I wake up this morning surprised to find no hint of rain. I guess the wild light show last night must have passed to the north.
I drive as quietly as possible around the campground loop and down the hill, and coast down the hill to the Tower store. A coyote springs out of the brush and heads up the road, off on his morning adventure. I wonder if he trotted past me while I was asleep?
No bears at Calcite this morning and no other cars. There is a gorgeous fog starting at the corrals, so thick that it blots out the Ranger Station and I nearly miss the turn! I can only guess where anything is; everything is pale white and shapeless.
This same cloud hugs the river corridor, and stretches its fat fingers over hill and boulder, hiding each familiar landmark in Little America. I think this cloud has mistaken the ground for the sky. Slough Creek campground is obliterated and I can barely recognize Lamar at all. I see a patch of blacktop and realize I’m at Dorothy’s Knoll so I pull over. The valley is shrouded all the way up and over Jasper Bench but the peaks and high meadows of Specimen escape it and gleam in the still-early light.
I decide to scope for bear, but I find some elk and a few bison instead. I scope the snow-patch where we saw the wolves yesterday but I see no movement there. As I turn north I see I am alone in Lamar, nearly swallowed by this spooky and wondrous fog.
I decide to head further east, fully knowing it will not be easy to see wolves today. But the mystery of the fog is so unusual to me that I can’t help but enjoy seeing it, too.
Eventually I find Rick and Laurie at Picnic and learn that Rick has gotten signals from the Sloughs! That excites me as I have not seen any of them yet on this trip. This poor pack has had a rough time this spring. But until the sun gets up a while there is nothing to be seen in this soup. Brian and Gerry are still scoping at Round Prairie as Rick got Druid signals there this morning, but the fog is just as thick up there as it is here so they are not seeing anything either.
Tricia and Gary pull up. I haven’t seen them in a long time so we have a merry reunion. Everyone remarks that the fog this morning is more wide-spread than anyone has ever seen it.
I drive east and stop at the Footbridge to enjoy the fog-shrouded experience. I hear croaks, and peeps and squeals and honks. Some teasing glimpses of blue sky appear above me but the sun seems to have no power against such recalcitrant fog. But then, wisp by wisp, I notice the land becoming more defined.
I drive slowly east and by the time I get to the big curve I can actually see the grass of the rendezvous. In celebration I climb Exclosure Hill. I am rewarded by a sighting numerous elk, some bison and bison calves and also two Canada geese, followed by three tiny goslings. I have probably seen thousands of geese in the Park over the years but I think these are my very first goslings. They are very cute, following in a wobbly line behind mom as she leads them to the river’s edge. In they go, streaking across the water far more gracefully in this element than on land.
Gerry comes up the hill to join me, and Hellroaring Cat scopes just below. Gerry says he had golf-ball sized hail falling on his car as he drove to Silver Gate last night. Now the sun reflects on the dissipating fog and makes everything gauzy and soft. We see some elk in the upper Lamar valley and two canids annoying them. We want them to be wolves but can’t really be sure at this distance. They turn out to be coyotes.
I watch a burly bison calf as he gets up from his resting spot and does a “lean forward” urination. Aha! That calf is a male! He trots over to where his mom is lying down. She gets up as she seems to know he has come to nurse. The little bruiser bangs his nose on her tender teats, making her kick out in response. This goes on a while ‘til he finally calms down and settles in more gently. Ah me, How sweet they look.
There are quite a few pronghorn and I look in vain for little ones. Hellroaring Cat saw a pronghorn fawn (kid/calf/lamb/colt? What‘s the proper term?) the other day and I sure would like to see one, too. Instead I see a lovely sight of several sleek elk, including one with a calf, walking past some green aspen. The refracted light from the leftover fog makes this particularly pretty to see.
Someone finds a bear. It’s up on Amethyst Mountain; a dark grizzly sow with two cubs of the year. Oh how cute! They walk along a green slope down to a rocky area surrounded by forest. Mom walks with focused determination but the cubs just play and romp.
Then we hear Calvin call in some action. He is at Dorothy’s and has two wolves running on Jasper Bench. I pull into Dorothy's just as Calvin says one of the blacks is now running back from west to east. I see a black wolf running past a bison herd and three other wolves chasing him - no, wait! Those are coyotes! No! Wait! One is a gray wolf. The other two are coyotes.
