I end up sleeping in until 8:00!
Last night I had told Laurie to knock on my door if they don't see me in the breakfast room by 8! Well, you never saw anyone jump in the shower so quickly!
I get ready as fast as I can and join them in the front room for juice and cereal. The Gray Wolf Inn offers a very nice continental breakfast and it's well attended. I slept very well - too well! It looks warm and sunny outside - of course. NOW it's sunny!
Gary is still having blister trouble so we rule out a hike today. We talk about several options and decide on a stop at Old Faithful and then Hayden Valley. Because I packed up last night, I am ready to go before my friends so I head across the street to see if I can catch a glimpse of the captive wolves at the Discovery Center.
I do! I see four of them and better yet, I am treated to a very nice morning howl.
The sky clouds over again and the day turns windy and cold.
Gary and Laurie drive out of the parking garage and we go over our plan. We will stop for bears or wolves but not for elk or bison unless it is something really special. 8~)
We head into the Park again and enjoy the drive. All the mountains have a new dusting of snow.
Our first stop is one of the big pullouts where it's common to see elk. We see a nice herd and a beautiful bull. Every time the sun comes out it makes the green carpet of new trees look lush and gorgeous.
We head on to Madison and then up the hill past the Firehole Canyon and on past the Firehole River. At Fountain Flats Drive we see a herd of elk with several calves. I don't see a bull with them but he is probably in the trees. We keep going to Old Faithful. We cancel our reservations for Thursday, the day we were supposed to come out of the woods, and Gary learns that Beehive is likely to erupt. He needs no further urging, so we follow him over there as quickly as we can.
We get to the boardwalk with perfect timing. Beehive roars to life and treats us to a wonderful sustained eruption, high and loud. Gary reminds me that a little while ago people were saying Beehive was dormant. Well, if that was a phase, it's over now! 8~)
We clap when it's over. We now head for Old Faithful, since it has not gone off while we have been in viewing distance, and it should be erupting pretty soon. Just as we pass the entrance to the Lodge I see the telltale first splash. We stop and enjoy this wonderful fountain. We get righteously ticked when people start to leave before it's finished! We stay till the very end.
We stop in at the visitor center and say hello to Christine. I see a bunch of books that I want but don't get.
Now we go back to the cars and head out again, this time driving towards Craig Pass. We stop at Shoshone Overlook. Now this view has real meaning for me because I can see where we were - way, way over there, on the far side of the lake, just yesterday. We see how much snow is in the area and do not regret our decision to turn around.
Laurie points to a particular peak way in the distance. Grand Teton!
Now we head into Hayden Valley. We stop at the first high pullout which I confuse with Grizzly Overlook. We see a Great Blue down by the river and two sandhills. We go further and stop again at the real Grizzly Overlook. I search in vain for wolves, checking all the spots where I saw the Hayden Pack in the past. Frank had told me that a lone black wolf has been seen in the Valley off and on. But no luck.
Laurie finds a bald eagle on a snag in the river and we watch it for a while.
Then we move on to a spot where there is a largish herd of bison near the road. Gary wants to get some photos. Fine with me! We have a lovely time here, watching cows with their still-orange calves and one still amorous older fellow who seems to have found a receptive female. Two other males fight head to head out by the river.
We also enjoy watching the interaction between another Great Blue and some bison. Let's just say the Heron is smart enough to know when he is beat. We also see ducks and geese.
The activity of the amorous bull starts a migration of the herd across the road. First he pursues his intended and she chooses to avoid him by heading uphill to the road. Most of us move instinctively to our cars when the bull comes up but some yokels defy logic. Luckily for them this bison remains intent on the cow and pays the camera-toters no mind.
Then the herd begins to follow, calves included and we are treated to many up-close and personal shots.
Once they are safely across, we tried watching them from the other side, but the wind is in our face and, well, it begins to rain again. So we get back in our cars and head north.
Next stop, Canyon. We have a wonderful time in the Visitor Center and pay a courtesy call on the backcountry office to let them know our sites are available. They confirm some pretty nasty weather yesterday.
