Sunday, May 9, 2010
   The morning is sunny and about 35 degrees. Not too bad, especially when we expected freezing temperatures and snow overnight. The Madison River elk are bedded opposite Riverside Drive, a few dark brown heads poking above the tall grass. Others graze on the river banks, unafraid, eating and watching the car pass with one eye. A single trumpeter swan floats on the quiet waters of the Madison.
   At the Junction we turn north and the weather becomes cloudy. Road construction causes a short delay and we are on our way to Canyon. Walls of snow about 3 feet tall line the road. Cascade Meadows is pure white, the trail completely blanketed by snow, a stream bubbling and curving through pristine meadows. The weather alternates from clear to cloudy to snow flurries and back to clear and sunny. Sometimes it's sunny and there are still snow flurries.
   Hayden Valley is empty except for a few bison and several pairs of sand hill cranes. Winter is obvious here. We cross Fisherman's Bridge and pass Lake Yellowstone - a vast expanse of snow and ice. A narrow border of water caresses the beaches of Mary Bay and Sedge Bay, but the rest is white that goes on forever.
   We drive past Storm Point, high above the lake and sulfur fumes, past the coyote's den, and turn around. At Sedge Bay cars are pulled over. A brown phase black bear roams the hillside grazing on new spring grass. Funny to think we were just here and didn't see this good sized bear. In the sage his cinnamon color blends with the grass and dirt and he almost disappears. Snow is a good thing. Farther north along the Yellowstone we see something else we missed on the way down - a light gray coyote curled on the snowy hillside yawns and scratches its ear. Its mate is not far away, walking on top of the ridge on the horizon.
   We drive back through Hayden Valley stopping where we once watched the Hayden Pack swim across the river and feed on carcasses. The picnic area near Otter Creek across from their old den is covered with snow two feet deep. I look at the slopes where their pups playfully slid into the Yellowstone and miss those almost pure white wolves. Driving the Canyon Road is haunted with memories now - some not so good. I see the Haydens bedded in the snow in Cascade Meadows, but I hear the howls of the Mollies as they travel through the pine trees along the road.
   At the junction we turn north passing Norris Campground. A string of cars crowd the edge of the road. Down in the Gibbon River flats is a black uncollared wolf. It is shedding its winter coat giving its fur a chocolate brown sheen. It wanders through the trees aimlessly and disappears at the river's edge. This is the first time we've seen a wolf in this area. It may be a member of the Gibbon Pack, but with wolves dispersing right and left we can't be sure.
   Some parts of the road are packed with snow and the temperature drops a bit. We hit another jam at Indian Creek campground - our first grizzly. He is a big bear with a blonde band around his body just behind his front legs. He forages in the meadow, ignoring the large crowd of visitors, photographers and excited children while two rangers herd the crowds away as best they can.
   The sky is gray, but it's not snowing or raining, so we take a short hike into Swan Lake flats, keeping our eyes on the surrounding hillsides. The trail is soft and muddy and partly snow covered. A dark spot we dismiss as a bison is acting like a bear. We hike further in cautiously and lose the spot, thinking he disappeared behind the next hill. Then we see him on the ridge and watch him crisscross the hillside. Even at this distance, it's a big grizzly.
   On our way back (before we are delayed once more at Norris), a beautiful very light coyote has convinced several visitors he is a white wolf. A common mistake in the Park. But he is a very handsome coyote, so it doesn't matter.

Author - Christine Baleshta
Photography - Tim Springer

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Yellowstone Experiences 2010