It's still raining. Fine drizzle quickly turns to snow and sleet and once again Tower Junction and Lamar Valley are dusted in white, but quickly change back to vibrant green. Back and forth - rain, snow, rain. The weather makes visibility poor. The Lamar Valley is quiet - no wolves, but bison and elk graze contentedly and pronghorn prance through the grass while a coyote hunts for breakfast. Maybe the reason all is peaceful is that no wolves are weaving through the valley.
    On the way to Phantom Lake we stop to check on the sand hill crane, sitting on her nest at Floating Island Lake. Rain has filled the tiny lake making the island much smaller, but she sits there diligently each day in her little space, hiding her eggs. Geese and mallards also share the lake.
    This morning the great gray owl is perched on top of a dead pine tree. It is a magnificent bird more than a foot tall with intricate dark gray markings on its feathers. It sits on its perch for about thirty minutes, rotating its head and tilting it up and down, looking for prey. Its eyes are piercing. It floats to the ground with a few labored flaps of its wings, where it continues to hunt. This seems odd - I thought owls targeted their prey, dove for it and caught it. This owl's expression seems to say, "I know I saw it - where did it go?" It is only the second great gray owl I've seen in the Park and the first for Tim. Later the owl flies and lands on the road just inside the white line on the shoulder and doesn't move for passing cars. Everyone watching is duly disturbed because we read about owls being hit while on the road. This owl has many guardians today who warn passing cars; other owls are not so lucky.
    We drive back to Lamar Valley to check on the cow moose that is still near the tree without her calf. She stands like a black statue. This is the last time we will see her. Two other moose -young bulls with small antlers- are bedded on the snowy hillside near Pebble creek. Across the road in Round Prairie, an elk cow and her calf watch us through an island of trees where they take shelter from the snow and rain.
    It clears long enough for Tim to take some pictures near Buffalo Institute while I walk up the road and pet the rangers' horses. Wildflowers are blooming. Dandelions spread a yellow carpet over the grass and arrowhead balsamroot sprout from rocky crevices in Lamar Canyon. Lavender harebells, phlox and larkspur are everywhere.
    Today we drive past Antelope Creek and Mount Washburn to Hayden Valley. Dunraven Pass has been closed for almost two days. It was like driving above the clouds going to Canyon and driving through them coming back. In Hayden Valley it was clear enough to see a grizzly traveling along the tree line on the hills across the river. Antler Creek is swollen; Yellowstone River is like a waterfall under Artists Bridge.
    On the way back it starts to sleet. Vehicles are still parked on Antelope as the sunlight fades rapidly. The small Agate Pack has been seen here, their old territory, on and off. Tonight, before it rains again, we walk along the Tower Road looking for foxes and enjoying the sunset over the hills. No foxes, but plenty of bison and elk.

Author - Christine Baleshta
Photography - Tim Springer

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Yellowstone Experiences 2009