DAY ONE - Saturday, May 20

SPRING IS HERE

Itís 2:30PM and I am off to Yellowstone to see some wolf pups!

We still have smoke from the Canadian fires, but the air quality is a tiny bit better today. The Bridgers became visible again. So far, May has not delivered as much rain as we usually get. But April was probably cool and rainy enough for the surfeit of moisture to last.

The air becomes noticeably clearer when I reach 89 and the lush landscape returns. The ďtunnelĒ of cottonwood trees is bright green. The beautiful Yellowstone River is high and muddy.

Just before the rest area I notice a flock of pelicans flying downriver. On the other side, two cowboys from the Mountain Sky Guest Ranch ride along an ATV trail.

As I emerge from Yankee Jim Canyon, I start to see elk on both sides of the road. More are grazing just outside the main gate.

The Employee entry gate has an unusual visitor: a spike bull elk stands there right on the pavement outside the kiosk window. As I wind up the Old/New road, I see numerous pronghorn.

The high bridge is still under construction. The west-bound traffic goes extra slowly because they are following a single bison. When the bison reaches my end of the bridge my light changes to green. Of course, I have to wait for the line of cars to clear first, but we end up making it across in time.

As I reach Blacktail ponds a rain shower arrives, dropping the temp down to 72. Whew! Thatís better.

I start to notice patches of snow still lingering here and there on north-facing slopes.

Blacktail is much greener than Mammoth, which is a joy to see. The trees are leafing out quite nicely. I hear chorus frogs in every single pond.

At Floating Island Lake I see oncoming traffic start to slow down, then stop. I pull into the dirt lot and see a cinnamon bear amble out of the trees. However, people stopped in the road are looking in a different spot, at a moose!

There is about to be a huge jam here, so I slip past the car ahead of me and continue east.

I particularly enjoy the rest of the drive to Tower through greening meadows and leafing aspen. The temp drops to 66.

A traffic light has been added west of the Yellowstone River Bridge, along with signs that warn of up to 20-minute delays. Luckily, I am stopped only for a minute or two, as crews drive some heavy equipment up the hill.

Little America is very green and has considerably less traffic. Maybe the light at the bridge deters some visitors? There is still snow capping the distant mountains.

There are bison and little orange calves all over, big herds, on both sides of the road. I see melt-water ponds everywhere, reminding me of my first view of this area, way back in 1998.

I decide to go past Slough, since I am running late. My wait at the Lamar Canyon light is only two minutes. As I go through, I notice the big flat ďindicator rockĒ is not yet underwater, but boy, itís getting close!

Lamar looks good, but not yet as green as Little America. Needless to say, all the snow is gone. And itís filling up with bison.

As I approach Confluence, I see cars parked on both sides of the road and a couple of orange-vested volunteers. Traffic is clogged and several photographers are walking back to their cars. I hear a volunteer speak to the driver ahead of me about ďa person tried to rescue a bison calf.Ē

I find out later that this became a very big story, when a visitor mistakenly caused a calf to be separated from its mom across the swollen river. Rangers reluctantly had to put it down as a result.

I know from Laurieís reports that a small grizzly has been seen in the Confluence flats for the last several days. The bear is out again today, judging by the dozens of people looking south from the hills near 21ís Crossing.

Since traffic is moving at a snailís pace, I am able to grab a glimpse that bear through my binocs.

Later I see the Baronette fox. I reach Laurieís around 6, and have a great reunion with them, as well as Maureen and Rick from upstate NY, who are here for two weeks.

After a bit of a break, Maureen and Rick head out for the evening but I stay to get settled in the loft.

Today I saw: 1 grizzly bear, 1 cinnamon black bear, bison (and calves), elk, a fox, a moose, pronghorn, pelicans and the spirits of Allison, Richard and Jeff.


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