Western scrub-jays have long tails and small bills. The head, wings, and tail are blue, the back is brown, the underside is gray to tan, and the throat is white. Unlike the Steller’s jay and the blue jays, they do not have a crest. Western scrub jays include several subspecies that live along the Pacific coast and in the interior West. The Pacific coastal group has a distinct blue collar and is brighter in color than those of the interior West. They also have beaks that are short and hooked for eating acorns, while interior scrub jays have longer, more pointed beaks for extracting pine nuts from pinecones. Their behavior can be bold and inquisitive, and their calls can be loud and raucous, although the jays of the interior tend to be quieter, and their calls are lower-pitched than those of the coast. Western scrub jays are about 11.5 inches (29 centimeters) in length and have a wingspan of just over 15 inches (38 centimeters).
This animal’s true name is the American bison, but most people call them buffalo. Bison are the largest terrestrial animal in North America. They can stand up to six feet (1.8 meters) tall. A male can weigh upwards of a ton (900 kilograms), and a female can weigh about 900 pounds (400 kilograms). Along with their formidable size, bison have several unique traits that help to identify them. One of the most noticeable is the hump on their shoulders. Another characteristic is their deep brown fur, which can grow very long, especially around the face and head. Bison also grow long beards and manes. The head of a bison is very large with a thick skull. Bison fight by crashing their heads or horns together. Both male and female bison have short, curved, black horns, which can grow to two feet (0.6 meters) long.
Before human intervention, bison once ranged over much of North America, including central Canada and most of the interior United States. The only places free of bison were along the coasts and deserts. Today bison are only wild in national parks, state parks, and reserves. Your best chance of seeing wild bison is to visit Yellowstone National Park in the USA or Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada. American bison like open plains, savannas, and grasslands. Despite their immense size, bison still have to worry about predators. Buffalo calves can easily become the prey of a wolf pack or grizzly bear.
The grizzly bear is a kind of brown bear. Many people in North America use the common name “grizzly bear” to refer to the smaller and lighter-colored bear that occurs in interior areas and the term “brown bear” to refer to the larger and typically darker-colored bear in coastal areas. However, most of these bears are now considered the same subspecies.
In North America, there are two subspecies of brown bears (Ursus arctos): the Kodiak bear, which occurs only on the islands of the Kodiak Archipelago, and the grizzly bear, which occurs everywhere else. Brown bears also occur in Russia, Europe, Scandinavia, and Asia.
Grizzly bears are large and range in color from very light tan (almost white) to dark brown. They have a dished face, short, rounded ears, and a large shoulder hump. The hump is where a mass of muscles attach to the bear’s backbone and give the bear additional strength for digging. They have very long claws on their front feet that also give them the extra ability to dig after food and dig their dens.
Grizzly bears weigh upward of 700 pounds (315 kilograms). The males are heavier than the females and can weigh 200 to 300 kilograms (about 400 to 600 pounds). A large female can weigh 110 to 160 kilograms (about 250 to 350 pounds) in the lower 48 States.
Common ravens have coexisted with humans for thousands of years and have been so numerous in some areas that people have regarded them as pests. Part of their success as a species is due to their omnivorous diet: they are extremely versatile and opportunistic in finding sources of nutrition, feeding on carrion, insects, cereal grains, berries, fruit, small animals, nesting birds, and food waste. Some notable feats of problem-solving provide evidence that the common raven is unusually intelligent. Over the centuries, it has been the subject of mythology, folklore, art, and literature. In many cultures, including the indigenous cultures of Scandinavia, ancient Ireland, and Wales, Bhutan, the northwest coast of North America, and Siberia and northeast Asia, the common raven has been revered as a spiritual figure or godlike creature.
It was time to leave Yellowstone National Park. We still had quite a way to drive to South Dakota. But in the meantime, we enjoyed the landscape along US Hwy 14. There were some cool mountain peaks and stone formations. We passed the Buffalo Bill Reservoir before we arrived in Cody. Cody had only one room left, due to a famous rodeo in that area. But we were not willing to pay over $200 for a tiny room. So, we had dinner and moved on. We made it through the Bighorn National Forest before we got into a motel close to Sheridan.
