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               Day 5 June 5, 2013

Wednesday, June 5, 2013
Silver Gate

    Lamar Valley:
   Today is a blur of back and forth, back and forth. Lamar Valley is just coming to life when a black wolf skirts the edge of tree line near the rendezvous site. It's hard to know who this wolf is, but it is not the black female of the Lamar Canyon Pack. Also near the rendezvous site, two courting grizzlies chase each other in the river flats, running in circles. The bears are far, far away, even in scopes, but watching such large bears play is one of the most entertaining sights in the Park.
   It seems like the valley is covered with dark brown and red dots. A coyote weaves through a sea of bison and calves. The wary bison, herd the coyote away from their young, gradually pushing it toward the river. There is no sign of coyote pups at the den this morning, but farther west near Dorothy's a different coyote trots west, carrying something in its mouth. A second coyote den has been dug in the banks below the turnout and this could be an adult bringing a ground squirrel back to its litter.
    There are still no wolves on the carcass above Slough Creek, but a crowd is gathered near Junction Butte quietly watching two mule deer does and their two fawns grazing in the tall grass surrounding the pond. Perched in the willows are two yellow headed blackbirds while a northern flicker hunts for insects between the rocks at the edge of the pond. It is remarkably peaceful and a sharp contrast to wolf and bear jams.
   While the day is still cool, we hike the steep, winding game trails above Lamar Canyon looking for wildflowers and fox. Still early in the season, the hillside is covered in yellow and green, but hidden in the grass and rocks are flashes of white, purple, pink and blue. Scattered among the bursting arrow leaf balsam root are larkspur, stoneseed, showy daisies, phlox, oregon grape and violets. Climbing higher we find prairie smoke, lupine, harebells and a delicate fairy slipper. It's a good lesson in learning the names of the many wildflowers growing in the Park. No sign of fox, but from the top of the canyon, we can see Slough Creek and Little America, the Lamar River, the Soda Butte and Lamar Valley. A hundred or more bison graze peacefully on the slopes opposite us near Crystal Creek, then suddenly charge up Specimen Ridge for no apparent reason, their calves leaping alongside. We hiked up here one fall starting at the opposite end of the canyon, but it was not this colorful then.
    Later we look for pika on the scree slope near Hellroaring Trailhead. We hear their tiny calls before we catch one jumping across the rocks and diving into a hole. Across the road is another mountain of scree surrounded by grass and wildflowers. We check there, too, walking around the bend and listening carefully. Then back to Petrified Tree where the road has been blocked off and the turnout turned into a small parking lot jammed with vehicles. We walk up the road to the trailhead where a crowd looks down into the grassy ravine. The black bear sow and her two cinnamon clubs are sleeping under a tree in the shade, barely visible. Now and then the sow lifts her large black head showing rounded ears, but except for a tiny patch of red-brown, the cubs remain hidden.
   The otter family is back in residence at Trout and Buck Lakes. The trail climbs a steep hill, winding past old pine trees to the little lake where an otter is entertaining a small group of photographers. He dives deep into the lake and pops up, half out of the water, then wriggles to a grassy sandbar and rolls on his back to scratch and take a short nap. He swims clear across Trout Lake, enjoying himself as much as we do, as we hurry along the trail to catch up. A wiggly and agile character, he munches on something repeatedly, maybe tadpoles, because there are no fish in his mouth.
    Wolf watchers have seen three wolves on the ridges above Buffalo Ranch, so we drive back toward Fisherman's combing the hills and wait. A coyote makes its way down the slopes across from Dorothy's, stopping yards from the road. The wolves, probably the Lamar Canyon Pack, have slipped away. And the coyote den is quiet.

Author - Christine Baleshta
Photography - Tim Springer

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Yellowstone Experiences 2013