DAY SIX - Thursday, June 24

FICKLE WOLVES AND FAITHFUL LOONS

This morning I wake up to a slight drizzle that I find very pleasant.

On my way up Lamar Canyon a little mule deer crosses the road ahead. I see her in plenty of time and slow down to watch her dainty walk.

The rain lessens when I round the curve into Lamar and once again I am enveloped in its rugged beauty. At Exclosure Hill I pack up my gear and hike up, joining Rick and a group from the Institute already here.

There are wolves in the rendesvous area. First I see two, then three. I am pretty sure one of them is 302M as he is the biggest and his coat is shedding so much. Iím pretty sure the smaller black is his buddy. There is also a light grey wolf here which Iím pretty sure is 376F. When I have a chance to talk to Rick he confirms this.

I watch these three wolves come together in a happy greeting, with lots of jumping and body contact. Then Rick sees another wolf heading towards these four. Itís the alpha female, 286F, approaching from the east, moving steadily through the sage. Then two more wolves appear to the right of the group of three, both collared blacks. One of these has graying sides, very similar to how 21 looked when I first saw him way back in 2000. (I find out later that this is 255F) These two join the others at about the same time that 286 arrives from the east and the six of them proceed to have a REALLY big greeting ritual. They change positions so fast and jump on each other every which way so that itís impossible for me to tell what is going on, other than major friendliness. Then this happy group heads toward the foothills. When they do, I see a seventh wolf, the lame grey, coming down from the foothill. She comes limping across the flats to join them. It pains me to watch her, but she somehow manages it. Her head is low and she wags her tail in greeting and the others seem happy to see her, too.

They all head behind the hill and suddenly I see a pup! I only see it for a few seconds before it is led back into the trees by the other wolves. Itís a thrill, nonetheless, especially because we can now confirm that at least one member of this litter still survives. Two things hit me: one, that the wolves last night were definitely defending this very pup from the grizzly, and two: wolves LOVE puppies. Each of these adults seems overflowing with good spirits in the presence of this one little pup.

The wolves move out of view into the timber for a while so I start to scope the rest of the valley. I find a family of sheep with two lambs at the edge of a meadow on Amethyst Mountain. On the highest ridge-top two elk stand in silhouette for a few moments and then disappear over the side. Way back west on another slope of Specimen Ridge is a wandering grizzly, a lone bear turning over rocks and grazing. And in the green patches are small bands of elk, six bulls resting in one spot and several cows grazing in another. When I look back at the meadow to look for the lambs again, I catch movement on a nearby hill. I see it again. What is that? Then I am tickled to recognize the creature scurrying over rocks on that steep slope so far away. Itís a marmot!

I notice Rick looking back towards the confluence. I look in that direction, which is in the general area of the old carcass and there are two wolves! They rest on their haunches with heads alert, looking out towards the r-v and, I presume, the other wolves. Rick identifies one wolf as 253! Dear Limpy! He is accompanied by a smaller black wolf, and a few minutes later, we see a grey walk over and join them. This turns out to be 373M.

Apparently Rick thinks 253 could make a move against 302 sometime this morning, because very soon I see Bob Landis hauling his film camera up the hill.

I really like Limpy and my sentimental heart canít help but sympathize with him. At this moment he looks lonely and even a bit ostracized. I canít help but wonder whatís going on in his head. I just hope that he and 302 can work things out without serious injury to either of them.

After a while, 253 gets up and starts across the flats, followed by the other two. His hind-leg limp is only noticeable at times, usually after he has trotted a few minutes or so. They get about a third of the way across and stop. The black yearling beds while 253 watches a while. Then he beds and so does 373. If there is going to be a confrontation, it looks like it wonít happen right away.

Then the other group of wolves comes out of the trees and heads along a path that I hear Rick identify as ďthe Specimen Ridge trailĒ. They move in single file with a degree of determination, like they are going off to hunt. I am sorry to say that I pay no attention to which wolf is in the lead, but there are four blacks and 2 greys. The lame grey is not among them.

Once these woIves have gone out of sight, I look back at 253. He seems to have been watching the groupís departure. Oh, I wish I could figure out what he is thinking! If they are setting off on a hunt, does this mean 302 is leading them? Is 253 losing the loyalty of certain pack members?

While this is going on I am periodically distracted by the thumping of a helicopter above my head. It came from behind Mt. Norris and travels northwest. A while later it returns hauling a large white bag of something heavy on a very long cable and disappears behind Norris.

