I sleep in till 5:30. Set out for Lamar at 6:50AM. I see my usual deer on the way down and also some Elk. I stop at the spot where I met the night-scope folks last night. Nothing doing. When I look back on this I realize how silly I was to think the Druids would still be there at 7AM! Anyway I go on to the Footbridge. Loon action is in full swing.
Geri and Oldtymr are here as well as Lew & Deb. We have a good huggy greeting. We talk about last night and they tell me what I've already missed this morning: a lone wolf howl and a big golden griz. Everybody is hoping for wolves but what we keep seeing is bear. (I'm not complaining!) A black bear high on a hill chases three elk rather half-heartedly, then gives up and moves off the other way. Tim A and Dan M are here, too. I am being teased mercilessly for the things I keep missing. Do I mind? Heck no! Tim A gets a big griz right below the tree line prowling the low bench above the Lamar. He's real big and easily visible with my binocs. I really enjoy watching him. He is moving fast, probably looking for elk babies. Oldtymr gets a pair of adult bears on his scope but they move out of range before I can see them. We have a round of mating jokes.
Tom, the red-bearded wolf researcher, invites us to the east end of the pullout for his wolf talk. He is very patient and kind but all business. They think there are 6 pups but there could be more. He talks about the coyote-wolf dynamic. He gives some pointers on wolf-watching etiquette. While this talk is going on I see John drive by. I report this to the Loons and Geri decides to go see where he went.
I watch an elk doe acting weird on the first flat above Soda Butte Creek. I saw her come out of the river, wet from crossing it. She trots with her head high like I saw in the film. She snuffs the ground like she's eating but she's not. Then more high-head trotting. We wonder if she just lost her baby. She eventually moves into the timber toward Cache Creek. Bruce spots another black bear way up high and Dan M spots one with two cubs. I miss Bruce's but find Dan's. She's really high up. Her cubs are two different colors: one black & one cinnamon. Very cool. The cubs are pretty big. I can't believe how many bears I'm seeing!
John arrives and joins the fun. I ask for Rachel and learn she's asleep in the car. John asks if I saw the moose and calf just outside Silver Gate. What? Where? Right by the road, he teases. We pick up a Sand Hill crane in flight and watch it land on the river bank. I meet two more Park regulars, also friends of John's: Judy & son Matt. Dan M shocks me by saying it's time for him to leave! No fair! I didn't get to spend enough time with him. Of course we ALL feel that way. He's just such a nice, laid-back guy, you want him around. We're all sorry to see him go.
The morning has been bright and sunny and promises to get even warmer. It feels a bit late to expect any Druid action so we start discussing what else to do. John's says let's all go up to Cooke City for breakfast at the Soda Butte Lodge. I explain that I need to drive out to West today to pick up a fuel canister set aside for me at Bud Lilly's. John says "don't be silly, I'll get it for you since I'm going there anyway". How could I argue? It's wonderfully generous and saves me a major drive. OK I say and we're off. Then Tim A says I can leave my car here and drive with him. Another offer I can't refuse!
Tim A and I talk politics a little. Yellowstone politics. I hear about Betsy and hope that I will really meet her next week on the Lone Star Hike. We talk about hiking and where we've been and agree about how absolutely wonderful this Loonion has been so far. Breakfast is just great. Tim joins John & family at one table while I sit with Lew & Deb, Geri & Bruce, Judy & Matt. Lots of eggs, coffee and biscuits later we head across the street to a gift shop where I spy the souvenir I want to take back to the folks in NY.
Tim has heard there are Bighorns on Baronette Peak so on the drive back we stop to try to see them. No luck. We get back to the Footbridge and I find a ticket on my windshield. I've been charged with "leaving a Loon flag unattended"! It's from Tim Williams. We have a good laugh. Tim A asks if I want to take a hike along the Lamar River trail. You bet I do! I am beside myself with glee that I am now walking on land that I've been in love with for two years! Tim gives me his pepper spray holster just in case. He reminds me to stay tuned to which direction the wind is blowing for best results. The wind is quite fierce and seems to come from all directions. Luckily my abilities are not tested on this hike as we meet no bears. Nonetheless, it is eventful for me. We see a group of antelope moving across the valley. They stop at the edge of the riverbank, then rush down out of sight. We see Everts thistle growing in abundance and comment on that strange story of lost & found.
