Tuesday, October 5, 2010
Lamar Valley is quiet this morning, hardly a bison or elk visible, people standing at turnouts looking helpless. There are no wolf signals this morning. On Sunday there was a carcass in the Soda Butte near Hiker's Bridge; hence signs warning "No Stopping" are posted. We heard the '06 female (alpha female of the Lamar Canyon Pack) gave visitors quite a show this weekend.
The mountains glow pink in the sunrise on this clear morning. The Antelope fire, now smoldering, is more evident in Little America where haze and the scent of smoke hangs in the air. A dark brown grizzly is sprawled on a bison carcass. I can see his ears and a sandy colored nose.
The carcass has been lying there for two weeks and has finally been discovered.
We drive up Tower Road toward Canyon where a small black bear forages on the steep, wooded slope above the road, our second bear for the day already. The road along Antelope Creek is a sight. The ground is coal black and littered with fallen, burned trees, but there are also live trees sticking up through the burn, their white trunks and green branches in sharp contrast to the earth beneath them. Swirls of smoke loom in the distance. It looks better than I expected.
In Hayden Valley, the Canyon Pack's three puppies are playing in the rendezvous site, the same site used by the Hayden Pack, whose alpha pair were their grandparents.
Their mother is the daughter of 540 and 541, the almost white wolves who surprised and delighted so many with their presence. Their father is large and black, a Mollie. Two pups are gray and one is black. They roll and chase and bite, and then lie down and sleep - like puppies. They are probably waiting for their parents and uncle, another former Mollie wolf.
We cruise to Yellowstone Lake and Mary Bay and Sedge Bay, then back up to Hayden. The pups are still bedded down, so we go on to Chittendon Bridge, looking for the rest of the Canyon wolves. Still morning, we hike the trail to the Lower Falls in a fine drizzle. The water crashes down in ribbons of white in between canyon walls of cream and rose and green. We have the lookout to ourselves on this quiet morning.
The day is a mixture of rain and sun and clouds. We hike past Indian Pond and through the woods out to Storm Point on Yellowstone Lake. The point is a rock cliff above the lake with a trail extending out along the shore. Piles of rock jut out from the shore forming little peninsulas.
Asters still bloom. The marmot colony, a tower of rocks and dirt, is empty now. It starts to rain. We hike in the rain anyway and by the time we are almost back to the car, the sun is shining over the lake. Another trip down to Lake Hotel and Gull Point. This part of the Park is almost deserted, peaceful, raw. It feels like true wilderness.
The bison are in top form today.
We pass at least three bison jams, maneuvering our vehicle through the herd, weaving carefully. At Pelican Valley there is an especially large bull who dominates the herd. The bison jump into the road, walking up the yellow line; calves hop across the pavement following their mothers, one eye on us. We roll down the window listening to grunts and snorts.
On our way back, we pass quickly through Hayden and Canyon. Dunraven doesn't look so bad tonight. Some deadfall has burned and that's good, but it looks like mostly grass has burned. I bet it will be beautiful in spring, filled with wildflowers. Just east of Yellowstone Picnic area, a little black bear forages in the woods. This could be one of the sows we saw last May. She ignores the small crowd watching her and zigzags up the slope, eating all the way.
Between Footbridge and Soda Butte Cone we catch, at the last minute, a sow grizzly and her cub of the year dashing up the banks of the Lamar River and into the trees. It was quick, but we saw them. So we had a five bear day - very unusual for fall.
Author - Christine Baleshta
Photography - Tim Springer
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