DAY THREE - WEDNESDAY, JUNE 6

996M & ROSE CREEK HIKE

Today starts with a more normal temperature of 41 degrees. I have several mule deer sightings on the way in but no moose.

Just west of confluence I have to stop for a morning bison jam. The herd is crossing the river; many are already in the current, including calves. Note to elk mothers - this is a far more sensible place to cross. But the majority of the herd is still on the road and on both sides of the road, so cars are understandably stopped.

I hear Rick on the radio asking for news at Slough. Nothing yet. So, once traffic is moving again, I pull into Picnic and scope from there. I find several elk near the exclosure fence and a few more intrepid souls grazing in the old Druid R-V. The bison herd is now across and they begin to fan out all over the R-V. And of course, there are various pronghorn about, too.

The air is so clear and meadowlarks trill their good mornings to the world. What a place! I just love it here, especially in the early mornings when you have things pretty much to yourself. Of course, Iíd love it even more if I found a wolf, but that doesnít happen today.

I move to Institute and find the bear Bill showed me yesterday. Then I hear a wolf has been sighted at Slough so I head there.

For the next 3 hours I scope Bobís Knob, watching a single Junction wolf Ė none other than 996M, now known as ďthe pup snatcherĒ. Doug and Rick and Kathie are all here and I enjoy scoping with them.

When I first see him, 996 is bedded in the grass, so itís head up, head down, hard to see. But I am personally grateful to a couple of bison who wander by, forcing him to get up and move. He doesnít do much more than that this morning but wolf sightings are so rare these days that about 200 people content themselves with the sight of one bedded wolf.

Adding some diversity, someone finds a bear behind the horizontal forest. Itís a grizzly. And we see a single swan feeding in a quiet loop of the creek. Then Doug finds a beaver, so we watch him a while, too. And there is a fancy helicopter flying around, hovering over Momís Ridge and some of us wonder if they are seeing the Junctionís pups. None of us recognize the helicopter but some people think there is a camera attached to it. Hmm. I donít think the Park allows sightseeing helicopters and only grants permits to a few filmmakers, so maybe it is from National Geographic or the BBC.

I tell Kathie of my plan to hike to the pen today. She was up there a couple of days ago so she warns me about where she and her group had bison on the trail.

Around 9 I leave the bedded wolf to prepare for my hike. I make it pleasant for myself by driving to Tower to change in the spacious ladies room there.

I hear a report from Calvin & Lynette that they have found a few wolves from the newly-named Crevice Lake pack from Lower Hellroaring. Oh, well, looks like I will miss that sighting.

This group is an offshoot of the prodigious 8 Mile pack. An earlier offshoot of that pack became the Prospect Peak Pack, which, in turn, re-constituted the Junction Butte Pack into its current form, as it had previously re-constituted the Lamar Pack, although those handsome males are no longer alive.

I drive back east and since Iím early, I stop briefly at Dorothyís. I see a single grizzly up high on Specimen and then watch an adult bald eagle feeding its chick in the Jasper Bench nest.

Then someone finds the grizzly sow with the single coy way up on Amethyst, so I watch them a bit, too.

Now I head to the Institute. Parking is no longer allowed in the back lot behind the barn, so I park in front, and wait for V & K to arrive.

Once we have our poles and our sunscreen and our bear spray we set off, walking past the cabins and the lot and the new fire-pit. I can imagine some pretty fabulous star-gazing in that spot, if the skeeters can be kept at bay.

There are a few little bridges over the various braids of Rose Creek so we donít have to get our boots wet. Itís a perfect day for this hike; sunny but cool. We find the big set of antlers that I remember from my first time up here. There are numerous wildflowers for us to name or puzzle over. The trail is clear and only muddy in a couple of spots, and we find ways around them.

After we pass through the forest with the water treatment fencing, we see what weíd hoped to avoid.

Bison.

One big bull stands directly on the trail and we can see numerous others behind him.

