Something is different this morning. Things sound different. I try to soften the crunch of gravel under my tires as I sneak out of Roosevelt ahead of everyone else. When I am pointed down the driveway towards the road I understand what it is: Tower Junction is solid fog.
I go slowly and enjoy the mystery. There is no river below the Yellowstone Bridge, nor any white-yellow cliffs. There are no hills in Little America, nor any glacial-erratic rocks. Just a road into White. Only when I reach Long Pullout does the fog lift a bit. The road ahead becomes visible but still the white hovers on both sides, hiding the hill tops. I become aware of light in the east but barely recognize it as the sun, so restrained as it is by the muscular, thuggish fog.
I stop at the trailhead pullout before the Lamar Bridge remembering the poor killed pronghorn. The fog has lifted a bit more and I can now see the lower lands on both sides. I smell death faintly in the air and look ahead to see if any creatures have yet been drawn to it. I listen for critters, expecting a coyote or two. Or birds at least. Nothing. Maybe the fog has them spooked, too.
I drive slowly passed the spot but see nothing there either, no blood, no tire marks. Hmmm. As I cross the bridge I look in the rear-view mirror and see a large white rock with orange patches in about the same spot where I saw the antelope. I remember how suddenly it loomed up last night. Could I have mistaken this rock for a prone antelope? My night vision is notoriously bad.
I keep driving and when I turn the magic corner I see that the fog has swallowed Lamar. There are no soft green hills this morning, no river, and no road, at least beyond the next 20 feet. All is White. I pull in at Fishermanís and peer through the thickness, trying to recognize anything: a rock, a tree, a bison.
I hear cars coming toward me and see two pass. One is Chloe and Beckyís van. DP Hill must be fogged in, too! I turn follow them all the way to Slough. Here the fog is very different, floating in long horizontal clouds that obscure only the top third of the mountains, leaving the rest visible.
We get out our scopes and hike up Daveís Hill to see what we might find. The view is excellent and brand new. We hear coyotes howling below us and each try to be the first to find them. Chloe wins. We also hear cranes and I find them. Then on a sage slope we see two elk grazing alongside two mule deer. Iíve not seen this before but Chloe and Becky tell me itís fairly common. Becky finds a bald eagle, then a second one. Those are the first balds I have seen on this trip. And then we find the coyotes. Well, at least three of them. They trot around the sage, pretending to be interested in the elk and deer.
In a placid curve of the river there are geese and seven goslings! It makes me chuckle to see them parade after their mother down the bank into the water. Then they swim behind her in a line, very precise and orderly. Every once in a while we hear the unusual call of a yellow headed blackbird. I have to rev up to 60x before I can find one, though. But when I do, itís a lovely sight!
Radio reports from Lamar are few and far between. There is pack activity going on but the fog prevents any decent viewing of it, so we are discouraged from heading back. A few people climb up to join us on the hill, thinking we have wolves in sight. We show them what we have but never find a single wolf. A man tells us of a black bear sow and two cubs in a tree by the Yellowstone Bridge. Weíve been talking of going to Roosevelt for breakfast so we decide to head that way and see the bears first.
I look again for evidence of the dead pronghorn as I pass the spot. Nothing. But there is the large white rock with its round patches of orange. With a sinking feeling I accept that my eyes were playing tricks on me last night. I feel very silly.
In the woodsy section near Junction Butte I see a lone mulie. When we round the bend to the Yellowstone Bridge I expect to see cars stopped for the bears but there are none. Hmmmm. We pull over anyway and get out our scopes. I think Becky finds them first. On the Tower Falls side of the road is a tall tree growing between two rocks. The two cubs are in this tree and mama is below. Soon the cubs come down and explore the area under the tree. They start to romp and wrestle in that sweetly rambunctious way that bear cubs do. Yes, Gary, I took photos!
Then mama bear leads them uphill and takes a nap in a patch of sun. The cubs follow. They look at first like they are settling down but, no, they continue to wrestle. Every once in a while we hear their cute little baby-bear bleats. Their black coats get matted with dried grass. It seems that whatever they roll in sticks to their fur!
