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               Day 6 June 5, 2014

Thursday, June 5, 2014
Silver Gate, MT

    31 degrees . Frost coats the car, yet the rising sun promises a beautiful clear day. At Warm Springs mule deer graze dangerously close to the road. We slip past them carefully, aware that more are hidden in the trees. In Round Prairie a coyote hunts for his breakfast, circling in the grass, cocking his head listening for ground squirrels.
   Lamar Valley and Little America wake up slowly. Bison dot the landscape, their calves chasing each other in circles while two coyotes play tug of war with an old carcass. Above us a few elk graze on the high ridges.
   Just past Lamar Canyon West cars line the road. The alpha pair of the Junction Butte Pack, 870F and 890M, are lying in a high open meadow near Specimen Ridge. At first they seem like they have no intention of leaving, then she begins to look around, acting a little nervous. They remain there for a long while, light gray 870F still turning her head in all directions. When the pair finally rises, they move west, scaring a bear out of the trees and scattering a herd of elk. They trot along the base of the trees, sometimes disappearing in the woods. Their determined gait indicates they know where they are going - traveling back to their den. Eventually they slip across the road, seen only by a fortunate few.
   The sun stays out all day under an almost cloudless sky. We take advantage of the perfect afternoon to hike the Yellowstone River Trail. Although we have walked this trail many times I never tire of the Yellowstone River's deep, rocky canyon with trees growing out of rocks and the river rushing below. Marmots and sheep are conspicuously absent today but there are lots of different birds and a mule deer hides in the trees. The wind blows fiercely, yet doesn't slow the swifts and osprey diving and swirling in the canyon.
   Across the river, the black bear sow is entertaining the crowd with her cubs and their antics. We park far away and walk a long way to see her, but it's worth it. We watch for about 2 hours from the road, crowded with visitors and photographers. This spring she has three coy which all seem to be doing well. They crawl through the grass, climb over and up logs and follow their mother around, an amazingly tolerant bear. They wrestle and hang from pine tree limbs that shake and threaten to break. They run up tree trunks, all under Mom's watchful eye. Park rangers patrol the area, constantly reminding us to keep our distance. We waited all week to see these cubs - they've either been out of sight or hidden in the trees. I was afraid the sow had left the area, tired of being stalked by tourists. A bighorn ram and ewe pass through the trees across the road as we return to the car. The ram is molting, his coat falling off in clumps. We have not seen many sheep this trip and wondered where they were.
   By early evening, the bison cows and calves have Lamar Valley almost to themselves. Last night I watched a bison cow chase two sandhill cranes away from the herd. Gray clouds cover the valley and rain begins to fall once again.

Author - Christine Baleshta
Photography - Tim Springer

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Yellowstone Experiences 2014