Gary and Laurie have decided to stay another night at West so they are thinking about heading back soon. I convince them to drive up Washburn at least as far as the overlook. We do so, but the cold and rain return, so, after reminiscing a bit about Fairyland, we part company. But before they go, we make a plan to meet at the Fairy Falls trailhead tomorrow at 10AM.
I drive on over Dunraven and stop at one of the high pullouts. Layla finds two elk at the waterhole and a few lone bison but no Agate wolves. As I come down the Antelope Creek side I stop at what I think is a bear jam. Nope. Moose! A great big bull is down there in the creek, chomping away. I watch him a while and then head down to Tower Campground, where I get a spot easily. I think the weather has chased a lot of folk away.
I drive on to Lamar. It looks dry and golden out here - far more dry than other areas of the Park. Remembering how soggy things were in April I am sorry to see there are only potholes of water left at Boulder Pond. But it's beautiful.
I stop at Fishermans and watch three bull bison run recklessly down the hill to the river to cross it. When they do, the water level barely reaches their knees. They leave the water and head uphill to join a large herd of cows and calves on the western end of Jasper Bench.
I pack up Layla and head down that way. I see lots of people on Exclosure Hill, in scattered groups. Most of them I do not recognize. But they are seeing something so I set up Layla and put her to work.
In no time at all I have wolves in my scope. They are in the rendezvous - but what amazes me is that one of the wolves is a tiny gray pup! This year the Druids had several litters and they were born many days apart. The size difference has been remarkable among the surviving pups. This one is a late-arrival, that's for sure. He looks coyote-sized next to a black wolf, with whom he is playing.
I see Rick on the next hill and decide to head up there to say hello. I'm glad I do because the view is better over here. With Rick's help I see more Druids, and better yet, the carcass upon which they have been feeding. I also recognize the alpha pair, and dear old 302.
Rick fills me in on the happenings of the last two days. The Sloughs have been seen on Jasper Bench and the Druids have been in the rendezvous area. It's very unusual for the two packs to be so close to one another. During the night the Druids killed a bull elk - they were found feasting on it at first light this morning. So they have been coming and going from it all day, giving wolf watchers a real treat.
The carcass is still visible in the river - half in, half out. A single gray yearling is down on the gravel shore, chewing on it right now. Two bald eagles perch nearby - one adult and the other most likely a juvenile. They seem fairly tolerant of each other so are most likely related.
I meet a handful of new wolf enthusiasts and we enjoy the sighting. There is a fisherman working the river below us and we become concerned he will get too close to the gray yearling and spook him off the carass, but just then the fisherman turns and walks back upriver. Perhaps he saw the wolf himself.
It's very windy on this hill but I'm never cold when I have wolves in my scope!
I am watching a bedded 302 when someone calls "grizzly". And yes, a bear has appeared at the tree line to the east. Rick warns the group of visitors within earshot to keep our eyes on 302 - he may very well get up and chase this bear away...but nothing like that happens at all! 302 sees the bear and basically ignores it. The bear sees the wolves and ignores them. The bear stays near the tree line and walks all the way past them to the west, unopposed and unharassed. I guess 302 is too full of rare elk steak to care!
We watch a while longer and I am so happy to be in this wonderful place again, watching animals as I love to do. The sky begins to dim and this seems like a good time to head downhill. On our way down, Rick shares with me his concern that Sarah Palin is very anti-wolf. We talk a bit more and he kindly gives me a radio for tomorrow. He says Laurie is returning from San Diego tomorrow night so I say I will be out again for sure.
I drive through my favorite valley, enjoying the evening. There are bison close to the road so I go slow. I stop at Slough to change clothes and arrange the car for sleeping. I enjoy being temporarily alone in the utter quiet and the dark. And I breathe in the pungent smell of sage.
I find the Tower bathroom open and empty so I wash up and brush my teeth. Then I head to the campground for a good night's sleep.
Today I saw: antelope, bison, ducks, 3 bald eagles, elk, geese, 1 grizzly bear, 2 herons, 1 moose, 2 sandhills, 12 Druid wolves (including 480, 569, 302 and one tiny gray pup) and 2 Loons.