Tuesday, June 14, 2011
When we leave Canyon at 6:30 a.m. it's 37 and clear. Like yesterday. Only today the sun holds and the weather could not be more perfect. When we reach Grizzly Overlook we scan the rendezvous site - nothing. Just as we are about to give up, Tim spots three wolves playing in the grass to the south of the rendezvous.
There is the light gray alpha female (she looks so much like her mother, 540F), a gray wolf and a black. I think the two other wolves are yearlings; it looks like 712M, the alpha male and only collared wolf in the pack, is with the pups. The wolves switch quickly from play to hunting mode and begin trotting south. Wolves travel very quickly and I'm beginning to realize that when you're watching from a scope, it's easy to lose perspective on their location and how far away they are. We watch them move out of our scope's field of vision, quickly fold up and hop in the car, following them.
We try to get ahead of them, but by the time we reach the next turnout the wolves are already there, trotting up and down the ridges. A herd of cow elk turn their heads in the wolves' direction. The three are traveling quickly, weaving through the sage. The wolves choose an elk and the chase begins. Not just one elk, but the whole herd takes off up the slope, then down. The wolves stop, the elk stop, and the chase starts again, the wolves choosing a different elk. The whole herd runs off in a string of long legs, heads held high.
The wolves lose again and zigzag up the hill into the trees, where we lose them.
We head down the road once more trying to find the next place the Canyons will be, turning off and then climbing a hill to see to the other side of the river.
The wolves are still moving south, walking on the ridge next to the tree line. They run down the hill chasing another elk, again losing the race, then up the hill into the trees.
At Fishing Bridge the water is so high it almost covers the island in the middle of the river. Pelican Valley is a huge marsh. I have to remind myself that meadow extended well beyond the edges of the bridge. A blanket of ice again covers the shoreline of Lake Yellowstone as icy waves lap the shore. Yesterday, the slush was gone and now it's back.
This afternoon we walked one of the trails near the Upper Falls. The path is paved and wide and the Yellowstone River rushes by us. A staircase leads down to the Brink of the Falls, where the water races under a rainbow shadowed by the cliffs. We like the trails in this area, but many are under water or snow covered.
Silvan Lake is covered with a sheet of ice, shrinking at the edges forming a blue border. This part of the park is burned out forest and thick woods; it feels very remote. There are no visitor services and only a few turnouts have been plowed. Walls of snow line the highway. Next is Eleanor Lake, also covered with a layer of ice. After Eleanor Lake is the avalanche zone - no stopping for two miles. Here is where we turn around. Tim walks out and stands on the two foot snowpack that surrounds Silvan Lake where a line of wolf tracks crosses in front of him. The glare of the sunlight on snow is so blinding I have to turn away.
A light colored coyote hunts in the meadow across from Mary Bay, jumping and pouncing. Cars line the shore and park in turnouts. The grizzly sow and cub we saw earlier this week are walking west across the slopes. The sow moves at a good clip across grass, snow patches, and deadfall, her little cub trailing behind her. The cub jumps on and over logs, trying to keep up.
Once or twice Mom cuffs him; he wants to nurse and she has a different plan. The bears walk a diagonal line up to the ridge and disappear over the top.
We moved into our cabin at Whispering Pines tonight. It is smaller than Pine Edge, but well made with pine ceilings and furnished with heavy wooden furniture. We take a walk around the cabins tonight, crossing the bridge over the Soda Butte. The water almost touches the bridge. Deer graze across the road in between cabins. As we return on the old, wooden bridge, an owl sweeps low across the creek and waist high grass and flies away.
Author - Christine Baleshta
Photography - Tim Springer
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