out and about

West Yellowstone Discovery Center

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Grizzly at the West Yellowstone Discovery Center


Our first day of our 4 day weekend we were still without truck and the weather had turned to wet snow. All our winter things had been packed in the back of the trailer in an awkward compartment under a heavy mattress and huge pile of extra pillows and back rests we’ve bought over the years in our attempts to sit comfortably while we work. Basically we were too lazy to dig them out.  It was the start of our summer, snowing or not, and we would manage with our hoodies and boots.

We started our morning by going to Running Bear Pancake House, a little cafe with a clip art logo of a Grateful Dead style bear, but possibly the cheapest breakfast in town. Their pancakes are player sized and thick and come with fresh boysenberry or maple syrup. Ross got his with chocolate chips, cooked right into the pancake.

Running Bear Pancake House is on the “far side of town” which for most small towns is about 6 to 10 blocks from downtown. Not a far walk, and we had walked all over town before, but the snow hadn’t stopped and it felt longer and colder than it really was since I was starting to get soaked.

The discovery center was on the other side of downtown and by the time we got there I was happy to see an indoor area beyond the ticket counter, if only just to warm up for a few minutes. We took our time looking at the indoor exhibits, learning about the bears, their tracks and habits before we were ready to go outside again.

The bear habitat keeps a schedule where 2 bears at a time come out of their private enclosures. Several of the bears at the center were rescued at cubs and were siblings, though some had become “public nuisances”  and were lucky to even be alive. The Grizzlies in Yellowstone are smaller than ones from Alaska and there a few of both kinds at the discovery center. When we went outside the 2 in the habitat were pretty small, smaller even than the one we saw in the wild just wandering down the road. We checked them out for a while and kept walking till we came to an eagle enclosure where 2 golden eagles, eagles apparently capable of taking down large animals with their massive claws, were now living out their lives. One had been poisoned at a young age and never fully recovered and the other had been hit by a propane truck and somehow survived but could no longer live in the wild. It’s always sad to see animals in small enclosures but birds always seem especially miserable.

Sometimes you’ll see the bears, wolves, foxes etc. at discovery centers playing or enjoying themselves, but how can a bird ever be happy in a 15 foot tall cage. They just sit and stare or sleep, quietly and miserably. In South Carolina the discovery center had several crows, but instead of giving them a larger enclosure like the owls and eagles, they were in basically parrot cages – because they apparently weren’t as deserving as owls or eagles. The “pretty” animals always get special treatment.

After the eagles came the Wolf enclosure. A handsome male was sitting alert in the sleety snow, soaking wet but overall looking in his element. Around him were several others curled up sleeping in the dirt. No den in sight but a building nearby had small closed doors in the side similar to zoos. A building sat between 2 wolf enclosures with a film about the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone in the 90s and some wall displays that explained how many of the wolves were captive raised, purchased by the previous owners of the Discovery Center, when it was a “for profit” business rather than a recovery and rescue center.

After watching some of the film, the wolves had started to pace around their pen.

Wolves at Yellowstone Discovery Center

 

While we were watching the wolves, a new pair of Grizzlies had been put in the bear habitat. From 100 feet away we could see how much larger they were than the first pair, these being from Alaska and nearly the size of a Datsun (small cars), weighing as much at least. One of them was eating while the other was grazing and snuffling about the enclosure. By then I was freezing again, temperature had dropped and I mostly just wanted to go home but it was hard to tear ourselves away from the massive bears.

Grizzly at the West Yellowstone Discovery Center

The discovery center was small but had some amazing animals and great education material. After seeing some of the information on bear behavior, some statistics and general signs of their presence, I think we were more comfortable about hiking and camping in bear territory than before we visited. The wolves were especially interesting because of their hierarchy, communication and the massive size of their packs. One pack in Yellowstone had 37 members when the film was made, when they hunted they just rushed up in a huge group on an animal and brought it down with ease. It’s good most predators have little to no interest in us funny looking humans.

After we left the discovery center, we still had a way to walk to the RV park so we stopped at The Taco Truck, a local favorite right in downtown West Yellowstone. I made an ass of myself using mangled spanish, after not having uttered it aloud for 2 years+, but the food was great and the owners were nice,. The bus however was not heated, but it was better than being outside in the wet snow.

The Taco Bus - West Yellowstone

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