The sky is a perfect blue this morning with fluffy white clouds. The ominous gray sky is gone and with it the rain. Drops fall from the pine trees near the cabin reminding me of what yesterday was like. It's still cold, about 38 degrees, but today Yellowstone returns to spring.
    We cruise back and forth through Lamar Valley, watching elk and bison graze and antelope dance through the grass. No wolves. Spotters are everywhere, scopes pointed in every direction. They're here somewhere they seem to say. Wolf spotter "56" says he sees "something." It turns out to be a lone wolf on the far side of Mr. Norris, which no one can see very well. We park the car closer and closer and still don't see him. I'm disappointed. Where are the wolves?
    We walk Children's Fire Trail, an easy, pleasant walk in Blacktail Deer Plateau. Most of Blacktail Deer Plateau is still closed as a bear management area. I think about the Leopold Pack who used to live here and rendezvous on the hills opposite this trail. They have dispersed and split into different packs, as 480M and 302M, both Leopolds, did many years ago.
    Wolf numbers are down this year, partly due to high pup mortality. That could be one reason wolves are not easily seen anymore. Rick McIntyre, the definition of diplomacy and good manners, races around trying to find wolves. We have a scanner, but this trip we do not hear wolf watchers conversing much at all. Only "I have something" or "I'll meet you where you usually park." Why the covert conversation? I can think of reasons: everyone and his uncle have scanners now and the Lamar is crowded. Perhaps they are 1) trying to control the crowds; and 2) keep people away from den sites. We give up a little after 8. We are not going to fight the Lamar Valley circus to see a lone wolf on the far side of Mt. Norris, which means it might as well be ten miles away. Instead, I drink coffee at a picnic table at the lodge and watch robins and chiselers and bison.
    Later we stop at Wraith Falls to see the waterfall. This hike is a short walk through some burnout and new growth to a decent sized waterfall. The chiselers are curious and not afraid of people. They scurry down the boardwalk, almost running over our feet. A fat marmot wobbles over rocks and along logs.
    We hiked three new trails today - Narrow Gauge Terrace, Sepulcher Mountain and Beaver Ponds, all beginning at the Mammoth Terraces. Narrow Gauge is a short, steep trail winding behind the Mammoth Terraces to a thermal area of rocks and pools. The trail is lined with Arrowhead Balsamroot and ends in a meadow filled with larkspur, arrowhead balsamroot and yarrow, ribbons of purple, yellow, and white on green. Narrow Gauge Terrace is layered steps of steam and pools of water, hidden next to the Upper Terraces.
    Hiking down, a lady tells us bears were seen on Sepulcher Mountain Trail, so we turn right around and charge up the hill. That trail switchbacks nicely, but is still steep and climbs through a wooded area, opening to a small meadow. Not far from the trail, maybe 20 feet, a black bear is napping under a tree. He is a big, black boar and way too close, so we back away from the trail and make a half circle through the meadow around him. On the hillside above is a cinnamon colored sow and two year-old black cubs. The sow is trying to get to a carcass deep in the ravine that the boar is guarding, but the black bear is not letting her near. She backs off, then steps closer and the boar huffs at her. I have never been close enough to hear that before. The sow walks up the hill slowly climbing over logs and there in the woods are two year-old black cubs. She leads the cubs away from the boar, all three ambling up the slope and into the trees. I feel sorry for them. Food is not easy to come by and the carcass would have been a treat.
    Somehow we wind up on the Beaver Ponds trail which is a five mile loop through woods and meadows of wildflowers and ponds. A cow moose stands on a slope above the Beaver Ponds, but slips into the trees when she sees us. There are lots of colorful birds in the grasses surrounding the ponds - red-winged blackbirds, yellow-headed blackbirds, nuthatches. A very nice trail. Long with changes in elevation and a bit muddy (no surprise), but very worth the effort.

Author - Christine Baleshta
Photography - Tim Springer

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Yellowstone Experiences 2009