I wake up at 5AM. It's not my alarm. It's the call of Lamar.
I swing my feet to the floor and try to stand. Ouch. I'm gonna have a tough time walking today. I put on two pairs of socks and then my sandals. I hobble out to my car.
It's cold this morning! The display in my car reads 38. By 6 I'm sitting at Fisherman's pullout looking at the beautiful Lamar River. A thin fog rises in wisps and the valley beyond is green and lovely. I drive slowly and enjoy every curve and hill. In spite of the gorgeous views I've seen the past six days in the Thorofare, there is something about this valley that gets me every time.
I see a few cars off the road at the Exclosure hill and recognize Rick's. Now that's a good sign. I pull over and haul out my gear. I start up the dusty hill, going very slowly on my poor, tender feet. A man comes down. I tell him I've been away for a few days and ask him if he knows if the Druids are in the valley? Says he, matter-of-fact "Yeah, they're out there. And a grizzly with two cubs."
The soreness disappears and I'm up the hill in a flash. Layla spins into place. I aim for the rendesvous and as soon as I sharpen the focus I've got wolves. Black wolves. Druid Wolves.
I see four total, all running from left to right. Two at the rear romp very playfully and I watch them a while. I call them Flouncy and Bouncy. Then I see the leading wolf is walking up a hill in a very determined way, intent on something. I scan to the right and suddenly I have a bear. I open the scope wider and see one, then two cubs. A sow grizzly with two cubs of the year! I note how much larger these cubs are than the ones I saw in June.
The leader-wolf slowly approaches the sow. They have a brief face off. Then the bear moves to the left with her cubs. The leader-wolf follows them several lengths behind. Now a second black wolf comes running up the hill, joining the leader. They trot together for a few paces. I switch over to the grizzly just in time to see her drop back down from a two-legged stance. Shoot, I wish I hadn't missed that! I think the cubs may have been up, too. One of them rears about half-way. Now the sow turns and heads further up the hill and the cubs waddle close to her flank. The wolves press them, escorting the bear family up the hill. Now the cubs dash ahead of mom, now the sow is running and so are the wolves!
I lose the bears in the trees. I lose the wolves, too. For a split second I think the wolves will hurt the cubs but then the wolves come right back out. They have broken off the chase. Either that or the sow grizzly turned again and scared them. One black wolf stops and looks back uphill, mouth open and pink tongue hanging out. He looks back again at his partner as if to say, "we did it, didn't we! We chased those bears right outta here!"
A third black wolf appears and greets the bear-chasers playfully. The three of them trot back down the hill, seemingly content at the outcome of their morning romp. They interact a bit more and eventually they bed down.
I hear someone talk about a grey wolf. And then suddenly I hear a sound I love. Wolves howling. I can't believe it! What a morning!
I am so delighted to hear howling that I just stand and listen, I forget to watch who's doing it! The session is really short and now it's over.
I see movement in the sage. It's a large grey wolf. I get the scope on it and heck if it isn't 21! This all happens so fast, I have no time to reflect on my luck, I just watch. The whole pack is here. 21 leads a whole line of wolves, moving from left to right past the spot where the blacks had bedded. There's 42! I know that wolf! Hello sweetie! There's Limpy! (253), and there's the one I call "the pretty grey" (217, I think). The four black yearlings fall in line and off they go on some errand. Eight Druid wolves trotting through the heart of their realm in the early morning sun.
I stay mostly on 21 and 42. I find them the most fascinating and I wonder how much longer I will have the privilege of watching these two. There are so many Druids in the Park and so many split-off packs that one day 21 will lose his place to another. And maybe 42, too. But for now, they are in charge of one of the most successful wolf-packs ever known. They are leading their family along what looks like a regular route, toward the foothills and the line of trees. After a good long sighting, I lose them in the timber.
It's cold up here and my feet are killing me. I scope around to find the bear again but then I notice Rick McIntyre coming down from his position higher on the hill. I say hi and for once, he recognizes me. I tell him I just got back from the Thorofare and that I wanted to be sure and tell him that we heard the Delta Pack howling. I say we didn't see them but we saw lots of prints. He asks how many do I think I heard? I say lots, easily a dozen.
He says thanks and goes on down the hill. Then he turns and says "Didja see the pups?" No, I say, Druid pups? He says, "yeah they're still out there, a black, a grey and an adult baby-sitter."
I thank him and whip back to my scope. I scan the area and in a minute I find them. PUPS! I see one black pup, one grey pup and there is the babysitter, a grey adult. Oh! They are much bigger than the ones I saw in spring but clearly still pups of the year. They are romping together. The baby-sitter grey plays so sweetly and enthusiastically with the little ones that it brings tears to my eyes. She pounces on them and bends way down, lowering her head in the universal doggie-wants-to-play way. She grabs a bone and tosses it, re-catching it in her mouth. It's a shoulder blade from an elk. When she gets the pups' attention she bolts away with it, enticing them to follow.
