Magda Blue's clock says 6:02 as I head uphill from the Tower store to Antelope. What I can see of the sky looks pretty cloudy. I may find fog up here. But I don't. I find cold!
As I get out of the car to set up Layla I hear a lone howl coming from somewhere out there. It's wolf for sure. Oh how I'd love to be able to spot that animal. But I don't. I do find a bull moose, though. Perhaps the same one I saw yesterday?
A man pulls in and introduces himself as "Jack". He sees the moose, too. We watch him drink from the stream, then head up hill into the trees along a little path. We both marvel at how a huge animal like him can just disappear into the trees like that.
A little later we see four mule deer in a burn area, two does and two fawns. How nice! And then Jack spots a female moose! He helps me find her and we watch her move in the direction of the male. Oh, wouldn't that be something if we saw a moose romance?
I boil water for coffee and offer some to Jack. It's the least I can do for such a good spotter. We talk about how green it is up here and how that means the elk will be staying up high for a while yet. We have been hearing the hoo hoot hoo hoo hoo of an owl and Jack finds him in a dead tree. Well, of course that's where an owl would be!!! We also find a pair of sandhills squawking and walking down by the little stream.
Alas the time has come for me to leave. I say thanks and goodbye to Jack and head south. A light snow begins to fall as I wind around Mt. Washburn. Just below the Washburn Springs pullout I see a couple walking up the road, camera in hand, looking downhill. I pull over on the right just as a Ranger drives up. The camera couple stops opposite me and I see what they are following. A bear!
It's a smallish grizzly, rooting and grubbing on the open slope just far enough away for us to be safe. He pays the road no mind at all. We watch in silence as the snow falls around us, making for great photos if you have a good low-light lens!
Eventually the bear moves over the crest of a hill so I head on. As the Ranger passes me he compliments me on my four wheels off the road parking job. I smile, knowing I learned it in Lamar!
The rest of my drive is fairly uneventful, except for a big bull bison in the road between Canyon and Norris. The person ahead of me is the type that likes to drive alongside the animal, shooting video. That's fine by itself, but this fellow chose to straddle the center lane while doing so!
Rain begins to fall again and stays with me until around the Tuff Cliffs of Gibbon Canyon. Now the sun comes out and it gets warm. I get to the Fairy Falls trailhead a little early and start to pack up for the hike.
Gary and Laurie arrive and first we make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to have for our lunch. We are in bright spirits today, perhaps because it is a little warmer. But as we head out on the trail, we get some drizzle again so we are soon hiking in rain coats again!
I haven't been to Fairy Falls in quite a few years. Gary and Laurie have seen it, but have never been to Spray or Imperial and I am very eager to show off my knowledge of these two backcountry geysers.
Much has changed since I was here last. The area was badly burned in the 1988 fires and the new growth trees, which were barely as tall as me on my first visit are now far over my head, making the hike feel much more enclosed and spooky. Also, many, many of the ghost trees have blown down, making the new growth nearly impassable. The Park Service must have quite a job keeping this trail clear. There are still many of the whitened, dead trunks standing, and they contrast beautifully with the bright green of the new trees.
Fairy Falls itself is just as gorgeous as I remember it and the stong wind gusts play a beautiful game with the falling spray, causing it to curve outwardly and delay the effect of gravity. Laurie and I sit on a log bench and admire it while Gary sets up his tripod and takes masterful shots. We have our sandwiches and soon are paid a visit by the resident chipmunk (or is he a golden mantled ground squirrel?) - the boldest creature (other than ravens) in Yellowstone. He gets nothing from us, but oh, does he try! With the amount of foot traffic this spot receives, I suppose it is impossible to prevent visitors from feeding a cute little guy like him.
We also see marmots scampering over the talus slope on the right side of the falls. Three of them. One marmot scurries down a log, followed by another. At the bottom of the log the one behind tries to mount the one in front! Whoa! She wheels around and snaps at him. He gets the message. They scamper off and then I see a third marmot poke his head above a rock. They are brown and gold colored - I think the term is hoary. And boy are they FAT!
Once we have had our lunch and a rest and Gary has taken all the photos he wants, we head out on the trail toward Spray. The trail is easy to follow but I am delighted to find a number of features I remember - such as the nearly buried boardwalk over the marshiest of spots.
We find a strange feature just before we reach Spray, a teepee-shaped arrangement of wood, which seem to be arranged on purpose. There is more than one. We wonder if it might be old boardwalk lumber that the Park Service would just as soon burn as carry out. The way it's stacked makes us think it is mean to burn. But we need Roadie to figure it out.
