Iím up in the dark again, heading up to Agate-ville.
Itís quite chilly up top. Calvin and Lynnette and I talk softly, waiting for a bit more light and the first wolf of the day. A couple of bear guys are up here, too. One of them mentions a conversation he had last night with a visitor who was saying that the reason grizzlies stand up on their hind legs is because they have poor eyesight. The bear guy says thatís rubbish. He says grizzlies see as well as we do. He says they stand up to get more information through all their senses; eyes, nose and ears, and that their sense of smell is extraordinary.
And then, as if such praise had been heard, a great big grizzly makes an appearance way out there on a sparsely-timbered slope. Heís far away but I can see him moving methodically, nose to the ground, searching for elk calves.
There are many adult elk visible on the hillsides this morning, both above and below the roads. I am always struck by how quietly they can move.
None of us sees any wolves. Nothing is moving in the area in front of the deadfall, where they were seen yesterday and the day before. However we do see a bit of twittery movement inside that area which we believe is probably birds finally having their turn.
Then a couple of coyotes appear, approaching the area from the south. I figure weíll know in a minute or two if there are any wolves in there. But the coyotes continue un-challenged, and soon we see them in among the deadfall, their heads moving in the same spot were we were seeing wolves yesterday, tugging on the bones.
Well, it looks like the Agate show is over. It sure was nice while it lasted! So I pack up and head down to Lamar in hopes of finding Sloughs or Unknowns.
In Little America I see 3 mule deer, some pronghorn, and many bison. The area looks greener than ever and amazingly beautiful. The torrent in Lamar canyon seems to have settled down a bit but when I enter Lamar itís even greener than Little America!
I stop at Dorothyís. I see a pretty brown and white bird about to land in the meadow and then I hear a high-pitched squealy sound. I canít tell if the sound came from the bird or some critter on the ground. Do osprey catch ground squirrels or just fish?
There are scattered elk and bison on the valley floor, but no elk calves. I do see a number of pronghorn. One of them is running very fast along the river bank. Nothing is chasing it that I can see. Finally the pronghorn stops running and leans down to lick its front leg. Pronghorn are weird sometimes!
Another visitor in the pullout spots a grizzly way up on Specimen. I see it, crossing a snowfield from left to right. A little bit of snow avalanches down behind him. He starts to run for the trees and I lose him. I wonder if he ran because of the little avalanche or whether he created the avalanche by running across the snow? It didnít look like that much fell but distances can be deceiving.
I see the hawk on a rock and hear meadowlarks and robins singing. There are geese honking on the river and a lone coyote barks and then yips. All in all, another gorgeous morning in Lamar.
I head to Picnic in hopes of finding the coyote pups. Aha! I find five pups and all four adults. One sits above the den as if he is on sentry duty, while the pups cavort all over the hill where the den is.
Mom coyote comes down the hill and stands near the den opening. The pups rush up to her and several of them begin to nurse while she remains standing. Two pups are still playing, well, fighting, so they must not be too hungry!
Then mom moves away with one pup still hanging on as she walks. He finally lets go. Mom puts her head inside the den. Next thing you know, dirt is flying! Man, she is a first class digger. She loves to clear out that den!
Next mom walks a few feet away and beds. A pup comes over and sits next to her and bites at her ear. The coyote mom is so tolerant, she sort of leans over and lets the pup have her ear to chew on. It makes me smile. Then two other pups start tussling nearby, wrestling and rolling. Oh puppies! They are so delightful to watch. I notice a shy pup making its way down hill toward the two wrestling pups. The shy pup takes a long time, carefully picking its way as it goes.
A car stops in the road and I see a familiar face. Itís Charles! He pulls in and we have a Loon hug. He introduces me to the newest Loon, his grandson Noah, a handsome young man about 10 years old. We show Noah the coyote pups and he learns the fine points of scoping. Charles tells me he canít stay too long; Noahís luggage never showed up, so he has to go outside the Park to get him some clothes.
There is a distinct lack of wolf news on the radio. None of the packs seem to be around today. Rick has yet to see a single wolf this morning and has headed out to Blacktail. Gerry and I decide to try Hayden Valley.
I follow him to the Tower Store where I leave Golda so we can carpool over the pass. We check in with Calvin and Lynnette who have moved to a higher pullout, one with a direct view of area where the Agatesí den is. They have still not seen any wolves. However Calvin proudly tells me their bear count has risen to three!
