I'm up before dawn. The moon is still high and provides all the light I need to load up the car.
I drive slowly and quietly and leave my headlights off. No sooner do I see first light than a fog rises and swallows the moon and stars. It's a soft fog, thick and loving. As if the earth is reluctant to awaken and keeps her white blankets tucked under her chin.
I stop in Little America just to listen to the thrilling quiet. It is so beautiful I start to tear up again.
Light is growing behind the distant peaks and I enjoy another new experience as the shrouded sun brightens the top of the fog blanket. I drive through this fog-light, still the only one on the road. I hardly recognize Lamar Canyon because its contours are so hidden. I can see only about 6 feet in front of me and nothing at all to the sides.
I emerge into the valley proper and the light increases just enough for me to distinguish the soft green hills that I love. But only for an instant and they are again swallowed whole. Only when I've passed them do I notice the B&B and Dorothy's Knoll pullouts. I miss Coyote Overlook altogether. All I can see of the Institute is the top gable of the barn.
I know this will make animal viewing impossible but it is such a new experience for me that I love every minute of it. I stop at the Exclosure fence pullout. I set up the scope and in the little bit of ground that is not fog-shrouded I find two Druids! They may be the same two I saw yesterday. A man up here says he's been told it's 106 and an uncollared yearling. I smile, grateful to have a last sight of wolves on my farewell morning. The two of them mouse half-heartedly and dig a bit in the eroded ground. Then they both turn a half-circle and bed down. Shreds of fog drift by until they are hidden from view.
To the east we watch two pronghorn until the fog claims them as well.
I move back west. I stop at B&B and look out over the gorgeous valley a last time. To my surprise, the moon appears in a suddenly clear strip of sky above Specimen Ridge. I hear a coyote yip-howl. Oh, that's nice. I hear birds. Trills and tweets and chirrups and nothing else.
I begin my slow exit, drinking in all the sights along the way. In Lamar Canyon a mule deer forages close to the road. In Little America I come upon a very small black bear that has created a mini-jam. I wonder where mama is, he looks too small to be on his own. Another mule deer in a meadow to the right twitches her ears goodbye as I pass. I decide to take the long way around, via Mammoth. Fog formations make the familiar Blacktail Plateau and Phantom Lake vistas seem brand new. At Wraith Falls the combination of fog and hills is so beautiful I have to stop for more pictures. The green seems eerie in this muted light. My whole journey this morning is one of hushed and exquisite beauty. I have never seen fog display such variety.
In Mammoth I recognize two Loons at the picnic table; Pat and Len. I pull in to say farewell to them and then out strolls John Uhler from the Albright Center. Loon hugs all around. We have a lovely farewell chat right there on the picnic grounds. I tell them the whole park is fogged in today. After many goodbyes I drive on through the Golden Gate. I stop at the Swan Lake pullout and have a final sandhill sighting. Under majestic Electric Peak a small band of elk grazes warily, looking particularly lovely.
On I go through Willow Park and past the edges of Norris, then across to Canyon. As I come into Hayden Valley the fog returns. A bison herd with cows and calves and one very shaggy yearling crosses the road ahead of me. I stop at a pullout and look back at a wide curve of the Yellowstone. A great blue heron perches on a snag in a pond. I watch him until he finally makes a lightning fast strike and grabs a fish. Gulp, gulp. Gone.
On I go past the beautiful Lake and into the cool, cool forest. At the Jackson Lake Lodge I join a moose jam. It's a cow moose resting in a willow patch with her big calf. I get intermittent rain then suddenly I come out of it and here are the majestic Tetons, which always appear bigger and more craggy than the last time I saw them.
It's been another great trip. Although I did not completely achieve my goal of reaching the Fairyland Basin, I know now what it takes and that it lies in the realm of possibility. I will need to prepare differently, be in better shape and perhaps arrive sooner to become more fully acclimated. But there is no question in my mind that I will attempt it again. I hope some Loons will go with me!
Farewell Yellowstone, farewell Tetons, I whisper. Through the window of the plane I keep the mountains in sight as long as I can and then drift into the comfort of sleep.
Today I saw: antelope, 1 black bear, bison, 2 sandhill cranes, 2 mule deer, elk, 1 blue heron, 2 moose, 2 Druid wolves (including 106) and 3 Loons