Another cool morning; it's 42 degrees at 5AM.
Just before Barronette, I see a rabbit cross the road.
I am told there are no Lamar signals this morning so I continue west to Dorothy's. From here I see several sandhills, a large bison herd, and some elk on skyline. For whatever reason there are no bears in sight this morning and I keep thinking that the Lamars will probably be coming back soon, so I decide to back to Hitching Post.
There are bison on the road just past Exclosure hill, so I am stopped behind several cars. The bison have decided to cross the river here, and the leaders start down the steep, rocky bank with their calves. It's a very strange choice on their part, given the dozens of much easier crossing points, but it certainly makes for a nice scene to watch.
I am surprised how shallow the Lamar is. The calves have only to swim a few strokes in the main current until their sturdy little legs touch ground. They wade the rest of the way.
Once I am set up in the rolling hills I watch the same herd migrate through the river corridor into the lush green flats across the creek behind us. When there are no wolves in view, bison are endlessly fun to watch.
Some drink from the stream, some cross, some just stand in the stream, enjoying the cool water. Bulls scrape dust and wallow; some engage in play-fighting, and there is always one calf or another doing something cute.
A pronghorn female tries to thread her way through the enormous herd. Just as she is making progress a bold bison calf charges her. The pronghorn wheels and bolts away. The calf just stands there, as if surprised by it's own accomplishment. I smile and think, that is just the sort of thing that Bob Landis would have included in one of his films.
I also notice a crippled bison cow, doing her best to keep up with the herd.
A group of elk appears, moving at a brisk walk down the shoulder of Norris to the old riverbank. As they pass through the old Druid rendezvous, I count 25 animals, including 6 calves. I wonder if the mom and calf I saw up on Norris yesterday is among them?
An osprey soars overhead and suddenly makes a dramatic dive for a fish. Alas, for the osprey, the fish wins this round.
The K-meadow grizzly is out for a while, too, but we do not find the Lamars.
Tracey and Kevin come out and we catch up. They drove the Blacktail road on their way here this morning, and saw a huge bull moose at the end of it. We have been talking about doing a day hike, and it seems that today is a good time to go, since there is no wolf activity to hold me here.
So we have some coffee and make our plans.
I leave my Subaru at Tower Junction and climb into their car with my hiking gear. Then off we go to Hellroaring.
In the Trailhead lot we find a small mule deer looking for handouts. People take photos of her but do not offer food. This is a popular trail and the lot is quite full. Most people are already gone, but there is a small horse-pack group and two other hiking parties getting ready to go. We check the trail map and we're off.
The route we have planned was suggested by Ballpark Frank as a good one for those who do not like a lot of "uphill". Neither Tracey nor I are fans of uphill, although we have both done our share!
Frank specifically warned that we avoid this hike on a warm summer day, as many parts of the route are exposed to the sun. And although we could not have planned it, this day, unlike every other day since I arrived, has become overcast, with the mild threat of a shower. So I call that luck.
The start of the trail is dry and dusty but still pretty because you have immediate views of the Yellowstone river gorge of steep-banked cliffs. The path starts out fairly straight but soon gives way to a series of swichbacks. We see several hiking families below us, on their way back up, and we are pleased we will NOT have to do this ourselves.
We take lots of photos of wildlfowers and see an osprey, too.
The bugs are a bit annoying, but a breeze pops up often enough to provide welcome relief. We soon see the spur trail in the distance that leads to the Garnet Hill Loop, but once we reach it we keep going. First we want to see the famous suspension bridge.
This is the main attraction on this hike - what draws families and serious hikers alike. It's only about a mile down to the span. The downside of such a lure is that you have to go back up.
Once we arrive, I marvel that it took me 13 years to set foot here. How many times have I stood at Hellroaring Overlook and caught a glimpse of this very spot? The idea of walking back up all those switchbacks always kept me away. Finally, this hike has provided the opportunity.
The bridge itself is fascinating, and I did not realize how thick and sturdy it is, nor how high the side-fencing is. I suppose horses cross it, regularly, although I would not want to be mounted for such a passage! Even just a foot or two from the edge I can feel it sway in the wind.
It takes me a while, but I make it all the way across, and I enjoy seeing and hearing the roaring, rushing river below, as it snakes through the narrow chasm. I find several spots on the far side where I can see Hellroaring pullout clearly in the distance, and I suppose the view from there will now never be the same.
