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...two travellers in search of the world's wildlife

30 September 2012

Elk in the smoke

15th September 2012

Oof, but the mornings start cold! It’s only September and the weather is fine, but it’s just below freezing at dawn and the bright sunshine only manages to deliver proper warmth in the afternoon. This is down to altitude; we may be on a flat plain, but we’re perched up around 2400m high.

This particular morning we hiked up to Signal Mountain, a walk we had entirely to ourselves as there is a road up to the top which means most people drive. Starting the walk before dawn was also a good way to ensure solitude. We were after wildlife, though in the event we only saw a pair of elk through the smoke.

Yes, as we hiked through the tinder-dry pine forest we began to smell wood smoke. Soon enough we could see it, drifting like fog among the trees. Sane people would probably have turned back at this point. But when we start a hike, we finish it. Turns out a couple of gigantic wildfires that have been burning for weeks in distant forests were filling the valley with smoke as there has been scarcely any wind for a month.

Signal Mountain is only really a hill in the middle of the plain, but that gives it superb views of the Grand Tetons with the sagebrush plains stretched out below. Or it would do, if not for the smoke When we reached the top we couldn’t even see the towering peaks a few miles away.

Later in the day, even better than the dinosaur bones, we spotted an otter on the Snake River and watched first one and then a second otter as they swam in the river and climbed briefly onto the bank. The water was so clear that we could see the otter chasing fish under the surface. Otter sighting make any day perfect! Except for my brother, who had tragically left the SD card out of his camera.

The late afternoon was given over to a float trip down the Snake River; a big rubber raft full of tourists and piloted by a guide with two big oars. No, it’s not really white-water. It was beautiful though, admittedly without much wildlife beyond a charming mother and baby mule deer in the shallows. For the only time in our stay the smoke properly lifted and we had clear views of the peaks.

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