As snow began to drift down at the end of Yellowstone National Park’s summer season, a stealthy forest denizen quietly observed the final pulse of visitors. 

Photographer Carla Wensky captured the great gray owl — one of the tallest of the owl species, and a normally elusive creature — on Nov. 6. Yellowstone closed most of its gates for the summer season later that day. 

Great gray owls are striking in size and are identified by their disc-shaped face and luminous yellow eyes. Most of their bulk comes from their feathers. Their range extends from the Northern Rockies into parts of Wyoming. 

Wensky had set out in search of grizzly bears that day, but instead happened across a group of photographers with their lenses trained on the owl. She has only seen a great gray owl one other time in Wyoming, many years ago, she told WyoFile in an email.

She crossed some down timber and used a long lens, she said. The snow started falling and this shot was one of the last she took before her memory card filled, she said. 

“It was a really amazing experience,” Wensky wrote. “I feel so fortunate to live in this area.”

As it closed down much of its summer access, Yellowstone reported its highest visitation year ever. Through October, Yellowstone had hosted 4.79 million visits, besting the previous record of 4.21 million visits set in 2016 with two months still to go.

The park’s North Entrance remains open to vehicles year-round. Park officials plan to open other roads to oversnow travel on Dec. 15, conditions permitting. 

Katie Klingsporn is WyoFile's managing editor. She is a journalist and word geek who has been writing about life in the West for 15 years. Her pieces have appeared in Adventure Journal, National Geographic...

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