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               Day 4 May 16, 2015

Saturday, May 16, 2015
Gardiner, Montana

    It's raining when we enter the Park, a cold rain that quickly turns to sleet as we climb past the terraces to the Upper Terraces. Snow falls in flat flakes coating the road. Chunks of snow and ice litter the curves passing the Hoodoos. This was not a good idea. Swan Lake Flats is covered in white, but not fogged in. We scan quickly and crawl back, past water falls, splashing down, navigating the twists and turns of an icy road. Trucks and SUVs splash our Toyota with sleet. After the Upper Terrace the road conditions improve. Snow turns to rain and slowly and carefully we make our way through Mammoth.
   The Gardiner Bridge is not icy. Snow and sleet blow around us, but we keep going, slowly. At Tower the weather conditions let up and by the time we reach Little America, the snow melts as it reaches the pavement. We turn into the upper parking area at Slough Creek and face the waiting carcass. The carcass is more exposed this morning; more animals have obviously come to the table. The bison's rib cage is visible, but there is still nothing feeding - not even a vulture or a raven. It starts to rain and we sit and wait.
   The sun peeks out and a gray wolf is spotted in the sage high on top of the hill facing the Lamar River and Crystal Drainage. The wolf disappears quickly, bedding next to a rock. We never see the wolf, but we do see a coyote hunting in the sage below who finds a large piece of something - bison, maybe? In the flats south of the Institute a pair of coyotes harass three sandhill cranes; who may have been protecting a nest close by. The coyotes are urged on by a bison with a calf and hurry west.
   We are wolfless today, but have good bear luck. First, a grizzly near Soda Butte Cone heading west toward Trout Lake. Then at Tower we saw a new black bear - a sow with a black cub and a cinnamon cub. She and her cubs were feeding in the grass along the road and began to cross to the woods on the other side when a ranger shot pepper balls at her, sending the sow and her cubs flying up the slopes north of the road. We return around 3:30-4:00 to find the sow back on the other side of the road near Calcite Springs. The cubs climb over logs and chase each other while the sow sits in a large pool of water, giving herself a bath. The cinnamon cub approaches Mom while she is bathing and Mom lunges at the little bear, jumping out of the pool and sending her cub running.
   Near Elk Creek a red fox hunts in the deep meadows across from Petrified Tree. The fox has very light, long fur on its upper body while its hind quarters and legs are gray. Its ears are tipped with black. It catches a vole and buries it in the deadfall. There must be a den there somewhere. The fox has company in the meadow - a black bear. It forages in the grass until a bison frightens him and he climbs a tree.
   Back at Slough Creek we watch a pair of geese escort eight goslings on an excursion from one side of the creek to the other. Seven fluffy yellow goslings waddle after their parents into the water and swim between the two in formation. The parents lift their wings high as if giving the goslings a clue, and all the fuzzy yellow creatures dive into the water head first. Is this a diving lesson or training in avoiding predators? The goose family stroll into the tall grass on the opposite bank and begin pecking the ground for food.

Author - Christine Baleshta
Photography - Tim Springer

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Yellowstone Experiences 2015