The weather while we were in Jackson was rather variable. Our first day was pretty sunny but it clouded over and the second day had clouds constantly moving through. You would get patches of sun showing up periodically but it was generally overcast. As you looked to the hillsides surrounding the valley, there was hardly a moment when things were constant. Light might pick out the terrain briefly and then a cloud would roll in and obscure the view completely. There was always something different to see. Even though the conditions were not great, it was still gorgeous to watch the constant evolution.
The end of our wildlife spotting trip in Jackson took us around the back of the elk refuge. Alongside the road is a slope which is very popular with the Big Horn Sheep. It has steep sides and food for them to graze on. The terrain renders them safe from the predators that might otherwise bother them since they are the ones with the advantage on such a steep and craggy slope. There were families of sheep scattered along the slope.
They weren’t very far away from us but, seeing as they are not large, they didn’t fill the viewfinder. Our guide carried a spotting scope which gave us a really close view. It also allowed you to get a quite impressive photo using only your cellphone since you could hold it up against the eyepiece. I did shoot with the bigger camera too, though. Some of the sheep moved up on to the ridge line where they were silhouetted for me to photograph. It was fun to watch them move around as they were constantly walking to the next good food source all while they were perched on some pretty precarious spaces.
Jackson Hole included some large birds in the selection of wildlife on offer for our visit. We got to see some eagles at a distance. Bald eagles were not a surprise but I was unaware that Golden Eagles live in the area too. They are one big bird! It would have been nice to get a bit closer but eagles do what they want and you have to be happy getting what you can.
Buildings designed for snowy environments have pitched roofs to stop too much snow accumulating. It can gradually shear off the building, sometimes in the form of snow sheets and sometimes, courtesy of some melting, as giant icicles. Wandering around the buildings in Jackson and Yellowstone, I was taken by the large sheets of snow and ice. The visitors’ center at Yellowstone had a particularly large amount of snow drifting off the roof and obscuring the view out of some of the windows. Other icicles looked rather precarious and, if you should find yourself beneath them when they fall, it could be detrimental to your health!
Our ride through the refuge was covered in this post. Scattered throughout the herd were a large number of bull elk. At this time of year they are not competing for anything other than food so there was little tension between them. Instead, they seemed focused on feeding. However, they still had antlers so they made an imposing sight when they looked the right way.
Located in Jackson WY is the National Elk Refuge. This is a huge tract of land that has been set aside for the elk to winter in as other parts of their territory have been encroached upon. During the winter, thousands of elk make their way down from the higher ground and feed in the refuge. Elk are very skittish creatures and will not hang around if people are nearby. However, they are also not the sharpest of animals and, if a person is within something else, they don’t recognize that they are there.
Consequently, it is possible to take tour groups through the refuge on sleighs. These open sleighs are drawn by a pair of horses and carry about 20 people each. If you were to step out of the sleigh the elk would be off but, provided you stay inside, they don’t much care about you. They may look at you as you pass by but it doesn’t stop them munching.
The sleigh ride is a lot less comfortable than you might think. Despite the deep snow, things are very uneven and you lurch and bump along as you traverse the refuge. There was a large herd quite close by (no doubt courtesy of the food that is periodically laid out) and we were able to make a loop around the whole herd without disturbing any of them. We could have conversations at normal levels without a problem. Just don’t drop anything out of the sleigh. Getting out is forbidden.
I’ve not had a huge amount of luck looking for moose on previous trips. We saw two in our previous Yellowstone trip. When we went on our wildlife excursion in Jackson Hole, I was hoping to see some more. We didn’t have to wait long. We had barely left town when we saw a male munching away off the side of the road. A short way further up the trail and we found a mother and calf in the bushes feeding happily. They weren’t too bothered by us so we watched them for a while. A couple of people we met had actually seen one walking through a gas station forecourt in Jackson itself so I guess they are not that hard to find!