I wish them luck and tell them weíll be back later. Over the top we go and down past Canyon. The sky is fitful with clouds today and we get a little rain, too. We have been told where to look for the Hayden Pack but Iím not sure we found the right place since we donĎt find any other wolfers. Iíd hoped to run into Bob Landis, and Iím sorry we didnít.
But we do see some beautiful patches of bright yellow glacier lilies - one of my favorite wildflowers (along with paintbrush and Pasque flowers). We move on through the valley and stop at various pullouts to scope this way and that. The sun has come out bright and hot but the air is still quite cool and there is a stiff breeze.
We see elk, of course, and bison and geese, but also an osprey. Gerry finds an eagle nest in a tree at the edge of the forest. Hayden Valley is not quite as green as Lamar, although it is beautiful. The big bison herds are not here, yet, and things seem very quiet and empty.
We decide to take a look at Lower Falls while we are here. I never get tired of this view! There is still a good chunk of rime-ice looming over the south-east side. I could spend all day just at this spot, there are so many pinnacles and thermal vents to explore.
On our way out we see a visitor carrying his little dog in a front-facing pack, the kind people have for toddlers. It looks practical but very odd. Then on the way back we pass a huge jam, all for one bull elk grazing on a hillside. But he has spectacular antlers and they are robed in plush velvet - a pretty sight, to be sure.
So, Gerry and I remain wolf-less as we drive back over the Pass. As we shall see, one of us does not remain that way much longer. I thank Gerry for the lift and the company and head off to Gardiner, where Iím staying this evening. I pass a Rosie-and-cubs jam on my way down the hill, but they are in a hard-to- see spot, so I donít stay.
I drive on to Floating Island Lake, where I stop to check on the sand hill pair. I find one feeding near the shore and the other on that spit of land by the talus slope. Both are in high grass so I donĎt see any chicks.
Then as I wind down the road above Phantom Lake I see dozens of cars pulled over, quite haphazardly. I look to the left and see a good-sized black bear wandering at the waterís marshy edge. IĎve never seen a bear here before. But the road is very windy and there is no place safe enough to pull over so I just drive slowly past the abandoned cars, catching glimpses of the bruin. He doesnít seem the slightest bit agitated by all the human fuss on the road, and continues grazing and grubbing in full view, on the far side of the lake.
At Mammoth I stop at Albright to see how theyíve treated Dougís book. I am delighted to find it prominently displayed. I buy a copy to give as a present and chat with the YA guy behind the desk. He says the book is a very popular item! I donít let on that I am a Loon! 8~)
Then I head into the cabin area at Mammoth to have another visit with Allison. Itís fairly quiet, with a few housekeeping carts in view. I am always soothed by the sounds of Yellowstone, even in this more ďcivilizedĒ area. The bird song is constant and varied, complimented by the incessant peeping of ground squirrels which have thriving colonies between and under the cabins.
There are human sounds too, of course, but the natural sounds predominate. A raven calls, the wind stirs, a magpie chatters. And I sit quietly with Allison who hears it all.
Now I head down Gardiner Canyon. The river looks full and rushes along hurriedly, overtopping its banks in several places. The sky clouds over and a few sprinkles drop from the sky. I stop at the Sawtooth deli and have a burger outside on the patio and catch up on some notes. Then I head to the Yellowstone Village Inn to check in.
I have a lovely shower and change clothes and then my phone rings. Itís Doug Dance! He and his parents are staying in a suite around the corner and I am invited for a visit. Itís great to see him and to meet his parents again. Their suite is quite spacious with a nice kitchen, and to tell you the truth, I didnít even know the Yellowstone Village Inn had such accommodations available. I may look into this for future trips!
Doug gives me an update of his book-selling success and we make a tentative plan to meet tomorrow. I tell him I am wolf-less today, a condition I would like to correct before the day is done. He understands, although it means I will miss dinner with him later.
I head back to Lamar. At Lava Creek I run into a bison jam. This is getting to be a typical occurrence at this spot! Then two coyotes cross the road, as if taking advantage of the stopped traffic.
There is a large bison herd around Blacktail ponds, with many babies and lots of visitors watching them. I see two hawks circling above the S curves and as I head down the hill toward Phantom Lake I see the black bear jam has not ended! The left lane holds a long line of stopped cars, snaking around the curve above the lake. I slow down and suddenly the black bear walks right onto the road in front of me! It crosses about four feet from my car, about twenty feet in front of the first car in line, and heads into the gully on the north side.
