Wednesday, October 6, 2010
Fog settles in the Lamar Valley like a heavy blanket. We can barely see 40 feet ahead of us. Haze covers the valley, lifting only as we reach Lamar Canyon. By the time we reach Slough Creek, it is almost clear. People wait in turnouts and on hills, spotting scopes pointed in every direction. Down the road near Boulder, a group of seven wolves, four gray and three black, are after the bison carcass guarded by the bear. Coyotes yip and squeal loudly as we park and jump out of the car. The wolves circle the carcass, darting in to grab a piece, while the bear swats and spins around, defending his prize. A second grizzly, lighter and more golden, comes in and is chased down the slope by the wolves wagging their raised tails in the air.
Wolves and bear continue their dance.
The bear tears at the carcass, and turns in every direction, keeping his eyes on the wolves. One wolf will distract him while another lunges to steal a portion. Neither the wolves nor the bear are getting much to eat and all are getting weary of their game. The wolves bed down in the grass, occasionally getting up to check on their meal.
Their gray and black fur provides subtle camouflage and they fade into the rocks and sage. We are not sure which pack this is. The count is right for the Lamar Canyon wolves, but it would mean the pups are traveling with the adults, and these wolves are all pretty big. Later we learn they are the Blacktail Pack, 302's Pack. They are beautiful wolves with thick, shiny fur. They work well together and seem to be a happy pack. 302 would be very proud. We watch for two hours and finally head back to Lamar Valley to hike Trout Lake and search for more wolves.
Trout Lake is like glass and we are alone in the middle of the morning. A trout comes to the surface and then swims beneath shadows cast by the cottonwoods; a black bear forages high on the hillside at the edge of the trees. We walk around the perimeter of the small lake and climb the hill that overlooks the Lamar Valley and Soda Butte Creek. From here Soda Butte Creek can be seen winding through yellowing grass past Soda Butte Cone, Hiker's Bridge and Hitching Post. When we walk down the hill we are no longer alone - a family with three small children, all carrying fishing poles, follows the path around the lake. A new log bridge has been built over Trout Lake where it empties into a stream. I am grateful for this bridge, a simple affair with a single railing, since I fell off the old one.
We turn around and make our way back slowly through Lamar Canyon and Little America.
Boulder is still crowded with people watching the Blacktail Pack challenge the two grizzlies. Right after Specimen Ridge trailhead cars are pulled over to watch a coyote hunting in the meadows below Junction Butte. He is long and gray with sharply pointed red ears. He pounces, coming up with a mouse or other rodent.
This morning started out at 38 degrees and by noon it's about 65 degrees. The little black bear on Tower Road is out again, foraging on the slopes above the road, congested with cars and visitors stopping to watch. The rest of the afternoon glides by as we weave along the north road past Hellroarin, Blacktail Road and Blacktail Ponds - all the familiar places.
After stopping in Mammoth for ice cream and to listen to elk bugle, we walk along Indian Creek, curving quietly through the marsh. Tall grasses cling to rocks beneath the shallow water - good moose habitat. A service road runs parallel to the creek and through meadows filled with deadfall, lying crisscrossed in the grass and dirt. A loud clap of thunder shatters the almost silence and we head back to the car.
The sky is dark with clouds. We stop at the Upper Terrace where a rainbow bends over Mammoth. While Tim takes pictures from the boardwalk I watch a bull elk thrash his antlers in the sage. His harem hovers nearby looking anxious. His bugling echoes even up to the terrace. Passing through Mammoth we stop to get a closer look. He has a fine rack and his whole body vibrates when he bugles. Across the road two young bulls play at fighting, knocking and tangling their antlers.
It begins to rain, a hard, soaking rain, one that will douse the last heat of the Antelope fire. People still stand on top of Boulder watching the site where we saw the bears and wolves on the carcass this morning.
Author - Christine Baleshta
Photography - Tim Springer
Click for larger image