It is still overcast when we wake up today but as we head up towards Dunraven Pass, we begin to see signs of clearing. We stop at various spots for photos of the spectacular views, and as I drive, my sisters scan the hillsides for critters.
At one of our stops we see two gorgeous mountain blue birds, which we take as a sign of hope for a sunny day.
We wind down through Mae West and Elaine sees elk! We pull over and watch them a while. We end up seeing quite a few of them and two have calves with them. We watch them graze the slopes warily.
On we go, enjoying the sights and cheering the arrival of the sun. We find more elk on the slopes below us and two begin to run. We pull over and watch, expecting to see predators behind them but it looks like it may have been a false alarm.
So on we go, around the curves and down the Antelope Creek side.
Suddenly an animal comes running down the hill on our left and stops in the road ahead of us.
All three of us look at him and he looks right back at us, from about 50 feet ahead. We are the only ones around, and he is our own private grizzly. It's a quintessential Yellowstone moment.
I am stopped on a curve and do not want us to be rear-ended, so I roll a bit forward. Of course the bear responds by leaving the road and moving down the hillside to the right.
My sisters are upset - they aren't thinking of things like being rear-ended. I coast a bit further till I find a place I can pull half-way off the road, far enough from the curve. Cindy asks "can we get out?" We roll down the windows and lean out to locate the bear. He is quite a ways down the hill and not looking at us. I say "yes, but stay on the road".
Cindy gets out and snaps shot after shot, leaving her door open just in case. I stay near her and watch the bear for signs of aggression, but he does not seem bothered by us in the slightest. Elaine wisely stands near a lone tree by the front fender and takes her photos.
The bear has found something near a fallen log. His head is down a long time. Cindy says quietly that she thinks he's a grizzly. She says she can see his hump.
I say I think he is, too. I am so amazed and delighted to be standing here with my sisters watching a bear together. The bear raises his head for a moment and yes, for sure he is a grizzly.
After a few more minutes, a pick-up truck comes around the curve and stops. The couple inside gets out and smiles at us. My sisters and I grin at each other and intuitively decide to let the couple have him to themselves. We get back in our car and I say "How about that?"
We move on downhill but soon Elaine points againand says "elk!" This time there is a handy pullout available so I stop and we watch them. They are on the hillside to the west - moving up to the top, toward a tree; three cows and two calves.
We watch them until they top out and disappear.
On we go and stop again at the Tower Store. We notice the hand dryers don't work but otherwise we give the facilities high marks. Then we notice that the Store is dark inside, even though the doors are open and people are going in and out. Finally it dawns on us that they are having a power outage!
We hop back in the car and drive on.
At Rainy Lake we see a family of mule deer cross the road. Now we make the turn to the east. There are orange cones up ahead and for a split second I worry that I won't be able to show them Lamar! But the cones are for a rough patch in the road where they are replacing a culvert. The stream that leads down to the Yellowstone has overflowed the road and carved deep trenches on both sides, more evidence of an especially rainy spring.
As we drive we begin to notice how green it is here - so much greener than the Hayden Valley. The bright fresh color plus the lack of rain showers is quite refreshing.
It's almost 9AM so I call Rick on the radio. He's at Slough but no wolves in sight at the moment. We go there anyway, passing many herds of bison and calves.
At Slough we drive down the bumpy campground road and join the faithful in the first lower lot. One benefit of having no wolves in sight is that Rick is free to meet my sisters. He tells me that they did have sightings earlier this morning and I tell him about our grizzly. But I am quite distracted by the look of Slough Creek.
Instead of the usual view of meandering curves and willow-lined banks, I see a lake. One enormous, continuous stretch of muddy water from the campground road all the way to the Marge Simpson Tree. Rick says he has never seen Slough so flooded.
Rick tells me that an old carcass is visible from Fisherman's and that it's possible the Silver Pack may be in that area. Elaine and Cindy are game for that, so off we go.
But as we drive through Lamar Canyon, the river is so outrageously high and roaring we just have to stop. The noise is incredible. I have seen it in flood before, but this is truly amazing.
We arrive at Fisherman's and I find the carcass pretty quickly, south of the river in the flats. There are only birds on it at the moment. I scan the hills for wolves and ask the people already here if they have seen any but the answer is no.
But we are not here long before someone spots a bear.
