Way Out West
Luxury Travel Expert Catherine Brown heads to Wyoming in search of America’s best wildlife.
For years, I have been dreaming of seeing the Western United States — the real west, full of mountains, wildlife and cowboy culture. Spotting a bear and seeing a buffalo in Yellowstone National Park were on the top of my bucket list.
I started out early with my guide, Loren, heading into Yellowstone at the West entrance. Loren has been coming to Yellowstone since he was six years old, enjoying several weeks in the park every year with his parents, later his own children and now his grandchildren. After spending so much time in the park, he "just goes by gut" and gets a good feeling of where the wildlife can be found. I shared with him my hope to see a buffalo. He very kindly explained that they are not actually buffalo, but bison — buffalo can only be found in Africa and Asia. They have been so often called buffalo that it is now completely acceptable, even if not accurate. My wish was to see an American bison, and within 15 minutes we met one walking down the road. As we kept driving, the fields opened up to a stunning view full of grazing bison herd. It was incredible.
We spent an amazing day exploring the park, seeing jaw-dropping views of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, Grand Prismatic Spring and of course, Old Faithful. At one point a grizzly bear crossed our path; I was too shocked to get my camera out. Second item checked. We saw tons of coyotes, elk and birdlife throughout the day too.
The following day, I drove through Yellowstone on my own as I headed to Jackson Hole. To be honest, I did not see a single animal. Although I was looking out for them, I was focused on the road too, and I realized what a valuable thing it is to have a guide like Loren who can point out the highlights and spot the wildlife.
The next morning, I met my guide Jeff Lestitian before sunrise, and we headed out along the Moose-Wilson Road just as the sun was coming up on the snowcapped Tetons, making them gleam in orange and purple. Against the mountains, the brilliant yellowish-orange of the quaking aspen trees along the route created a spectacular scene.
And then, just 15 minutes after leaving the hotel, we spotted a mama black bear and her cubs. We pulled up alongside a solo photographer and watched the mother lead her babies up the hill for a good 10 minutes.
As the bears foraged and followed their mother, Jeff helped me fit my iPhone with his own lens to get better pictures of the family. When we left, only three other onlookers had joined us, quietly watching. I learned so much about bears that morning from my guide, who had spent years researching them.
I later met up with my cousin for dinner and entertained her with my safari stories. After living in Jackson Hole for nine years, she had only seen a bear once; it was certainly a special treat to see the bear family.
We continued on into the Grand Tetons National Park to Mormon Row and the famous T.A. Moulton Barn. Surrounded by wide open spaces with the Tetons peaks rising behind, it's not surprising that this remnant of the 1912 homestead is one of the most photographed places in America. While there, we spotted antelope that can run up to 60 miles per hour, and on the way back out, a moose was crossing the road.
My time in the parks was an inspiring experience. On top of the incredible scenery in every direction, I was so grateful to both of my guides for not just showing me but teaching me about the wildlife, their habitats and life cycles. I am excited to go back with my family and show them too.
American West Wildlife Checklist
These are the animals you can expect to see out on the ranges of Yellowstone and Grand Tetons National Parks.
Pro Tip! Save your skin and wear sunscreen, even when it’s cold. - Catherine Brown, Luxury Travel Expert