Since the wolf activity has quieted I pack up and head down the hill. I stop at Dorothyís to see if I can find the grizzly I saw earlier. I find a bear but I think it must be a different one. It is on a different hill, four slopes further west. I watch him roam here and there and then he ambles up to a big boulder on which he scratches his backside. I figure he must be a male (LOL).

I turn my attention to the flats and watch bison, and especially their cute little calves. Then I notice a family of pronghorn, one male, five females and two babies! They walk from west to east, stepping daintily along the eastern end of Jasper Bench. And I also see five sand hill cranes walking in a line. I wonder if any of them were among the voices I heard last night?

After a delicious breakfast at Roosevelt I head out for my drive to Old Faithful. As I pass the Petrified Tree I see cars pulled off to the side. I join them this time, not wanting to miss another sow and cubs. But the ranger tells me itís a lone bear. I look through my binoculars and see the handsome cinnamon black bear Iíve been hearing about. He noses around in the burn area of Elk Creek.

Near me is a lady with her young daughter. The girl has a book that helps identify animals. I ask her what kind of bear this is and she says confidently that itís a grizzly. Hmmm, I say, not wanting to contradict her. She shows me her book and of course, the photo of the grizzly is the exact color as this bear, while the photo of the black bear is, well, black. I say, ďwell sometimes grizzlies are black and sometimes black bears are brown.Ē The little girl looks up at her mom who nods and smiles. I wish them well and head back to Liera.

The rest of the drive is uneventful but I enjoy every minute. I see a whole hillsides engulfed in a profusion of bright yellow balsam root and there are surprises along the roadside of pink and blue blossoms where I least expect them. When I get to Mammoth I am in for another surprise. The elk are back. A few of them, anyway. A small band has taken up residence on the grassy island next to the ice machine and traffic is snarled all around them as people gawk. But IĎm glad to see them. There are two spotted calves, too, close to their mothersí sides, and three yearlings as well. I head down to Gardiner to say hello to John and Carlene. I find their house easily enough and knock on the door, both front and back, but I get no answer. Then I remember that Carlene works at the Chamber of Commerce. The folks at the Ranger station tell me where it is (in the row of buildings between the Park Street Grille and Cecilís). I walk in and say hello to Carlene. We have a nice chat and we bring each other up to date.

Carlene says she and John will be happy to join me and Frank for dinner on Saturday. Then I head up Gardiner Canyon, through Mammoth and the Golden Gate. The weather grows cloudy again and I have rain most of the way to Old Faithful. It comes down pretty heavily at times. I am so thankful for this cool, wet weather. It saves me a sunburn and it makes for much better animal sightings.

Traveling through Gibbon Canyon is especially enjoyable. Besides the terrific scenery, the new road is wonderfully smooth and a real pleasure to drive on. On the other hand, I donít care much for the pinkish retaining walls in some areas. Iím not sure why, maybe because their shape and color remind me of roads in the east.

As I start up the hill towards Firehole Canyon I notice how tall the new growth in the burn areas has gotten. And I notice far fewer standing dead trunks; I imagine most of them have blown down already. I see that the FirehoIe River itself is just as popular as ever with the fishing crowd. I enjoy this drive, too, and for once I donít mind the enormous crowds at the geyser basins along the way.

I turn into Old Faithful and park in front of the Lower Ham store. I scan the boardwalk area out in the geyser basin and right away I find Leslie, Jake and Brian! They are sitting on the bench in front of Lion. I wave but realize there is no way they could see me from here unless by sheer luck. I think about yelling or honking but figure that would be awfully annoying to everyone else!

I head to the Inn to find Matthew, trusting that I will hook up with The Kids later somehow. I love walking into the Old Faithful Inn. As man-made structures go, it is one of the worldís most impressive; beautiful, comfortable and wonderfully unique.

Inside the gift shop I ask if Matthew is around. A nice lady leads me toward the back and soon Matthew and I are chatting up a storm. He is meeting Julia later for an employee softball game so we make plans for an early dinner. He walks me outside and I point to where Jake and Leslie are. Matthew is impressed that I know the correct name of that geyser and he tells me the fastest way to get there.

When I arrive at Lion I find Brian reading a newspaper while Leslie and Jake are answering geyser questions posed by a nearby French couple. We have a happy reunion and catch each other up on the events of the day. After a few false starts, Lion gives us a terrific eruption, and the wind cooperates by blowing at our backs, sparing us a hot shower and creating cool wind patterns in the steam. Leslie and I see the most amazing thing, a sideways mini-tornado right next to the water column. Itís a long, rope-like horizontal funnel, about three or four inches in diameter and about a foot long, that corkscrews at a right angle and then goes straight up. It only lasts a second or two but we both see it. It is really weird and very wonderful. Unfortunately, Jake and Brian miss it.