The following morning, we all cleaned up, had breakfast, and were ready to drive the next leg to South Dakota. All these years, I still wish we made it to the Devils Tower. But due to a time crunch, it was either the Devils Tower in Wyoming or Mount Rushmore in South Dakota. We chose the latter. It’s another reason to visit Wyoming again. 😉
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Once we left the campgrounds, we were on our way to drive along Yellowstone Lake and Yellowstone River. It was pretty smoky in some areas due to the fact of a wildfire in the park. The helicopters were frantically working on keeping the fire under control. However, it wasn’t bad enough that we had to evacuate Yellowstone National Park. Before we arrived at the Upper Falls of Yellowstone River, we saw lots of bison in the meadows and close to these vent holes. These bison are used for the sulfur stench. As long as they are warm, they didn’t seem to mind the smell of “rotten eggs”.
The Upper Falls are very interesting. But the famous Lower Falls don’t disappoint with a height of 308 feet (94 meters), while the Upper Falls are only a third as high with 109 feet (33 meters). The Lower Falls are nearly twice as high as Niagara Falls in New York/Ontario. Since the Yellowstone River bends in this area, the Upper and Lower Falls can not be viewed on the ground at the same time. Katelynn didn’t mind “modeling” in front of the Lower Falls back then. Now, she’s happy she has photos to show of her trip to Yellowstone National Park.
When Kevin turned around to exit the park at the East Entrance, we still could see a lot of wildlife: more bison, elk, ravens, and a young grizzly bear. We didn’t know, if the bear was already old enough to be on its own or Momma Bear is hiding out behind the treeline. Nope! I didn’t want to chance it. I told Kevin to keep his window up, and I photograph through the glass. In the early evening, we finally exited Yellowstone and drove US Highway 14 towards Cody, Wyoming.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yellowstone_Falls: Video of the Lower Falls 2019
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Old Faithful Geyser at the Upper Geyser Basin
Yellowstone National Park has approximately half of the world’s geysers—and most of them are located in the Upper Geyser Basin. One square mile contains at least 150 of these hydrothermal wonders, making this area the most densely concentrated geyser region in the world. Five major geysers—Old Faithful, Grand, Castle, Daisy, and Riverside are located here.
At the time, when we visited the Upper Geyser Basin. The National Park was building the new Old Faithful Visitor and Education Center. It is a museum with a store where educational exhibits such as volcanic geology are on display. There is also a big glass window, where visitors can see the eruption of Old Faithful and look over the Upper Geyser Basin on a rainy day. I just wouldn’t recommend visiting this area from 12 – 6 pm, due to tour buses being full of tourists. It reminds me of the very first episode of Spongebob Squarepants, where the tourist anchovies run into the Krusty Krab, making a lot of ruckuses until Spongebob has every single anchovy served with a Krabby Patty. We went to the Upper Geyser Basin in the morning. So, it was comfortable to walk with a stroller.
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Midway Geyser Basin: Exelsior Geyser Crater – Grand Prismatic Spring
The next stop was Midway Geyser Basin at the Firehole River. The Midway Geyser Basin is very famous for being the home of the Grand Prismatic Spring. The Grand Prismatic Spring is famous for its size and colors. With being deeper than a 10-story building and larger than a football field, it is the thrid largest hot spring in the world. The Grand Prismatic Spring gets its rainbow colors from the bacteria that lives in progressively cooler water. And the water scatters the blue wavelenght of light, and therefore the center reflects blue back to our eyes.
The Excelsior Geyser Crater is a dormant geyser, but a steamy blue spring. It is so hot, that the runoff water is still boiling, when it hits the surface of the Firehole River. The last time the geyser erupted about 80 feet (25 meters) high for two days was in 1985. Back in the 1800s it could reach a height up to 300 feet (90 meters).
When we visited, we also could see wildlife and wildflowers across the river. We’ve seen a big male bison grassing in the meadow, a relaxing female elk, a couple of ravens, and a big Flame Skimmer dragonfly. There were also wild roses and beautiful pine trees in the area. After the Midway Geyser basin visit, Kevin and I called it a day. We all were hungry and tired for walking around. Sara needed a small nap, before we had dinner at the camp ground. That night, we went to bed early to have an early start the following morning.