Yay! It moves out from the trees at the base of Jasper Bench and heads straight for the carcass. When we first see him we think he is a grizzly but in a few minutes it is clear he's not. The clarity arrives in the form of an actual grizzly that next appears, coming out of the forest further east.
The grizzly moves across the flats and splashes through several shallow braids of the Lamar. He seems to be heading for something specific. Although this bear is much further away than the one we saw up on Antelope Creek, it is thrilling to see him run like this.
He continues across the flats, heading for the main river channel. He seems to find something of interest on the bank, then he enters the river as if to swim across. A photographer runs out along the hill above the bank, trying to get closer to the bear, and, of course, scares the bear back the way he came.
The grizzly starts to tug on something at the river's edge, and I wonder if some even older carcass has been unearthed by the flood, but then he seems to get wind of something far more fresh. He turns and makes a bee-line for the current "old" carcass. He splashes across several shallows, aiming for the spot attended by the first bear.
It is now that it becomes clear the bears are different species. The first bear is light brown, but definitely a black bear. And he is no dummy. He gets wind of the griz, stands up to look once, then wheels and bolts for the treeline.
The grizzly reaches the carcass and chows down.
In between this action, we find elk and pronghorn on the hills and I put Layla's great eye on the osprey nest. There is one adult on the nest and while we watch, the second parent flies in. We see one parent feed the other.
Rick heads east to try to find the Silver Pack while we continue to enjoy this sighting. A little later I hear he has 147 in view so off we go.
Alas, he is only visible for a moment and we arrive too late. But no matter, what we see from Trash Can pullout, is, to my sisters and me, an American Eden. We see bison with calves, elk with calves and pronghorn, as well as a bald eagle in a cottonwood tree.
After a while we head further east, stopping at the confluence where there is yet another old carcass. Again this one features only birds but the setting is superb. Seeing the raging, flooded river so close is just wonderful.
Our next stop is at the Footbridge, where I show my sisters the various spots of Druid history. Cindy follows the trail down to the Bridge, taking many photos while Elaine and I stay in the lot and chat. The scenery is just stunning and I enjoy looking at it with "new" eyes.
My idea is to take them up as far as Round Prairie and then head back. So we head east but just past the Soda Butte Cone Elaine spots some coyotes. We stop to watch them a bit. They are running full out, chasing something. And they catch it, by the look of their excited tails, although I never did see what it was. Ground squirrel most likely.
As much as they are enjoying the views and the wildlife, I can tell that my guests are fading. Alas, the time has come to head back.
At Picnic, a pronghorn comes down the hill and crosses the road in front of us. We stop at Slough again, in my vain attempt to show them wolves, but it is just not to be.
We do see a highly unusual sight, though - an enormous tree is floating down Slough Creek, like a living barge. Apparently ripped from a bank somewhere up river, where it was growing for years. I sails crown first, with full green branches, then a long, long trunk and finally its whole root system.
Our next stop is at Straightaway where we watch a bison parade. A large herd with orange calves has begun to cross the road. There are many cars blocking the way and the bison cross both in front of them and behind. What interests Cindy is the way they move in a long line, babies close to moms and of course the sound of their grunting and mooing is delightful. She takes a video.
Once they are safely across, we head on through Tower and Blacktail, fairly uneventfully. We stop at Floating Island Lake and see the sandhill parents and two tiny orange-fluff colts.
We stop again just beyond the High Bridge to take some funny posed shots of each other. Then on up to Mammoth where I show them the lovely hotel lobby and the map room. And Cindy grabs some close up shots of resting elk.
Our trip ends with one last memorable sighting in Gardiner Canyon - the resident herd of bighorn sheep is half-way down the mountain - either coming down for a drink or maybe on the way back up. But they have lambs with them, and the lambs are putting on a show.
They dash here and there, kicking, leaping, bouncing, creating little landslides all over the place. Their moms stand by chewing their cud seemingly unconcerned about their babies reckless behavior. I suppose they remember when they were lambs and did that, too!
We stop at the Arch for some final shots, then head through Gardiner on the Bozeman. It is crazy to me to have to leave Yellowstone so soon, but I know I will be back on Monday.
I know we had a great trip but it was way way way too short!
Today I saw: 1 black bear, 2 grizzly bears, 2 mountain blue birds, bison with calves, sandhill cranes with two colts, 2 coyotes, 1 bald eagle, elk with calves, geese with goslings, a hawk, several osprey, pronghorn, bighorn sheep with lambs, swans, and the spirit of Allison.