Fall Colors in Yellowstone

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.


Bison and Changing Leaves in Lamar Valley


Turning Leaves by the Lamar River


Changing Leaves Near Soda Butte


Changing Leaves in Lamar Valley 16×9


Marie Photographing Fall Yellowstone Colors


Steam Rising from Frost on a Bison’s Back


Fall Color Near Soda Butte


Cloudy Morning in Lamar Valley


Red Fox Begging on the Road


Bald Eagle Flying in Lamar Valley


Road Home


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.


Badger on the Move


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.


Lamar Valley Badger


Badger Digging a Hole


Lamar Valley Badger Portrait


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.


Aidan Holding Antlers


Aidan Overlooking Lamar Valley


Aidan Feeding a Canada Jay


Red Fox in Round Prairie before Dawn


Squirrel in Lamar Valley


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.


Late Light on Ice Box Canyon Grizzly


Grizzly at Ice Box Canyon


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.


Black Bear Cub Returning to Its Den


Black Bear Cub and Mom in Winter Den


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.


Great Gray Owl by Icebox Canyon


Three Coyotes Feeding on an Elk Carcass


Moose in the Lower Baronette Willows


Bull Moose at Lower Baronette


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!

2 thoughts on “Fall Colors in Yellowstone

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