Sunday, June 10, 2012,

   Big, wet flakes blow in a slant and quickly melt on windshields and wooden steps. It's in the low 30s, and the wind whips us with its icy sting. The drive to Mary Bay is gray and foggy; bison and elk graze on the hillsides. There are more elk in Hayden Valley than we've seen in a long time. Last week we heard the Mollie Pack was back in Pelican Valley, after spending most of the winter and spring in Lamar Valley. Aside from the Mollies there is only the Canyon Pack and the Mary Mountain Pack in this area to prey on elk. The Canyons have 7 wolves and Mary Mountain has 8, not including this year's pups. I feel relieved because the Mollies have wreaked havoc in Lamar Valley this year, killing a number of wolves from the Agate and Blacktail Packs. We learn soon enough that the Mollies are actually back in Lamar Valley and Antelope Creek, promising some interesting wolf viewing.
   When we stop at Grizzly Overlook to scan the Canyon rendezvous site, it's still raining. Tim finds a gray wolf traveling south, but loses it when it starts to snow. The icy wind forces us to abandon the spotting scope and retreat to the car. Snow falls in thick, white flakes sticking for to the windshield. When it clears about 20 minutes later, I return to the spotting scope and watch a single cow elk at a bend in the river. Such a beautiful, graceful creature, she grazes and cranes her neck to watch the opposite side of the river.
   The Canyon rendezvous site is clearly visible now that the snow has stopped. I scan the sage, river's edge and tree line when a gray wolf comes into view. He has a touch of brown in his coat and is moving steadily toward the river. We watch for a few minutes and move toward Alum Creek to see if we can catch up with him there, parking at the turnout just in time to see the gray wolf trot to the river's edge. On the opposite side of the Yellowstone River there is a carcass, probably from last night. It's not long before he is joined by a collared black wolf, 712M, the alpha male of the Canyons. The wolves tear at the carcass while ravens dance around them, hopping up and down. As the wind beats us with icy rain and snow, we go back and forth to the car. After a while a third black wolf trots in from the trees west of the carcass, and finally the alpha female appears from the rendezvous site - four Canyon wolves on the carcass. The alpha female is so like her mother, 540F, almost white. We watch for about an hour and a half, until the alpha female tears off a piece of the carcass and trots straight back, returning, to the rendezvous site and the pups.
   The rest of the afternoon continues gray and rainy, so we head to West Yellowstone. On the opposite shore of the Madison River, elk are bedded on the narrow grassy banks. Curled up next to three cows are two calves, red-brown with white spots. West Yellowstone is no warmer or dryer than the Park, the temperature hovering around 38?, and we walk in and out of stores seeking refuge from the weather.
   On the way back from West Yellowstone we see two more cow elk with calves along the Firehole River. The river rushes by dangerously, but protects the elk from predators. One calf steps around its mother curiously, aware of all the eyes upon it. The mother continues to graze and then washes her baby, licking its legs and tail and face.
   We run into a bison jam at Nez Perce Creek - one of many this trip. The bison, a herd of cows, gather in the meadows near the bridge, many with calves. There must have been 30 cows and 15-20 calves. It's a beautiful sight, buffalo grazing along the gently bending creek, yellow wildflowers blooming in the tall grass, orange calves leaping about.
   We go out again after dinner, driving as far as Sedge Bay. The sun comes out over Lake Yellowstone and Indian Pond, the wind dies down and a welcome peacefulness settles over Pelican Valley. Three fat pelicans rest in the marshy area near the trailhead while a kingfisher hunts and perches in a nearby pine tree. Hayden Valley is calm as evening shadows stretch across the rolling hills. We stop to look for harlequin ducks and find two huddled together on a rock as the Yellowstone River crashes beside them. They tuck their heads into their wings, oblivious to the rushing water.

Author - Christine Baleshta
Photography - Tim Springer

Click for larger image

Yellowstone Experiences 2012