Our First Trumpeter Swans (Plus, Bears, Baby Bison, Boiling Mud, and Other Beautiful Birds.

This is a post I meant to finish a long time ago....what can I say?  I got distracted by summer.
Matt and I went to Yellowstone for a couple day during the first week of May.  May is our favorite time in Yellowstone.   There are so very few visitors to contend with, the first spring babies are out, new slips of green are poking up.  The weather can be volatile though since it is Springtime in the mountains after all.  This trip was no exception there.  We did have one very springy day hiking to Monument Geyser.  So nice, in fact, that Matt had to take his sweaty shirt off to let it dry a while--since we had the place to ourselves and all.  Afterwards we headed south to the Old Faithful geyser basin--something I could enjoy endlessly.  I love geysers.   And then it started to rain again.  We returned to camp, had dinner, tried to have a fire until the rain was too heavy, and called it a night.  And then it snowed.  And snowed a little more.
Our plans for the weekend had been to get to a couple mountaintops.  As we drove past Bunsen Peak though it was completely shrouded in snow and thick, white clouds.  It looked colder than we were prepared for and like the view would be pretty dang white.  No matter.  There is always something to get up to in Yellowstone and we knew we'd enjoy whatever it was that we chose to do.
We opted for a little longer auto tour in the interest of going to Le Hardy Rapids, about five miles north of Lake Village, to see my beloved Harlequin Ducks who come there each spring to breed.  We spend most of our time in the park between Mammoth and Old Faithful so Le Hardy is a bit out of our usual way, but with the weather being what it was we thought it would be worth it to make the trip.  They are the most gorgeous birds I've ever seen with my own two eyes.  Just magnificently pretty.  And then they're cool to watch, too, as they hang and navigate the rapids with total ease.  I've been in love with them since our first chance encounter back in 2012.
Along the way to Le Hardy we enjoyed the wintery landscape and wildlife.  The trees were all powdered with snow, which continued to drift down from the solidly grey sky, sometimes lazily and sometimes with intensity.  We saw a foraging grizzly bear--easy to spot since the dark fur contrasted so strikingly from the snow.  There was also a little bison traffic jam to be waited out.  They had their delightful red-headed babies with them already.  Who wouldn't be willing to wait for that?!  One mama bison kept gently nudging her little baby off to the side of the road, away from the cars.  It was sweet.
It was thanks to the unplanned jaunt over to Le Hardy that we also spotted our first ever Trumpeter Swans.  They are such large birds they were readily visible as we cruised by--so we stopped, of course.  What majestic, graceful creatures they are.  We watched them feed and swim with fascination--the arching, slender necks, the dark paddling feet, the black and white facial contrasts.  It was so neat.  We adore all birds, but there is something quite remarkable about one so large.  The spotting scope was a way to enhance the viewing, but it was enjoyable with just the naked eye.
One of the things I enjoy so much about Yellowstone--or really most trips in nature to any ol' place--is the fact that the journey is totally part of the wondrous experience.  There are so many cool things we've seen by chance just driving or walking from one destination to another.  Like the wolves hunting that elk.  Or the beavers eating grass with their adorable little hands.  Or when we were hiking to Riverside Geyser and just happened to catch Beehive Geyser erupting (Beehive, unlike Riverside, is irregular and unpredictable, so its all a matter of chance timing)  Then, when we finally get to the actual destination, that is bound to be incredible, too.  Nature.  Its so cool.  And the Harelquin Ducks certainly didn't disappoint when we arrived at their white watery summer home.  They are spectacular.  The perfect white circles and bands....its just about unbelievable how stunning they are--even more so in the sunshine.  One pair kept shooting over a section of rapids over and over again.  It was like a little waterslide.  They maneuver those rapids like its no big deal.
Harlequin Duck pair at Le Hardy Rapids
After getting our fill of duck watching we headed back north and hadn't made it but a handful of miles before getting sidetracked with geothermal features.  We stopped by Mud Volcano and Sulphur Cauldron, both of which we'd experienced before.  While we both love all the geothermal action Matt, in particular, has a infatuation with boiling mud.  He could watch it for hours.  And it is totally crazy to watch.  Boiling mud!  What a world!
On all our previous visits to the Mud Volcano area there had been a damaged section of boardwalk which prevented our encounter with a feature called the Dragon's Mouth Geyser.  The geothermal areas are constantly changing and that frequently forces the Park Service to reroute trails and boardwalks.  That had been the case here.  With the new boardwalk in place though we were finally able to walk up and stand staring into the mouth of the Dragon.  It was a cool feature.  First off, the opening is tall and cavernous, almost twenty feet high.  It was easy to see why it got its name with an opening like a gaping mouth in the side of the hill billowing out hissing steam.  The power of the surging heat, pressure made the dragon roar rhythmically with each surge of water.  Listening to it was almost hypnotic.
Dragon's Mouth Geyser
When we got back and broke camp the only patch of dry ground was the one right under our tent.  It made me laugh.  We have a good tent.  It does a good job in even very wet conditions.
Then we drove home through a landscape that seemed more March than May both somehow still agreeing that it had been a wonderful weekend.  There had been snow and cold, but there had been so much beauty and wonder.  The full spectrum of nature's power and majesty.


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