I always enjoy being in a place where I have seen wild wolves roam, and this is no exception. We hike a little ways beyond the bridge, to a spot where I can look across the wide Hellroaring slope and see various ponds and features I know so well from the pullout. It's fascinating to see them from this angle, much closer and more "real" than they seem from that height.
But we are also mindful of the sky, which now begins to hint of more serious rain to come. We all have rain gear with us, but we hope to enjoy as much of our hike dry as we can.
So back we go, across the bridge, and up through the cool forest to the spur trail. Once we are hiking along this route, we can see the continuation of Hellroaring slope above us to the north.
I stop to scan the area with my binoculars and I see movement. Aha! It's a herd of elk! About 50 animals, a lead cow in front, travelling warily up the hill. They are not in sight very long and soon our view is blocked by another hill.
The spur trail eventually leads to a creek crossing (one of three I think, total). There is no "bridge" over the creek, but there are enough stepping stones and fallen logs to use, so you can avoid getting your feet wet if you're careful. The other side of this creek crossing is the only steep "uphill" part of this hike, and it's short and easily negotiated.
Now the spur trail intersects with the Garnet Loop Trail, which I hiked with Frank in the early spring several years ago. Garnet Hill is a rounded mountaintop of dark basaltic rock. It's western end is right in front of us. We could turn left and take the "northern" part of the loop and end up at Tower Junction but that trail would present us a lot more uphill than the "southern" routet. We stick to our plan and bear right, with the jumbled volcanic debris of Garnet Hill looming on our left.
The trail levels off and follows a creek, in fact, I believe it is Elk Creek, which eventually feeds into the Yellowstone. On our left we see huge boulders and the dark purple scree that has eroded from Garnet Hill over the eons, a perfect home for marmots.
We soon seen one, a very small specimen, peeking over a rock at us. Soon after this we see two more, both much larger. One seems to pose as a guard while another scurries here and there, popping up to peek at us from various locations.
All the marmots are similar in color - grizzled backs with yellow bellies. I have also heard of "hoary" marmots (in which hoary=frosty), but I think those are a different species and found at higher elevations.
The trail is very easy to follow, although there are sometimes rocks to stumble on and an occasional fallen limb to climb over. We see three more marmots along the way and notice several bird nests in the trees. One of them is on the ground and I remember the video someone posted of a black bear climbing a tree and grabbing a nest. I know this is prime black bear habitat, and I bet a bear got that one.
Some parts of the trail are shaded by forest and others more open, through willows and bracken. There are numerous thorned plants, perhaps roses, perhaps berry bushes, and we wonder how people can hike in shorts through such territory!
The trail winds through thickets and a few marshy spots, then enters a very pleasant forest, cool and shady but without much underbrush. We meet some other hikers here, the only people on this part of the trail. They are hoping to find a good fishing spot.
We are coming to the end of the forest and can see a meadow beyond when we hear the rumble of thunder.
A very light rain begins so we stop to put away our camera gear and binoculars. It's still warm so none of us feels inclined to cover up with rain gear yet. We agree to keep hiking and move out into the meadow.
The meadow starts out narrow, between two forested hills, but grows wider and wider. We are in Yancey's Hole, where I have seen countless wolves in winter time but very few in summer. There is another stream crossing and the trail diverges, but I think both lead to the same place - the Roosevelt Cookout area, set up in the spot where Yancey's Hotel once stood in the very early days of the Park.
As we get closer, we notice a small group of laborers putting in some new hitching posts. When we reach them, we chat a bit and ask if it's alright for us to explore the cookout area. They say sure and go back to their work.
Just as we arrive at the dining area, the rain becomes more determined, so we sit at the picnic tables under the canvas and have a snack. We had not stopped for lunch before this, so we are a bit hungry.
It gets quite cool and I am happy to have a fleece jacket to slip into.
After about 20 minutes the rain lets up, so we pack up and continue on our way. The rest of the trail follows the cookout road, and soon we are met by a horse-drawn wagon with a few intrepid tourists, braving the weather. The wagon stops and the wrangler gives a short talk about the history of the area. We listen as we hike by and smile back at the tourists.