The pups chase her and she lets them catch up. They drop behind some willows so I see a wagging tail here and a pair of ears there. Then the grey pup streaks out with the bone in his mouth. He drops it and lays down, pretending to tear it to pieces. The black pup wanders over and beds near the grey and then the adult trots over and sits on her haunches a while. Then she flops on her side and rests. It is too sweet for words. I've seen all this great stuff and it's not even 9AM.
I decide to head to the car to warm up and get off my feet a while. I take baby steps down the hill. Then I drive west and think, maybe I'll catch another glimpse of the alphas and the pack.
I find Rick again at Dorothy's Knoll. The Druids are not in sight at the moment but I set up Layla to help locate them. Then who pulls in but Tonya! We have a great visit and I'm happy to see her cheery face. I tell her the highlights of the Thorofare hike and she says she and Jake are going to Fairyland before the week is out. I also see Ray (from Pebble) and I get to thank him again for that great dinner last week. I talk to Rick about the Leopold wolf that Pat and I saw last Wednesday (was it really last Wednesday? It feels like last month!) Yes, he remembers. He asks a few questions about his appearance and I answer as best I can.
Then someone finds a black bear and we all turn our scopes to check it out. It's a pretty bear, light brown in color. Then Druids are spotted again. Bye-bye bear! I find the wolves higher up than I expected, climbing a steep hill through burned trees. I count 7 and then zoom in on 42. Then someone says "elk running" and I watch the Druids begin a chase. In a flash they are gone over a ridge and I don't see them come back out.
The sun has crept above the hills and it is finally warming up. Tonya and I giggle together about various things. We keep our voices to a whisper because Rick has begun an impromptu talk for the folk in the pullout. I find it informative and he livens it up with some dryly-delivered comedy.
Tonya says she needs to get to work and I'm feeling desperate for caffeine. I push her truck into traffic and off she goes. I wave goodbye to Ray and head west. After I gingerly climb the steps at Roosevelt I treat myself to a Hiker's Special and a whole pot of coffee.
After breakfast I head south via Dunraven. I sit for a while in a pullout in the amphitheater area, just gazing at the wildflowers and the butterflies and breathing in the scrumptious air. I take out my phone and dial John Uhler's number. When he picks up I tell him I just had to call to say hi, that it wouldn't be a Yellowstone visit if I didn't. I tell him I've just seen the Druids and two pups and that I heard the Delta Pack howl. I tell him about the Thorofare and Dan's bad luck and about meeting LEW and Bob Jackson. I send hugs to him and Carlene and Rachel and Joe.
Then on I go, singing out loud with the all windows down.
The drive gives me time to figure out what to do to make my feet feel better. Staying off them is not an option; there will be time for that on the plane tomorrow. I end up buying a pair of flip-flops at the Canyon Ham store, figuring that their strap arrangement will not rub my blisters like my sandals do. I slip them on. Ahhhhh. A new way to spell relief!
At Norris Junction I give a ride to three Old Faithful employees, two guys and a girl. I mention all the folk I know there but they don't know any of the Loons. One of the guys tells a story of the most recent bison goring. He helped carry the man to the ambulance on the stretcher. He said the hole was huge and bloody, and that the man kept calling himself an idiot. He said the Rangers were called even before the accident happened because people who were watching knew it was inevitable the man would get charged. He also said there was a bad moment when the ambulance wouldn't start up right away.
In spite of the construction delays, the drive is pleasant and I get to Old Faithful about a half-hour early. I let the kids off near the Snow Lodge and park near the Visitor Center. I attend to my blisters and apply a lot of sun-screen. I meet Jake as planned, and find that he has run into Amber, the sister of one of his best friends from school. She's here in the Park for a day before she goes off to Singapore to teach. Jake invites her to join us for our geyser tour. She's a very interesting and sophisticated young woman and I enjoy talking to her. She has lived in Egypt and Taiwan, teaching English.
We start by hiking up to Observation Point, which I've never done. It's steep but short and the view at the top is well worth it. It's windy up here and we all hold on to our hats. No sooner have we settled into our choice viewing spots than Old Faithful starts to blow. It looks great from up here, but I do miss hearing the roar. The wind blows the steam plume to the right and makes for pretty pictures.
Jake leads us down by a different route and we see an eruption of Solitary geyser. The pool is quite pretty but the eruption is minimal. We end up in a woodsy section where several elk are grazing. We detour around them but some tourons ahead of us get deliberately close and then even closer. Jake talks in a loud voice about how razor sharp elk hooves are. But the elk move away from the tourons on their own.
