DAY FIVE - Friday, July 7


It’s a chilly 39 degrees this morning, as I walk from my car to the campground bathrooms. My fleece jacket keeps me warm and I walk through a spooky morning mist, bear spray in hand.

Very few people are up, but everyone is being quiet. My trusty stove boils water very quickly, and I soon have hot coffee in my thermos to drink later.

I wish Becky and Chloe a good morning and we get ourselves ready for the day. It’s quite a treat to be up early in a beautiful place like this. There is no more fog once we cross Fishing Bridge.

We scope for bears at the Nine Mile trailhead, then move a bit east onto the wide shoulder across from the road to Lake Butte Overlook, where Barb and I saw bears a few years ago. Instead of bears, though, we find a small herd of elk cows and calves bedded on a hillside.

A Park Service pickup stops briefly and the driver kindly advises us to go further east, where a bear and cub are visible. We drive until we see the cars. There are dozens of photographers here, including wolf watchers Becky B and Julie A’s daughter, Josie.

The bears are relatively close, but in extremely thick cover. Various people more familiar with these bears kindly try to help us see them. I find the terrain very problematic.

The bears are in a blowdown forest, a veritable jungle of fire-ravaged logs and still-standing dead trunks, all the same gray color, with hundreds more criss-crossed fallen logs on the ground. What this crowd considers “open” areas are merely slits or tiny gaps through which more stumps and criss-crossed logs can be glimpsed.

In between there are hundreds of short, new-growth pines amid the thick ground cover vegetation, adding further camouflage. It reminds me of doing a really hard jigsaw-puzzle!

Maybe if the bears were bright yellow or orange I might be able to see them!

At various times, people point and say “There she is, over by that stump” or “she’s next to that tree” and I just chuckle because there are at least fifteen stumps and sixteen trees where the person is pointing. I know each person is trying to be helpful. The core group of photographers seem very familiar with this bear and her cub, as well as the area itself.

After about 10 minutes of fruitless trying, Becky B directs my attention to a single burnt stump with a broken piece on top with two knotholes, which does make it distinguishable from the dozens of other burnt stumps. When I find the two knotholes she says “OK, look to the lower left of that stump”.

By sheer luck I see movement. It’s the mama bear’s rear end. The rest of her is hidden behind a downed log. Hooray! I’ve seen a bear!

A minute or so later, the sow turns, giving Chloe a glimpse of her face as she looks our way. Somehow, I miss this completely. I do see her shoulder and back as she moves past a different trunk a few minutes later. Becky gets a few glimpses, too.

I never see the cub at all, but many of the photogs do. I would estimate these bears are less than 100 yards away. The photogs wait patiently for that magical moment when one or both bears move into a gap wide enough for a good shot.

It’s only a little past 8AM and we are still hoping to find wolves, so we thank our helpers, fold up our scopes and head back to our cars. We congratulate ourselves for finally managing a bear sighting after three days of trying. I call it our “pieces of bears” sighting.

We stop at Pelican Creek and count 10 pelicans, numerous geese, a male merganser and 2 great blue herons. We also see a herd of elk with three calves.

When we get back to Hayden around 8:45, we are surprised to find the valley is still full of fog! It soon lifts, but we still see no wolves. Only the usual bison and sandhills.

Around 10AM we take a drive to the Lower Falls, viewing it from the north side drive, a view I have not seen for a very long time.

I take note of a sign at the overlook that says a “waterfall is a geologic crossing”. I’ve never thought of it like that, and the idea sticks with me.

We continue to Canyon Village where Chloe asks a Ranger about the single white goose we saw with the flock of Canada geese. She grins when the Ranger confirms the bird is a Snow goose. Apparently, it flew in with the geese earlier this spring. It’s rare but not unheard of.

We head back south and stop at the last pullout in Hayden north of Mud Volcano. It’s a spot Chloe and Becky have spent many hours in over the years, watching waterfowl in the ponds near the Yellowstone River. We see geese, bald eagles, scaups, a blue winged teal and a green winged teal. My favorite is a mallard mom with about 8 tiny chicks, zipping here and there, as if being yanked on a string. Chloe says the babies might not all be hers, that mallard moms are known to care for orphans of another mom. We also see a great blue and a few pelicans.

We have a pleasant, relaxing visit and talk a bit about old times. Becky and Chloe are heading south to the Tetons tomorrow and I have appointment in Bozeman. We wish we could have had more bear sightings on this trip, like the hour we spent with 864 and her cubs. I reluctantly say my goodbyes and head north. About a mile later, I see many cars stopped on both sides of the road and people looking uphill to the west. A lady says it’s a grizzly with two cubs!

