Day 3 May 15, 2015
Friday, May 15, 2015
We leave Gardiner before 6:00 a.m. and are almost the only vehicle on the road. Fog at Swan Lake Flats destroys any visibility, but we glide past Willow Flats. The fog lifts and fades after Swan Lake Flats only to reappear at Hayden Valley. The drive to Canyon and Hayden Valley takes about one hour. Not as fast as hoped, but quicker than expected. Road construction has not started when we pass through, before 8 a.m. The road has been graded in places and cones set up to divide lanes for the construction, promising a bumpy ride.
At Norris we look for the grizzly sow and cub with the blonde face we saw last June, then on to Canyon, and down to Lake, still closed. We drive through a veil of white, careful all the way to Lake where the fog lifts again and the sun comes out. There is almost no snow in Canyon and Hayden. Hills are tipped with patches of snow and the road from Norris to Canyon is lined by a low wall of snow, dirty with soot. In previous years snow banks at least three feet tall bordered the road to Canyon. The meadows beneath Mary Mountain are blanketed with snow. Most surprising of all is Yellowstone Lake - unfrozen. Normally in spring the lake is covered by ice.
We wind past Mary and Sedge Bays looking for bears, but all is quiet. Then back to Hayden Valley to look for 755M. No luck. I didn't expect to see him, but really would have liked to. He has paired with a young female from the Canyon Pack and from all appearances, they have puppies. If all goes well and the pups survive, they will be named as their own pack by the end of the year and 755M will have a new family.
The temperature drops in Hayden Valley. It was 41 when we left Gardiner and by the time we reach Canyon it is 34 . Back and forth as far as Bridge Bay and Gull Point, then out to Lookout Point and back to Fishing Bridge; up to Grizzly Lookout where a bus filled with school children has taken over the turnout. The sun goes in and out; it rains and stops. All through this we look for 755M, the Norris bear and her cub, and any other wildlife.
On our way to see the Harlequin ducks, a large crowd gathers near the Mud Pots; everyone is staring down into a deep ravine right off the road. A grizzly is sleeping in the deadfall, mostly hidden by tree limbs and shadows. We can barely make out its shape. Still it is a grizzly and a big enough attraction to bring out two rangers.
We drive east all the way to Silvan Lake surrounded by conifers dusted with snow. It is a remnant of this year's winter, layered with ice and sparkling in the sunlight. I wonder what the Beartooth Highway looks like.
Round the bend at Lookout a crowd of people are packed at the east end of Mary Bay. Something moves across the lake in a graceful stream. A grizzly, swimming toward the eastern corner of Mary Bay. As cars park lining the shore, the bear is forced to change course, always moving a little farther west. His head and shoulders are above water, like a beaver gliding through the lake. The bear emerges on the rocky shore and shakes off , his wet fur almost black. A big fellow with thick legs, he ambles between vehicles and lopes across the road into the grass. Moving deliberately across the meadow, the bear covers ground quickly. Three bison eye him warily, then turn and run off. The bear meanders through the trees, taking his time crossing the meadow, and then he's over the hill and gone.
In Hayden Valley, another grizzly forages in the grass near Mary Mountain trail, making tiny circles in the grass. So we have seen three grizzlies today and feel especially lucky to see a bear swimming in Mary Bay.
On the way back to Mammoth, we turn off at Otter Creek where a service road leads into a beautiful sloping meadow, like walking into a hidden oasis. It is a favorite place of ours. The dirt and gravel road crosses a bridge opening to a meadow that dips into a grassy bowl. Once an amphitheater stood here and visitors came to watch bears feed at a park dump. From the top of the slope a waterfall cascades into a narrow stream. There is magic in small places.
Author - Christine Baleshta
Photography - Tim Springer
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