This has been a strange trip in that the wildlife seems to have disappeared. In other years, even if we did not see wolves the first few days, we saw plenty of elk, bison, coyotes, and antelope. Lamar Valley is quiet and almost empty. There are no elk and we have yet to see a coyote (other than the one I saw yesterday). There are few antelope or deer. The Druid pups were out this morning before we reach the Lamar, maybe 6:45 a.m. Pauline told us they howled and retreated to the trees and no one saw them after that.
   We don't wait around and drive up Tower Road where two big horn sheep step into the road and climb one of the steep rock walls. It amazes me how easily the ewe and lamb sprint up the wall of rocks. As we pass Mt. Washburn cow elk gingerly step down the hillsides along the road. The bull elk is not visible today, but we hear bugling from the steep slopes.
   Cascade Meadows and Hayden Valley are quiet too. It's colder in this part of the Park and more elk are visible. We watch a coyote hunt and bison grazing in a meadow where we have seen grizzlies foraging. There are a few calves born late in summer that still have their red-brown coats. One calf is turning the chocolate brown of adults, but is multi-colored now. Both his eyes are ringed in dark brown, and his legs are brown just past his elbows with a dark brown streak down his back. The rest of his coat is reddish brown.
   We return north on the road stopping at Otter Creek where a service road leads back to a few small meadows. The bugling of elk is loud and echoes off the hillsides. A bull elk grazes alone in one corner of the meadow while a cow watches us from her spot on a hill, then bounds away. Several years ago we saw a very light coyote here that we thought was a wolf. Having now watched the Haydens for a few years, I'm not sure it wasn't.
   We loop back, traveling past Cascade Meadows to Norris Junction to Gibbon Meadows; up to Norris and Twin Lakes, Indian Creek and Swan Lake Flats. We see elk, but hardly huge herds.
   It's almost noon and we decide to explore the Yellowstone Trail where it runs along the river opposite Rescue Creek Trail. The first half mile is on private property, a slightly wooded area, but the rest is a narrow path curling and dipping above the Yellowstone River. Sometimes it's too narrow. Despite beautiful views of the canyon and river rapids, it scares me. It feels like it's in the 90s and we get more than our share of sun. We follow the trail to a wooden bridge, newly built and stained and walk over rocks down to the river where we find cougar and bear tracks in the sand. We wade into the ice cold water, the bottom squishy and soft. It is a beautiful, secluded place - and we share it only with one fisherman.
   It's been a long time since we've had such a slow wildlife week. It makes me realize how lucky we've been during previous trips and gives me time to appreciate other aspects of Yellowstone, like long hikes in new places and interesting landscapes.
   On our way back to the cabin Tim spots a great horned owl perched on the branch of a dead pine tree in Lamar Canyon. The owl sits there for a long time looking down at the Lamar River rushing past him, maybe planning its next meal. There is an old owl's nest still there, so maybe this owl is re-establishing residence.

Author - Christine Baleshta
Photography - Tim Springer

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Yellowstone Experiences 2008