Photographic Focus: Elk, Pronghorn, Red Fox, Moose, Black Bear
Best Time: Early Morning and Afternoon
Season: Fall and Winter
Rich in history and radiating a timeless atmosphere, the area of Mammoth Hot Springs is one of the most well-known locales in the park. The area hosts the park’s headquarters and its own little town which surround the hot springs area. The Springs themselves are quite different from those found elsewhere in Yellowstone due to their being mostly composed of large Tavertine formations. Tavertine or limestone formations are different then the sinter formations found elsewhere due to the softer nature of limestone. As hot water rises through the limestone, large quantities of rock are dissolved by the water and a white mineral is deposited on the surface. While Mammoth lies in the far north west of the park and thus well outside the volcanic caldera, its energy can be attributed to the same magmatic system that fuels the rest of Yellowstone thermal areas. Hot water flows from Norris to Mammoth along a fault line roughly associated with the road from Norris to Mammoth.
Due to its relatively low elevation and comparatively mild winters, Mammoth is accessible by car year-round and is the gateway into the park during the winter months. The peak wildlife viewing in the area is from early fall through the winter months, when much of the park’s wildlife migrates to the lower elevations in a quest to escape the worst of the Yellowstone winters.
while winter is a magical time in Mammoth it is during the fall season when the area is at its most tumultuous. The fresh dusting of snow on the mountain peaks marks the new season and the first shrill echoes emanating through the high mountain plateaus. If there is one sound that can define the Yellowstone autumn and Mammoth, it would be the bugle call of the male Elk. Fueled by their desire to mate, they call out into the chilly morning and evening air as a show of strength to both attract females and warn other males. The call can be heard from miles away and makes autumn mornings in Mammoth one of the more unique acoustical experiences in the Americas.
At over 300 kilograms in weight and over one and a half meters tall at the shoulders, the bull elks dominate the landscape around Mammoth come September. For over a month they will jostle and clash over the rights to the females in the valley in a high stakes game of strength and fitness. In autumn you can witness over a dozen large bull elk around the rolling hills that surround the famous springs. A particularly good spot is the road leading out from Mammoth to the east in the direction of Tower Junction. They will often congregate in this area which lies just below the Mammoth Springs area and in these foothills, there is a good chance of spotting the deer.
elk are common in Mammoth throughout the year and there is even a resident herd that usually spends its time right in midst of the Mammoth Hot Springs hotel area. While they are visible year-round, autumn offers the best chance to photograph male elk as they congregate in the area for the rutting season.
Another species that is common in the area (especially around the Lava Creek stretch of the road towards Tower Junction) is the Red Fox. The size of a small dog, the red fox is the largest member of the genus Vulpes and is well-known for its large bushy tail. They can be found in Yellowstone year-round, but the fall and winter seasons are especially good for finding them. The red fox is typically active at dusk or at night (you will often see them crossing the road while driving in the park at night) though they can also be found during the daytime in more secluded areas. With their astonishingly varied diet, you can often find them inquisitively searching for mice and voles around Mammoth, with their ears in constant motion as they try to pinpoint prey.
Another good area for finding wildlife can be found just south of Mammoth at Swan Lake flats. The lakes here will often host a number of waterfowl during the summer months and Sandhill Cranes are another species to look for in this area. There is also a healthy number of Dusky Grouse in the area.
Further south along the road south towards Norris, the area known as Willow Park offers a solid chance of finding one of the park’s more reclusive deer species: The Moose.
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