We leave the cabin at 6:45 and drive through early morning darkness toward Lamar Valley. The road is bordered by tall pines stretching toward the sky. In past years we would spot a moose or deer, but today there is only a large bull bison facing us in the middle of the road, then turning to walk alongside the car as we cautiously pass him. Lamar Valley is quiet, but there are wolves out there because turnouts are filled with vehicles and there are spotters on the hills.
We cruise back and forth, but have no luck. Two wolves play on the south side of the river - a black and a gray with some brown in its fur. It takes forever to find them romping in the grass and sage, even with directions. The two wrestle with each as they move east toward the Druid Pack rendezvous site.
We hear a lot of howling today. It's hard to tell where the sounds come from, but it seems to be behind us, north of the road. We travel down the road towards Slough Creek and turn around - I can't remember why. A black wolf is running in the sage north of Coyote, not too far from the road. Another Druid pup. Slough Creek wolves are in the area also, though we never see them. Not long ago 526F of the Sloughs was killed by the Druids and people are concerned that there might be another altercation between the two packs.
The black wolf zigzags his way up the hill where he joins a gray. They disappear over the ridge reappearing east of there. We travel down the road again and stop somewhere east of picnic. The pups are still out in the sage. Five adults are bedded down on a knoll, though I can only see four - three blacks and a gray. A mournful howl rises from the north side of the road, probably one of the pups. It is a different howl, almost half bark.
We are tired of watching sleeping wolves and head down the road and up to Mt. Washburn. The elk must still be high up because we haven't seen any in the valley. It's warm, but not that warm.
We hike Howard Eaton Trail through Hayden Valley today, starting at the turnout south of Artist's Point Bridge. This trail weaves down through Hayden Valley, past the Hayden Pack's old rendezvous site, the site the Haydens used hundreds of times as they traveled in a loop, across Artists Point bridge and down to Hayden Valley again.
There are lots of wolf tracks and wolf sign along the trail. It is a special experience knowing 540F and 541M traveled this path so many times. I remember watching one of their yearlings travel north along the road from Mary Mountain Trail up toward the bridge. Last November, a wolf stood sniffing the pavement in the middle of the road shortly after the Hayden alpha pair was killed. We didn't know if it was a Hayden or a Mollie. Now I think it was a Hayden.
A bull elk bugles in the distance, echoing through the meadow. We never see him. It reminds me of the howling we heard when the Mollies were traveling through Cascade Meadows. Eerie and beautiful at the same time.
Today there are no Mollies, though we heard someone at the Institute store in Canyon say they saw wolves walking down the road. They couldn't say where it was, but I believe it was the Canyon Group traveling near Norris. They had a kill at one of the Twin Lakes last week and were in that area.
I love this hike - it passes through meadows with clusters of wooded areas filled with pine trees.
We see squirrels, mountain chickadees, gray jays, juncos, a Clark's Nutcracker and a red-tailed hawk - all the little creatures seem to like this place. After passing the Haydens' rendezvous site the trail crosses Sour Creek and has to be forded. Off come the shoes and socks and we're through the frigid water to the other side. I can't decide which part is worse, the numbing cold of the water or the sharp rocks. I just grit my teeth and move forward.
After drying our feet and putting our shoes and socks back on, we aren't 50 yards down the trail when we see a sign closing the trail because of fire danger, so we have to cross the creek all over again. The other alternative is to take the Sour Creek Trail back, but there is no safe place to cross the rushing waters. I'm still glad we did it -there are lots of trails in Yellowstone where you have to cross water, especially in spring conditions, so now we have a little experience.
We reach Alum Creek just in time to see a group of bison swimming - actually swimming - across the creek. They wade in carefully, then begin to swim and stand on sand bars where the are able to rise above the water slightly before plunging back into the water.
On the way home I spot a coyote traveling in the sage west of Hiker's Bridge. He is large and looks like a wolf, the first and only coyote either of us has seen so far.
Author - Christine Baleshta
Photography - Tim Springer
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