I let myself "sleep in" this morning…till 5:30.
I’ve decided to head back to Yellowstone today so I can explore and drive the northern loop, but since that road won’t open till noon, I can spend the morning enjoying the Tetons.
My first stop is the “new” pullout south of Oxbow Bend. The beavers elude me this morning, but I find pelicans and cormorants fishing on the Snake.
It’s a gorgeous morning, cool and quiet. And it’s all mine!
After they have feasted, four black cormorants choose a bare branch that overhangs the water to perch on. They stand with their backs to the sun, wings outspread like movie vampires, drying their feathers.
I watch an osprey fly in and land in a tall tree to the right of the beaver lodge. Ah, it’s landed in a nest, but I don’t see any chicks. Hmm, I don’t know how quickly osprey chicks fledge, maybe they are already gone? Or maybe this is a fledgling? The bird sits, preening its feathers.
Below the tree in the still water of the oxbow a great blue heron stalks prey. Three times it grabs a fish and gobbles it down.
I open the hatch and boil water for coffee. I have a tasty breakfast alone in my secret pullout in view of Mt. Moran.
A sandhill flies overhead while three small birds take turns striking it. What? One of them gets a solid hit on the poor sandhill’s back. After that, the sandhill changes course and escapes. I have seen small birds “mob” ravens or eagles, but those birds prey on small birds and their eggs. I wonder what the sandhill has done to draw this response?
I am really enjoying this return to my “old days” of camping adventures, especially since I know how to do it so much more efficiently now.
There are wildflowers growing all around this pullout. I explore a bit and take photos. Salmon-orange penstemon, dark blue larkspur, hillsides of bright yellow balsamroot, and purple lupine.
I take another drive through the “inside loop” enjoying the views, looking for moose, continuing to relish the Teton aroma.
I also explore a dirt road that leads to a small campground near the once active “Cattlemen’s Bridge” built in the 50’s to accommodate ranchers who still grazed stock in the early days of the Park. There are even more wildflowers back here. It’s a pretty spot.
I check out of my cabin but before I head back north, I explore the nooks and crannies of Colter Bay itself, happy to see the boat ramps and beaches and trails are still popular with visitors.
Next I explore Flagg Ranch, at least as much of it as I can see from the road. It looks like a perfect place for families (who can afford it!) but it’s not for me.
The rest of my drive north is easy, gorgeous and uneventful. The big excitement is when a chipmunk crosses the road near Lewis Falls.
When I get to Canyon around 11, l find the gate is wide open and see a few cars coming down from above. Oh! Turns out, the Park opened this road early at 9AM instead of noon.
So up I go towards Dunraven Pass. There is still a bit of snow on the north-facing slopes and a handful of cars in the high pullouts with people enjoying the views.
At the entrance to the Chittenden road, a young grizzly appears on my left, sniffing among the fallen logs, quite close to the road. A few cars stop and the people inside eagerly watch him. Luckily, no one does anything stupid.
He crosses between me and the car ahead and ambles up the hill towards the Chittenden road (which is closed). Nice, blondish young grizzly.
Below the Mae West curve I notice several mudslides here and there. The road is still nice and smooth, though. Traffic is steady, but not crowded.
I stop in a pullout, enjoying my first view of the mountains of Lamar.
The Tower Store lot is jam-packed. All through this area, the pullouts are full. When I reach Tower Junction, though, my heart sinks. I turn right and face a locked barricade preventing access to Lamar.
I stop and stare, seeing Druid peak in the distance, suddenly feeling a weight of sadness.
I foolishly thought it would feel good just be in this spot again but seeing the familiar hills and mountains in the distance only makes me sad.
The gas pumps at Tower are working but the store and rest room are closed. Roosevelt is closed but there is activity in the horse corrals. I find out later that since the horses were already here when the flood happened, wranglers have been exercising them to keep them healthy.