It’s 864!

I jump back in my car and drive back to Becky and Chloe, telling them that 864 is in view again! They pack up and follow me, but when we get to the lot, the cars and people are gone. Ugh!

I feel awful for rousing them for nothing. But Chloe suggests we drive a bit further and maybe she’ll pop out? We end up at the high Alum lot. We see people up on Grizzly hill but can’t tell if they are seeing anything. We set up our scopes anyway. Wouldn’t it be great if she came into view out there by the power poles?

But of course, that is just a daydream. Larry and Linda R pull in and I tell them why we’re hoping a bear might pop into view. Larry says “you mean that bear, there?”

And sure enough, there she is! 864 has just topped the hill, and she’s much closer than the power poles. Her cubs come into view behind her, just a bit west of the crowd on Grizzly hill.


Becky and Chloe are delighted. The bears are close enough for binoculars – you don’t really need a scope! I thoroughly enjoy watching these three bears, in a clear, unobstructed view. No downed logs, no forest of gray trees to peer through. They browse along in a wide-open wildflower meadow. Full-body bears, not just pieces. Hah!

Mom grazes and digs; the cubs romp and chase. Sometimes they get serious and mimic what Mom is doing. They rise up on their hind legs quite often, as if showing off how good at it they are.

Then another wish is fulfilled when Mom sits down allowing her cubs to come to nurse. Awwwww! Everyone in the pullout is thrilled.

Unlike coys, which will almost always fall asleep after nursing, these yearlings stay awake. Once they finish, they are packed full of energy. They race after each other, getting pretty far from mom, testing their confidence. Soon they rush back to her.

It’s truly one of the easiest, most satisfying bear sightings I’ve ever had.

After more than an hour, I once more I bid my friends adieu. I heard from them later that the bears remained in view another two hours. Wow!

I have an easy, clear drive over Dunraven and through Little America. While waiting in line at the Lamar Canyon light, a black bear crosses the road from south to north.

Lamar is a welcome sight this afternoon, still green and full of bison. I get to Silver Gate around 4:30PM and settle in with time to do my stretches.

Laurie & Dan want to go out because Junctions were seen in the rendezvous this morning. I am happy to join them.

On our way down, we see the Silver Gate fox on the road.

The three of us join Scott W who is scoping from Exclosure hill, watching some bedded Junction wolves.

When I get set up, I see them in short grass in front of the double foothill.

At first, I count six, then find a few more. A gray appears from the tree line and walks over to join the group. When it gets to a black smudge on the ground, the “smudge” jumps up and becomes 1276F. Her super-high tail and slim body are unmistakable. The gray greets her then beds, rolling on its back, pawing at 1276. A few more wolves reveal themselves and my count grows to 10 with 6 grays and 4 blacks.

Laurie and I are hoping to see 1437M tonight, but he doesn’t seem to be among them. We try to find ways to identify the un-collared wolves. We call one “brown-gray”, another dark black, and a light gray. We are pretty sure a collared gray is 1384F. I see a black with a graying chin that I think could be the alpha male. However, when this wolf gets up later, we realize it’s 1382F. “Brown-gray” is restless. He leaves the bedded wolves, strolling east through a bison herd.

Then our attention is drawn by three bull bison below us, beginning to make their way up this hill. They seem to be taking a route between us and another group of watchers further east.

I pick up my scope and my stool and move to give them plenty of room. The lead bison stares at us a while but then graciously moves on without displacing us further.

I am relieved when he keeps walking to a spot much higher on the hill. He stops there, finding some grass to his liking, and his two pals follow. Whew!

Dan finds a black bear wandering around behind the western foothills, and then spots a pronghorn a bit further east. A coyote trots by below us, giving us a three-dog day.

“Brown-gray” has disappeared to the east but the rest of the wolves remain peacefully bedded.

It’s a nice evening with wolves in view, no bugs and not too many people. We leave around 8:30 to head back east. On the way I pass a mule deer with a fawn near Warm Creek.

Today I saw: 2 black bears, 4 grizzly bears (including 2 cubs and a partial view of t he sow referred to as “long tail”), bison, 2 coyotes, sandhill cranes, 3 mule deer (including a fawn), 2 bald eagles, elk (and calves), a fox, geese, a snow goose, 3 great blue herons, 9 mallards (including 8 chicks), pelicans, pronghorn, a blue winged-teal, a green-winged teal, scaups, 10 Junction wolves (including 1276F, 1382F, 1384F and 7 others) and the spirits of Allison, Richard and Jeff.

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