The black wolf is long gone and I watch the gray easily outrun the smaller dogs. He soon disappears behind a big boulder and then I see him again running over a low hill until he disappears for good. These two may both be Sloughs or they could both be Unknowns. I never do find out.
The coyotes stop but continue to watch in the direction the wolves ran. A third coyote shows up, looking the same direction. Best guess is that they have a den nearby and have just run off the two wolves. But there could also be a carcass up there somewhere, which both the big dogs and the small dogs are fighting over.
In this same area is a herd of about 8 pronghorn. One of the coyotes begins to cruise the herd. A male pronghorn decides he doesn‘t like it and charges the coyote. The coyote dashes away and hides behind a tree. And at the top of the tree sits a bald eagle.
We keep hoping the wolves will re-appear somewhere and continue to scan the area but then someone calls out grizzly! When I get the spot I see my best bear sighting of the whole trip. Four adult grizzlies! All on the same hill, the one that I think is just above the Specimen Ridge trail. At first the four seem to be traveling together. But then I notice one seems slightly aggressive and when all four begin to run it could be that the fourth one is chasing the other three. I can’t give the best report on this because I was too distracted trying to find wolves and I lost track of which bear was which. It could be a sow and three grown cubs or perhaps a sow with two grown cubs and one amorous male? I never do find out but the hill they are on seems to be the flip side of the one where we saw three adult bears yesterday morning from Slough.
I suddenly get the impression that Yellowstone may be trying to make it up to me for having fogged me out this morning! With just a little adjustment of my scoping position, I have four bears, three coyotes, 8 pronghorn, three hawks, five elk and one bald eagle!
The sun comes out full, inflaming the grass into bright green life. Ah, me. Do I really have to leave?
But I know it’s time. I hug my Loon friends and wolfer friends goodbye. Laurie and Lynnette set off to climb Cardiac Hill while Calvin stays down along with the enthusiastic man (I‘ve forgotten his name!). I hop in Golda and wave goodbye.
I stop at Floating Island lake for one last try to see the sand hill chicks. There are the adults, walking in the grass across the lake. And what is that at their feet? Two spotted orange balls of fuzz with teeny legs a beak and two eyes! Chicks! Hallelujah! But orange? No one told me sand hill chicks were orange!
I am beside myself. I just love watching these teeny, tiny things walking next to their gigantic parents. A young couple pulls in and asks what I’m watching. I out Layla on the chicks and wave them over for a look. WOW! They love it! I try to calm down so they don’t think I’m a nut job.
We chat a bit and they tell me this is not only their first trip to the Park but their honeymoon! They ask about wolves and bears and I give them all my best tips. I show them the yellow-headed black birds and we hear their strange song. And the meadowlarks never stop. How I love this about Yellowstone. I’m at the end of my trip on my way out and these folks are just beginning the adventure for the first time!
I say farewell and head west. At Hell Roaring a golden eagle soars overhead.
On I go and pass Lew & Deb coming the other way. Then suddenly I notice Doug Dance behind me. I pull over and we talk. He is in good spirits as his trip is going very well. He’s found several new places willing to sell his book. I tell him I’m sorry our time didn’t overlap a bit more. I would have liked to have spent more time with him, just scoping and enjoying the Park.
But I know we will have time in the future to do so. I get another Loon hug goodbye and off I go.
As I wind down Gardiner Canyon I reflect that when I left Bozeman last Sunday it was cold and rainy. Now its sunny and 65 degrees. The river is a cold chocolate milk shake and I see 3 blue pigeons and one more coyote in the Canyon.
Then I drive through the Arch and call back to Allison to take care until I see her again in the fall. I stop in at the Yellowstone Village Inn to see if John might be there. He is, so we have a quick chat on the porch, near his yellow blooming rose bushes.
And with that appropriate sendoff, I head “down” to Bozeman. Another marvelous trip is behind me, and my future Montana life ahead. It just doesn’t get much better than this!
Today I saw: antelope, 7 grizzly bears (two adults and 5 cubs) bison and bisonettes, 7 coyotes, 4 sand hill cranes (including two chicks!) mule deer, ducks, a bald eagle, a golden eagle, elk and one elk calf, geese (and 3 goslings) 3 hawks, meadowlarks unceasing, 2 wolves (not sure which pack), 7 Loons and the spirit of Allison.