Tim spots a small thin snake in the grass. A snake! My first in YNP. Garter we assume. We walk around Dead Puppy Hill to a protected hollow and find a pile of bones. Mostly elk but a few larger ones we take to be buffalo. Tim knows anatomy and shows me a ligament still attached to a leg joint. A jawbone still has teeth in it. We speculate on how old it is. We look for wolf scat too, and find it! Yes, I took a picture. We climb up the hill and look at the great view. Along the way we find lots of shed bison fluff and some darker hair from Elk. Hope it's not illegal to take a little cuz I did. From the hilltop you're supposed to be able to see the Druids den but l couldn't. I saw hills and thick forest. Maybe later when the pups start venturing out they will be visible. A chorus of frogs around us sounds great!
We climb down a different way, following various game trails. At the bottom we run into minor trouble in that the area is deceptively swampy. There is standing water and who knows what underneath. Tim is an excellent guide, however, and finds a way through using the various bridges that nature provides, mostly deadfall and foot-sized dry islands of grass. Back on the trail through the sage again we examine burrows we think may belong to badgers although we can't be sure. Our hike ends as we cross the Footbridge. We trade cameras and take pictures of each other. Tim needs to get a campsite for the evening and I am eager to see more of the Park. As much as I love Lamar it would be silly to miss the Madison or the Gibbon or my beloved Firehole. So off we go our own ways.
I am hot from the hike and decide to do something about it. I park at the Institute and fish out my Tevas and camp towel. I walk across the road to the attractive little stream, find a suitable rock to perch on, remove my boots and plunge my feet into delicious cold water. Instantly I cool down. This is one of my absolute favorite things to do. I soak my towel and dribble coolness on my head. It feels so good. I strap on my Tevas and take a few steps. The water comes up to my knees. Thus refreshed, I am ready for my next adventure.
I head for Tower. I stop at the Ham store to harrass Jake but he's on a break. I decide to try Dunraven Pass in honor of Photodude. As I'm coming up through Antelope Creek I see cars stopped and a man with a camera running. Oh no. Has to be bear. I drive up to where I can safely pull over and look back. Now I see TWO men with cameras plunging through the underbrush scaring whatever it is further into the forest. I hope hope hope it's not a grizzly that decides to turn, although these fools may deserve just that kind of shock.
Another car pulls over and the people in it seem to share my concern. They tell me that the one idiot's wife told them it was a black bear. They advised her that her husband was being very foolish. She agreed with them! These sane people and I watch the two idiots get further and further into trouble. None of us sees the animal they are chasing. I ask you, what sense does it make to follow an animal like that when it is CLEARLY trying to get away? I thank the sane people for speaking up and move on.
I round the bend and see the magnificent panorama of the Washburn Range. Such a glorious sight! There are snow-patches everywhere. As I proceed up the pass the snow level grows and grows. When I was here in July there were wildflowers all over. It's still too early for most of them but I see a few purples and yellows. I think about climbing the Mt. Washburn trail (which I've never done) but don't quite feel up to it. In fact I'm starting to feel sleepy so I turn around to look for a suitable nap spot. There is STILL practically no-one on the road! Isn't this a big holiday? Start of the season and all? I count my blessings. Back at Antelope Creek I take a side-road to a secluded turnaround. Only one other car. Perfect. I take a position at the far end and turn off the engine. I fold down the back seat, puff up my thermarest and sack out. My windows are open and I am lulled to sleep by a softly creaking tree. What could be better?
