Friday, June 17, 2011
   37 feels so much colder when there is moisture in the air. The sky is overcast and it looks like snow. I was afraid we would run into weather like this.
   There is scarcely a bison or elk or deer in sight. Robins search for insects in the road, flying up in the air as the car approaches. By the time we reach Hikers Bridge a small crowd has gathered, spotting scopes pointed southwest. They are watching a black wolf bedded in the middle of a triangle of grass bordered by new growth and littered with deadfall. A black and a gray have moved off. The three wolves are 754M, 755M and 776F of the Lamar Canyon pack, formed in 2010 and made up of seven wolves. The alpha female, 06, has denned in the Druid Pack's old den and the wolves can be seen going back and forth across the road. This would be her second litter. I was hoping to see them, especially 06, the alpha female. The black wolf lying in the grass washing his paws is 755, the alpha male. After maybe 10 minutes, he slowly gets up and walks into the trees.
   I want to stay - I figure the other wolves in the pack will make their way to this corner of forest, but a gray wolf is seen crossing the road west of Hitching Post and we head in that direction. Hitching Post is jammed with cars and people, spotting scopes set up overlooking the Confluence. On the slope north of the road 776F is "sitting like a dog." watching all the commotion. She has a lot of brown on her ears. She looks around and across the road out to the Confluence as if she is waiting for someone. When whoever she is expecting doesn't show up, she makes her way through the trees at the top of the hill and returns to the den site.
   Another wolf pack seen, we drive past Tower Junction where we look for the two antelope does with fawns. They are not visible, but a black bear works his way down the slope of sage, looking for something - a calf? There are no bears on Tower Road this morning so we turn around at Calcite and head for Floating Island Lake. The sandhill crane is still there on her mostly washed away island. She looks around and tucks her wings under. There should be chicks by now, but we can't see anything and the male, who is usually in the meadows nearby, is nowhere to be seen. Two geese with their two goslings are swimming in a corner of the pond. The babies are yellow and fuzzy, following their parents as they swim along the edge of the water.
   The grizzly sow who traveled with four cubs of the year last summer has been seen around Swan Lake Flats with two cubs this spring. No one knows what happened. We pass the empty flats until we reach Sheepeater, where a blonde black bear is foraging through the hillsides. He is golden yellow with brown ears and marking around his face. He moves quickly through the trees and is hard to follow. It's getting colder by the minute and starts to snow. The bear ambles down the slope to the edge of the creek, plunges into the rushing water and swims to the opposite side. He shakes himself off and climbs up the slope into the trees.
   On our way to Rescue Creek, we stop to watch elk grazing near the Mammoth terraces. One is a young bull whose antlers are just beginning to grow. Like bison, elk are still shedding their winter coats. Gardiner River rages under the narrow wooden bridge. We climb the steep trail overlooking the canyon. From a distance we watch two antelope does and their fawns race around the flats above the Gardiner River. The babies are bouncy, leaping high as they run circles around one doe. Antelope scare easily. As we get closer, which is not close, - we were at least 100 yards away - the fawns and does take off at top speed.
   We try to follow the sunshine today, but it eludes us. We drive around looking for wildlife and taking short walks going from Silvergate to Tower to Mammoth to Rescue Creek, back up to Swan Lake flats and then back to Little America and Lamar Valley. The courting bears are gone. The honeymoon may be over. The Lamar wolves are gone now too, though a scraggly looking coyote walks along the banks of the Lamar River near the confluence.
   We ask some hikers coming down the Trout Lake trail about otter pups and they tell us no otters and no fish. We spend the rest of the afternoon exploring Lamar Canyon and its wildflowers: heartleaf arnica, serviceberry, woodland star, arrowleaf balsam root and larkspur. We think we also see yellow columbine, mountain daisy, and wild strawberry. Even if we don't know what we're looking at, it's still fun. We especially like woodland star, with tiny, tiny - (about 1/8 diameter) white flowers that look like snowflakes.
   Our last day winds down slowly, the wildlife fading out. Slough Creek is quiet. The campground is still closed so there are few people here. The creek winds through the flats while bison and elk graze on the hillsides. A muskrat glides through the water, forming a large V on the surface. One last drive up Tower Road for the day. A little black bear forages by the pond and then walks up the hill into the trees. A ranger tells us about a carcass at Petrified Tree and a bear on it, so we drive there. The little black bear is there, but we can't see anything that looks like a bison carcass. And if it is there, little black bear could care less. Three hikers walk down the Lost Lake trail to the same meadow sending some well-meaning visitors into a panic. They yell to the hikers and the lady ranger finally marches down the trail, rifle in hand, to escort the hikers to safety. It was just a bear eating grass!

Author - Christine Baleshta
Photography - Tim Springer

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Yellowstone Experiences 2011