Sunday, May 11, 2008 (East Entrance)
   It is still winter at the eastern edge of the Park. We drive through walls of snow on either side of the road, negotiating patches of ice. Gusts of white wind blow across the road. A small outbuilding stands high on the hillside, an avalanche gun pointed towards the opposite side like a cannon.
   Driving through the East Entrance is like coming to a new Yellowstone, winding past the Beartooths and the Absorakas in the distance. Pine trees reach to the sky while Silvan Lake is a field of snow. And then there is Lake Yellowstone, almost completely frozen. Ice slowly breaks away from the shore forming beautiful geometric shapes.
   Across from Sedge Bay a large, healthy grizzly zigzags down the slopes foraging among the deadfall. He is golden brown and when the light catches his face he appears to have a black eye. He lumbers over and around the top of the hill and down the other side, shuffling through the grass, only about 50 yards from the road.
   We made plans to ride horses this morning on a trail above the cabins so we leave the grizzly behind all too soon. The horses are big - wide with thick legs, probably mustangs or part mustang. Their hooves and legs are muddy from the spring conditions, their coats varying from black to brown, to roan and buckskin. Mike, the owner and guide, rides the buckskin, a bossy gelding that breaks away from the rail and begins biting two black horses. Tim points to the horses, trying to call attention to the trouble, but no one notices until the horses start squealing. Mike grabs the troublemaker and ties him to a different rail.
   Tim rides a chestnut and I ride a roan. The trail begins along a stream and continues into a clearing where some mule deer are grazing. One horse spooks and his rider pulls up on the reins getting him under control quickly. The horses climb the slope slowly, plodding up the rocky trail. Parts of the trail are muddy and wet from snowmelt, crossing pools of water and patches of snow.
   Then we reach a marshy area. Mike and two little girls, each about 7 years old, splash right through it. Their mothers follow and start having trouble, their horses thrashing through mud and water, the horses sinking deeper. The woman and man ahead of Tim experience even more difficulty, the woman's horse slipping and sinking almost to its hindquarters. Tim's chestnut moves forward and sinks to its belly in mud, almost level with the ground. Tim slides off into the mud while the horse manages to pull itself out, I still haven't figured out how. My eyes are popping and I'm thinking there's no way I'm going through that. I hop off, put the reins over the saddle horn and grab the roan's lead rope, gently pulling him forward, hoping to walk around. The roan wants none of it and bites my hand. I don't blame him. I survey the terrain and take in my options, which at that moment aren't many. With Tim's help I lead him around the marsh and up a hill to firmer ground.
   I am more nervous after that, but Tim and the horses take it all in stride. The views from the trail are beautiful, overlooking the Shoshone River, Sleeping Giant and Cody Peak. It's windy and cold at the top of the trail, even with the sun out, so we were glad we wore our coats. Back at the cabins Mike apologizes profusely offering us quarters for the on-site laundry, but Tim is thrilled by his experience and washes his jeans in the shower and drapes them over the porch railing to dry.
   After our adventure, we drive back into the Park to Lake Yellowstone, and up through Hayden Valley to Canyon. The weather changes back and forth from cold and gray and windy, to cold and sunny and windy, then to snow flurries and rain. We watch sand hill cranes near Artists Point and look all over for the Mollie Pack. This year I sponsored the collar on 640F, a female gray pup with that pack and I would like to see her just once. All we find are tracks zigzagging and curving through snow that is about 3 feet deep.
   Greg Reed, the wolf ambassador for the Canyon-Hayden area tells us he has seen the Mollies inconsistently this spring. They denned in Pelican Valley and do not travel far from there, but he expects that once the snow has melted, the Mollies will be back in Hayden Valley. He saw them last summer marking the Hayden Pack's old territory. This valley will never be the same for me as I remember our last trip and losing the Haydens' alpha pair. And now I have a wolf in the pack that killed them.
   The rain continues on and off, cold gusts of wind blowing all afternoon so we leave the Park and walk along the Shoshone River. We find some very large grizzly tracks less than one-half mile from the cabins. It looks like the grizzly was slipping in the mud, too.

Author - Christine Baleshta
Photography - Tim Springer

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Yellowstone Experiences 2008