Wednesday, June 15, 2011
Today is clear and warmer. We leave the cabin at 37 and return at 63 . Construction on the Lamar Bridge has kept some visitors to the west and south. Lamar Valley is quiet. At Slough Creek a large crowd is gathered in the lower parking lots waiting for something to happen. Vehicles line the road to the still closed campground.
A grizzly sits at a bend in the creek, staring at the water, deciding what to do. He leans back in the grass and a second bear appears. The first swims across the creek, then the other. They rummage through the grass looking for elk calves. They find an old carcass and shake it out.
On another slope farther west, two cow elk and a calf travel toward the Lamar River. They look carefully at the water rushing over the rocks. One cow jumps in and begins to swim. She is pushed downstream sideways by the strong current, but makes it to the other side. The other cow stares at the water again and trots a circle. She looks across the river and down at the water again. Then she trots up the slope with her calf.
Near Petrified Tree, a large group of people are watching the Blacktail Pack at a carcass on the hills across Yancy's Hole. There are seven wolves, but only two are visible, a black and a gray, both bedded. The gray chews on something, a bone or piece of hide. We see the black occasionally lift his head or stretch his legs. First the gray gets up and then the black, traveling up the slope and disappearing over the ridge.
Badger Watch 2011 is on in Little America. We wait patiently across the road not far from the Lamar bridge construction for almost an hour. Finally the mother appears and lies almost flat on top of the den - she blends into the grass and dirt in the glare of the sun. One by one three fat and curious kits poke their heads out of the den and waddle towards their mother. They all want attention and fight over Mom, occasionally getting knocked back into the den. The kits are almost as big as their mother with striking markings. They pop out and slide back down, providing lots of entertainment for us and passing vehicles.
Near Specimen Ridge trailhead, the two grizzlies are courting.
Earlier I thought they might be siblings, but now it's obvious they are a pair. The bears chase each other, rolling and tumbling in the grass, biting each other's faces. They weave through the sage looking for elk calves and then nap together. We start to leave when an unidentified gray wolf runs through the sage in front of the bears. The wolf is headed towards Junction Butte, we lose sight of it in the tall grasses.
We take one of our favorite hikes up the Yellowstone River trail weaving through the picnic area to the edge of the ridge high above the canyon. The trail is steep at this point, climbing through forest before it reaches the level part of the trail. Larkspur, bear grass, yellow violets, arrowhead balsam line the trail in pale and bright yellow, white and violet blue. All this is half speculation as we study the petals and leaves and stamens. Does it have that many petals? The leaves don't look like that in the book. That looks too big, too small, not quite the right color. In our efforts to identify any number of flowers, a hundred doubts arise. One day I'll take a walk with someone who can tell me what flowers these are exactly. In the meantime, we enjoy the flood of color.
The wind at the top of the canyon is unrelenting. Not a big person, it almost blows me over, so I stay far away from the ridge. Earlier today we watched the osprey nest at the tip of a tree across the canyon, the female settled and rocking her body gently over two chicks. The male came to the nest, dropping a small fish and she just looked at it. He flew away with the fish and returned once more. Again, she did not take it. They seemed to have a conversation of sorts as she opened her beak several times.
The male finally flew away with the fish. I wonder about this behavior, the female seeming to refuse food when there were two small mouths to feed. Tim suggests that the male offered the female food - twice - and she refused, telling him she had enough and that he needed to eat too. From the trail we can still see the male osprey soaring over the river and violet green swallows twirling in the air. We love this hike high above the river canyon with the flowers and big horn sheep - we see seven - and its views of Little America, Tower and the canyon. But the wind makes it hard work today.
After the hike we stop at Petrified Tree to watch a small black bear forage in between the trees and deadfall along the creek. The wind is getting colder and still whipping me around, sanding my face. On the way back to Silvergate, Lamar Valley is quiet. No wolves in the valley for us today, but we do see one very light coyote running along the banks of the river. Not many coyotes this trip so far.
Author - Christine Baleshta
Photography - Tim Springer
Click for larger image