I awake in darkness. Hmmm, it's chilly. Just how I like it.
As I step out for the short walk to the campground restroom, I see evidence of a substantial rain last night. I drive very slowly, with just my parking lights on, but once I get on the road I see the fog.
There is one car ahead of me, but its tail lights are swallowed up quickly. I drive about 25 mph, guessing that bison or elk could appear in front of me at any moment. In the meadow by the horse barns I see the ghostly shapes of two mule deer. Near Otter Creek two dozen geese line up on the muddy bank of the Yellowstone. Just as I come out of the trees an elk cow strides up the bank on my left. I stop to let her cross the road. A second cow appears and I wait for her, too. Once across, they bound off quickly into the trees.
The fog is amazing, muffling all the sounds and reducing visibility to about 10 feet on all sides. There is no point in scoping at Grizzly Overlook so I keep going and soon arrive at the long pullout near the river. A bison herd is about to cross the road here. I avoid the leaders by turning into the pullout where I see another car already parked. The couple inside is taking photos of the bison in the fog. I park a little behind them and let the fog envelop me.
The herd gathers on the road, ghostly in the mist. I hear their mews and grunts, and the soft pat a pat of their hooves on the road. It's wonderful.
In a few moments, I am totally surrounded by bison. I can hear the sound of bison teeth as they tug and tear the grass. I hear periodic calls from a flock of geese on the river and the strange "squeaking hinge" sound of yellow-headed black birds.
After about a half hour of bison-watching bliss, the herd moves away from the road and into the flats by the river. Our two cars are free to go if we want. The fog is just as thick, but the day has begun, for I can see breaks of blue sky overhead.
I wonder how long this fog will last? I head to Grizzly Overlook but there is only an ocean of cloud. I look out there anyway, just in case, but it's fruitless. So I decide to drive around a bit until it lifts. It will lift, won't it? I end up at Artist's Point; I'm the fourth car in the lot. No people visible at all. What a strange experience in this usually popular place!
I walk down the path a bit and turn around as soon as I catch a clear view of the Falls, which happens sooner than expected. Lucky for me, the fog does not obscure this gorgeous sight. It's everywhere else, though! I listen to the high-pitched calls of the resident osprey, and finally see one soaring high above.
Slowly I drive back towards the Chittenden Bridge. On impulse, I turn left toward the Wapati Lake trailhead parking lot. I find the fog a bit thinner here, and a few cars in the lot. A woman is watching a large herd of elk on the foggy hillside to the south.
I watch the elk too, and eventually the woman turns and tells me there is an injured cow with a calf in that group, and I see the one she means. I comment that there are numerous calves in this herd and how nice that is to see. We introduce ourselves and I meet Kim - who, it turns out, is a wolf fan, especially of the former Hayden Pack, and now of the Canyons. She is here with her partner, a photographer.
The elk on the hill are calling to each other in those sweet mews they make. The injured cow seems to be getting along alright, but we can't help but wonder if the Canyons are responsible for her injury. She may very well have been defending her calf, and as she still has a calf, we can't help but admire her. The herd moves further south and becomes obscured by the fog. I bid goodbye to my new friend and head to Lamar.
The way up Dunraven Pass looks very green and misty-moisty. Soon snow appears on the north-facing slopes. As I get higher I leave the fog below, hugging the line of the river. I stop to enjoy the view of Washburn Springs.
On I go, over the Pass and up the switchbacks, seeing more and more snow. Then suddenly there are cars parked off the road, one after the other. I join the line and hop out, walking quickly to join a group of photographers and scopers ahead of me. It's a grizzly! Yep, I thought so. It looks like a large boar, calmly grazing and grubbing on the hillside below the road, close, but still a safe distance away. I watch him paw at a boulder and upend the thing, sniffing at the underside.
I see Bob L with his camera about 20 feet away and walk over to say a quiet hello. He volunteers that this is the scar-faced grizzly, that he is probably around 18 years old! He says this bear has been visible in this general area for the last several days. From the size of the crowd, it looks like he's been up here and active for a good while.
But after a few more minutes, the early morning entertainment comes to an end as the bear disappears over the lip of the hill. I wait a while, but he does not come out again. We talk a little about Bob's film projects and what the Druids are up to. Then I bid him adieu and continue on my way.
As I drive on through the high curves I see lupine all over the place and other wildflowers, too. I wind through Mae West and stop at one of my favorite pullouts up here, where I have seen Agates on many occasions. I scope dutifully around the marsh, along every tree line and up on the fox-den rocks. I find no wolves but I do see a lot of beauty, as well as a few elk here and there and two bison.
