Then it was a drive north along the Teton Park Road, it was quite hazy at Jenny Lake and Oxbow Bend. Out first Teton pronghorns were seen. Another afternoon at the condo (with magpie) was followed by another sunset drive on Moose-Wilson, with the brown-phase black bear putting on a show. The sunset was striking on the mountains.

Monday morning we tried the pond again, no moose today. Our river walk produced a big male elk herding his female harem around while bugling. Another stop at Oxbow Bend got better results. Next we headed north into Yellowstone, with our first sighting elk on the beach at Yellowstone Lake, swans in Hayden Valley, and bison in the Lamar valley. Our cabin in Mammoth was cozy, and we could charge the car there at the free level 2 public chargers. For an evening drive we headed south, with a mountain goat momma and baby just before Rustic Falls. The drive over Dunraven Pass brought mist, rain, hail, and snow!

In the morning we had scheduled a local wildlife guide, Jort, to take us around. We headed to the east entrance road as he had found great gray owls there 2 days ago, but they were not out today. Neither were the two grizzlies that hang out in that area. We found a nicely-lit elk hered with the big male chasing off a smaller one, a short coyote sighting, and then a great coyote that let us follow it while it hunted. Pelican Valley just yielded a Clark’s nutcracker, and while we saw pika at Hellroaring I wasn’t fast enough to get a photo.

The evening found us heading north of Gardiner, with female bighorn sheep and pronghorn seen on our way to the property, where grizzlies coexist with the cows. We saw 3 grizzlies, although far off. Wednesday morning we watched the elk at Mammoth a bit before heading to the Beartooth Highway, with mostly bird and scenery sightings. The car is very efficient driving in the park. More bison greeted us in the Lamar valley. Thursday we headed back to the East Entrance road to hike in Pelican Valley, on an overcast morning. We were wary of rain so didn’t go too far. That evening we had a great elk show in the Swan Lake Flats area, and a beautiful sunset.

Friday morning we couldn’t resist one more visit to the Lamar valley, with deer posing, before finally catching a distant wolf sighting, the 3 pups (2 black one gray) of the Junction Butte pack. And more bison of course. Then it was down to the geyser basins, with a hike up to the Grand Prismatic overlook. We caught the Riverside geyser erupting and enjoyed the random thermal pools. After dinner at the Snow Lodge, the timing was just right for a sunset eruption of Old Faithful. The car was great for this trip, including the 20 hour drive home.

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