Ashton, ID - Yellowstone/Grand Teton
28 May 2008
|Wildlife sightings here during our stay in the Yellowstone NP, Grand Teton NP, Teton Valley, Harriman St Park (ID) & Caldera Crater are: one Bear (possibly grizzly), Bison/Buffalo, Elk, Moose, Pronghorns, "Pig Whistles" (prairie dogs?), Marmot, Trumpeter Swans, Sandhill Cranes, Canada Geese, Blue Birds, YellowHead Blackbird, Magpies, Ravens, lots of horses, cattle & many more species that are unidentified by name.
Ashton, Idaho is in the southeastern corner and is just west of both Yellowstone & Grand Teton. It was about an easy 5 hour drive from Ogden. I (Patti) dozed on & off during the trip. One of the signs we saw in passing thru is for the Crater of the Moon National Monument. From I-15 we passed through an area with lava rock & strange mound formations on both sides of the road. In looking at our AAA Atlas, it shows the huge lava beds which are in this area. They are mostly to the west of I-15 & would be an interesting side trip from the Pocatella area. We did not take the time to stop this time through, but maybe next time. There is apparantly no shortage of volcanic signs & activity in this part of the country.
Ashton Inn RV Park where we are staying is in a very pastoral setting... which means that we have cows on 2 sides of us again. Ashton is a very small town. It is also the "largest potato seed producing area" in the world. We met a couple from Idaho who recommended this new campground. It was our mistake to not do more research on where we were headed. We thought it was closer to the west entrance but it is actually closer to the south entrance to Yellowstone. If we didn't have something being mailed here, we would have gone farther north to Island Park or West Yellowstone. But we will see Grand Teton NP & some other things while being here too.
Thursday we made our first trip into Yellowstone!!! On the way in from West Yellowstone, Montana the west entrance is practically in town. There is a large Visitor Center & an IMAX theatre in West Yellowstone just outside the park. We were eager to get to the park so we have saved that for another day. It didn't take long for us to see a Bald Eagle nest but no birds in sight :-(. With a 40% chance of rain, the storm clouds moved in & over us. This was to be repeated all day with more building up later.
The speed limit in the park is 45 mph. All of a sudden we were in really slow traffic. When we went around the curve we could see why. Five or 6 big buffalo were ambling down the middle of the road in front of the cars. The buffalo casually started moving over to the right shoulder one at a time. Eventually the last guy in the left lane got over so that cars could slowly go around them. We're talking big guys that when we passed them in our little Toyota, I was about eye level with them. We saw more a little farther down the road doing the same thing. No reason for them to hurry ... They are part of what people come to the park to see & they seem to know it!
We made our first stop at the Madison Visitor Center. There are 5 VCs in this huge 2.2 million acre park. We walked the dogs & then ate lunch in the car... it was too cold & damp to sit at the picnic tables. Dogs are not allowed more than 100 ft from the parking areas or roads. It makes it difficult for those who have dogs, but it is for safety reasons. Dogs can become "bait" which can attract the wild animals. That is not good for the dogs, the people or the wild animals who then have to be hunted & destroyed. In the National Parks you are not allowed to leave dogs unattended in vehicles either. That is why we are not staying in the park itself.
The Madison VC area is beautiful with a winding river going thru a pasture type area. There were buffalo & Elk scattered out past the buildings grazing, resting & enjoying the sunshine. Some waterfowl could be seen in & along the river. There were fly fishermen out in the water too. There were people watching all this from the paths around the buildings. One family was encouraging there 2 girls to move loser to the closest Elk. Of course the Ranger had to come out & call the girls back. Duhhh! Inside the building there were telescopes set up so that people could look down the river & valley. Really pretty neat.
We then headed south to the geyser area to mainly see Old Faithful. Along the way we saw more buffalo off the sides of the road. Then we saw a mama buffalo & a little calf coming toward us on the other side of the road. Not a good photo op. Just behind us she slowed down & stepped down into the road. She & the baby went down the road for awhile before going back on to the side. We noticed that they move much slower when they are walking on the road. Pretty smart for being "dumb" wild animals. We started to stop at the Fountain Pot geysers but got chased back into the car by the rain. We headed on down to Old Faithful & went into that VC both armed with umbrellas. Old Faithful at this time is erupting every 94 minutes + or - 10 minutes. After some time looking around the VC, we walked out the boardwalk to the viewing area to wait in the rain for the show. Right on time, Old Faithful performed for about 5 minutes. It is pretty impressive & can go as high as 180'. Unfortunately in the rain there is a lot of white "smoke" which it makes getting good photos more difficult. We plan on coming back on a day where the visibility should be better. Before the day was over we had seen between 40-50 buffalo, 20-30 elk, Canada geese, cranes, etc.
Next day we drove the Mesa Falls Scenic Byway near Ashton. We saw 2 beautiful waterfalls & ended up at Harriman Ranch State (Idaho) Park. A nice day of touring the countryside.
Back to Yellowstone to see Old Faithful on a sunny day. More wildlife, thermals, forests, pastures, meandering streams & reivers seen everywhere. We drove up north up to Mammoth Springs area, but did not do a lot of walking to sights since the dogs are in the rv & the walk at the top takes 2 hr minimum :-(.
Friday night we drove up to Island Park to Minks Inn for a dinner theatre. We saw the locally produced but very funny "Phantom of the Grand Ole Opry". We had a fun evening talking to folks & enjoying the show. Billy Ray Dufus & Winona Jugg were two of the favorite singer/comedic roles. It was pretty impressive (to me who can't sing) that there is this much really good talent in such a small, out-of-the way place.
Another day means the dogs with us for the Grand Tour. We drove south on the west side of the Teton Valley, over the mountain (10,000ish ft) to Jackson, WY, north into Grand Teton, north into Yellowstone taking the east side of the southern loop north, west thru Norris & Madison, to go out the west entrance of Yellowstone & back south to Ashton. A long day but worth every minute. The highlights were the beauty of Grand Teton, a mama Moose her calf, Yellowstone's Grand Canyon & the upper & lower falls, & finally a bear near the last main pullout on the west entrance road. We are not sure, but we think the bear might be a grizzly. It was on the other side of the river next to the road. Just after we got out, it started moving away along the bank & then started climbing the rocky hill/mountain behind it. We got to watch it go all the way up because this is an area that burned in the big 1988 fire & doesn't have many trees on it. It topped our day off nicely. On the drive back to Ashton when the cameras were not handy, we saw Pronghorns & a male Elk with fuzzy antlers highlighted by the setting sunlight. Yellowstone & Grand Teton are both beautiful places. Yellowstone is 2.2 million acres big! The diversity is interesting. The benefits of the fires are apparent also ... for viewing, but also increase the habitat for many animals.
The lodgepole pines which are the main trees in this part of the country have 2 pine cones. One type releases its seed after the tree has burned. All the new trees in Yellowstone NP have been naturally seeded by these cones. Because there is only about a 3 month growing season here, it takes a long time for the forest to look like it does in the areas that haven't been burned. Both NPs show films on the fires which were kind of shocking to watch, but were very interesting. The fires are ecologically a good thing in the long run. Even the dead & fallen trunks help nourish the soil as does the ash from the fires. Also, they provide food for the termites & other insect swhich in turn are beneficial.
Monday we drove down to the tourist stop "Yellowstone Bear Park". It was interesting, but definitely a tourist trap area. We did see Elk including an Albino Elk with antlers, Grizzly bears, brown & black bears, deer, one moose, etc. The best part for me was the baby bears which were born in Jan & are playful & cute to watch. It is of course still like driving thru a small habitat area/zoo.