There are two reasons to stay alert and remember to check your blind side when you’re out and about in Yellowstone: 1) there could be something alarming behind you, and 2) you might be missing something pretty nifty going on if you don’t take a look around every once in a while.
I had both of these happen this past weekend. Late Friday afternoon we headed out toward the Lamar Valley, but decided to stop along the Blacktail Plateau and just ski out to the north to see what we could see. The sun was low in the sky, but it was calm and not too cold. The sky was gorgeous.
There are always many bison on the Blacktail Plateau in the winter, and we always give them a wide berth, even though they never seem to care about what we’re doing. I’ve seen how fast they can move when they want to and I don’t want to be in their way.
Along the way we spooked some elk who ran and bunched up in the defensive circle that elk use when they’re scared. This is just what they look like when wolves are around, but this time I’m pretty sure it was just us they were scared of:
We reached a ridge above a small valley, and took off our skis to sit on a rock and enjoy and sun and the view. We were above a small herd of bison and a bull elk, and we watched a coyote hunting on the opposite ridge.
We sat on the rock, not looking behind us. When I did turn around, I discovered a big bison bull had wandered within a couple hundred feet of us. He hadn’t noticed us either, until I stood up and turned around. He suddenly looked alarmingly alert – staring right at us, tail up in the air – and I was equally “alert.” Bison are usually not aggressive, but the way this one looked was enough to get our attention. And our skis were between us and the bison. Good grief. We slowly walked the ten feet to the skis, put them on, and skied away from the big fellow, hearts pounding. Once we got a few hundred feet from him he relaxed and stopped watching us. I didn’t relax for quite a few more feet than that. So that’s reason 1: look behind you for a scary critter!
On Saturday I was intent on getting photographs of the American Dippers that hang out on the banks of the Gardner River near Mammoth. We wandered the bank, following a couple of Dippers who were jumping in and out of the river, pretty much focused on the area right in front of us until we heard the clatter of rocks falling from the ridge behind us. When we turned, we saw these guys on the hill above us:
It was a big herd of bighorn sheep who wanted to get down to the river. They were beautiful, and wonderfully entertaining. They cling to the side of the cliffs, and then run madly from one spot to the other for no apparent reason. At one point they all ran full speed across the top of the ridge, and then stopped and looked at each other with looks that said “Wait…what are we doing? Where are we going? Did you see something?” They act like sheep, that’s for sure.
So there’s reason number 2: make sure you’re not missing some cool action behind you!
I did get some Dipper pictures, along with a cute little video that shows him popping in and out of the water. They certainly are endearing little birds.