I head out around 2PM through the green green green! Oh, what a difference from my April trip, where we got snow every day plus wind and white-out!
It's a toasy 72 degrees as I head over Bozeman pass. I imagine Trail Creek is pretty soggy so I am playing it "safe" by taking the highway. I am delighted that there is such light traffic and I make good time.
The mountain I call Pointy Head is still snow-capped. Everything looks so beautiful. As I drive south on 89 I get my first view of the Yellowstone River. Wow, it looks like it's in full flood.
The water is that "cafe au lait" color. On both sides of the road, in every low spot, are ponds and standing water. The excess water makes lakes, marshes, ponds, all sorts of waterways. The land and the waterbirds seem to love it! I hear a yellow headed blackbird through my open window.
There are mulies in the willows at the rest stop. The temperature has climbed to 81. In the distance I can see thunderheads building up. Hmmm. I reach the Park at 3:40 (record time for me!) welcomed by several pronghorn. The Gardiner River is roaring and frothy.
I stop across from the Mammoth Campground to have my visit with Allison and watch several elk and their calves resting peacefully between the trees. After a nice "chat" I head the rest of the way up the hill.
Aha! I see the employee dorm is finally getting a new roof. Yay. I stop at the gift shop to see if they have any bandanas, as I have discovered I left mine back in NYC. It has a lovely map of Yellowstone Lake and the Thorofare region and I hope to get a similar one to replace it.
I am happy to find one with a map, although the colors are kind of gaudy. But I get it cuz I need it. Then I notice that on this map, Canyon Village is...in the actual Grand Canyon! Then I notice that the locations of Silver Gate and Cooke City are reversed. And did you know there is a thermal area called "West Thump"?
Then I read the label: "Made in China" it says. 8~)
Luckily, I know where Canyon Village is so I head there, up past the terraces. My plan is to meet Becky and Chloe (from Missoula) at Grizzly Overlook sometime between 6 and 7. It looks like I will be on time. I see many lovely clumps of yellow flowers, mules ears I think, and the aspen trunks look so gorgeous, dressed in soft green leaves.
Rustic waterfall looks great! I can't remember the last time I saw it so full of water. The land opens into Swan Lake Flats. Wow, Antler Peak and Electric are both still full of snow. In the wet meadows I see lots of beautiful wild iris.
I pull over to scope the area and find 3 sandhill cranes. And then I see 2 colts. Yay, Yellowstone in Spring is so great. Of course, summer is in full swing in most places back east, but here it's high spring and I love it.
Chorus frogs are singing. In fact, I hear them every time I stop near a marshy spot - and there are LOTS of marshy spots! 8~)
I also see numerous bison here, but I miss seeing the elk-calf nurseries that used to be common in this area.
Around 5PM I pass Roaring Mountain and notice it has become cooler - it's down to a comfortable 63. There are several people fishing across from the Ranger Museum. At Norris Junction I turn east and then take the side road to Gibbon Falls. Yep, it is roaring and frothing, full of pounding water.
The narrow road is full of first-time tourists gawking in wonder, snapping photos and parking haphazardly, when they take care to park at all (!) But I smile and remember my first visit and tell myself - patience!
I make it to Canyon Junction and turn south. At the first double pullout past Otter Creek I see a bison bull about to swim the river. I pull over to watch. The water is flat but you can see the current in the center moving fast - and of course, that water plunges over upper falls about a quarter mile north!
The bull plunges right in and makes good progress for a while, but when he reaches the center of the river he starts to struggle. His whole left side is visible on the surface as if he is doing the side-stroke! The current is pushing his legs to the side, making his piston-strokes much less effective.
We can hear him making grunting sounds and he seems to be really straining. I begin to worry for him and have visions of him riding the falls. But finally the worst is passed and he seems to touch ground. He gets all four legs under him again and stands there, in belly deep water just catching his breath! But only for a minute or so. He walks the rest of the way to the bank and hauls his massive self onto dry land. Wow, that was awesome!
I continue on and around 6:30PM I pull into Grizzly Overlook in bright afternoon sun. I see Becky & Chloe and also Dorothy (whom I haven't seen in a year or two) and Doug M. Hugs all around.