A tall man joins us and I recognize Bill, of B & B, the host of the Tower campground. Heís very funny and we enjoy talking with him. Overhead I watch a raven being mobbed by blackbirds. The smaller birds are really giving it to the raven, slamming into him, knocking him off balance. He finally has enough and flies off. I look back at the cubs and find one of them drifting off to sleep, or trying to. He is half on his back and half on his side and his head starts to drift backwards. But every time he seems asleep the other cub grabs him or bites him so he has to respond a little until sleep overtakes him again. It is too sweet.
Eventually they tuck themselves behind a tree and we canít see them anymore. So we pack up and go to breakfast. The food is good as usual and the talk is about New York. Chloe and Becky are thinking about a trip east and I am delighted to offer tips. It sure would be fun to show them around the Greatest City in the World.
After breakfast itís back to Lamar. But first we have to get past a sizable bear jam. It seems that after we left, our black bears came down to the road and crossed to the other side. I see Bob Landis carrying his huge camera back to his car, grinning. He says he just lucked out and was standing in a perfect spot when they crossed. He caught some nice footage. And there are the bears again, climbing to the top of the hill. The little ones scamper behind mom in the cutest way. Baby bears! There is nothing more adorable.
Chloe and Becky and I are on a mission to see a wolf. The fog has finally burned off in Lamar and we choose Trash Can as the place to try our luck. We climb the little hill and scope in the warm sun. Behind us on the hill are two antelope resting in the sage. Across the river are small herds of bison trailing their little orange calves. We train our Big Eyes on the r-v and finally find wolves. We see 302 and Ellis, nosing around in front of the western foothill. It seems to me that 302ís limp is a little worse today and that concerns me. I see Ellis mouse once but they donít remain active for very long. Very soon they both bed and all I can see is a single pair of ears.
There is movement behind us, something is running between the two antelope. Itís a badger! A good sized one, waddling across the hill, in a big hurry. Badgers always seem to be in a hurry; they seem awfully high strung. The badger stops and looks over at us in a distinctly disapproving way. He disappears from sight and then suddenly shows up further down the hill, moving rapidly toward a patch of tall grasses. When he reaches that spot he disappears for good.
We watch the two sets of wolf ears a little while longer and then decide itís time to move on.
We drive east into the higher, cooler elevations. Itís such a pretty drive up here. I love how it has such a different feel from the valley. I like the dark thickness of the forests and the stunning glimpses of high snowy peaks.
We pull in at Baronette and set up. We all find goats. There are so many of them we each find them in a different place! I see 13 far to the right of the main waterfall. I see two big scruffy dads, four moms, two yearlings and five playful kids. They are very active and itís hard to keep track of them. They are going up, down, in and out of the cliff terrain, sometimes scaring me to death with their gravity-defying moves. I find it especially fun to watch the kids. They seem quite fearless already but I notice that their mothers nearly always stay down-slope of them.
There is a trail worn through the middle of the meadow here and I have always wanted to see where it leads, so Becky and Chloe watch my scope and I hike up. As soon as I get to the crest of the hill I see it goes much further back than I expected. It looks like it leads to the base of the waterfall that comes down the cliff. There are lovely wildflowers in this meadow, and the blue forget-me-nots are particularly brilliant. I turn around and see The Thunderer looming up and the sky around it darkening with rain clouds. I put this hike on a list to do another day and start back.
The sprinkles begin and I hustle back to my scope. We pack up and I tell Chloe and Becky I might as well start my drive back to Mammoth. We will see each other tomorrow for my last day in Lamar.
Then off I go in the rain, down into the green.
I stop at Roosevelt to get the keys to my new cabin and run into John and Carlene! They have their little white puppy, Ginger, with them. Sheís so sweet and I canĎt help but think of a wolf pup when I look at her. We sit on the porch steps and have a good visit. Itís great to see them again. We talk about wolves and Loons and the Page and how they like living in Gardiner. They are going to visit some friends camping at Slough and will join the Loon group for dinner tonight.
I wave goodbye and head for Mammoth. I find a parking spot at Albright and pull out my cell phone to check for messages. Hooray! I have one from Ballpark Frank. He called from the top of Mt. Holmes! I suddenly know how Allison must have felt when she played back the call she got from The Basin Boyz in Fairyland. I suddenly feel a part of the Mt. Holmes hike, and it feels great. Frank says the weather has been super, they made the summit at noon and are now about to head down. He estimates they will arrive at the trailhead around 6:30 or 7. Perfect!
