Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Lamar Valley, Last Day in Yellowstone


Monday we took the 170 mile round trip from West Yellowstone to Lamar Valley and back.  The Lamar River runs through Lamar Valley, and the valley is the home of the Lamar Buffalo Ranch, where they moved 28 buffalo back in 1907 from Fort Yellowstone to enhance the Park’s buffalo head.  As the herd grew, it was released into the valley, and the ranch continued to grow hay to support the growing herd during the harsh winters.  By 1960 the herd has been left to fend for itself.  In 1995, gray wolves were first reintroduced into Yellowstone in the Lamar Valley where there was plenty of natural food for them.  Earlier this year, Marcia and I watched a movie called Druid Peak that we really enjoyed, and it was a story about a wolf pack, and a young man who changed his life due to the work he did with his dad with monitoring the wolf pack.

1b      1c

As we neared Mammoth Hot Springs, we passed by Rustic Falls, where Marcia got a picture of it as we past by.


The ride over to Mammoth Hot Springs area is a real delight, but all the drives in Yellowstone are a delight.  From West Yellowstone to Mammoth takes about an hour with little traffic (summer crowds make the drive much longer).


And this is why they call it the Mammoth Hot Springs.


The Mammoth Campground is a first come, first serve campground.  Talked to the lady at the office and she said that they assign the spots, but the spots cannot be reserved, and you are assigned as you arrive with your camping stuff (RV or Tent), so that no one can “hold” a spot for you.  They will let you drive around and pick your spot, but if it is a large spot and you can fit into a smaller spot that is available, they they will make you take the smaller spot.  It all depends upon timing.  This time of year is not a problem, but in another few weeks, well, it will be a different story.  They suggest getting there as early as 10 am during peak use times.

At Mammoth we pass through the Park Headquarters and head east towards Lamar Valley.  As we get close to Blacktail Pond, we see a crowd of a dozen or more vehicles parked along the road.  I see this large Bald Eagle sitting off to the right watching a Grizzly munching down on a Buffalo.


 In this picture the bear is looking off in the direction of the Bald Eagle.  It is not sure if the bear took out the buffalo, if the buffalo was old and just died, or if a pack of wolves might have taken him down, and then the Grizzly stole the kill from the wolves.  Those are the three basic scenerios which are typical of the food cycle here in Yellowstone.

2c    2d

A few hours later as we return home, I capture an even larger crowd observing the Grizzly which was still there.  A lady told us that it was sleeping when she arrived, and then took a dip into the water, and then just started eating again about 5 minutes before we drove back through.

On the way to Lamar Valley he just would not look our way.  (I have decided to not show the “kill” as much as possible, 2fit did look a bit gory in the pics.)

On the way back the Grizzly pretty much kept its back to us.  And take my word for it, the “kill” was nearly gone on our way back through.


And as for this poor bird…it was not around when we returned, and we saw it start to fly just after we pulled back out onto the road to drive by the first time…my guess is that “if” it was eating when the Grizzly arrived, it did not get another bite.  I doubt the Grizzly left much of anything for even the black birds to enjoy.


Monday was one of those Yellowstone days in which clouds came, went, and came for good.  This shot is before you get to the Tower-Roosevelt Junction, and if I have my bearing right, the camera if facing north to north-west.


Marcia’s keen eye caught these Elk above Floating Island Lake.  There were a number of times that her keen eye caught some wildlife off in the distance.  I counted nine Elk in this picture, with two of them being hard to see through the tree limbs.


Passing Tower-Roosevelt Junction, we go over the Lamar River.  This is a very attractive area.

3cQuickly we see a group of female Big Horn Sheep, many  appear to be young.  We were not sure what they were until we got back to the motorhome and did research on them.  At first we thought antelope, then goats, but they are female Big Horn Sheep.


The Lamar Valley s full of Buffalo, and they inhabit the area all the way to the Tower-Roosevelt Junction.

4bOne could spend days taking pictures of the buffalo in Yellowstone.  Of course, scientifically they are really Bison, but hey, I am old school…I remember him being called, “Buffalo Bill” and not “Bison Bill”.  Here you can see just how close they get to the roadway, and in out last visit we had them blocking the road more than once for many many minutes.

Earlier in our trip on Monday we had just a few seconds of a delay as this small herd was blocking the roadway going the other way.  One thing the locals say is to just keep slowly moving toward them and they will move out of the way.  However, I have seen pictures of cars being gourd during the rutting season by doing this.

6a     6b

The Lamar Valley is miles long, bordered by hills and each side with the Lamar River passing right through.  Although it is full of Buffalo, it also has many Pronghorn Antelopes in it too.

6d    6e   

We were fortunate to see these two males practicing for mating season, way off in the distance.  Mating season is late September and into October, and young ones are born in May.


East of the Lamar Valley is the Absaroka Range.  It was this valley and the surrounding hills and mountains that the wolf was introduced into Yellowstone, and the pack was called after the peak near the middle of the valley called Druid.  The Druid Wolf Pack grew from the original five to 37 wolves within five years.  Then the pack started to split up, and there were some deaths, both natural and by man.  Today the roots of the pack can be found within other packs, but the experts don’t consider the Druid Pack to be in existence any more.  In 2014 they estimate over 100 wolves within 11 distinct packs.  We feel very lucky to have been able to see the wolf we saw back on Saturday morning.  And we feel very fortunate to have seen three different Grizzly bears during our three days of exploring the great Yellowstone National Park.


The Lamar Valley is one of the least explored areas for those who come to Yellowstone.  Back in 2012 when we were here in the middle of the busy season, August, we found little crowds in the Lamar Valley, and on Monday we hardly saw anyone…and most had those cameras with lens a mile long.


And when you  visit Yellowstone, you just have to drive carefully, because you never know what is going to cross the road.


By the time we got home, it was snowing.  Not too hard, just a tenth of an inch on the top of the car…and it sure turned cold...never getting above the 30's today.  So we stayed inside, watched some movies from Amazon as flurries came and went.  Tomorrow we head north.


  1. You sure have been getting some great shots of the animals. The only bears we've seen at Yellowstone have been so far away that it was hard to tell that they were bears!

    1. This time of the year is definitely the time to come to see animals, but the side to that is that it can get cold. Last night it was around 30, tonight might get down to mid-20's. But day temps have been good except for today, where we did not reach 40. And the crowds are just not there, and by next week, all the park will be open except between the Canyon Junction and the Tower Falls...that will take 2 more weeks.

  2. Have enjoyed your postings on your stay in Yellowstone. I have no doubt you saw a wolf but I think the picture you posted was a coyote.

    1. Charles, we have looked and compared pictures and we think you are right. I once was in Yosemite standing in the middle of a bridge over the Merced River, turned to go back and a Coyote was standing right there at the start of the bridge. This did not look like that Coyote, which is why I assumed this was a younger wolf. But in looking it over, what we saw was a coyote...darn darn darn.


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