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               Day 8 June 8, 2013

Saturday, June 8, 2013
Silver Gate

    We were wondering why we hadn't seen any moose the past few days, and then there's a bull moose standing in the grass grazing where we have seen them so many times before. It pays to be in the Park early. Behind the bull is a black spot, a black bear, and still farther to the west another larger black bear tramps across the grassy slope toward the marshes.
   Lamar Valley has been quiet early in the morning, wolves showing up later, after 7:00 a.m. In previous years, if you were not at Hitching Post by 5:30 or 6 a.m., you would miss the wolves. This morning three grays were sighted at the western end of Jasper Bench, thought to be part of the Junction Butte Pack. We park at Slough Creek and scan the hills where No. 9's old den is and the Crystal Creek drainage. All we see are bison and calves.
   Driving through Little America we hear that a gray wolf was spotted from Trash Can, so we turn around. A black wolf feeding on a carcass is visible from Hiker's Bridge and soon a Middle Gray is seen traveling east through the sage along Soda Butte Creek. The little black wolf is two years old, Middle Gray's younger sister, and supposedly a good hunter. She tears at the carcass and then lies in the trees, jumping up to chase the ravens away. Hovering just yards away is a bison that seems to be guarding the carcass. Middle Gray snakes through the sage and grass along the creek, looking for a place to cross the creek and go back to the den. Back and forth she trots, finally out of our sight to the west. Our eyes return to the black wolf who has now left the carcass and is meandering through the sage. Even with her dark coat, she can disappear in the tall sage. We follow her as she goes back and forth to the carcass and chases a coyote looking for leftovers.
    While we watch the little black wolf, another visitor tells us about a moose with a calf near Pebble Creek. The cow is bedded in the willows requiring a short hike out to see her. She and her calf lie at the edge of the water, quietly observing the crowd across the creek. The little calf must only be a couple of days old. He stands on wobbly legs and tries to nurse while his mother is still lying down, nuzzling her under her belly, butt in the air. When he ventures a few steps away, the cow extends her nose and seems to be calling him back. She stands up and the calf finds the right spot under her. This is one of the best moments in Yellowstone, witnessing the intimate relationship between mother and offspring.
   Before we leave Silver Gate we stop at the corral to look for the fox kits. The space under the shed is empty; grass sways in the breeze. The father must have led his family away, a relief because the den is too close to the road. A pregnant mule deer forages in the empty corral, overgrown and rusted with age. Her coat shines golden in the sunlight, she will not be alone much longer.
    Most of the Beartooth Pass is still layered in snow. Beartooth Lake has thawed, but Little Bear Lake is mushy, broken ice. At Top of the World, snow blankets the tundra; steep slopes look icy and slick. Skiers race down the slopes and are drawn up by a ski tow. We watch from across the canyon as they swerve down the slope at top speed. A herd of 10 mountain goats grazes on a high plateau, tiny toy-like figures in brown green grass. The road winds skyward until we are almost level with the peaks of the mountains and then winds down again through scree covered slopes.
    At a rest stop chipmunks scurry through breaks in the stone wall barrier. Lodged in the stone crevices are caches of peanuts and tidbits offered by visitors. I hold out my hand with trail mix and a chipmunk grabs each nut carefully and stuffs it in his cheek. A king-sized version of a chipmunk darts out from one of the square openings in the wall - a golden mantle chipmunk. He is more skittish than his little brothers will not eat out of my hand, but approaches and backs away. I toss a peanut to him and he runs up and grabs it. Nut by nut we repeat our little dance until I run out of trail mix.
   212 runs past ranches and bed and breakfasts, all emerald green grass and lawns, to Billings. Surrounded by rim rock and rolling hills, green fades to red and orange and light green. High desert, and still beautiful, the landscape changing quickly from snowy mountains to forests to tundra to rocky buttes.

Author - Christine Baleshta
Photography - Tim Springer

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Yellowstone Experiences 2013