The day has gotten hot, 78, and I am on the verge of getting cranky. I continue west, looking for shade, figuring Hellroaring will suffice. But the lot is jammed with a large group of people enjoying a picnic lunch, so I keep going.
I find suitable shade at the entrance to the 6 Mile road, so I stop for a cool down and a nap.
Ahh, now I feel a bit better.
I continue west.
Just beyond Blacktail ponds many people are stopped. I find a dirt spot big enough for my car next to a single tree and pull over. I get out and stand in the meager shade of the tree, looking north through my binocs. People around me say “it’s a wolf chasing pronghorn”.
I see several pronghorn out there, and a coyote walking behind them. I tell a few people near me that it’s a coyote but not all of them believe me. I let it go and drive on, glad to have seen the coyote!
I stop near the High Bridge to see if there is remaining evidence of the flood way down below. There is, indeed; a somewhat altered channel plus piles and piles of logs and a long mound of gravel, drying in the sun.
I’m hoping to stop at the Mammoth General Store for a sandwich, but, despite the jam-packed parking lot, the store is not open. I think about going to Sheepeater Cliffs but seeing all the people helps me change my mind.
I go back east.
At Phantom Lake I see a black bear, roaming the area above the spring at the eastern end. It’s a nice sighting and puts a smile on my face again.
At Floating Island Lake I see two bears, one black and one cinnamon. They don’t interact but are aware of each other. Maybe siblings, but too old to play together any more?
I hear the wonderfully strange sound of yellow-headed blackbirds, so now I want to find them. Aha! There’s one and there’s another. Such pretty birds.
Just before the curve of Elk Creek I see another black bear, roaming the blowdown area.
As I pass Tower Junction this time, I see a ranger at the Lamar barricade, locking the lock. I stop and call to him, asking him to please open it just for me. He chuckles, good-naturedly.
I go to the Tower store and brave the crowds to buy a sandwich. I remark to the cashier how crowded the store is. He says he got his first visitor around 9:30 and has been jammed ever since!
I head up to the Antelope Creek area and find a shady pullout on the “south” side. It’s breezy up here, which makes it pleasant. I have my lunch and settle in for another nap.
Around 6 I head back down, hoping to find some wolves. A small group of elk stand on the hillside to the south, wanting to cross the road. I stop in a handy pullout to watch them. Most cars see them and stop but don’t pull off. This does not help the elk, so the elk give up and head back uphill. I suppose they are not happy to see traffic again either!
At Elk Creek I begin my attempt to find wolves. I scope all over the place, all the close areas and the more distant spots, Yancy’s Hole, Flat Top, Mom’s Ridge, Junction Butte and Druid Peak in the distance. I scour the Little Buffalo drainage near Hellroaring, the Trough, Garnet Hill, Junction Lake and the meadows up on Specimen. Bison and elk, but no wolves.
After an hour I move to Rick’s pullout, and scan Vader Hill, the Sheep cliffs, both basalt cliffs, and Junction Butte. Same. I hear a woodpecker drilling behind me. A fierce wind arrives, kicking up the sandy dust around me. I guess rain is coming.
An ambulance comes by, its siren screaming. I wonder where it’s going and where it will bring the hurt people?
I go back to Elk Creek for another half hour of scoping. I email Laurie, lamenting the loss of my usual “wolf luck”. I begin to notice the lack of cars and it feels almost spooky.
I catch movement to my left – the cinnamon bear that I saw at Floating Island has crossed the road and is wandering through the meadow below me. That’s nice at least.
Around 8:30 I call it a night and drive back over Dunraven to my home for the evening at Canyon.
Today I saw: 1 grizzly bear, 4 black bears, 2 yellow-headed blackbirds, bison, a chipmunk, cormorants,
a coyote, sandhill cranes, 3 bald eagles, elk, a great blue heron, an osprey, pelicans, pronghorn,
and the spirits of Alison, Richard and Jeff