Monday, July 23, 2012

Of Wolves And Idiots

Most of the industrialized world is familiar with traffic jams.  Here in Yellowstone, and neighboring Grand Teton and Glacier National Parks, they have bear jams, bison jams, elk jams and so on.  These occur when there is something notable to see.  With bison, they may occur when the bison decide that the road is for their use rather than yours.  Whatever the cause, the result is a long line of stopped cars in the roadway.

A black bear draws a lot of attention.  A grizzly bear draws a LOT of attention.  Wolves draw a WHOLE LOT of attention.  People seeing wolves seem to become idiots and forget that they have a task of higher priority, driving their car.

I drive around solo.  I need to split my attention between the driving task and the sightseeing task.  As a result, I almost never see critters on my own.  I spot them when I encounter one of these critter jams, and I look around, finally seeing the reason.  It can be very frustrating coming back to the campground and hearing others tell of the animals they saw, while I, driving the same road, saw nothing.

Anyway, a few cases deserve illustration.

On my first day in Yellowstone, I encountered a critter jam.  It was alongside Gibbon Creek, above the meadow where I took the elk photos.  To my right was a rock wall going up.  To my left was a pull-off area, filled with cars.  Below that was the creek.  Cars were stopping in both directions in the travel lanes. 

I found an area to my right wide enough for me to park off the road.  I parked, grabbed my camera and walked back.

Across the creek was the carcass of an elk.  It had been opened and pulled apart, with the entire left ribcage of its abdomen - shoulder to hip, spine to sternum, resting about 15 feet up the bank.  The two right legs were there; the left legs were missing.  It looked to me like a bear kill, because it would have taken massive strength to pull the kill apart that way.

Speaking with a Ranger, I learned that it was a wolf kill.

Then, on the ridge on the opposite side of the stream, overlooking the kill, the stream, and us spectators, the alpha male appeared.

Two days later, cars were STILL pulling off at that spot, people (myself included) getting out and sitting and just looking, though there was no sign of wolves or kill.

About 5 days later, I had been spending my time driving up and down the Northeast Entrance Road through the Lamar valley.  This area is known as the prime area for the herd animals and the predators.  Bison were always present and often created bison jams.  I saw a black bear on a few of these early morning excursions.  I would get to a jam, park, look, and ask what it was that I was not seeing.  "Oh, you should have been here a minute ago!" is the response I usually got. 

On one occasion, a wolf was moving through the brush to the north of the road.  Every available spot to park was filled.  People were out of their cars, taking photos or just watching.  A Ranger was in the center of the road, trying to clear the jam.  One idiot stopped his car right by the Ranger and asked if he can stop "for a second, just to take one photo".

"No, keep moving," the Ranger told him.

Just then, the car behind this idiot, driver rubbernecking, slammed on his brakes, barely stopping before hitting the idiot.

"That's why," the Ranger said.  "You almost got rear-ended." 

The idiot moved on.

One thing to add to this tale -  I was the idiot. 

It is really easy to get caught up in the excitement, in the desire to get that shot, and to forget that I am still sitting behind the wheel.  I know, more than most, the risk of stopping on a roadway, much less stopping where there is a distraction.  I know it.  I KNOW it.  And still... I guess we all have some idiot in us.

The final outcome of this tale is that the next day, I was able to safely get a photo of that same wolf.  Apparently they had a kill nearby and they frequented the spot for several mornings.


Anonymous said...

Hey, cool content, but WordPress breaks it up on my monitor. Maybe it's the plugin you have on the site. Have you considered a different CMS?

Ken said...

I know the site works well with IE, with Firefox and with Safari. It sounds like a problem with WordPress, not the site.

I have no desire to modify the site.