We cross the orange/purple runoff stream and approach Spray. Because of its enormous run-off area, one can only get so close...unless one has been shown "the secret way" by Jake. I take Gary and Laurie this way and we sit down to enjoy a close up view of the wonderful show Spray puts on out here all by its lonesome.
Gary and Laurie really like Spray which makes me feel really good. Laurie and I giggle as we watch Gary dashing this way and that to get angle after angle. Spray bubbles and roars and gurgles mightily.
After a little while we get up and head around the corner to Imperial. There are several groups of visitors here, mostly foreigners. Imperial Geyser is even more impressive than I remembered. Its pool is gorgeous and the near-constant fountain is a joy to watch, rising and falling, ever changing. I can tell Gary and Laurie think it's cool, too. We walk around the edge of the sinter and I show them the mud pots and the former hot pool, now dry but still steaming. We sit near the pool, watching the way the fountain spray splashes the rocks, different every time.
The sun has actually come out full and we are quite warm. I lie down just beyond the sinter for a semi-nap. Laurie climbs the hill between Imperial and Spray and Gary takes more photos.
Eventually we head back to Fairy Falls and then on to our cars. Half way back the wind kicks up and the sky becomes overcast again. We make a plan to meet again tomorrow to hike "the road to nowhere" in Gibbon Canyon.
With more hugs and thanks I part again from my friends for the day. They head to Old Faithful and I go back toward Lamar.
My drive back is critter-free except for a lone bison lying in a muddy wallow opposite Rainy Lake.
I continue into Little America and as I approach Aspen pullout I see bison running down a hill on the south side of road and people watching them. Hmmm. I wonder if something is chasing the bison and stop to check. But nothing is moving so I guess it's just the end of the rut.
At the institute I enjoy seeing a herd of antelope quite close on south side of road. And at Picnic there is another herd of bison in the process of crossing from one side of the road to the other. I wait patiently for the right opportunity and then slowly make my way past them as they grunt softly to one another.
The rest of the evening I spend on Exclosure Hill watching Druids. Apparently I have missed an eventful day, and some disturbing news.
At dawn the Sloughs were seen on Jasper, chasing a cow elk downhill. The cow made it into the river and stopped there, temporarily safe. The Sloughs then spread out, testing and worrying the elk, trying to finish their hunt. Unbeknownst to them, 11 Druids (including the alphas and the two husky black males) had set out on patrol from the rendezvous. They reached the eastern end of Jasper Bench while the Sloughs were focused on the elk.
The Druids charged the Sloughs, tails high, in tight formation. The Sloughs, separated from one another, saw the Druids too late to form any defense and simply scattered, running in all directions as fast as they could. Poor Slough beta female 526 was caught right at the river's edge and killed.
The Druids then looked around for other Sloughs but soon reformed in a victory rally and howl. And after much sniffing and prancing, headed back to the rendezvous.
Of course, this is what wild wolves do, but it is always distressing to lose a wolf one has come to know. When the Druids were down on their luck, the Sloughs did this to them. Now the Druids are back in control and they are the aggressive ones. I did hear one bright spot though. The cornered elk cow apparently escaped in all the hubbub. Won't SHE have a tale to tell to her family!
Tonight all is calm in the Druid rendezvous. The morning victors are quietly bedded. Rick helps me identify 480, 569 and 302. I see the teeny gray pup again and worry about him. He seems listless.
At one point in the evening two black wolves (this year's pups?) begin to head southeast. I follow them until they drop down into the river corridor. Then someone notices a black wolf on the shoulder of Mt. Norris. Rick says she is one of the Bar sisters. She moves cautiously, looking back over her shoulder and then we see why - there are some hikers out there on the Lamar River trail. She is probably scared of them.
In the other direction, thick cloud cover engulfs the western end of the valley. As the sun sets, a gorgeous rose tint spreads out along the underside of these clouds, like a huge pink fan in the sky. I don't think I've ever seen a sunset quite like this before.
Laurie comes up and chats with Rick. My heart goes out to her, knowing how fond of 526 she was. We wish the Sloughs had had more sense than to remain on Jasper Bench when the Druids were in the valley, but....We watch the comings and goings of the Druid family but there's not a lot going on tonight.
I've had a full day of Yellowstone adventure and now it's time to head to bed. A bright fingernail of a moon over Specimen Ridge lights my way back to Tower.
Today I saw: antelope, bison, 1 chipmunk, 4 mule deer, elk, 1 grizzly bear, 3 marmots,
2 moose, 1 owl, 2 sandhills, 13 Druid wolves, two Loons and the spirit of Allison