When I spent a year in Livingston, Montana, I had to drive a full hour to reach Yellowstone’s north entrance. From there it was another hour to Lamar Valley, one of the best places in the park to spot wildlife.
Now that Marie and I live in Silver Gate, Montana, it only takes us a minute – literally one minute – to reach Yellowstone’s northeast entrance. And just 20 minutes after that we’re in Lamar Valley.
Living this close to the park is incredible. Since we moved here I’ve driven into Yellowstone at least once every day (except when I was in Utah). It’s fun to see the wildlife, of course, but regardless of my luck with animals I’m always transfixed by the ever-changing beauty of the landscape. The light and clouds are never the same, snow sometimes decorates the taller peaks, and in late September the leaves of the cottonwoods and aspens turned bright yellow and orange before surrendering their hold and covering the ground. The fall colors this year were particularly striking.
I’ve been pretty good at getting out for hikes. My longest was 12 miles, from Warm Creek to Pebble Creek along the north side of Baronette Peak. My best luck with wildlife came on the Lamar River Trail, where I ran across a badger – only the third one I’d ever seen in the park.
I returned to the Lamar River Trail a couple days later and found what I think was the same badger. It didn’t seem particularly concerned by my presence, so I sat down and watched for almost an hour – really an amazing amount of time to have with an animal that tends to be elusive. At one point the badger excavated a good-sized hole underneath a fallen tree, sending waves of dirt flying through the air. Marie joined me the next day and we found our badger friend again, along with a second one further up the trail.
In early October Marie’s son Aidan came for a visit. Aidan couldn’t be talked into joining my pre-dawn wildlife spotting drives, but we did get in some great (afternoon) hikes, including an off-trail scramble up to a unnamed overlook just south of Druid Peak. The views of Lamar Valley were more than worth the climb.
Wildlife activity picked up as October went along. For a few days a grizzly bear hung out near Ice Box Canyon, just a 15-minute drive from our house.
At some point in October a black bear mom and her two cubs decided to dig their winter den just across a gully from a pullout near Tower Junction. I’d never seen a bear den before, let alone one so close to a road. By the time I became aware of the den the mom seemed to be in full hibernation mode, but Marie and I were fortunate enough to be there one afternoon when a cub popped out for a little fresh air.
As Marie and I were driving back home from the bear den, a Great Gray Owl flew right in front of our car and posed on a nearby branch. I couldn’t believe our luck. Some people (including one of our neighbors) have lived in the area for decades without ever seeing one.
So far the weather has been relatively mild, but it won’t be too long before winter truly arrives up here at 7,400 feet. Already the seasonal residents of Silver Gate have abandoned their cabins for warmer climates, and our little town has become eerily quiet. The first big snowstorm should be interesting!