We forego an early departure in favor of breakfast. David and I both drive up to get gas and then get bakery goods. Last nightís rain has cleared and has left some cool wispy fog.
We see mule deer along the road and we all marvel at the nutty robins that burst from the side of the road, crossing mere inches in front of the car.
We stop at Round Prairie for David to get some fog shots. Our next stop is at Footbridge, where there are already lots of people, but they are seeing no wolves. Bill H has a grizzly mom plus two on the Norris Finger. They are far away and you have to look right into the sun, so my guests are a bit blasť. Bill tells me the Junction Butte wolves were seen on the Crystal side from Slough a good half-hour ago and are already out of sight. I restrain myself from rubbing this in to my family (ďI told you soĒ.) 8~)
Instead I look on the bright side: they might possibly be heading up Crystal Creek and over into Lamar. We drive on.
We meet up with Rick at Coyote Overlook. He confirms it is possible the Junctions are headed this way. Bill H is already here and has found a grizzly mom with two on the north side hills. Same bears that we saw yesterday, but they are much closer today! So my family is very happy. I introduce everyone to Rick and we watch him take signals. What I hear makes me hopeful.
There is a little bit of fog shrouding the top of Specimen but most of the hillside remains visible. Deb and I scan the slopes. After about 15 minutes, Debbie sees running pronghorn on Jasper Bench again. I pan the area and a gray wolf runs into my field of view, followed by a black wolf. It runs towards the back of Jasper Bench, then moves right and comes back
I grab Elaine and Debbie for a quick look through my scope. They both see the wolves. David has his camera up trying to find the spot but I donít think he finds them in time. The two wolves disappear at the back of the bench. I see them both again for a brief moment way at the back of the bench, as well as 3 pronghorn looking in their direction. .
We talk about the chances of a wolf catching a pronghorn (which are not good) but sometimes I think they just canít help themselves. I hear a radio message that Lamar Alpha Female 926 just crossed back to the den and that Lamar Alpha Male ďTwinĒ is still to the south. I tell my family that I am willing to go back but donít recommend it, as we are headed out anyway.
We have a lovely drive through the Tower area and the Blacktail, but in the excitement of finally seeing wolves, I forget my plan included stopping at Roosevelt for breakfast! Luckily we get to Mammoth in time to eat there (they close at 10).
After that we continue south, passing the Hood Doo area which they have not seen before. We stop at the Golden Gate pullout to get photos of the canyon and Rustic Falls. I find the raven nest that someone told me about (sorry, I forget who). There are four HUGE raven young on the verge of fledging.
We continue through Swan Lake Flats and stop for a bit to try to find sandhills. It has become very windy but we do stay out long enough to see and hear a yellow-headed blackbird.
On we go, through terrain theyíve not seen before, the strange convergence of forest and thermal areas. We run into construction at the bridge over Indian Creek and have to stop three times for a pilot car. But it allows us time to shed our cold-weather clothes in favor of lighter fare.
We drive leisurely through the lovely Gibbon Canyon with stops at Beryl Spring and the recently re-done pullout for Gibbon Falls. Sharp-eyed Debbie finds another raven nest, but no birds in it.
We carry on through Madison Junction and then west. Just past the edge of one of the wide turnouts along the Madison River we see people looking at a dead bison, lying on its side, feet up, starting to swell. We wonder what sorts of critters this will draw and whether the Rangers will cart it away?
As we get close to the entry gate we see a long jam up ahead, caused by a herd of bison, cows and their adorable calves, walking towards us in the east bound lane. From their wet and dripping appearance, it seems they just crossed the River. A bull shows off for the cows, bending and thrashing a small pine tree, which Debbie videos.
We stop in West Yellowstone because I want to show them the Discovery Center, and give them a chance to photograph animals at a closer distance than the Park usually allows.
Our timing is excellent as there are five grizzlies in the big enclosure: two gnawing on bones, one older animal roaming on his own, and two young bears, siblings, who splash into the center pool and begin to wrestle with each other. Itís a made-to-order show which goes on for over a half hour and is thoroughly entertaining.
Unlike the animals in zoos Iíve visited over the years, these bears seem quite content, displaying all of the natural behaviors I see in the wild. You donít see the mindlessly repetitive movements that are so common in zoos. Other than there being five unrelated bears in close proximity, they seem quite natural. They do take care to give each other space, except for the siblings with each other.
On the other side of this area are the wolf enclosures, three of them, each with a pair of wolves inside. All the wolves are sleeping when we arrive, but they all eventually wake up as they know feeding time is approaching. There are two white wolves from Canada in the closest enclosure. They offer the best shots for David and Debbie. However, unlike the bears, the wolves do not look content. They look bored and sad. Iím sure they are well treated but they are not alert or curious; they do not behave like the wild wolves I have seen.
There are also some big raptors, some of them were severely injured and the Center has healed them and provided a home, safer than the wild. We see a huge golden eagle, a peregrine falcon and a great-horned owl.
Finally we head north on Rt 191 to Bozeman, along the gorgeous Gallatin River. We look diligently for moose, but they elude us. We all agree itís been a wonderful trip. But itís Yellowstone, so how could it NOT have been? 8~)
Today we saw: 11 grizzly bears (including 4 cubs and 5 captive bears), bison, mule deer, a golden eagle, elk, a peregrine falcon, a great horned owl, pronghorn, 4 ravens in a nest, suicidal robins, 2 wild wolves (both Junctions) and four captive wolves, and the spirit of Allison