I hear a Sage Thrasher nearby and finally find it. What a gorgeous song it has. I also find a ground squirrel posing in the branches of a sagebush, about two feet off the ground. He looks like he is the designated guard for the day.
Mr. Bear remains visible for a good 15 more minutes, then eventually disappears over a rise. The French tourists speak excellent English to me, and beautiful French to each other, and clearly relish this experience. I wave goodbye and head on down the hill.
Soon I see another black bear, this one much smaller. It looks to me like a yearling cub on its own. This bear walks right along the edge of the road in my lane. I drive very slowly giving it plenty of room, trying to remember if there is a pullout up ahead. Cars coming up the hill stop to take photos. The bear is so small I can't see him over my fender and I am worried that if I try to pass him he will turn in front of me. So I just stop. The bear turns his head to look at me, then calmly steps off the road down the hill to safety.
Further down the hill I find the Tower Store area already crowded and smile to see Rainy Lake full of water. I make the turn to Lamar and soon see the Junction Butte has its pond again. There is a huge herd of bison with calves at the straightaway in Little America on both sides of the road. On the north side, near the Peregrine Hills, there is still a shallow lake and I see two bedded pronghorn on a hillside near the Lamar River Bridge.
The water level in Lamar Canyon is very high, in fact, I feel I can reach out and touch it! Only the tops of the car-sized boulders are still visible above the froth.
And now I turn through the gateway of Lamar and sigh with happiness. Oh, the sheer beauty of that first view! It still gets me, even after all these trips. I love the bare undulating hills - and remember thinking they looked so green in April. Holy moly, that was nothing! They are green green green green and actually look soft! And there are flowers, flowers everywhere!
I also see pronghorn and bison. No elk, though. I drive on through my favorite valley in all the world, enjoying each sight. There is a tiny bit of snow still on Amethyst Mountain and more on the distant Absaroakas.
I notice a lot more water at the confluence than in other years. There are many more channels than usual and many less sand bars. The area where I've sometimes seen a beaver lodge is basically a lake. The sage and willows look like they are growing in a rice paddy. The excess water cascades over the bank into the road-paralleling channel. I almost wonder if a beaver has dammed an inner channel to created this, but several regulars say they have seen this happen before in wet years.
At the Footbridge, I get out and gaze at the beautiful view from here. There are numerous cars and people around, but no one I recognize and no one seems to have any wolves in view. There is especially lush vegetation along the river bank and I wonder if this is because there are no elk around to eat it?
I am feeling hungry so i head to Roosevelt for a yummy breakfast. I just love having a meal in the Roosevelt dining room. After this I head west. At lower Elk Creek I come up on another bear jam. This one is for a sow and two darling cubs of the year (coy). They are roaming around the abundant deadfall near the creek. I watch them about a half-hour, enjoying the playful antics of the cubs and the "all-business" style of mom. And I see a familiar face - Big John, the bear-jam man. We have a hug and a chat. He looks thrilled to be here, as always.
The cubs have a blast climbing and falling off various logs in the area, sometimes disappearing in the high grass. Several times I lose them completely and then they pop out, running full speed. One time the leader cub stops and turns to wrestles his pursuer as if to say "stop following me!" A few times we hear their squeals and mom's head pops up. Then they dash back to her and she consoles them.
Both cubs look the same color to me, a bit lighter and browner than mom who is jet black. When they move into deeper cover I pack up Layla and walk back to Ruby. I move on and stop again at Floating Island Lake where I see (and hear) several yellow-headed blackbirds and various squawking ducks but somehow miss the sandhills!
Next I drive to Hellroaring and begin to scope there. This time I do find elk, along with bison. It's getting too hot to expect to see wolves or grizzlies, though. I scope for about a half-hour and then pack up. I see Rick drive by so I follow him, hoping he will have time for a brief chat. He pulls in at Tower and sees me, so we chat a bit.
He tells me the plane saw a pup with the Canyon pack! A single black pup! He says they seem to be using the old Hayden rendezvous area, an area the alpha female grew up in, so she would know it well. This is great news, and a somewhat remarkable physical feat for this pack. In April the Wolf Project hazed them from Mammoth, perhaps too effectively, and there were only a few sporadic sightings over the next two months.
There was concern that the hazing may have cost them their pups. No one knows if the alpha female gave birth in Mammoth and then carried her brood to Canyon, or whether she dug another den somewhere in between and carried them from there, or whether she had pups near her own natal area, but whatever happened, one pup has survived and it will be well loved and taken care of by the other pack members.