I wake up to stealthy sounds around me. People whispering, crunching gravel, trying to be quiet. My brain is foggy but not alarmed. Slowly I rouse myself up on one elbow. The turnaround is FULL of cars, people, cameras on tripods - all looking past my car at a black bear peacefully roaming the woods beyond. I lie back down chuckling to myself. Can I pick a spot or what? I marvel at the wonders of Yellowstone yet again. This crowd, though quite large, is very respectful. I reckon I won't be able to get out of my car without making a lot of noise so I leave well enough alone and go back to sleep.
All too soon, however, a man in a diesel pick-up ruins it for everybody by leaving the noisy thing running, slamming his door, shouting at his wife for the camera, etc. The bear must have taken off because the crowd begins to disperse. Alone again. Me and the creaking tree. I wake myself up and look at my watch. Time for some dinner and back to Lamar. I wanna see wolves!
A little while later I am driving across the bridge. Half-way through Little America I see two cars and two spotting scopes off to the right. They are trained on a green slope - the one with the game trail straight up the middle. I pull over and hop out, trying to see what they see. A tall grey-haired man kindly offers his scope. Now I see it! It's a black bear in the timber to the left. He's roaming around purposefully, looking for something. Suddenly he breaks into a run and bursts into the open across the sunny slope. I move from the scope and watch through my binocs. Wow is he fast! If he's chasing something I don't see what it is. This is where I break my rule for the last time. I rush to the car for my camera. I lock and unlock the door several times, drop the keys, fumble endlessly. When my lens is finally aimed, the bear is (all together now) gone. Well, not completely gone but in the trees on the right. Hard to see. Impossible to photograph. OK I tell myself. Next time you just watch. The bear sniffs around from tree to tree and then goes back into hollow. I thank the man for his help and continue on. I was lucky I got this lesson when I did as you shall soon see.
At the Lamar picnic area I spot Lew & Deb. They signal me to follow. Gladly! At the Footbridge we meet up with John & Tim A., Tim W, Tim II & Jay. Tim II happily reports that He has seen over 20 bears! I tell the tale of my nap-bear. A little while later some kind of news comes on John's radio. We have a quick Loon conference. I grab my gear, jump in Tim A's truck and we follow John west, down the valley. John cannily picks a spot past the crowd at Trash Can and the Picnic Area and pulls off on the right, well before the Institute. I have no idea what made him choose this spot but it was perfect. We all get out and train our optics on the sage hills. This view will forever be added to my top favorite site in Lamar. I see many ravens circling and recognize the signs of a kill. They circle a long while and speculation begins that they are merely riding air currents. John is very intent, though, so I stay sharp.
Suddenly someone has a griz on the hill above the ravens and a little to the left. I can see him too. For the millionth time I am astounded at the size of a grizzly. The ravens spook again but then the bear seems to spook. He stops and turns around, running back up and over the hill from whence he came. This is kinda weird behavior and it's only natural for us to think there's something UP there to MAKE him nervous, which could only be another grizzly…or wolves. Since it's way far up, we can't see. Nobody is seeing anything else so we start looking other directions. Then I hear John say quietly "We've got wolves". Never, ever, ever will I forget this moment. I whip around. Through my binocs I look where he looks. I see it! "Grey wolf" says John. Yes! Yes! I see it, too! A white-brown-beige-grey dog walking nearly straight down hill in the middle of the second highest knob. He stops and sits. John starts to give sighting directions for the others. Geri & Bruce and Lew & Deb haven't found it yet. John says to me "here Wendy have a look" and vacates his scope. I look. Yes I see him. Behind some sage. But I have huge doubts. I remember the Ruffian. This animal's color and attitude seems identical. I don't take my eyes off him. John helps Bruce, then Lew. I say "how do you know it's not a coyote…" when I am suddenly dumbstruck by the astonishing appearance OUT OF NOWHERE of a second animal - and this one is BLACK. He seems to have materialized from thin air. The black walks to the grey, then turns and slinks through the sage down the hill. The grey moves back and forth and then starts down. I tell John "they're moving". I step away from the scope and yank up my binocs, thinking someone else will take a turn at the scope. No one does. I go back to it. The black is almost at the bottom, there, he disappears behind the fold. John comes back and I step away back to my binocs. I watch the grey move downhill FAST. He disappears. Just like that they're gone.
