Thursday, October 7, 2010
The fog lifts slowly. It zigzags in ribbons across the road and shields Barronette Peak. A vehicle is parked, lights on, in the turnout in front of the great mountain. What can anyone see in this low, thick cloud? The fog clears at the beginning of Lamar Valley revealing a blue and cloudless sky. Bison are scattered on either side of the road, occasionally escorting us down the road. Hiker's Bridge turnout is cluttered with vehicles of every size; one by one wolf watchers turn in to get the daily scoop on Yellowstone's wolves. There are plenty of signals this morning from the Agates and Lamar Canyon Pack, but the wolves stay out of view. A horse trailer is parked at Hitching Post. Yesterday we saw horses unloaded and tied to the hitching post while a man weighed saddle bags. They are probably on their way up Cache Creek or over to Mirror Plateau.
The bears are still on the carcass at Boulder. It has become the daily show. The younger, lighter bear is persistent in his efforts to get a piece of the bison carcass, walking around, running to the carcass and away. The darker grizzly holds fast to his position on top.
Two coyotes wait patiently in the grass a few yards west of the carcass while a third walks in and out of the sage hoping to get a turn.
It looks like our best bet is the Canyons today, so we drive over Dunraven in the clear, cold morning (38 degrees). Vehicles are stopped at a turnout just south of the junction to watch a large bull elk control his rather large harem of cows - about 20. He prances around, but doesn't whistle. He seems so much less obnoxious than yesterday's bull elk at Mammoth. The cows trot back and forth avoiding his advances. Some of the cows are small yearlings - sweet looking things.
At Hayden Valley all is quiet. If the pups are there, they are hunkered down in the sage. The adults are probably off looking for food, but I don't believe they would leave the pups for any significant amount of time. We do not see wolves or bears - only ducks and geese peacefully drifting on the Yellowstone. Sedge Bay and Mary Bay are quiet, too. We walk down Pelican Valley nature trail to the lake, the sand littered with fox sign. Waves crash against the shoreline as clouds drift in the sky. It's cold and blustery.
Back up to Hayden to check the rendezvous site. Still no wolves. We reluctantly decide to hike the Wapiti Trail because it's close and easy. The trail climbs up a hill into a wooded area with a small lake in the middle of a thermal are, acres of dry, crusted ground surrounded by deadfall. Following us are four older people on horseback from the Diamond D Ranch. We switch places and follow the horses plodding down the trail. There's a certain disappointment here - the horses may scare away any wildlife to be seen - so we make this hike as quickly as we can. From a hill overlooking Hayden Valley we watch the Yellowstone River making S curves through its flats.
Vehicles are stuffed into Grizzly Overlook and a turnout at the beginning of the Valley - that is where we head after the hike.
A sow grizzly and two year-old cubs are foraging in the meadow below the first turnout. She is dark with a light face. One fat cub looks like her, brown and round. The other cub is silver with dark eyes and ears. When he walks sideways he looks like a possum.
The large crowd steps down into the meadow, closer and closer, especially the photographers, when a ranger drives through and orders the crowd to step back to the road. Some people are getting too close. I don't think the sow would have charged anyone, but I think she may have run off in another direction where no one could see her. And then not come back.
On the way back we pass the little black bear still foraging on the slopes east of Yellowstone Picnic area. The clouds roll in and it begins to rain lightly. At Boulder the two grizzlies are still on the carcass, the darker one still in charge. His head is down most of the time as he tears at the carcass. A coyote hovers nearby, waiting his chance to run in and get a piece.
It's getting darker as clouds roll in. Lamar Valley is empty except for bison. Shadows cast over Barronnette Peak. As we turn into the drive at Silvergate, a little fox greets us. He is pale, pale pink-tan with a fat plume of a tale. He hunts around the lodge building, then scampers across the road.
Author - Christine Baleshta
Photography - Tim Springer
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