Sunday, June 12, 2011
   We wake to a light rain tapping on the cabin deck. At 6:00 a.m. it is light. We're out the door by 6:30 and cruise toward Hayden Valley. Banks of snow along the highway are dirty and still melting, but most of the valley is lush and green and quiet. Patches of snow top the ridges and hills.
   The Yellowstone River is swollen with brown water as are Trout Creek and Alum Creek. Mary Mountain trail is marshy even in dry weather - now it is a long, grassy puddle. Unnamed ponds spring up here and there. As we cross Pelican Creek (*check this), the meadow where bison grazed is covered with water, a flock of pelicans floating on the surface. Indian Pond is now a lake. The shoreline of Lake Yellowstone is barely visible, the lake itself a sea of slush, still unthawed.
   Pelican Valley Trail is always closed during this time because it is a bear management area. Just past the trail, a grizzly sow and her coy forage between the trees and deadfall. I have seen black bear cubs of the year, but never a grizzly coy this close - about 25 yards from the road. This cub trots after its mother, a long blade of grass in its mouth. The little bear jumps over logs and rocks easily, following its mother who makes her way over the rise.
   We continue south towards West Thumb. Bay Bridge campground is open, blue and green tents pitched between trees in the mostly empty sites. Gull Point Road is closed. Snow blocks part of the entrance; some of the road is probably under water.
   Back in Hayden Valley geese peck at the grass and elk graze on the hillsides. Another grizzly sow and her two cubs from last year forage in the tall grasses where the Hayden Pack used to travel. The bears have a light band around their middles and darker front legs. Their faces are light and their ears very dark brown. Every once in a while the mother raises her nose and sniffs the air. She stands on her hind legs and looks around. The only other animals nearby are bison and two elk, settled deep in the grass.
   The day goes back and forth between rain and gray clouds. We pass green meadows and rushing creeks, all the while rain beating down. Because the rain is not letting up, we drive to West Yellowstone to visit our favorite bookstore and walk around. The temperature rises from 40 to 50 during the drive from Twin Lakes to West Yellowstone. We trade clouds and wet wind for the aroma of espresso and chatter of locals. The town is relatively quiet for the beginning of the season, but the Book Peddler and its coffee bar are bustling. I buy this year's wolf chart and wonder what wolves we'll see this time.
   As we leave town, the air turns icy, but the sun comes out near Madison Junction. An eagle watches its empty nest from its perch on top of a tall lodge pole pine. The Firehole River splashes us as the falls tumble down. Fat Golden Mantle chipmunks in their striped coats scamper on the rocky banks.
   Later that evening, Lake Yellowstone glows in the sunset, its blanket of ice sparkling. Rounding the bend at Sedge Bay, a string of cars is parked on the edge of the road. We guess they are looking at the Sunset over the lake, but as we turn around we see him - a small grizzly munching on grass on the cliff between the lake and the road. He must be a two year old, just sent off by his mother, a light brown band around the middle of his body and a light brown face. If bears can have a deceptive, gentle appearance, he has it. He ignores the cars right next to him until a park ranger blows a bull horn sending the bear loping across the road and up the opposite hill.

Author - Christine Baleshta
Photography - Tim Springer

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Yellowstone Experiences 2011