I sink to ground in the road, overwhelmed. Where there was doubt there is now pure joy. Coyotes don't come in BLACK. Wolves do. I saw wolves! DRUID WOLVES. For a minute I think I'm the ONLY one of our group who saw them in full. Geri and Bruce each got a quick glimpse and I think even John missed most of it in being so helpful to the rest of us. But then Tim Williams comes bouncing over with a BIG grin and I know he saw 'em too! We join hands and do a pow-wow dance right in the road! I wipe the tears from my eyes and we all start whispering and jammering about what we saw, how well they blend in, which one did what…We are all jazzed. What the heck are they doing up there? It must be a kill. There go the ravens, circling again. We decide to take our cues from the Elk. Let's find some Elk. John sees some right by the "quakies" (his term for aspen) and sure enough they are bunching up! This is wonderful. I watch the Elk a long time but no more wolves appear. I am fascinated by an intrepid doe several lengths in front of her group, leading them with caution and elk-courage across the hill into the cover of trees.
Someone spots a grizzly again. Yep, there it is, further to the left on the highest knob. We're pretty sure this is the same griz we saw running, before we saw the wolves. It's not out for long. I'm told I can still count it as two cuz there's no way to confirm it's the same one. I turn from the hill to the road and see Mark R and his dad have arrived. Many more cars have stopped – in fact it's pretty much solid cars on both sides of us.
Eventually we turn our attention to the river side of the valley. Bruce has been his usual bear-spotting self. Tim A's no slouch either. We see a griz with two cubs WAY far away (only possible with their great scopes!) and a black bear with two pretty big cubs. We also both hear and see two Sand Hill Cranes above the banks of the Lamar. I watch some youngish Elk play in a way I'd never seen before. Two race each other around in circles, then one of that pair starts charging any other Elk that comes near. I even see it rear up one time like a horse.
It begins to get dark and we begin to accept that there will be no more wolves to see tonight. I report that the bison I've been watching are bunching together but no one thinks this is significant. I am reminded that with all the available elk in the valley it is unlikely the Druids would go after bison calves. The bison are probably only closing ranks for the evening. I am suddenly very hungry and realize I've neglected to eat dinner.
Reluctantly as ever, the Loons begin to depart. Lew & Deb and I had talked about sharing a bottle of wine some night but without food in my tummy it was not to be this evening! Tim A. heads for Slough. I hitch a ride with John & Carlene back to my car. On my way to Silver Gate I come as close as I ever want to hitting a mule deer. I slow down. Carlene wants to skip cooking tonight and eat at the Log Cabin restaurant but we find it's already closed. I offer to provide dinner from my food stash but somehow these plans go awry and Carlene ends up cooking for me! I owe you a nice city dinner, Carlene.
Back in my cabin I attempt to put into words what it feels like to have seen the Druids, the very creatures I came so far to see. But words fail. The wolves I saw were ghostly, but they clearly belong in this land and to this land. Dare I say I feel changed? The Druid Wolves are now real for me. More than the photos I've seen, the film, the many wonderfully written descriptions I've devoured so eagerly from the Page for two years. They are individuals now, my first grey and my first black, individuals with a specific history and disposition. They were two wild wolves going about their lives on a late spring evening, and I saw them. In my journal I wrote "I can go home happy now, even if I never see another wolf the whole trip".
Little did I know what was in store for me on Tuesday.
Today I saw: Antelope, Bison, 4 Black Bears and 4 cubs, 4 Grizzly bears and 2 cubs,
Deer, Elk, a Snake, 3 Sand Hill Cranes, 16 Loons and 2 Druid Wolves.