Postcard from the Super Volcano: Yellowstone in Spring
Updated: Apr 3
Lower Falls, Yellowstone River
Spring heralds the season of renewal and youth and it may be the most precious time to visit Yellowstone NP. Local guides affectionately refer to spring in the park as “baby season” and the beginning of the tourist season when visitors head to Yellowstone to witness the park waking from the long winter slumber. We had high expectations. Every year holds surprises and we were keen to observe the effects of this year’s circumstances.
Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River below the Lower Falls
Yellowstone NP is tucked into one of the world’s largest active craters, a “super volcano” measuring some 30 miles by 42 miles in diameters with plenty of dramatic volcanic features to dazzle the visitor. The last major eruption was over 600,000 years ago and the area is still considered quite active and has been closely monitored by scientists since the early 2000s. The Yellowstone super volcano is expected to erupt in spectacular fashion sometime soon (in geologic terms that means +/- 1000 years)! Elevations inside the park are roughly 6,000 ft to as high as 8000 ft above sea level and local weather patterns normally cause massive amounts of snow to fall inside the park having accumulated in weather systems pulled from the Pacific ocean hundreds of miles to the west across coastal mountainous terrain. For some reason snowfall in the winter of 2021 -2022 was below expected accumulations. However rains in April brought the water table closer to normal for the year making the park a bit soggy as we began exploring. And surprisingly we experienced a snowstorm on our first day which created some drama in the spring landscapes.
While in position to photograph the Bison (below) this wolf appeared out of the snowstorm about 25 meters away and was unfazed by our presence. Near Tower Fall
One other factor of interest for us was to learn about the effects of the recent wolf hunt authorized by local wildlife officials in Montana and Wyoming which sadly killed 23 Yellowstone wolves while they ventured outside the protected borders of the park. This was the most dramatic reduction in the areas wolf population since wolf reintroduction to Yellowstone more than 25 years ago. Of the wolves taken both the Alpha male and alpha female members of the Wapiti Lake Pack were perhaps the most significant fatalities, effectively disbursing the remaining wolves of this pack into chaos searching for new social circumstances. Wolf researchers were unsure about the net effects of the cull and estimated that the park population of remaining wolves stood at around 90 animals.
Momma grizzly with two absolutely adorable young of the year cubs near Gibbons Falls! We watched them for over an hour in light falling snow.
Female wolf spotted on the move near Obsidian Cliff - A spectacular close encounter!
A pair of Harlequin ducks
Yellow bellied marmot
Grizzly camped out on top of a carcass - young bison killed the day before.
Golden eagle perched above the Yellowstone River
We were not disappointed with the amazing wildlife sightings we observed but "hands down" the most memorable experience we had was witnessing the birth of a baby Bison. Our guide with 20 years of experience had never seen this event! It was special…
Sandhill cranes, Paradise Valley
Gorgeous look at a grey female wolf presumed to be from the decimated Wapiti Lake pack
Baby bison are known as "Red dogs" in Yellowstone
Mama black bear with two tiny young of the year cubs trying to cross the road near Tower Fall. The road has been closed to visitors for two years for road and facility restoration.
"Red dogs" playing at the rut behavior they will model as adults
Adult fox sizes us up as she prepares to leave her den to forage for her litter of kits. See below.
Adult Coyote oversees the surroundings. Though wolf like in appearance, the smaller stature and the flattened ears are diagnostic of this species.
Bison on the move and everything must wait.
Rapids along the Yellowstone River. Harlequin ducks visible mid frame.
Paradise Valley , just north of Gardiner, MT is home to many larger ranches that cater to hunting tourists who visit in the fall.
We witnessed the May 2022 Blood Moon Lunar eclipse while in the park