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From the Norris Geyser Basin, we’ve traveled up to the Lower Geyser Basin, which is inside the Caldera Boundary and the largest geyser basin in the area of Yellowstone National Park. There we looked at the beautiful Silex Spring, the Fountain Paint Pot and watched the Great Fountain Geyser erupt. It was windy in that basin. so, we felt the water from the geyser hitting us like raindrops. Katelynn seemed to enjoy it. Along the walk from the car to the boardwalk we noticed some beautiful flowers like Variable Groundsel and Blue Penstemon.
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When Kevin, Katelynn, Sara and I left the Mammoth Hot Springs, we passed the Antler Peak to get to the Norris Geyser Basin. At the Norris Geyser we saw Steamboat Geyser and Emerald Spring. Unfortunately, we missed out on the Artist’s Paint Pots, Monument Geyser Basin and Beryl Spring. This means we need to go back to Yellowstone National Park again. 😉
Steamboat Geyser is the world’s tallest active geyser. It’s located in the Norris Back Basin. It has unpredictable, infrequent major eruptions of more than 300 feet, and frequent minor eruptions of 10 to 40 feet. As comparison, Old Faithful can vary in heights from 100 – 180 feet.
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The following morning, we were ready for our first trip through Yellowstone National Park. Since our campground was in West Thumb, west of Yellowstone Lake, we had to drive all the way up north from US 191 & US 89 to make it to Roosevelt Arch in Gardiner, Montana, which is also the North Entrance of the park. That’s where we wanted to begin our journey. On the way up there, we saw our first Grizzly in the wild. The bear was making his way up the hill, before it disappeared behind the tree line.
In Gardiner, we enjoyed lunch at Rosie’s, before we looked at Roosevelt Arch and made our way back into the National Park. The distance from the arch and the Montana/Wyoming state border is exactly 3 miles.
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Since Kevin, Katelynn, Sara and I still had to wait for our camping site to be ready in Yellowstone, we visited Grand Teton National Park. We’ve entered from the Moran Entrance Station and drove north on US Hwy. 191. Along the way, we’ve made several stops and walked around to enjoy the view. One of the ladies in the Souvenir Cabin mentioned to us, when we visit next time to make Grand Teton our priority. Everyone wants to go to Yellowstone National Park, because it is more famous for its hot springs and geysers. But the real beauty is in Grand Teton National Park. I’ve heard that before about Australia and New Zealand. Most people want to go to Australia; but New Zealand has the real beauty. I have to keep that in mind, before I plan another trip to Wyoming.
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Happy National Wyoming Day!
A close cousin of the ground squirrel, the Black-tailed Prairie Dog is a heavy-bodied rodent with a black-tipped tail. Prairie dogs have large eyes, short tails and brownish-tan pelage.
Prairie dogs play an important role in the prairie ecosystem. They serve as a food source for many predators and leave vacant burrows for the burrowing owl, the Black-footed Ferret, the Texas horned lizard, rabbits, hares, and even rattlesnakes.
Prairie dogs are very social animals. They live as a group in prairie dog “towns” which range from one to over 1,000 acres. These towns are subdivided into wards that are arranged like counties within a state. Wards are further subdivided into distinct social units called coteries. A coterie usually consists of a single adult male, one to four adult females, and any offspring under two years of age. Movement between wards is uncommon; however, among family members, prairie dogs greet each other with bared teeth with which they “kiss” as a form of recognition.
Prairie dogs are strictly diurnal animals. They are most active during the cool hours of the day, when they engage in social activities such as visiting and grooming each other as well as feeding on grass and herbs. When prairie dogs are out, a sentry perches on the volcano-like ring that surrounds the burrow. Should a predator or any other danger become evident, the sentry will bark out a warning, after which the community will dive into their burrows and wait for the “all clear” call before venturing out again.
Prairie dogs are native to short-grass prairie habitats of western North America. They avoid heavy brush and tall grass areas due to the reduced visibility these habitats impose.