On our first pass around Geyser Hill we miss more eruptions than we make. The gusts of wind have already lifted several hats and left them soaking in run-off beside the boardwalk. I keep waiting for some fool step off to pick his up. Just then In front of us a little girl's hat goes flying and Jake makes a diving save. He hands it back to her and she doesn't even thank him.
Jake knows a lot about geysers and is very happy to share his knowledge with the world. When we stop anywhere he launches into a spiel. People figure he's a guide and usually ask him questions. He also carries a radio, which sputters to life every once in a while with the voice of a Geyser Gazer "calling" an eruption. As in "Riverside; 14:18" for example. Although it's frustrating to hear of the ones we miss, Jake knows their patterns so he can gauge when the next one is most likely to occur and then adjust our route accordingly.
We watch Cub spout and get sprayed by Plume. We see two marmots in the rocks and a coyote wandering around. We watch an osprey soar overhead and then dive into the Firehole River. We end up walking all the way down past Riverside to the lone restroom, which has a line on this late-July afternoon. While we wait our turn we examine an odd wooden structure someone has created in a nearby stand of trees. It looks like a sun-blind or a windbreak. What makes it unique is that each wooden slat is wedged into place; no nails have been used to keep the slats attached to each other.
Amber leaves so she can take in some other areas of the Park. We say farewell and wish her a safe trip to Singapore. I think she is very brave to go to so far away in these troubled times.
Jake and I make our way slowly back, me hobbling along with a stick for a cane. We stop at Fan and Mortar, which I've never seen before. I don't see them erupt but I do enjoy seeing the die-hard fans of these unusual geysers, each of whom seems to have found his or her own unique way to pass the time between eruptions of this unpredictable pair.
We make a futile search for Buffalo Burgers but settle for salad and pizza at the Grill. I am happy to get off my feet for a while. It's really busy here and I find it odd to be in such a human-jammed place after so many days in the open. We go looking for Matthew but find we've missed him. We have better luck with Lori D and chat with her at the Ham store until we get kicked out for wearing backpacks inside.
Our evening tour is more successful. We stop at the Lion Group. Jake makes such a confident prediction that several wandering tourist groups turn around just to wait for it. When the eruption begins, he calls it in. It's a particularly good one, proving how aptly this roaring geyser is named. When the spouting reaches its height, the wind kicks up and everybody gets soaked! Thanks to Jake's nick-of-time warning, I manage to turn my back, saving my camera and glasses but my jacket gets doused but good!
We dry off by sitting for a while and watching the mysterious bubbling of Depression. The wind rushes so fiercely over its surface that Jake believes it has enough of a cooling effect to prevent its eruption.
Then we see Plume go off four times in a row and also catch Old Faithful from up here on Geyser Hill, which is very nice. Then we hustle down to catch Grand. We make it just in time and I see this great spouter, plus the two side geysers here, Vent and Turban. After this we make the long trek down to Riverside for its "evening" showing. As we cross the bridge Jake points to a couple of trout hovering in the shadows. Big ones!
We sit on a log to wait for Riverside and comment on the people around us, guessing who knows geysers, who's from Europe, who wishes they were someplace else. I hear of Jake's possible plan for next summer, the dreaded moment when he has to get a real job. We get a very nice sunset, too.
We have a running joking between us about the lack of elk calves in the Park. We both saw tons of them in Spring but so far neither of us has seen a single one on this trip. Of course the only logical conclusion is that they've all been eaten by wolves. I theorize that the calves are simply hiding in more elk-friendly (i.e. tourist-filled) places where neither of us has spent much time. But Jake counters that we are IN an elk-friendly place now and haven't seen any here either. So there you go.
And then, right on time, Riverside Geyser starts to bubble up and then EXPLODES! It makes a gorgeous arc and spills into the Firehole River, getting louder and bigger as we watch. What a beautiful geyser this is! As most people know, Riverside eruptions last a long time. There are few observers who stay for the whole thing as we do.
We walk back toward the Inn as the sun sinks out of sight. As we near Daisy coyotes start to howl. It's becomes officially dark, too soon for the moon, but we do have a bunch of stars to guide us. Another great day in Yellowstone is coming to a close.
I say thanks for the tour and so long to Jake near the Inn parking lot. I head on to my cabin and have a scary moment in front of the Visitor's Center. There had been a couple of bison in this area earlier in the day and the spill of the lights from the parking lot makes odd shadows ahead of me. I hear a grunt to my right and nearly jump out of my skin. I never did find out what it was.
My poor abused feet are screaming at me. For the second straight night I prop up both feet on a pillow and rest them on the headboard. Oh, how I wish I didn't have to leave tomorrow.
Today I saw: Bison, chipmunks, elk, pronghorn, squirrels, 1 black bear, 1 coyote, 3 grizzly bears (including 2 cubs) 2 marmots, 1 osprey, 11 Druid wolves (including 2 pups) and 3 Loons