Day 5 June 4, 2014
Wednesday, June 4, 2014
Silver Gate, MT
35 degrees at 6:12 a.m. I love how the morning light reflects off the mountains - the snow sparkles, the rock face glitters. A black bear grazes at the edge of Pebble Creek campground, the sun shining on his black coat bringing it to life. We watch until he ambles into the trees toward Trout Lake. All we can hear is the sound of the creek.
Slough Creek is a line of cars. Three gray wolves are stalking an elk cow and calf. They catch the calf, but drop it and lose it, chased away by its mother. The wolves are three Junction Butte yearlings, inexperienced hunters. The cow protects her calf by standing over it and the calf miraculously gets up and follows its mother. The cow looks back, never letting the wolves out of her sight.
Down the road we can see the ridge where the drama took place. Over and over we hear "near Nine's old den." No. 9F was one of the original Yellowstone wolves and a large percentage of Yellowstone wolves are her descendants. We do not know exactly where No. 9's old den is, though we have a pretty good idea. Cars line the road and we know we've been in the wrong place all along. Here in the center of Little America the view is so much better, so much closer. As we near Boulder pullout, a wolf suddenly appears on the hills near the road. It's gray, with lots of warm brown shades in its coat. We assume it's one of the Junction Butte yearlings, but don't know for sure. It stands at the top of the bench looking at the crowd acting as if it wants to cross; then it disappears in a draw and reappears again. He paces the top of the bench, deciding where to go, then moves back. This area is filled with draws and dips and he is soon out of sight.
We wait. And wait some more, scanning the bench looking for this wolf. I do not know theses wolves, the Junction Butte Pack, or any of them, for that matter. This is the first time I've seen the Junction Buttes and my knowledge of the Lamar Canyon Pack is also very limited. I remember them from a year ago, when 820 was alpha female and 925M and 926F were still uncollared. She was the "Dark Female" then and he was "Big Gray." Then a year was lost because of the shutdown when no one was allowed to enter the Park. It's thrilling to see this beautiful wolf with his square jaw and serious face. We have not seen a wolf this close for years and I think of 642F when she came down this slope and the Agates crossed the road here.
Gray clouds roll in as we head toward Mammoth to look for Quad Mom, the grizzly sow with three cubs of the year, and it begins to rain. It rains on and off for the rest of the day, sometimes a gentle drizzle, sometimes a steady downpour. The temperature drops - it was 58 an hour or so ago and now the temperature reads 45 . We look for a place to walk around, or just stop, but it seems like we drive into rain every time we try to do something. So we drive a circle around the Park from Mammoth to Norris to Canyon, up Dunraven Pass, through Little America and Lamar Valley.
When sunshine returns, a badger is excavating in the flats near the Lamar River Bridge, hunting for chiselers. He waddles through grass digging relentlessly. His face is striking with its black and white stripes. We stop at Lamar Canyon west to check the osprey nest. The female sits in the middle of the nest high above the Yellowstone River. She doesn't call for her mate, but suddenly he appears, soaring through the air and perches on the nest. He has brought her a fish which she studies with interest. There is a flutter of wings and a dance around the nest when one osprey takes the fish and flies to a nearby low branch to eat it. The funny part is we don't know whether the male or female ended up with the fish.
Babies are everywhere. Across the road from Yellowstone Picnic area a pronghorn has newborn twins. One wobbles in between the sage as its mother allows it to explore. It is all eyes and legs. Although I lose sight of it in the brush - it has probably laid down in the sage - the mother most certainly knows where it is. Just past Pebble Creek Campground a small coyote stands in the middle of the road, licking the pavement. Losing its winter coat, it's half light gray and half dark gray. The vehicle in front of us drives the coyote off the road and into the trees. I feel sorry for it licking the pavement. Hunger is a dangerous thing.
Tonight we walk around Silver Gate looking for wildlife. As the sun quickly sinks the chatter of birds fills the air. The night is clear, the moon a slender crescent in the sky. No deer to frighten or moose to run into. Returning to the cabin, we hear an owl call we've never heard before, possibly a saw-whet owl. Cold again. The temperature rose from 36 to 58 then dropped to 45 today.
Author - Christine Baleshta
Photography - Tim Springer
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