Tuesday, November 21, 2017

A Ruff day in Yellowstone

Yellowstone 2016 continued:

While we'd had great weather for most of our trip, (unlike the weather there this past September, when it was snowing), it didn't hold for the whole trip. Friday was grey and rainy and cold. We visited the Artist Paint Pots, and got caught out in the cold rain, so didn't see much of it. We ended up driving south from Madison on the Grand Loop, stopping at Old Faithful to buy a few souvenirs, (but didn't stay for the eruption), checked out the Lewis Lake campground, (where I had a squirrel throwing pine cones at me), and on down to the south entrance where we had a picnic lunch. I was feeling a bit crabby, not having had an opportunity to do any hiking. Short days, long drives, and dogs meant much of the trip had been spent in the van, and I was getting a bit stir crazy. So Lori offered to stay with the boys while Lisa and I picked a trail near Lewis Lake, where we stopped again on the way back to Madison.

We had two options from the parking area: Shoshone or Dogshead trail. We picked Dogshead, though in hindsight I wished we'd picked the other, as I think we would have had some nice views of Lewis Lake. In any event, we gave ourselves two hours, one out and one back, set an alarm, and headed out. The hike was pretty uneventful, but it felt good to get out and stretch my legs. We had walked about 1 1/2 miles, and knew our timer was about to go off, when we realized it was looking pretty ominous. We turned to head back a little early, but after about five minutes, little frozen pellets started falling from the sky.

We donned our rain ponchos and took shelter under a tree, hoping it would stop, but instead it came down even harder. The wind kicked up too, and the trees swayed above us. There was really no option but to keep walking through the onslaught. The sleet mixed with rain at times, until the trail turned into a river of ice. We were quite happy to get back to the van.

Sleet begins to cover the Dogshead trail

One mile of this pelting us and we were happy for the warm van!

Friday being something of a bust, and knowing Saturday would be our last full day in the park, we were more determined than ever to find what was starting to be our nemissis bird: the Great Gray Owl. GGOW (birder lingo) breed in Yellowstone, and was a bird none of us had seen. While they occasionally show up in Michigan, I knew our best bet was to see one while out west. We were determined to find this bird.

We asked around at the Madison campground, and the staff there said try up by Canyon Village, that one had been seen there earlier in the year. So we headed that way, hoping to get lucky. Along the way, we decided to take another one of the side drives, which took us along the Gibbon River and the Virginia Cascades (see map below). We had really enjoyed our other detours, so gave this one a shot too.

We stopped numerous times along the road so I could take some photos of the scenery.

Virginia Cascades

Oh those glorious colors of Yellowstone autumn!

Walking back to the van after taking the picture above, I heard a rustling in the leaves next to me. I stopped dead and waited, holding my breath, when out walked a Ruffed Grouse hen. I couldn't believe what I was seeing--I've never been within 40 feet of a grouse as they tend to explode out of the brush any time you get near them. But this little lady wandered out right in front of me, cocked her head to size me up, then pecked and poked her way towards the van. I couldn't take pictures fast enough.

An amazingly unafraid Ruffed Grouse hen.

She pecked at the ground and nipped off leaves to munch while I watched her, smitten. She reminded my of our chickens back home.

Grouse having lunch.

She eventually crossed the road, but stayed well within our sight. I got in the van and switched cameras, and kept shooting out the window. This was such a treat I didn't want to waste it.

Yes, we're still watching!

As we were getting ready to leave, she came out from behind the spruces and posed oh so prettily among the wild strawberries, leaving us with an experience we won't forget.