Monday, June 13, 2011
   There is no owl watch at the meadows just south of Canyon Junction. In past years several vehicles filled the turnouts on either side of the road and photographers would march into the tall grasses - or foot deep snow - looking for great grays. Now at 6:30 a.m. the turnouts are empty, though I doubt the meadows are. We pass by too quickly for a good look.
   In Hayden Valley, visitors mill around, looking for the sow and her two cubs, spotting scopes pointed in different directions. A coyote hunts in the tall grasses of a meadow as a single photographer watches and takes pictures. Our first coyote of the trip. We turn east at Fishing Bridge just in time to see another very light colored coyote trot across the bridge and jump into the grass and deadfall on the river shore.
   Pelican Creek is now Pelican Lake, water creeping over its meadows and pushing out to Lake Yellowstone. We have hiked the trails in this area and now they are part of this huge marshy area, stretching to Indian Pond, today a small lake. The sky is clear blue, clouds floating by. The ice on Lake Yellowstone has mysteriously disappeared overnight. Hot springs in pockets at the edge of the shore may have melted it. Or maybe it just washed away.
   The little grizzly is still at Sedge Bay, now on the hillside, a much safer place to watch him. The cliff overlooks Yellowstone Lake. Swallows twirl and dance in the air, darting in and out of their nests in the cliff. They are striking little black and white birds. A marmot, perched on a log, stares out at the lake. Two ravens huddle together on a rock.
   We leave the little bear on the hill and head back to Hayden to look for the Canyon Pack. They have the same rendezvous site across the river, a long way to see, but worth a try. We set up the scope and begin the wait. The old rendezvous site is flooded, but the Canyons are in the area around it. Around 9 a.m. the woman next to us says "Got 'em." Suddenly a tangle of wolves is running and leaping at once with puppies running in between long legs. Two black and two gray adults and 3 puppies, black I think. The Canyon Pack has two black wolves and three gray. The woman says that a gray yearling is missing. The wolves are not in sight long before disappearing into the trees. The pups must be about two months old. Even from such a long distance, all the wolves looked healthy and in good shape.
   From Hayden we travel south to West Thumb to walk around the geysers next to the Lake. When we arrive the boardwalk is closed due to "elk danger!" This is a first for us. Four cow elk, innocent enough in appearance, graze leisurely along the boardwalk and because of that West Thumb is closed. We are herded away from the visitor's center and instructed by two park rangers to wait in our cars until each elk leaves the boardwalk, crosses the parking lot to an island of grass and trees, and then crosses again to another meadow. "Get in your cars!" "Don't drive out of the parking lot!" We're trapped. The cows must have at least appeared aggressive toward some visitors and park rangers don't take chances.
   When we finally escape we try Old Faithful instead. Clouds roll and the wind catches my hat as we stroll along the boardwalk. It starts to rain as we wait - and wait - for Castle Geyser to erupt. Old Faithful is crowded, a sea of people leaving the boardwalk after it erupts. We can't wait to get out of here, so we turn around and go back toward the Lake where we are rewarded. Another grizzly is foraging on the slopes above Mary Bay. He is bigger than the little bear up the road, darker, maybe because he's wet. And a second grizzly weaves in between the trees and ambles along the top of the ridge above the slope.
   On the way back to Canyon we stop at Grizzly Overlook just as it starts to pour. The rain doesn't last long. I can't see anything with my binoculars until a kind gentleman with a soft southern accent points out a black wolf lying in the sage. The Canyon Pack's female yearling is sprawled out, her head on a pillow of dirt and grass. Every once in a while she lifts her head and shakes it.
   It rains on and off throughout the evening so we stay in tonight hoping for clear weather tomorrow.

Author - Christine Baleshta
Photography - Tim Springer

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Yellowstone Experiences 2011