Let me begin by saying that I am not a morning person. But, what better way to get a vacation started than with a 5:00 A.M. wake-up call to go searching for wild animals? I decided to book a Full Day Grand Teton Wildlife Tour with EcoTour Adventures as an introduction to the area and its nonhuman inhabitants.
Our naturalist guide, Laura, picked us up from our hotel promptly at 5:50 A.M. She was driving a comfortable 4wheel drive safari vehicle that would take us out to wildlife hotspots in Grand Teton National Park. She explained that we would be searching for local fauna, including moose, elk, bison, pronghorn antelope, mule deer, wolves, black bears, grizzly bears, bald eagles, and trumpeter swans. Bears? Oh my! At least Laura was carrying bear spray!
Our first stop this morning would be Blacktail Ponds Overlook in the hopes of spotting a moose. I could hardly believe that it was almost August, and the temperature was not even 50° F! We donned our Columbia puffer jackets and made our way to the Overlook. It was absolutely breathtaking. The light of the rising sun cast against the Teton Mountain Range was worth the early wakeup call – even though there were no moose to be seen.
Our first fauna sighting of the day was a Pronghorn Antelope grazing in a field. Laura spotted it from the road and pulled off to allow us to see the graceful animal. She also explained that Pronghorn are the fastest mammal in North America – they can run at 58 mph! Wow!
We left our little friend to his breakfast and continued to Schwabacher’s Landing. I recalled reading about this spot as a beautiful location for a wedding. As we arrived, we walked along a marshy stream where a few ducks swam about. Once again, there were no moose out and about for a photo op; however, there was a fantastic reflection shot in the still waters. This is definitely one of my favorite pictures from the trip!
Next, we headed over to Uhl Hill in the Elk Ranch Flats where we heard there was a herd of bison roaming about in the area. When we arrived, in the distance, we could see about 250 bison grazing in the field. I say “in the distance” but they were close enough to hear their grunts but far enough to not be able to smell. We learned that the bison were in rut (breeding season) and observed a couple of males sizing each other up. They have this bizarre habit of urinating on the ground and wallowing in it to demonstrate their brut strength. Glad we were distant enough to not smell them! Although the bison appeared docile at a distance, they are statistically the most dangerous animal in Grand Teton National Park. Largely this is due to their unpredictable nature.
As we proceeded out of Uhl Hill, we encountered an amazing sight – a coyote and a badger working together to hunt for rodents. If there is any proof that animals communicate, this is it! We watched through our binoculars as the coyote paced the ground looking for the plentiful ground squirrels and the badger would then get to work digging them out from the safety of their underground nest. Absolutely fascinating!
It was getting close to lunch time, so we headed into the Moran Entrance to Grand Teton National Park where we purchased 7 day passes for $15 each. Ahead of us, we could see Mt. Moran and its “skillet glacier”. The glacier atop Mt. Moran is in the shape of a skillet complete with an icy handle. Mt. Moran is one of several mountains in the Teton Mountain Range. The tallest is obviously Grand Teton (13,775 feet), but there is also Mount Owen (12,928 feet), Teewinot (12,325 feet), Middle Teton (12,804 feet), South Teton (12,514 feet) Mount Moran (12,605 feet), Mount Wister (11,490 feet), Buck Mountain (11,938 feet) and Static Peak (11,303 feet). The principal summits are often referred to as the Cathedral Group.
We drove through the park toward Two Oceans Lake where we would enjoy a picnic lunch. We learned that all of the cutthroat trout that are present in the Snake River came by way of Two Oceans Lake many many years ago. We also learned, several hours after lunch, that Two Oceans Lake is known to be heavily populated with grizzly bears. Thankfully no bears joined us for lunch, although we did see some “evidence” of a nearby bear on the road.
I really had mixed feelings about seeing a bear. Part of me wanted to see one preferably while I was in the safety of a car. But, then another part of me was perfectly fine to have not encountered the furry beasts. I tried earnestly to make lots of noise while hiking to avoid any surprise meetings! It seemed to work!
We finished our day with a little hike off Signal Mountain Road (another place known to be well populated with grizzly bears) in search of ripe huckleberries. When you are in Jackson Hole, there is one thing that is a certainty – they adore huckleberries almost as much as the bears do! We were lucky to have found a few bushes with a few ripe huckleberries. It was so much fun to sample the berries straight from the bush. It tastes a bit like a wild blueberry. No wonder the bears love them so much!
Exhausted from a full day exploring the Grand Teton National Park, we were heading back to town when I spotted something on the ridge just above the road. Immediately, I thought it was a bear – but then I could have been delirious. We circled back and spotted a female elk desperately trying to hide from us in the brush. Unfortunately, I never got a good view of her head, but I have a nice picture of her torso!
All in all – this was an amazing day with EcoTour Adventures! I learned so much and am enticed to learn even more! Thank you Laura for a wonderful introduction to Grand Teton National Park.