This trip is a short one – on this adventure, I am tour guide to members of my family: my older sister Elaine, her husband David and David’s younger sister, Debbie. It’s Elaine’s third visit, David’s second and Debbie’s first.
We leave Bozeman around 8AM. The weather it great, a perfect June day; sunny and cool. There is just a bit of snow left on the Gallatin Mountains but Paradise Valley looks gorgeous and green.
When we reach Gardiner there are signs of construction everywhere. The entire business district is dug up and re-routed so the views of the Arch are less picturesque than usual.
Nevertheless, we see bedded elk right away, as well as pronghorn. We visit the Upper Terrace Loop and walk the boardwalks to Canary Spring. We see a mule deer up close and many birds and squirrels. Wildflowers have already begun to emerge, including one of my favorites, “butter and eggs”. Many, many photographs are taken.
We then head down to the main Mammoth Terraces and Liberty Cap. We notice a long-legged bird with a thin beak walking in the runoff, where tourists used to stand when that was legal. It’s Yellowstone’s version of a sand-piper.
Now we head east but stop almost immediately in the lot across from the Mammoth Chapel – to watch our own private cow elk and her spotted calf. They are very close, posing nicely as they graze the hill and David gets good photos.
Our next stop is Undine Falls, rushing and roaring. I notice a bison skeleton across the gorge and wonder if this is what the Lamar Canyon pups were feeding on in April?
Next we visit Blacktail Ponds in hopes of seeing and hearing the yellow-headed blackbirds that nest in the reeds here. They do not disappoint. We also see red-winged blackbirds, many ducks and some sandhills.
Then just east of the Petrified Tree pullout we see dozens of cars pulled over. We stop and hop out. The jam is for a black bear sow – the one with a single coy (cub of the year). They are slightly downhill from the big ski lot pullout in the deadfall.
We get a good look and David gets great pictures. The bears have gone out of sight but many people roam right or left, eager to find an angle where they might re-appear. Then Debbie taps me on the shoulder. She has happened to look the opposite direction – on the slope above - and says she sees something moving there. Sure enough, dark shapes are seen hustling through the grass and bushes. It’s a second black bear sow – this one with two coy. And they seem to be aiming for the road and all the people.
These are Roosevelt bears, of course; they are quite familiar with the road and people, but still it makes me nervous as there is no ranger present. Debbie and call “heads up” to the crowd and luckily, everyone makes room for the bear family. They cross the road quickly and enter the area where the original bears were mere moments ago. I figure the sows are familiar with each other, too. They could be siblings, or mother and grown daughter.
So we go back to our original place and watch some more. There is some kind of altercation between the sows which we do not see, but we do see the two cubs quickly climb a tree, one of the tall, straight gray trunks, left over from the 1988 fires. The kind with stubs of broken branches on all sides – almost like the hand/foot holds on a telephone pole. The cubs find these short branches perfect for their tiny size. They can rest comfortably on them, high above any danger.
It’s a delightful sighting – exactly the kind of quintessential Yellowstone in Spring kind of sighting that my family came to see. For me, given the fact that both previous trip taken by my sister were plagued with unusually bad weather, this trip seems blessed from the start.
Our next stop is at Roosevelt Lodge where we enjoy indoor plumbing and a chance to rest a bit and have lunch.
Then on we go, now heading south. We stop at Tower Falls but before we even get half-way down the path to the Falls overlook, we see two MORE bears – these are both adults, likely a courting pair as one is much larger than the other. The smaller bear was sporting some sort of fur issue on its backside that is now a topic of discussion among the bear folk.
We continue up the road to Antelope Creek, stopping at a few of the high pullouts to enjoy the scenery. We see elk, bison and many more wildflowers.
We also stop on the other side of the pass to enjoy the view of the distant mountains. The weather obliges and gives us glimpses of the Tetons!
Around 3PM we arrive at Canyon Junction. David checks us in while Elaine and Debbie head to the Visitor Center to look at the topo map. I get ice for the cooler because the day has warmed considerably.
We unload their baggage at the Western Cabin and everyone tries to nap for a bit while I head to the campground to get my spot. I don’t want to tire them out too much. I am hoping I can convince them to stay out till dusk tonight – our best chance to see the Wapiti Lake wolves. While they nap I head south to do reconnaissance. I learn we have a good change for Wapitis tonight because they were present this morning.
Around 6 we head south and find three big bull elk close to the road near the Canyon Corrals. David joins a group of other tourists up on the hill, still at a safe distance, to get closer shots of the elk. While he’s up there, we stay by the car and watch a bull bison come closer and closer.
Next we visit the Canyon of the Yellowstone; first a view of Upper Falls from the start of Uncle Tom’s Trail, then the Lower Falls from my favorite spot, Artists Point Overlook.
I am pleased to find both of these areas are not yet very crowded. It’s still early in the summer season. The big crowds come later.
Next we pull in at Grizzly Overlook, or I should say, I find a spot near enough. We join the crowd and I find regulars to fill me in. In the meadow we see two small elk herds with calves, a few bison and some sandhill cranes. I remind my family of the history of the wolves that live here, and that we know they have at least four pups but so far this month, the views have been very brief.
The elk are interesting to watch but the night gets colder and colder. I retrieve the extra coats and hats that I deliberately brought for this reason and have no trouble convincing Elaine and Debbie to put them on. Finally at about 8:45, a woman named Benna calls out “right sandbox!”
I swing my scope there and see two wolves, a gray and a black. I help Elaine and Debbie see them, and David manages to get a photo! I see just a few more glimpses as the pups head into the trees at the eastern edge of what we call the “sandbox”.
There is celebrating all around and I know it’s time to head for the warmth of the car. On our way back we run into the same jam for the bull elk, but this time they are on the other side of the road. I stop to let David and Debbie try for photos but it’s really too dark.
Still, it’s a nice capper to a wonderful day. I drive them to their cabin and then head to my own spot.
Today we saw: 7 black bears (including 3 cubs), red-winged blackbirds, yellow-headed blackbirds, bison (including calves), sandhill cranes, mule deer, elk (including calves), pronghorn, a sandpiper, and 2 wolves (one gray and one black puppy of the Wapiti Lake Pack) and the spirit of Allison