By Valerie Coffey

This has been the “Summer of National Parks” on our US tour via motorcoach — Arches, Grand Canyon, Smokey Mountains, Yosemite, Yellowstone, Glacier, Badlands! And National Parks mean WILDLIFE! Our summer has been a glorious one with agreeable weather, beautiful RV parks, incredible scenery and lots and lots of amazing wildlife.

My favorite wildlife sighting was our first mountain goat in Glacier National Park — and I just happened to catch it all on video!

I love animals. To me, it isn’t much of a vacation until you see the wildlife. Mitch will attest that I walk down trails, calling, “Mountain goats, where are you?!” or “Now is a good time for bighorn sheep to appear, hint, hint!” And sometimes it works. Here are some neat amateur pictures and videos captured by Mitch and I.

Mountain goats and bison and bears, oh my!

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That’s me, catching my first mountain goat at Glacier National Park. I was thrilled!

July 3, 2015, we were hiking the steep and narrow Highline Trail in Glacier National Park in Montana. Nine miles into the hike, with the sun getting low and two miles to go back to our car, we started to see big droppings on the trail — fresh droppings that were bigger than that of a big dog. We pondered, could it be bear?

Warnings about grizzlies are ubiquitous in Glacier, and bear spray is recommended for hikers in case of attack. (Bear spray is many times stronger than the pepper spray used against humans in self-defense applications.) Mitch got the bear spray in hand. I got my camera phone ready. (I have my priorities!)

We cautiously proceeded down the trail…suddenly Mitch turned around and said, “Something is coming! It’s white!” It was a big, beautiful mountain goat! The first one we’ve ever sighted! He was coming back down the trail, and he seemed to refuse to go around us. We took a step up off the trail into the bushes (that was as far as we could go) to let him pass.

Note: Signage everywhere in Yosemite, Glacier and Yellowstone remind visitors that wild animals are dangerous and unpredictable. People are harmed every year when interactions are too common and too close, and sometimes “aggressive” “problem” animals must be “put down.” So we tried to give him as much room as possible, but the trail is carved into the side of a mountain.

Watch how Mr. Goat pauses and looks left and right. To his left, it was too steep to go down. To his right, it was too steep to go up. Too steep for a mountain goat!? Apparently, he thought so. He passed us much too closely, a bit boldly but cautionusly, then ran by. The next day, we saw dozens of mountain goats on the Hidden Lake trail, but none of them were as beautiful as this guy, our first bucket list sighting.



Another thrilling sight: July 10, in northern Yellowstone National Park between Mammoth Hot Springs and Tower-Roosevelt, a crowd of people stopped their cars to watch a mama black bear in a meadow teaching her cubs how to find food.

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“Hmm…Can I turn over that big grey rock?” This mama black bear was showing her two cubs how to turn over rocks to find food. One of the cubs is visible as a brown hump to the left of the mama bear. (Yellowstone NP, July 18, 2015; Canon EOS 60D with zoom lens)

Note the video is of a far-away bear — as it should be — we don’t have fancy equipment. But I never moved far from my car, which was parked off the road. As she headed my direction, I quickly moved back into my car, which was stuck in a “bear backup.” Complete traffic standstills happen often in national parks when people stop in the middle of the road to look at animals without pulling over.


Sometimes it isn’t the visitors causing the backup. Sometimes it’s wildlife making an executive decision.

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A protected wild American bison bull in Custer State Park seems to say: “I’m sexy and I know it! Watch me casually lay down and block traffic both ways. What are they gonna do? Hit me? They don’t have the nerve.” A disinterested female turns to go around him on her way by. (July 21, 2015; Samsung Galaxy 5S)

In late July, we visited Custer State Park in South Dakota. We had seen bison in Yellowstone, but the bison in Custer a week later were displaying different behavior: it was rutting season! This is when the bulls, who spend much of the year off on their own being independent dudes, rejoin the herd of cows and juveniles, and decide who to “pursue.” The bulls growl and roll in the dirt, kicking up dust and closely following their love interest.

You’ve got to *hear* what a bull bison sounds like!:


Other sightings included prairie dogs, marmots, elk, and moose!

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The fat, adorable prairie dogs at Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming are more fascinating to me than the rock formation. (July 20, 2015; Canon EOS 60D)

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Before we even got back to our car after sighting the first mountain goat, two large bighorn sheep made an appearance near Logan Pass Visitor Center. (Glacier National Park, July 3, 2015; Canon EOS 60D zoom)

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Moooose! The National Park Service in Yellowstone estimate that only 200 moose live in the 2.2 million acres of the park. “You won’t see a moose here,” they said. Lucky us! We (and a dozen of other visitors) saw two huge bull moose off the side of the road and rangers only believed us when we showed them the pictures the next day. (July 9, 2015; Canon EOS 60D zoom)

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A six-pointed bull elk grazes on the side of the road in Yellowstone. (July 13, 2015; Canon EOS 60D zoom)

Antelope

“Oh give me a home…” Two pronghorn antelope pass by in Yellowstone. Pronghorn are a common sight and we saw them frequently during our week-long visit.

Grizzly crossing road Yellowstone

Rangers confirmed that this bear, one of two we saw near the aptly named Beartooth Parkway on the north side of Yellowstone, was a young grizzly. The other bear was also rather small. Could mom have been far behind? We didn’t leave our car to find out. (July 9, 2015; Canon EOS 60D zoom)

Albino Elk

The rarest of the rare: Do you see something special about this elk herd across the valley? We did! Another car slowed down to watch, and the man said to me, “I’ve lived here all my life and I’ve never seen an albino elk!” (July 10, 2015; Canon EOS 60D)

We love our RV life that enables us to live in our awesome home country where the buffalo roam, and the deer and the antelope play — and we sometimes get to see it first hand. This summer, we have indeed, been quite lucky.

We celebrate one year full-time RVing in our next post, What’s the BEST THING We’ve Seen or Done in One Year of Full-Time RVing the US?

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