DAY ONE - Friday, June 30


I am off again for another Yellowstone visit. Itís 8:30AM, a pleasant 65 degrees on a beautiful, clear, typical summer day.

Iím inside the park by 10:20 and just before the 7 Mile bridge I stop to watch a cinnamon black bear, ambling about on the far side of the Madison.

Madison Campground is now open. I drive through, reliving many memories. The place looks pretty much the same.

Once again, everyone except me turns right to Old Faithful. I go my merry way along the Gibbon.

I can smell Norris before I get there! But I turn right, heading to Canyon. There are definitely more people here, but I wouldnít call it crowded.

There is a bull elk jam just south of Canyon Junction. Ahh, now that feels normal! Further on there is a bear jam for a cinnamon black bear with two coy, one black and one cinnamon. I enjoy watching them for a while.

At Otter Creek I see another black bear, a small adult, jet black. I wonder if all the bears from the Tower area have been missing their summer audiences? Maybe they moved down here?

I check on the eagle nest area around 11:30. One parent and two chicks.

Itís so late in the day I donít really expect to see any wolves but of course I look anyway, scoping from Alum, Alum south and Grizzly O. Nothing but elk, bison and sandhills.

I see people with scopes at Trout Creek, including Natalie and Warren. Natalie says I just missed a black wolf on the west side. Warren says it was an hour ago now but adds that other people saw wolves east of Alum early this morning.

I continue south, surprised to find the road so empty. I stop at the heron rookery that has been here forever, but that I only learned about last fall thanks to Barb. I find 6 adults and 8 chicks. Itís really a cool thing to see.

I explore the area around Gull Point Drive and find a great napping spot, complete with shade and a breeze to keep bugs away. And because itís right opposite Lake, it even has cell service! I send a morning report to Laurie.

I explore Lake Lodge (which is not open) ending up in the nearly deserted cabin area and spot a critter that looks like a ferret. Itís long and lean, weasel-like but bigger. It dashes across a rocky-gravel road into a hole under the porch of an unused cabin.

It has a brown back and lighter undersides. I really donít think itís a marmot Ė too slim and too long. Oh, maybe itís a pine martin?

My next stop is at 3 panel where I see a herd of about 25 elk. Mostly cows and calves plus one bull. They are mostly resting with some grazing on a hillside just above the river. There are also bison and geese. And a hawk on a rock.

I see a bunch of green gentians, a favorite of Doug Dance. Iíve not seen any of these in a long time.

Despite the lack of wolves, I find myself enjoying this trip Ė being alone on an adventure in YNP, just like my early days.

I settle in at Grizzly Overlook for the evening viewing. Tonight, I see a small elk herd with 3 beautiful bulls, four cows and a spike. Later, six more cows join the herd. There are also 5 sandhills and bison but no wolves or bears.

Around 8PM I decide to check the view from Alum but find nothing there either. I radio a few times but get no response.

I head back to 3 Panel and watch the same elk herd I saw before. They are closer to the river now, some drinking from it. Then I notice some odd behavior (well, odd to me anyway).

Two cows wander away from the grazing group, both moving upriver. The one behind seems to be chasing the one in front, as if annoyed by her. She rears up and stomps at the cow in front of her, making the other kick out in response. It could be play, but it looks more like the second elk is trying to drive the other away.

Eventually they both swim across the Yellowstone and get out on the near bank. They move across the meadow, continuing their antagonistic behavior until they reach a muddy spot where they seem interested in something in the mud. Salt deposits? Minerals? Moss or new grass?

Once they start to graze the antagonism stops. Hmm, maybe it was play after all?

About 10 minutes later, I see nearly the same behavior repeated by two other cow elk. The interaction is not quite prolonged but it doesnít look lighthearted either.

I make a note to myself to ask Bob Landis about this whenever I see him next.

Around 9:30 the light is fading, so I head to the campground.

Today I saw: 5 black bears (including 2 cubs), bison, sandhill cranes, 3 bald eagles (including 2 chicks), elk (including calves), geese, a hawk, 14 great blue herons (including 8 chicks), a pine marten and the spirits of Alison, Richard and Jeff

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