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               Day 5 May 17, 2015

Sunday, May 17, 2015
Cooke City, Montana

    We leave Gardiner shortly after 6 a.m. on a slightly windy, damp morning. Drizzle coats the windshield as the Toyota climbs past Mammoth campgrounds. Elk stare at us as we pass, ears alert. The road to Swan Lake Flats is wet, but not icy. Snow flurries are light. The flats are laced with snow, quiet. A few scattered elk and bison graze. It is 34?.
   Snow flurries continue on and off as we cross Gardiner Bridge, past Lava Creek and Wraith Falls; winding around the Blacktail and up to Tower. The bears are not out this morning. There is a small bison jam at Specimen Ridge trailhead which we circumvent easily. The sow with two cinnamon cubs is around, but we don't know where. The carcass at Slough Creek has been gnawed to almost nothing. We have only seen 911 and a coyote nibbling on it, so other animals must be coming at night. It's hard to say how long it will remain.
   Scarface is grubbing at the Confluence. This is the first time we've seen Scarface, a Yellowstone legend, though we've seen pictures. He certainly is an impressive bear with a huge head. He has been beat up a few times in his lifetime and reminds me of a grizzled old man. He ambles through the willows and deadfall crossing Soda Butte Creek.
   Later at Specimen Ridge trailhead, the black bear sow is finally in sight with two cinnamon cubs, foraging in the woods north of the road. Her cubs follow her, practicing climbing trees and hanging on her back. They chase and tumble over each other and when startled, shoot up a tree. There are six rangers monitoring the crowd, which is well behaved. The rangers lecture on what to do if the bear suddenly moves toward the crowd, but she seems to be a very tolerant bear.
   At Tower Junction the black bear sow we saw last year is grazing at the edge of the road with her triplets, now one year old. They are right at the edge of the pavement in deep grass, ignoring cars that go by, taking pictures - a complete change from Yellowstone Picnic area. After waiting behind several cars, we drive past and I snap photos through the window, the bears ignoring us. By the time we drive up to Calcite and back down the road the rangers have arrived.
   We hike around Hellroaring this afternoon, circling a small mountain of scree. Pika chirp from the wall of rocks. Shooting stars, phlox, larkspur bloom among the deadfall. Away from the road, meadows open up and pour out, studded with pink, white, deep blue.
   After 4 p.m. there is a crowd at the Confluence. 926F chased a cow elk, taking a chunk of her hock, and sending the cow into the river for safety. The poor elk is standing in the river afraid to leave the water, while 926 is bedded nearby. The cow is cold and steps out of the water, warily looking around. After 30 minutes or so, 926 rises from the willows and chases the cow again, jumping into the water, elk and wolf joined in a jerky dance. The elk kicks and bucks; 926 gives up, a wet wolf. She shakes herself off and rolls several times, then makes her way to the road and up 21's crossing to the den. She stops once to chew something, maybe a morsel she cached. The elk stands in the river, holding her ground. I see her face. Bewildered. No other elk to defend her. I wonder if the cow will be there tomorrow.

Author - Christine Baleshta
Photography - Tim Springer

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Yellowstone Experiences 2015