It happens too fast for me to get my camera but I do enjoy seeing the bear so close, if only for a few seconds.
I drive on. As I reach the curve at the end of the basin, a coyote comes down the hill and crosses in front of me. Then a second one. Boy Iím glad I drive slowly!
When I reach the Elk Creek curve I see another black bear putting on a show for the crowd. I canít find a decent place to park so I keep going. At the Specimen Ridge Trailhead I see Frankís car so I stop. He has taken another group of Loons up the hill, this time towards the old Crystal Creek acclimation pen. I glass the hills looking for a sign of them coming out, but I know itís kinda early. In the end I leave a note on Frankís car.
Things are quiet at Slough Creek so I head on into Lamar Canyon. A marmot dashes across the road. I stop at the owl nest, but again see no sign of them. DorothyĎs is quiet, too, so I head on to Picnic and enjoy another hour of coyote pup antics. A number of people stop and I help them see the little cuties.
Then Gerry drives up with a big grin on his face. He has seen the Druids!
WOW! I am both thoroughly thrilled and thoroughly envious! He tells me the story, that while I was heading for Gardiner, he drove toward Silver Gate. He stopped at Round Prairie at about 1:30 and noticed a lone fly-fisherman working the creek. He figured that the presence of the fisherman would prevent any wolves from showing but he couldnít stop himself from looking for them anyway.
He raised his binoculars andÖBOOM! Black wolf.
He had a perfect sighting of a large black wolf, (which was probably 480, the alpha male) trotting past the low knoll across the meadow. Gerry could hardly believe his luck. He called Rick but got no answer, probably his radio was turned off since it was the middle of the day. The wolf moved right along the treeline from west to the east and then moved in among the trees, eventually going out of sight. Gerry could not believe he just saw this. Only one other car stopped, everyone else kept driving.
He eventually saw the other three, following the exact same route right against the trees, giving Gerry a complete Druid sighting! He says they all looked very fit. I am so glad to hear this and so glad to know they are still healthy!!! So now I want to plant myself at Round Prairie until I get see Druids myself!
Next thing I know I am scoping for Druids at Round Prairie with Calvin, Lynnette and Gerry. My hope is that once they have fed their pups they will head out again for another feeding session. Since one of them was carrying meat, there is probably more wherever it came from. But secretly I believe the wolves will wait to come out until it is too dark for us to see them.
In the meanwhile we have quiet and friendly conversation and are entertained by a little black bear roaming around the creek, looking for morsels to eat. We also see a bald eagle and hear an owl-type sound in the trees behind us.
We see 5 bighorn sheep on the Thunderer and three mountain goats up on the eastern flanks of Norris. Two of the goats are kids, fluffy and white, and they romp around with the energy of youth, despite their precarious surroundings.
We scope as hard as we can and wish and hope with all our might but we cannot convince the Druids to take a second bow. I finally give up as I have a very long drive ahead of me, so I bid my Druid-loving friends goodnight and promise not to be jealous if the wolves show up as soon as Iím gone.
As I drive back through the valley, I see a lovely sight: the left-over light in the sky turns the Soda Butte into a river of light. As I near the confluence, the effect is multiplied by the many braids of the river there. It is exquisite to behold.
A nervous elk crosses the road and prances across a water channel, splashing its light into twinkling droplets. She disappears into cover and I am left wondering how water and light can be the same thing.
This gorgeous effect continues through Lamar and into Little America - and I feel that I have happened upon a brand new type of Yellowstone magic.
Dark finally settles over the land just before Roosevelt. Then, just as I reach the Petrified Tree drive I have to jam on the brakes for a moose in the road! Whoa! No harm done (except to my blood pressure). The moose makes his laconic way into the willows along the creek.
When I come down the S curves the moon reveals herself - only half full but startlingly bright. It throws enough light to show me two big boys in the deadfall west of Lava Creek. Then, as I wind down Gardiner Canyon a light rain falls, releasing a sweet sage-and-earth smell. Even a wolf-less day is good when youíre in Yellowstone.
Today I saw: antelope, 6 black bears (including 2 cubs), 2 grizzly bears, bison and bisonettes, 5 coyotes, 2 sand hill cranes, mule deer, 1 bald eagle, elk, 3 mountain goats (including 2 kids), hawks, magpies, 1 moose, 1 osprey, ravens, 5 bighorn sheep, 6 Loons and the spirit of Allison