My first task is now to find Mark R to see if he feels well enough to go to dinner. Unfortunately I fail at this task. Despite helpful employees the best I am able to do is leave a message for him. As I walk back from the personnel office I look up at Allisonís Hill and smile. It looks warm and calm up there and I say ďhello Allison!ď.
I feel a bit grungy to have dinner out, so I head to the hotel to freshen up in the bathroom there. As I reach the back door of the hotel I pass a boy and a girl and suddenly realize that they are throwing rocks at a bunch of ground squirrels! This makes me furious and I yell at them. They are insolent but I keep yelling until they leave.
I am glad to find the bathroom empty and I cool my anger with many splashes of cold water on my face. Nothing upsets me more than seeing that kind of behavior. I end up washing my hair in the sink which soothes me on several levels and I feel much better afterwards.
I walk over to Albright and visit with Ranger Bill. Itís great to see him in his old job. He says yes to dinner and also agrees to go with me to the trailhead to wait for the hikers. I make room for him in Liera and off we go. Itís great to have a passenger to yak with while Iím driving. We havenít seen each other in over a year so we have a lot of catching up to do. We talk a lot about 21 and our private worries of what might have happened. I tell him about the Memorial and our Geyser hikes. He tells me about California and how he nearly didnít get to the Park this year.
At the trailhead Bill suggests we hike out to meet the others. So I futz around putting on my hiking boots and searching for my bear spray while he examines a big rock riddled with obsidian. Finally Iím ready and we head out on the trail. We take 10 steps andÖthere they are! I see Frank in the lead and there is Tim A, Tonya, Erick, TYT and his friend Derek. They all look a little tired, but in good shape. They sure made good time!
I introduce Bill to the folks he doesnít know. He and Tonya catch up. TYT and Derek opt to skip dinner since they have to get back to Bozeman tonight. I can see Tim is looking forward to dinner and Erick says heĎll come, too. Frank tells me they saw bear sign but no bears, and surprisingly no other hikers at all. The ranger up there told him they are only the third group to summit so far this year. They all say the view was spectacular.
We gather again in Gardiner at the Park Street Cafť. Tonya is talking on her phone to Albee as I arrive so I hop on and say hi to a Loon I still hope to meet some day. It is traditional when Loons get together for there to be some degree of table-moving. Tonight is no exception. We are a friendly and boisterous group. We have added Ranger Billís colleague, Bill H, and it turns out that he knows Erick and Frank. Then John and Carlene arrive and they know everybody, too.
We have a great time talking Park politics and hiking adventures and a little bit of Page gossip. As usual, I donít want the evening to end. However when all the tables around us have upside down chairs on them we recognize the universal sign for TIME TO LEAVE! So then we spill into the street and yak a bit more with the stars twinkling overhead.
After many hugs goodbye we finally get in our cars to head home.
On the drive up Gardiner Canyon Ranger Bill says, Oh, I meant to ask you, did you happen to see a dead pronghorn on the road from Lamar last night? I about slam on the brakes. YES! I tell him I thought I made it up. He says oh no, it was real. It turns out that he and Bill H were a few cars ahead of me last night. They saw the animal and turned around. He says he happened to have his gloves in the car, so he got out and MOVED IT. He, too, was concerned that other animals might be hit. He says he dragged it down the hill. Then he reported it at Tower and most likely the Tower Ranger went out and moved it even further. I tell him this has been driving me crazy all day, thinking I had mistaken a rock for an antelope. I thank him for clearing up the mystery and we have a good laugh. I drop him at Mammoth with many good wishes and head on to Roosevelt.
Itís nice to have a warm cabin waiting, especially one with a bathroom! IĎm in bed by midnight and set my alarm for 4:20!
Today I saw: antelope, a badger, 3 black bears (including 2 cubs), yellow-headed blackbirds, bison, 3 coyotes, 2 sand hill cranes, 3 mule deer, 2 bald eagles, elk, 8 geese, 13 mountain goats, a red-tailed hawk, a raven, ground squirrels, 2 wolves (302M and Ellis), and 11 Loons.