I also ask for 302 news, and tell him I am determined to see him on this trip. He says he did get signals for 302 on the Blacktail Plateau this morning, although he wasn't seen. He tells me to try the S-Curves area just like Chloe & Becky said. He asks if I will be in Lamar this evening and I say oh yes!
I leave him to his business and head on to Roosevelt to check on my reservations. Well, I'm still too early, so I drive west again, in search of a shady spot for a nap. I find a perfect place at the Christmas Bear pullout.
After my nap I walk across the road to see if I can find the bones. I don't but I do find other interesting things, not the least of which is a trail through a marsh that I bet 302 uses. I also find lots of wildflowers, including more wild iris and some gorgeous salmon-colored paintbrush.
I drive further west and discover that Phantom Lake is a lake again! Yay! I stop to look for the owl nest I have heard about. I find a nest and I think it's the right one, but I don't find the owls.
On my way back I see that the sow and cubs are out again so I stop to enjoy them some more. They are a bit harder to see this time so I don't stay very long. Back at Roosevelt I find my room is ready so I get things all arranged and head to the shower. On my way back I spot a marmot waddling under the cabins, nibbling on grass. I point him out to a couple with a 6 year old boy. Oddly, the parents seem fascinated; the boy doesn't seem to care.
And now I am off to Lamar for the "evening session". The sky clouds over and dumps some rain for about a minute, but the sun is out again before it even has time to stop. I see pronghorn and bison in Little America and a flock of swallows swooping after bugs at Lamar Bridge.
Just past Fisherman's pullout a red-tailed hawk soars over head. There seem to be two distinct bison herds in the valley; one on Jasper Bench and another in the lowlands near Picnic. It's lovely to see the cottonwoods in such full, green leaf.
I see bison walking through the confluence, crossing the Lamar. The last bull in line walks slowly; the water is above his belly, but not quite deep enough to make him swim.
I arrive at Footbridge around 5:30 and see my old friend Ranger Bill W. We have a nice chat. A local couple finds a grizzly on Amethyst, so I move my scope near them to try to find it. Alas, by the time I find the bear it is only in sight for a second or two. It still counts, though! LOL
Another rain storm comes up and we retreat to our cars for about 20 minutes. It hails for three minutes straight. Ah, Yellowstone!
Once it stops we get back to work. The general feeling is that any day now, the Druids will be bringing their pups down to the river to cross it on their way to their rendezvous spot. Everyone wants to be the one to see it. But for now, I settle for two bighorn rams up on Mt. Norris and in the opposite direction, four bull elk walking along a rocky slope of Druid Peak. We also see several pronghorn lower down on Druid Peak and of course, bison in the flats.
At 7:30 Rick arrives. He tells us he has 569 signals at the den. I don't see Laurie. Rick says the main Druid group was seen heading off on a hunt out towards Cache yesterday morning and that 569 was seen returning from there early this morning. Bill W had told me about seeing the hunters head out yesterday and said it was amazing to see how quickly the Druids got from the flats in front of Mt. Norris to the top of that mountain. We joke that they must use an elevator.
Another band of rain comes in and sends us back to our cars. When it stops again, it's nearly 8:30. I stay at Footbridge scoping one thing or another until 9:30. It's a lovely evening and it's fun to chat with like-minded folk while looking for critters. Bill is positively psyched about the Canyon's having a pup. Bonnie from Denver stops by to say hi - I remember meeting her in September last year.
We get a rainbow over Mt. Norris. Well, in fact, a double! First we have just the right and left sections, then it grows to a full arch. Then a double begins, higher and wider than the first. The second never becomes a full arch, but it comes mighty close.
The slow evening gives me a chance to yak with Rick a bit and we talk mostly about 302 and the Blacktails. He says that the Agate females most likely knew that there was available territory in Leopold land, and that they had likely become familiar with the Leopold den area before 302 and his boys came swaggering around in October 2008, offering their companionship.
He admits it is satisfying to see 302 making use of his old stomping grounds and we joke about him being a thrifty sort, using mom and dad's "old furniture" for their grandkids.
As the light goes and there is no sign of Druids I begin to think of a warm bed and sleep. It's awfully nice to have such a short trip to Roosevelt instead of driving all the way to Gardiner.
Today I saw: 5 black bears (including 2 coy), 2 grizzly bears (old scarface and the split second bear), yellow-headed black birds, bison (and calves), 2 mule deer, ruddy ducks, elk (and calves), geese, 1 osprey, pronghorn, a Sage Thrasher, 2 bighorn sheep, ground squirrels, a double rainbow, and the spirit of Allison.