We see an eruption of Old Faithful from a distance and itís just as good as always. Then we go to Aurum Geyser which Iíve never seen before. Its cone and run-off area are pale gold in color (hence its name) and its eruption is more forceful than I would have expected, high and strong, although of short duration. It stops rather abruptly, with a funny sort of belching noise. Then we head to Anenome Geyser, another one Iíve never seen. This has a short but loud spouting interval and a very comical ending. All its water drains right back inside with a sound like a toilet flushing!

Our animal sightings this afternoon include a chipmunk, a coyote and several bison, one lying on its side with its heavy head resting on the ground. I donít think Iíve seen this before and I wonder if it means the bison is ill or just unusually relaxed. Then we find ourselves WAY too close to another bison resting on a hill above the boardwalk. I get past that spot as soon as I can, although the bison seems totally bored.

We head back to Lion for its second eruption. But before that happens we see Old Faithful go off again. Itís really pretty and especially loud. Lion blows shortly after this, and it, too, is louder than before, and in fact lives up to its name quite nicely. We pronounce it ďmore roar-yĒ. The wind is not so cooperative this time and we have to move pretty far away to avoid a hot drenching. Suddenly the boardwalk gets very crowded. Jake explains dryly that this is the mathematically predicable result of the multitude of visitors flowing onto the boardwalks at the end of every Old Faithful eruption. Ah.

Itís now time for dinner so we walk over to the Snow Lodge Gift Shop to meet Matthew. From there we head to the bar in the dining room and squeeze five chairs around a circular table. We order six of the eight appetizers on the menu and the boys have beers while Leslie and I abstain. Brian turns on his wicked sense of humor and Matthew regales us with funny touron tales. Jake tries mussels for the first time but prefers the bean dip. Then Matthew grosses us out with a horrifying account of the hapless bison that fell into Scallop Pool this past winter and was boiled alive over three agonizing hours. I will spare you other details because they are really sickening!

Despite this story we have a rollicking good time.

After this Matthew heads to his softball game, Brian, Jake and Leslie are off to Great Fountain Geyser and I start my long drive back to Roosevelt. I stop at the bridge over Nez Perce Creek to check on a carcass Matthew told me about. I smell it before I see it, but there it is, right on the edge of the creek. It is really close to the road. Matthew said he was surprised that no animals have been on it yet. It looks fed-on to me but I think itís simply too close to the road for bears or wolves to tolerate during the day. I bet there is quite a show at night, though.

I make good time on the drive back and am very pleased to see a variety of animals on the way, especially herds of elk. I find them in the meadow at the confluence of the Gibbon and Firehole, along the road in Gibbon Canyon, in the big meadow at Norris Campground and all over Willow Park. Also along the Gibbon are several mini-bison jams and one fairly large one at Beryl Springs. On a high stretch of road I spot a snowshoe hare hopping along the shoulder. His coat is mottled grey but I first see his huge white feet! When I get to Swan Lake Flats I am pleased to see it teeming with elk, calves and all. I am quite tempted to stop to see if any wolves will show up to chase them but in the end I keep going.

I stop at Mammoth to take a driving break and look for Mark R. But I am way too late to catch him at work and since I donít know where his dorm is I canít leave a proper message. Unfortunately none of the desk clerks at the Hotel know him well enough to help me.

Then off I go on the last stretch. I drive slowly because it is now dark and I want to be ready for animals in the road. Luckily I am spared that trouble. Iím back at Roosevelt just before 10PM which is actually earlier than usual! I find a message on my door from Mark, saying he is not feeling well and has to cancel our hiking plans for tomorrow. Poor thing. Honestly, I am not up to doing much hiking tomorrow myself, but I hope he feels better soon.

In the bathroom I find two girls trying to rescue a baby chipmunk that has gotten trapped inside. They manage to scoop it up in a towel and carry it gingerly outside to freedom. I wonder how many times that happens here!

I am glad to be back in my cozy cabin. And I am especially pleased to see a green light emanating from my battery charger. Finally! I drift off to sleep with visions of elk herds in my head and nearly forget to sayÖ

Goodnight Allison

.

Today I saw: antelope (including two fawns), 1 black bear, 2 grizzly bears, 2 chipmunks, a coyote, 5 sand hill cranes, a mule deer, elk (including many calves), a marmot, a snowshoe hare, bighorn sheep (including two lambs), 11 wolves (including Druids 253M, 286F, 376F, 373M, 255F, the lame grey and a pup, as well as 302M and his buddy), and 5 Loons.




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