The Serengeti (of North America)

Took a trip recently to Yellowstone National Park with my daughter. While we hike regularly in our own area of the central coast of California, and always have a lovely time, it’s also almost always a lonely, silent peregrination wildlife-wise. That’s thanks to hunters. Wild animals that are hunted, learn to fear people and, thus, avoid them by hiding and/or being very quiet when we stroll by. I’ve been on remote trails a number of times, thinking that I was alone, when suddenly a couple of shooters strut by, guns on their shoulders, on keen lookout for targets. Another reason we don’t see them is because most of the wildlife we did see in Yellowstone, we saw on open, flat land. Yet, most such land was long ago appropriated by people for development and urbanization, and wildlife that previously lived there has been driven to the less hospitable mountains. It’s another example of the Escalator to Extinction documented elsewhere. It’s very sad. It’s why concerned people are trying to figure out if and how we can “rewild” North America, and the world. Here’s another idea.

National Parks are generally an exception though; people are not allowed to hunt in most of them, and thus generations of wild animals grow up not fearing us. Would that it was ubiquitous. Anyway, I’d been searching for an area left where animals still exist, and though my daughter enjoys our local trips, I wanted her to know the full, natural experience. Plants and animals.

Lamar Valley, and to a similar extent, Yellowstone’s Hayden Valley, are called the Serengeti of North America – Africa’s Serengeti being the quintessential center of megafauna in the world, with lions, elephants, hyenas, hippos, rhinos, giraffes, wild dogs etc. but in dwindling numbers.

We were referred to Yellowstone, and specifically Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley, by a scientist friend, who lives not far from the area. So we thought and planned for awhile. Instead of tents, this time we decided to sleep in hammocks. That took more time, as I had to figure out which to buy, then how they set up. Probably the heaviest item in our packs were rain tarps, just in case. So my pack ended up being just about as heavy as my PCT pack was. But I won’t bore you with the details.

Following are some pictures of our journey. We went a couple of weeks ago this month. An interesting thing is that even though it’s currently summer and hot where we live at our latitude in California, it was still spring-like weather in Yellowstone, just as on my PCT hike, which was also in July (of 2017), both of which are at higher latitudes. Roughly speaking, if you could see it on an animated map of the world, imagine spring, or a belt green starting at the equator, then as the weeks and months go by, that green belt slowly shifts northward, while under that, the area that was green begins to yellow. That too, as the year wears on, gradually shifts northward, then comes the red/brown of fall and the white of winter. With the coming again of warm weather in the spring, the whole thing reverses and starts over. It’s been likened to breathing. A moving belt of climate. The same occurs in the southern hemisphere, but in reverse order. Here’s a NASA 20 year time lapse.

We found Lamar Valley to be ever so lovely. Wildflowers, in a rainbow of colors, were everywhere. But more exciting for us were the wildlife. Almost from the start we were accompanied by bison, huge beasts, the largest mammals in North America, weighing up to a ton each. The great thing about them was that they showed no aggressiveness toward us, but rather allowed us to watch them as they rolled in their wallows to get the flies off, or joust with each other. In the evening, they would casually stroll by just feet from our hammocks, huge mountains of muscle, rumbling their deep sonorous grunts that you could almost feel in your bones. Each morning they would thunder on by, dozens of them, in some wild mini-migration to the grassland, then at night saunter back to the forest. But it was never really a wily-nily stampede. If they saw us sitting on the trail, they would veer off a ways and continue. We never felt threatened. I did manage to be chased a little ways by a rather tall moose, but that was my fault and, soon as I turned and objected, she stopped. In all we saw: bison, moose, antelope, a wolf, a badger, deer, chipmunks, llamas (well some trekkers brought those, so they don’t really count). We didn’t see any elk that I remember, but we did see elk antlers on the ground. At night we heard coyotes.

Note: these pictures were taken by a phone with a broken lens, and some are screenshots from videos taken with a small camera. The picture of the bear claw in clouds was rather amazing. It’s a screenshot. Just before we were able to get this photo, the cloud looked remarkably like a bear foot. We never actually saw a bear though, so I thought I’d throw in a picture of a picture, taken on a restaurant wall just outside Yellowstone 😉 . The wolf was scavenging from a pronghorn carcass. Looked like it had been dead for awhile, so there wasn’t much left. I’ll put it’s pic at the bottom if you’re squeamish.

About the bison fluff: after the cold, when things are warming up, the extra undercoat of bison is unnecessary and begins to come off. The bison speed this up by rubbing on trees, and thus it’s common to see fluff on trees. They also rub their horns on the bark, which can grind it off.

Speaking of which, I was delighted to find lots of one of the loveliest of trees, quaking aspen, with their leaves all aflutter at the slightest breeze. To top it off, snow was above on some of the hilltops.

Update: Very sadly, I learned of a tragedy with our wolf. Scroll to the bottom for details.

Following are some of our pictures. Click to enlarge.

The Lamar (a small part)

I love this pic

That’s the Lamar River down there

Across a grassland

Incredible views

The morning after the first cold night

Waterfall in another area of Yellowstone

Wandering and wondering

Um umm!

Heading downhill

River crossing


Hello Sir

Uh Oh! Rain


Wild rose

Quiet trek



Just wow!

Huge puffers

Such views

Coming into camp

You’re a big boy!


Another day

Good morning!


Bison fluff


Nice! Stepped right in it

A bison wallow

Pronghorn antelope (fastest mammal in N.A. 60 mph)

Bison wandering into pronghorn space

For a wallow. Thanks a lot! say the pronghorn

Wolf, maybe 300 yards away (See update at bottom)

A noble beast

So beautiful

Elk antlers

Warning sign. Bear track in clouds

It looks like a bear sharpened his claws


Mini cone

The kid finds a beautiful fossil leaf! Looks like a Cottonwood, but, considering the area, I’d say a Quaking Aspen.

Pronghorn carcass

Long may places like Yellowstone be.


UPDATE ON OUR WOLF: Apparently this beautiful animal was shot dead by a trophy hunter when she inadvertently wandered out of her protected area. She’d been named Spitfire and was seven years old. What a terrible shame! More on her killing here.

Evidently the bloody, inhumane war continues.


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