I wake up at 5:00AM, a full 15 minutes before my alarm goes off. A grin spreads across my face when I realize where I am. Yay!
It sounds like I'm the only one up, so I sneak to the campground bathroom. I try to be quiet but the door squeaks! I pack up quickly and head out to Hayden, hoping for no fog.
I'm in luck. It's a beautiful morning.
I pull in at Grizzly Overlook and find Jeff already here. I set up next to him and we chat quietly as we scope. He finds a coyote in the sage flats - at first we both think it is a wolf pup but, no, it's a coyote.
But wait? What's the coyote looking at so intently? Over there - movement. It's a wolf! Two wolves! Gleefully we recognize the white alpha female. The other wolf is a gray, somewhat smaller than she is, surely one of her offspring.
We watch them trot from west to east, through the sage toward the rendezvous. Perhaps they just crossed the road, and are coming back from a hunt? We hope hope hope for pups to come out to greet them, but they don't.
The alpha female disappears behind the trees and we don't see her again. The gray does too, but then comes back out after a while, and beds just beyond the few scattered trees near the point.
Yay! And this is why I get up so early!
While we await further action we also enjoy seeing elk with calves, pelicans, blue herons, sandhills, and a brilliant mountain blue bird. In the nearby trees are two small birds which we are unable to identify.
We chat and joke with other wolf-watchers here; stalwarts Larry and Linda of course, and also Kim and Beth, whom I've met here numerous times. They love watching the Canyon Pack. And then Bob Wessleman shows up. He is here tagging bats near Joffrey Lake for a study. Bob is cheery and funny and has great stories, which he shares with us. He is particularly happy about last night's rain. He says it put fire season back by 2 weeks!
Jeff makes coffee and offers me some, and I share some of my breakfast with him. I absent-mindedly rest my coffee cup on the hood of my car, and later when I drive north it blows off! Luckily there is not too much traffic yet and I'm able to turn around and retrieve it without too much trouble!
The sun is fierce even this early in the day, and it's impossible to remain in shade despite my wide-brimmed hat and long sleeved shirt. I am, alas, quite vulnerable to sunburn and standing in one spot for hours is no way to avoid it.
So I hop into the relative safety of my car and head east. It's now 9:24 and a very pleasant 60 degrees. I drive past Canyon Junction and up the hill to Dunraven Pass. I say out loud "I want to see a bear". One bear, any bear, anywhere.
Instead, a herd of mule deer crosses the road in front of me. Nice!
The meadows on both sides of the road have greened up and are now carpeted in wildflowers. The season is in full swing! I see bright pink sticky geranium, pale blue lupine, warm yellow arrowleaf and countless others, more subtle and rare. All the slopes of Mt. Washburn look gorgeous.
The parking lot for the hiking trail to the fire tower is jammed full. I bet the view from up there is stunning today!
Along the winding road are scattered patches of paintbrush, both scarlet and orange, and on the hillsides above the shaded inner curves small patches of snow remain, gushing snow-melt waterfalls.
Once I round the Mae West curves I choose a pullout facing southeast and set up my scope to look for bears. The views are amazing and the smells and sounds of a mountain morning are intoxicating.
I find numerous elk on the high slopes and a small herd of deer, but no bears.
So on I go, down the hill with Antelope Creek gurgling on my right. At Rainy Lake I meet another group of deer. Once I reach the Roosevelt Corrals I can't resist the pull of Lamar. I turn right.
As I head down to the Yellowstone Bridge, I see the what I've been hoping for - several cars pulled over and a dozen faces turned to the north, pointing. Yay!
At the eastern end of the bridge I pull over and raise my binoculars. Just as I thought. There's my bear.
I hop out and lean against my car, watching a lone black bear, fairly good sized, probably a male, traversing the hill above the river, heading towards the confluence of the Yellowstone and the Lamar. His nose skims the ground frequently; he seems to be on a mission, not stopping to grub at logs or to turn rocks.
I happily watch him for several minutes until he moves lower on the hill and out of sight. I could probably find him again from Wrecker but there is a tour bus in that lot already so I decide to move on.
Little America opens out wide and green before me. I am so happy to be back here! I see another car jam as I near Boulder Pullout, and one of the cars is particularly familar - it's Laurie & Dan. I join them on Boulder hill and learn that they have a single wolf in sight, a black female, part of 777's Group. She's up on Specimen Ridge, hiding in a thick stand of trees.
777's Group is made up of a mixture of Blacktail wolves and Mollie wolves. They have been seen on and off in this area for the last month or two but they are not well known yet.
The wolves were seen earlier this morning on the south side of the road. Most of the wolves crossed to the north already but there were many stopped cars and people out of them on the road and this black wolf was prevented from crossing.
There was howling back and forth for a while, but eventually the main group moved further north out of sight and this female moved higher up on the hill where she is now. This is, unfortunately, a fairly common occurrence, but the ones left behind usually find their way back to the group.
I see her through Laurie's scope but can't manage to find her in my own, despite both her help. Then a French-accented gentleman offers to put my scope on her, and he is successful! Merci, mon ami!
