All photos by
Tim Springer
Christine Baleshta

   Our last morning in the Park is cold and clear with a beautiful blue sky, the best weather we've had all week. The cow moose stands again in the middle of the road as if waiting to see who we are before she jumps off the road and trots her moose trot, lifting her legs high, into the woods, her back legs are white. I never noticed that before. For such a large gangly animal she seems very delicate. There are no coyote puppies at the den site this morning. The adults are west of the den running toward it at first and then uphill. They trot very quickly, almost loping, as if disturbed by something, perhaps the bison snorting and stamping on the hill. But they do not approach the den, just keep running up the hill. Both 302M and 480M are still at the confluence, both difficult to see in the mix of cottonwoods, aspen, tall grasses and deadfall. Across the Lamar River in the distance, a grizzly forages. West of Hitching Post we can see both black wolves bedded down near the creek. They don't stay bedded long, but move west, quickly, and before long they are on the opposite side of the River in the area of the Druid rendezvous site. Because they are both black and large we can see them even with the naked eye, which is a relief from the week of straining to see the Slough Creek pups. A pair of Canadian geese waddles on a sandbar followed by four fluffy yellow goslings. The little ones are at their mother's heels, almost underneath her, and seem to mimic her every step. The confluence is much quieter than the fast and furious waters of the Gardiner River. Here there is plenty of sand to waddle around in. We hike up the steep, muddy trail to Trout Lake. The trail circles the little lake which is quiet and looks like glass at 8:30 a.m. But, at the end of the circle the trail is broken. A footbridge made of logs has washed away, so one needs to circle the lake a second time to return. Half of the lake is surrounded by pine trees. In the hollow at the top of one burned out tree, Tim sees a long white neck leaning out, accented by black and white. At first he doesn't quite make it out. It looks a little like a snake, but it's a goose, obviously nesting at the top of the tree. It's a strange site, even stranger than the goose nesting in the osprey's nest in the Lamar near Lamar Canyon. A coyote is also walking the trail. She trots the edge of the Lake, sometimes backtracking, looking intently at the water. A goose gliding in the lake honks and honks. The coyote approaches the water, trying to find a good place to enter. We think she may be after the goose, or eggs in a nest. She steps gingerly into the water and steps back, looks around for another place, and does it again. She walks into the water and starts swimming, her body almost totally submerged, her head and nose in the air, steadily gliding forward, hardly disturbing the water. She swims toward something in the water, a muddy mass of something, maybe a dead fish, bites at it and turns around, swims toward shore and gets out. She still has her eyes on the floating mass and plunges in again, swims with the same smooth movement, and again fails to grab whatever it is. She gets out of the water and shakes off and lies down, washing herself. We can see she is a nursing mother. She seems very calm and not concerned about our presence. She closes her yellow eyes, opening them once in a while to check on us. I do not want to disturb her. This may be a mother's much needed rest away from the puppies for a while, so instead of continuing on the trail, we go back. Glancing toward the water I see the mass has legs and hooves. We drive up Tower Road one last time where one of the black bears is foraging in the first meadow. There haven't been any cubs this year that we've heard of. Even Jan and Bill, who've been in the Park since April 1, have not seen a single COY. Last year was a very successful year for cubs, both black bears and grizzlies, and typically, bears keep their cubs with them for two years. I'd heard that "Rosie" a black bear in Tower, had cubs every year, but then a ranger told me that they were all "Rosie." So I don't know, but no coy this year for us. Near Blacktail Deer Plateau we see another coyote digging beside the road, trying to unearth ground squirrels. He has an unusual face. His eyes seemed slanted downward instead of a slightly upward slant. They also appeared dark brown instead of amber. (When we returned we learned a pack of coyotes had denned near the road in Blacktail Deer Plateau) Before leaving the Park we stopped at Swan Lake Flats to do some final packing and watch the swans and sand hill cranes. We watched a ground squirrel carry grass to his nest. He would run away from his hole into the sage and return with his mouth stuffed with grass. Then he would scurry down his hole and come out, mouth empty, and run off to collect more grass. While the chiseler distracted me, Tim watched an eagle dive into Swan Lake and fly away with a duck! I don't know how I missed that! By the time we left the Park the sky was filling with clouds and it was windy. Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and Cabins opened on Friday, but the Park still wasn't too busy, making it even more difficult to leave.

Author - Christine Baleshta
Photography - Tim Springer

Click for larger image

Yellowstone Experiences 2005