It rained on and off today. We didn't know quite what to do with the day so as usual, we head straight for Lamar Valley. We stop at one turnout, then the next, and the next, stopping to scan Jasper Bench, Amethyst Bench. Vehicles crowd the turnouts at Trash Can and Exclosure, spotting scopes pointed across the river. Two wolves have been seen moving west, but they're out of sight now. After waiting and watching a while longer, we leave for Little America and Slough Creek. Today is a good day to go to Canyon. If the weather turns really bad tonight, we may not get down to Lake for a while.
The sun is coming out and warming us quickly. We stop to check on the osprey chick. This nest has been here for several years on top of a pointed rock jutting into the sky from the canyon. We have watched the female sitting on her eggs each year from this turnout next to the high rocky walls along the road. The chick is almost as large as his parents and can be heard cheeping for food. When a parent swoops in he lifts his wings in excitement, as if he's getting ready to take off. Across the canyon, sprawled on the rocky ledges are five big horn sheep ewes with two lambs. One youngster is sleeping next to his mother. He gets up and wants to play, jumping on her back, pouncing with his hooves. The other lamb leaps around in circles and soon the babies are chasing each other over rocks and around one of the few trees growing on the ledge. It's amazing how the sheep navigate the rocky slope and maintain their balance. These are the same sheep we see when we hike the Yellowstone Trail.
Dunraven Pass is still cold and snowy, snow pushed into a bank along the road and tall walls of snow at the Washburn parking lot. When we turn the corner, we meet a string of parked cars and people with cameras lining the narrow curving road. A large black bear is climbing through the snow. He is reddish brown, darker than the normal cinnamon color, perhaps wet from the rain. He plunges through foot-deep snow around the corner, through the pines and then up again and into the forest.
We pass through Hayden Valley, green and quiet, on to Mary Bay and Sedge Bay and walk along Yellowstone Lake's rocky, narrow shore. The water is so clear, but the snowmelt has not left much beach. We skip rocks across the glassy surface and sit down on a log, wrapping our jackets around us.
From Indian Pond we hike to Storm Point. The trail is muddy at the beginning, but level. We have to bushwhack our way around two bison grazing around Indian Pond. The trail is mostly level curving along Indian Pond and then winding through forest over a short wooden bridge to the lake shore. It opens up into a large sandy meadow with rocks and grass, jutting out into Lake Yellowstone. It's almost like being on the ocean. The rocky point rises above the water on a high steep ledge dropping to the sandy beach.
A marmot colony lives here. I see two fat adults, running in and out of piles of rocks while four babies run back and forth through the meadow and on top of the rocks and in and out of holes. Tim counts as many as four adults and twelve babies - I just thought they were the same ones. Marmots live in colonies of ten to twenty. A male marmot can have between one and four mates and four to five offspring with each. When alarmed, as when seeing an intruder (us), they chirp or whistle. We were clearly unexpected and unwelcome guests. Youngsters and adults scurry around over and in between the rocks.
The sandy trail continues along the ledge above the Lake. Grizzly tracks, a sow and a cub, imprint the sand. It's a beautiful place and we would like to linger, but its starts to rain. With threatening dark clouds spreading from the Tetons, we have to get moving.
Before heading back we drive south towards the marina. The road follows the Lake Shore and I wish I could be here early in the morning or at dusk. I picture grizzlies and black bears crossing the road to drink at the water. At Gull Point the road is closed because the Lake is almost level with the road.
This evening four Druids are harassing a bison cow with a calf east of Amethyst Bench. It looks like 480M with two collared grays and another uncollared black. They run around the cow and calf and chase them, then lie down and watch. The cow does a good job of protecting her calf, who alternately hides under her legs and runs ahead. The cow keeps pushing east toward the bench, urging the calf ahead, while she keeps the wolves at bay.
A herd of bison is grazing just north of the cow and calf, but curiously seem to ignore the two in trouble. The wolves stand up and start the chase again. I am not sure I want to watch as the wolves continue chasing the cow and calf behind a berm.
Suddenly, A streak of brown comes barreling down Amethyst bench. A different herd of bison to the rescue, crashing down the slopes, behind the berm! And then . . . . calm. We are staring at the green slopes, now empty. A string of bison exits west of the berm led by a limping cow followed by a calf. It looks like the mother and her calf are safe.
The wolves don't appear for a while. One by one they come around the east side of the berm and disappear in between two berms. One of the grays is limping - she was limping even as she chased the bison. Someone nearby saw the cow kick her and said the wolf kept going. Slowly the wolves walk into the tall grass on the west side of the berm and lie down. 480 is standing, looking to the east. He's waiting for the limping gray that finally appears and joins them. There are puppies to feed and the wolves need to eat, but I'm relieved we were spared viewing a successful hunt.
Author - Christine Baleshta
Photography - Tim Springer
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