I leave the Super 8 at 5:15, passing several mule deer who are paying a visit to the Cenex station.
I meet Barb in our pre-determined spot and follow her carís taillights to the south. It seems like there are an awful lot of cars heading to Mammoth this early in the AM. Many are employees but when they continue past the Terraces I realize just as many are visitors like us.
We get to Hayden in the still-dark, pull into Alum and turn off our lights and motors. Right away we hear a bugle Ė which is answered by another. An owl hoots in the distance.
Itís a lovely feeling to be almost alone in the dark in this spot. No wolf howls, though.
There is, surprisingly, no fog this morning Ė probably because it is so warm. The cloud cover is pretty thick, which delays the arrival of first light.
We move to a higher pullout and hear more bugling. At 7AM, a light sprinkle begins, stopping and starting over the next hour or so.
We drive further and further south, seeing a cow elk with a yearling calf and some horses in a corral near Bridge Bay.
Barb wants coffee so we turn at Fishing Bridge. Alas, the store does not open till 9 so we continue east.
Our next stop is Pelican Creek where we listen and look. No wolf howls here either but it sure is pretty. There is a nice herd of about 50 elk at the treeline, with a gorgeous 6X6 bull. They look especially nice against the gold and orange aspen.
We stop again at the new, improved Pelican Valley Trailhead. Iíve never seen this area before but Barb says itís a big improvement. The rain has stopped again so we take a walk a little ways down the trail.
We find more elk against the treeline here. And distant bugling.
We come to the edge of the Lake and find geese feeding.
A bit further on we see a Ranger and some orange cones. Looks like we missed some action. In the early dark, some visitors saw wolves and a bear on a small carcass but Rangers moved it because it was too close to the road.
There are birds perched on a lump in a swampy area.
We continue east and soon find the current ďregularĒ grizzlies. The Lake Butte sow and her yearling cub are grazing and grubbing in a meadow full of scattered new growth and lots of downed timber.
Luckily for visitors, the road here has wide, paved shoulders on both sides, making it easy to safely accommodate the large crowd that wants to see the bruins.
We set up and find them close enough for photos but far enough for safety. Still, the two Rangers here tell us they sometimes cross the road and back, so the crowd needs to be managed at times like that.
I find my binoculars work better than my scope because the bears are often obscured by the new growth and its easier to move a foot right or left than to move my scope!
They are both beautiful bears. Each has a traditional grizzled ďjacketĒ on the shoulder. The cub is nearly as big as mom.
The sun decides to come out for most of the time we are here. After about an hour, Barb suggests we drive up and over the pass and beyond the gate to have breakfast at Pahaska Teepee. She knows they stop serving at 11, so we should have enough time to make it. I suspect she just wants their coffee. LOL.
So we bid goodbye to the bears and continue east. The scenery gets more and more spectacular. I have only a hazy memory of the road, having driven as far as Sylvan Lake only once, in 1998. The last time I went all the way to the east gate was in 1975 with my Cincinnati family on our life-changing (for me) trip to the West.
The fall color gets better and better as we go. And the views become grander and more dramatic with every mile.
We make it in time for eggs and coffee. We enjoy the banter of our host/waiter. Pahaska Teepee is on the edge of closing for the season, a funky little place with its own Buffalo Bill impersonator. I feel like Iím in a whole different world.
On our way back the bears are still in view. But first we drive up to the Overlook and enjoy the views to the south. Despite the unsettled weather the Tetons are in glorious view, sporting quite a bit of recent snow.
We donít find any critters up here, but we watch some sort of mysterious helicopter activity across the Lake.
We go back down and visit with the bears for another half hour. Then the sprinkles return, so we continue on our way.
At the Mary Bay carcass we stop but still find only birds.
Back in Hayden Valley we stop at Lehardy to traipse along the boardwalk, then again at the Nez Perce Ford picnic area. We wander to the riverís edge and sit on a log a while, talking of past sightings. Again the drizzle chases us back to our cars.
The sun peeks out again as we pull into Three Panel. So, we scope here for a bit, finding two old carcasses across the river. A bald eagle perches on a bison horn.
We get stuck in a classic Hayden Valley bison jam for about 20 minutes. If not for the efforts of a Ranger, I think we would still be stuck there.
Now itís back to Gardiner for a repeat of our dinner on the patio. The weather cooperates by holding off the rain.
When I get back to the Super 8, I find a text from Laurie, alerting me to two things: first, the Wapitis are being seen in the Fountain Flats area (far from Hayden) and second, the Rescue Creek pack made a kill north of Wraith Falls and could be on it in the morning.
I share this with Barb and we discuss our options, no Wapitis in Hayden vs a potential carcass as close as Wraith. We are leaning towards Wraith but agree to decide in the morning, in case more information comes in.
Today I saw: bison, 2 grizzly bears, mule deer, a bald eagle, elk, geese, pronghorn and the spirits of
Allison and Richard.