We stop to assess. We make sure they see us. Hmm. There is no easy way around this group and I do not want to get closer. I think we might need to bushwhack up the hill to avoid them. V & K are not so keen on that.

I start to creep up the hill slowly, and the additional height allows me to see even more bison above the ones on the trail. Hmm, this might get tricky.

But as Kevin starts up the hill to join me, the bison above get nervous and start moving southwest (away from us). Then some of them start to run which makes the ones blocking the trail take notice. I sigh with relief as they turn and join the stampede. Suddenly our trail is clear again.

Most of the rest of the hike is out in the open, allowing us to see a handful of scattered bison further away. They do not pose any problem. The trail goes mostly uphill and affords wonderful views of Specimen Ridge and the wide swath of green that is Lamar Valley.

We see phlox, clematis, a few shooting stars, arrowleaf, forget-me-nots, larkspur, prairie smoke and a few mushrooms. And the views of Druid Peak are splendid, as well.

There comes a point on the trail where the remains of the acclimation pen can be seen on the next hill. You need to cross Rose Creek again before you get there. The trail used to go through a small forest, now it stays high and curves around to a higher creek crossing. This ford is a bit overgrown so itís a little tricky finding the right combination of stones and logs to avoid the water. But we get across and ascend the final hill only to find another bison. A single bison bull. He lumbers to his feet at our approach. Heís been resting under the tree where I planned to sit and have lunch.

I warn K & V and we all stop. We make sure Mr. Bison sees us and we talk soothingly to assure him we mean no harm. I have my bear spray in hand with the safety off just in case.

We stay put for a while and luckily the bison reads our body language and lies back down again. He wants no trouble and simply wants to rest. Good! We assess our options because he is only about a 100 feet from the entrance to the pen.

We circle around and get through the opening, where I feel a bit safer should one of his buddies show up.

The inside is wildly overgrown Ė even more so than on my last visit, but enough of the fencing remains to tell the story. We explore and V takes lots of photos. There are still numerous scattered bones but the ďdog housesĒ are quite deteriorated.

We find some logs to sit on and have our lunch. Then we explore a bit more. Our bison guard is still sleeping on duty but we make it out and past him with no trouble.

The trail down is quite easy but itís warmed up a bit. I forgot to bring my Tevas with me, so I have to forego my habit of cooling my toes in Rose Creek at the end. Instead Kevin treats me to a cold Dr. Pepper from his cooler. With ice!

We unload our gear and then drive to Dorothyís where I show them the eagle nest. Alas, the bears are long gone. Then we drive over to Lamar River Bridge and park for our second hike of the day. This one is short and mostly flat, out to the Crystal Creek Beaver Ponds.

Unlike in October, when I was here with Laurie & Pauline, Crystal Creek is running high and has flooded a section of the trail. But I am now wearing my Tevas so I happily wade across, cooling my feet at the same time.

We explore the amazing ponds and V takes a bunch of photos. There is an osprey in a tree nearby, probably one of the parents of the Lamar Canyon nest.

Then itís back to the cars where we say adieu: V & K are heading to the Tetons for a few days. I am going back east. I need a nap!

On the way back I see numerous cars pulled over and five or six people looking across the creek. There is room to park so I so I stop and follow a woman to the overlook. Itís a moose and calf grazing in a marshy spot at across Soda Butte Creek. They are close enough to see yet far enough for their safety. The calf stays behind mom most of the time but once it moves away from her, giving us a good view of its charmingly gangly body. Itís a really nice sighting.

When I get back to Silver Gate, my feet and legs are complaining quite loudly, so I decide to have dinner and stay in tonight. I end up in bed by 8PM!

Today I saw: I saw: 4 grizzly bears (including 1 cub), a beaver, bison, coyotes, cranes, mule deer, ducks, a bald eagle and chicks, elk, geese, a moose and calf, pronghorn, a swan, 1 wolf (996 of the Junction Pack) and the spirit of Allison.


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