June is spring in the Tetons and Yellowstone. There’s still plenty of snow on the ground and new snow threatens regularly. Night temps dip into the 30s. There are spring flowers, fresh green tips on pine trees, and squirrels shoving as much food into their faces as they possibly can. And there are babies, baby animals everywhere!
Paul says the Tetons and Yellowstone are zoos without fences. It’s true. These are the only places animals are protected and they seem to know it. We spotted hundreds of buffalo and elk, pronghorn antelopes, deer, and a few bighorn sheep, marmots, pelicans, bald eagles — and their babies — without really trying. In Mammoth campground, a baby elk with white spots on its coat followed its mother closely on wobbly legs as she gracefully stepped around picnic tables. In a meadow, we spotted five or six male elk with huge sets of velvety antlers. A baby bighorn sheep stood in the middle of the road on the way to Gardiner, MT, unsure what to do, as last year’s babies scrambled around on the cliff above. Baby buffalo nursed as their moms stared at us with glowering eyes. Incredibly tiny baby pelicans floated by their parents in a stream. Everything was in the process of shedding thick winter coats — all of the animals looked raggedy and unkempt, like hobos wearing ill-fitting, moth-eaten jackets from the Salvation Army.
Rumors of bears and little cubs floated on the air. Both parks were on high alert due to lots of bear activity. Mother bears are extremely protective when it comes to their cubs. Trails and areas were “closed” due to bear activity. We got stuck in a few bear jams (three in one day — I almost lost it), but we didn’t see any bears — until I spotted a dark shape in the rearview mirror as we were driving north in the Tetons — a bear was galloping at full speed across the road behind us. You know bears are supposed to be able to move fast, but I’ve never actually seen a bear running at full speed. It was terrifying.
The only thing we couldn’t find was a moose, despite our best efforts and best patience. It’s a poor numbers game in Yellowstone, where only 100 moose are estimated to live in the entire park, but I thought we’d find one in the Tetons. We overheard a woman in Yellowstone bragging about the seven moose she’d seen in the Tetons, but I didn’t believe her. Moose are shier, more solitary, more elusive than most of the other animals we’d spotted. It’s easy to spot a big herd of animals; it’s harder to catch a lone moose. We remain on moose watch.