Saturday, May 17, 2008
The snow is disappearing quickly from the rolling hills in the Lamar Valley. The carcass on the river bank is mostly bare, or has floated away, and there are no Druid wolves in sight. Pronghorn look down from the hills next to the Institute and stroll through the sage.
Vehicles cruise back and forth along the road, people gather at various turnouts looking in every direction. They anticipate seeing the Druids, but so far they haven't appeared.
Slough Creek's parking lots are full even though there is no action at the den. As we drive through Little America a few cars slow down in front of us. A chocolate colored wolf is weaving through the sage. The sun shines on its fur, giving it a golden sheen. It sniffs its way up to the ridge, traveling west. We lose it for a few minutes and then the wolf reappears chasing a small herd of elk, like a dark streak shooting across the sage. But the elk are faster and hidden by the deep vegetation, leaving the wolf behind. The wolf is 642, a black female pup with the Agate Creek Pack born last spring. For a year-old wolf, she is surprisingly fast and brave to try to take down an elk by herself. She winds her way down the hill sniffing through the sage and finds what appears to be a long piece of meat. She carries her prize up the hill to eat, then continues up the slope disappearing in the shadows and brush.
We look for 527F for a while on the mountainside across from Wrecker. That area is scattered with trees and rocks and fallen logs opening to small sun-filled clearings. 527F is supposed to have denned somewhere in this area, but it's too huge to hope to find her. There are so many places where this would be a good place for her to den. It's far enough away from other packs and easy enough to hide. There's also plenty of elk in the area.
It would be nice to see "my" wolf, but she is an illusive one, and considering all the packs in the northern range, that may help her and her group survive. I wonder if she has puppies.
Near Specimen Ridge trailhead, a grizzly lumbers past the pond. He moves around a hill, out of sight, only to walk through a ravine and cross the road. People rush to the other side of the road and up the hill. Two ladies in a blue van pull up along side within yards of the bear. The bear stops and glares, (if a bear can do that), clearly uncomfortable. Obviously crowded, he lets the ladies know by taking a step toward their vehicle. Tim and another photographer take note. The other photographer says "He did NOT like that." Hopefully the lesson was learned and the bear moves on.
We finally see Rosie today with both cubs. She is in her usual meadow next to Calcite feeding in the grass while her black and cinnamon cubs play at the base of a tree. The cubs, about the size of cats, roll around and lay on top of each other. The cinnamon is a sort of dusty brown and seems more assertive than the black, swatting and laying on top of him. A diesel truck growls by and the cubs are up the tree, only the little black in sight, draping himself over a branch.
Rosie decides to cool off in a pool of water next to the tree. She lies down in the water, gets up and then flops down again. She shakes herself off, black fur shining, and begins scratching her back against another tree. She stretches up high, looking taller than she is. It's nice to see the cubs. We missed them last May, or she didn't have any. We see two more black bears, a year-old cub up the road from Calcite and then another black bear on the way down Tower Road, climbing up a hill.
Slowly we make our way out of the Park. We pass bison and calves and antelope in Little America. In Lamar Valley, people are still waiting, looking for the Druids. A coyote hunts along the banks of the Confluence. The snow at Pebble Creek which covered the campground on Tuesday is almost gone. The temperature is in the low 60s.
The drive to Billings is too long. The Chief Joseph Highway curves through Shoshone National Forest - real grizzly country. Signs everywhere warn of bear activity and campgrounds are still closed because the snow is too deep. There are no elk and we spot only one deer. We pull over on a turnout which overlooks a valley filled with ranches, to rearrange our baggage and take in one last view of the mountains.
Author - Christine Baleshta
Photography - Tim Springer
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