It's a ridiculously hard spot - one of those frustrating sightings that's really impossible to share with anyone not already familiar with how to use a scope. Yet, that is what I see Rick doing on the other side of the hill, patiently helping dozens of first-time visitors who pull over and run up the hill, wanting to see a wolf.
After about a half hour, people begin to drift away, some west, some east. I head east, intending to go into Lamar, but another black bear jam develops ahead of me. The bear parallels the road for a while near straightaway.
You can always tell it's summer in Yellowstone from the number of cars that are stopped in the road, doors flung open, their human occupants bolting up one hill or another, cameras flashing! I completely understand their enthusiasm, but wish they would consider how dangerous it is to rush up a hillside not knowing what is on the other side.
It takes a while to get through the abandoned-car jam, but I do enjoy seeing the bear. I also enjoy seeing an osprey soaring overhead, following the line of the river.
I take a slow, dusty drive down the Slough campground road. I see a coyote and several yellow-headed blackbirds and love hearing their crazy sound.
Now I continue through the canyon into the Lamar. Last night's rain has made the river very muddy. My favorite valley looks wonderful and inviting and I breathe a deep sigh of satisfaction.
I meet up with Laurie and Dan again at Dorothy's and we scope both north and south. It is thought that 754M (the beta male of the Lamar pack) is somewhere in the area but we don't find him. We move to the Institute and try this angle a while. Dan finds a black bear sow out in the big fan. She has two cubs. Yay! These are my first cubs and it puts me up to 5 bears already for the day.
We watch the little family move along the tree line. The cubs are not very playful, though. They have enough to do just to keep up with mom!
We also see a bald eagle, several pronghorn, a pair of sandhills and a high-flying hawk. And there are many, many bison; mostly cows with their sturdy orange calves.
I notice that the osprey-nest tree southwest of Fisherman's pullout has fallen over. Laurie says it was toppled a few weeks ago in a wind-storm. It makes me l sad; the tree was a reliable spot to watch every spring. One year, a goose made her nest there, but nearly every other year, it held an osprey pair and chicks. Earlier this year chicks were seen, and they were fledging shortly before it fell. No-one seems to know if the fledglings survived, but I bet they did. It's late enough in the summer.
Well, in the bright afternoon sun, my skin begins to complain again, so I retreat to my car and head back west.
There is another bear jam at Elk Creek. This one is a black bear sow with two adorable cubs of the year. Unlike mom, the cubs are brown; not cinnamon but plain brown. Mama leads them along a rocky hillside. Sometimes the cubs disappear totally behind the boulders and then they pop out again. It's a nice sighting.
It's now late enough to try to check in at Roosevelt, so I unload some items into my Rough Rider cabin and get more ice for the cooler. Now I decide to head back to Hayden Valley for another try at the Canyon pups. At Rainy Lake I see another black bear sow, this one with two black cubs of the year.
These cubs look very small to me. And as cute as can be! They are extremely playful, romping in the high grass and deadfall on the hillside. After a tumble, one cub sits on its butt and reaches up to swats a tall tuffet of grass that towers above it like a giant! Then it's sibling charges into it and they both gallop uphill, clambering over logs and hillocks, while mom keeps her nose to the ground, eating, eating, eating.
On I go to the high pullouts, enjoying the gorgeous panorama, figuring out which mountain is which. There are bison up high, too, munching green grass amidst pink wildflowers - a lovely sight!
I arrive at Grizzly Overlook around 4:30. I can barely find a spot to park, even this early. I set up and chat with Larry & Linda. There has been no activity since this morning, so I did not miss anything. Then I see another familar face, Cathy M, one of the original Yellowstone Loons. We have a great time catching up and she invites me to join her on the bushwhack hike she is taking with Lori H later in the week. I happily accept.
It's a beautiful afternoon. We see pelicans, a coyote, numerous sandhills, elk with calves and, of course, bison. But no wolves. Then, around 6:30 the sky darkens again and a storm decends.
As the rain pounds down I find myself back in the car, visibility reduced to zero. For a while I wait it out, then I start to fret about getting over the twists and turns of Dunraven in a night-time rain. If I have to drive in rain, I'd prefer it to be in a place without cliffs! So I head north.
But first, there is the usual Hayden Valley bison jam to get through. I pull over to watch, both the bison and the humans. Both display interesting behavior!
I have a surprisingly easy time over the pass; the rain falls more lightly up here than in the valley. By the time I get to Roosevelt, I find I still have plenty of light, despite the rain, so I head on into Little America.
At Long Pullout I find a herd of bison nice and close to the road, so I stop and watch them through the remaining drizzle. Some calves are nursing and others are playing a bit, spashing in the puddles. And a few bulls are already showing an interest in a few cows. The rain releases a wonderful smell in the air, a rich earth aroma along with sage. Ahhh, heaven.
The rain tapers off and I head slowly back to Roosevelt with the window down, looking forward to a good night's sleep.
TODAY I SAW: 11 black bears (2 lone adults plus 3 sows with a pair of cubs each), bison (and calves), a mountain blue bird, yellow headed blackbirds, sandhill cranes, 2 coyotes, mule deer, a bald eagle, elk (and calves), a hawk, great blue herons, pelicans, pronghorn, 3 wolves (2 Canyons and one Mollie/777's group) and the spirit of Allison.