The Canyon Pack has been reliably visible from this spot for the last several weeks and I hope my luck holds. Northern Range wolves have been far less visible this year, as evidenced by Silver Gate Doug's presence here. The Canyons have three pups this year, two black and one gray. So far, people have only gotten glimpses of the little ones but we are hopeful to see them ourselves.
My friends tell me I just missed the black female yearling coming across the meadow to the rendezvous site. This site, well known to wolf-watchers and visitors to this pullout, is a rather wide area of sage and grass meadows near the "point" a forested slope coming down from the eastern hills beyond the far bank of the Yellowstone River here.
We chat and compare notes, and then I am rewarded by the appearance of four Canyon wolves. They emerge from the trees east of the point and begin to trek south. Their formation and "attitude" looks to us like they are on a hunt.
The four wolves I see include the white alpha female, the collared black-going-gray alpha male (712), and two grays; one light and one dark. I think both grays are yearlings - I have been told the adult gray male has not been seen with this pack for a long time.
One of the grays leaves the formation and heads down to the river. The yearling crosses one channel of the river to a peninsula of gravel and dirt. It stands a while, perhaps sniffing for elk, then crosses back over to rejoin its family.
The alpha female leads her pack across the rolling hills and sage-slopes directly east of the pullout. The pullout fills with cars, way beyond capacity. People park on both sides of the road and walk to where they can see. It's a great sighting and hundreds of people get a great view of wolves.
We share our scopes, but these wolves can be seen with the naked eye. We look ahead and see some elk in a further meadow to the south. The wolves soon spy them and give chase, but they don't get very close. The elk move quickly to the forest and bunch up, heads and hooves out, taking a defensive position.
The wolves break off the pursuit, and head uphill. They find a remaining snowpatch and make the crowd in the pullout laugh as they begin to roll and rub on it. The cool snow must feel good to them.
After this short distraction they regroup and continue south. They find more elk and begin to chase again. I notice one of the yearlings who seems to be attempting a sort of flanking maneuver, which I find intriguing, but the elk escape anyway.
We also notice that the alpha female seems to be favoring a leg. Hmmm, hope it's not too painful for her.
We watch them until they move out of sight. We consider heading to a more southerly pullout to find them again, but our cars are all blocked in and it's impossible to get out. People are starting to leave, but we feel it was such a satisfying sighting and if the wolves decide to cross the road to the west, we don't want to hinder them. So instead we stay put and see what else might transpire.
And we are rewarded for doing so when we see a lone grizzly right at the tree line at the top of the hill the wolves were on. The big bruin moves in and out of the trees, then disappears into the shadows.
Next, we notice some elk moving from the west to east, heading towards the rendezvous area. They cross the river and climb the slope where the wolves walked. The elk get a little rambunctious, dashing here and there, wheeling and boxing each other. Perhaps they are celebrating the fact that the wolves are headed away from them?
We also see three pair of sandhills in the flats near the river. Initially they are mistaken for wolves, but when calmer heads prevail, we see they are the long-legged birds. And we find two colts with one happy set of parents.
We also see two bald eagles, and a very pretty yellow-rumped warbler that grabs a high perch on a fir tree near the pullout. The warbler sings his heart out making us smile.
Then we see a black bear running across the meadow from the rendezvous area toward the west (the road). And shortly after that, we spot a sow grizzly with two yearling cubs to the north near the sandy hills. We are bothered by a few skeeters, but it isn't too bad. There is a nice breeze most of the time.
The light begins to wane so we talk of dinner and heading in. We are staying in the campground tonight. We arrive at the Canyon Lodge restaurant just in time and have a great meal.
As we head out to our cars after our meal we look up and see a clear night with a billion stars! Ah, Yellowstone! How happy I am to be back!
Today I saw: bison, 1 black bear, 4 grizzly bears (2 yearling cubs), 1 yellow-headed blackbird, a coyote, 13 sandhill cranes (4 colts), mule deer, 2 bald eagles, elk, pronghorn, a yellow rumped warbler, 4 wolves of the Canyon Pack and the spirit of Allison.