Soon we are in sight of the road and the Ranger Station. The rain returns and by the time we arrive at my Subaru we are pretty drenched.
We take off our packs and pile in for the drive to Hellroaring. But as I approach the curve of Elk Creek, we see a jam up ahead. Hmm, is it for a bear or a moose? I pull over and both Tracey & Kevin hop out. It turns out to be a moose - most likely the same bull moose they saw early this morning. However, he is not in good view at the moment, so we decide to go on.
And good thing we do, because of what happens next.
As we approach the reedy lake east of Floating Island we see another jam. This one is for a cow moose ...and her gangly calf! While I'm stopped Kevin and Tracey hop out to get photos. And since the road is blocked anyway, I just sit and watch them.
Kevin and Tracey are in heaven and are quickly snapping photos. A parking spot opens up so I grab it. A little while later, the mom and calf move west, so Kevin and Tracey hop back in.
Traffic moves a little and we watch the two moose plunge into the Lake and swim/walk across to the far side. The calf hides itself quickly in the tall reeds and mom stands nearby for a while, lowering her nose into the water and pulling up vegetation.
The drizzle falls a bit harder, which doesn't bother the moose at all. I enjoy watching them through my binocs, but eventually the rain gets too much for Kevin and Tracey's cameras, so they hop back in again.
Kevin wants to retrieve his bigger lens, which is still in his car at Hellroaring, so on we go.
We find the trailhead lot quite emptly now, and soon we are headed back to Floating Island in pursuit of moose photos. Of course, when we arrive, the moose are long gone.
Ah well. We stay for a while, hoping they will come back. We keep hearing a hawk call but can't seem to find it. We figure it could be a fledgling, wondering if its parents still care. Tracey finds an empty nest in the forest south of the Lake, that could be a hawk's but we just cant find the bird itself.
We finally give up on the moose and drive east again. I restock my cooler with ice and say a fond farewell to my hiking buds. They head south and I go east to my beloved Lamar.
The rain keeps up all the way into Silver Gate. The temperature has fallen to around 60, which suits me just fine!
I visit with Laurie and Dan a while and then back we go into the Park. None of us has seen a single wolf all day and we are very eager to change that. Even Rick is wolfless so far today.
We gather at Hitching Post. Jeremy and I have the same hunch: that the Lamars are already back in the den area, that they came back last night and somehow gave us the slip. Rick checks signals again and finds 859's to the south east of the cone. Laurie and Dan go there. Jeremy and I find nothing moving in the den hills so we decide we need a new angle. We decide to hike up Dead Puppy Hill.
We park at Footbridge and I stuff a few items into my day pack. I grab my hiking pole and off we go. It's been a very long time since I climbed up this hill but I manage pretty well. Jeremy leads me much higher on the hill than I planned to climb, but the view is worth it.
We can see a lot more of the "den hills" area from up here, but there are still lots and lots of trees in the way and lots of folds and pockets where five wolves could all be playing and we wouldn't know it. Nothing at all is moving - except the bugs. They are merciless.
We both scope as hard as we can. We even look east, where we see Dan & Laurie, trying to find 859 from here. Nothing. Where are they????
The sun is sinking and although we both have bear spray, neither of us wants to be up here as darkness closes in, so at about 8:45 we agree to head back down.
I drive east and join Dan & Laurie for what I think will be one last scope session before we head in. The bison have gathered in a large herd in the flats to the north and the bulls are moaning and grunting like I've never heard them before.
There is radio traffic on the scanner about some back-country emergency. The Park service wants to use the Footbridge as a staging area so Rick is enlisted to ask wolf-watchers to move their cars. He does so, but in truth, since no wolves are in view, the only cars at Footbridge belong to hikers and fishermen.
Apparently, a woman in a back-country campsite beyond Cache Creek was hurt quite badly when a branch or tree fell on her. She has a possible broken pelvis and possible internal injuries. Someone at a neighboring campsite (probably an outfitter) had a satelite phone, and that's how Rangers became aware of it.
In contrast to this serious talk are the love-grunts of bull bison across the road. As the rut approaches the bulls are beginning to advertise to the females. In the fading light, the sounds are both timeless and comical.
Just then our own radio crackles. Dillon (Dylan?) is reporting from the rolling hills. "They're coming down" he says. That's enough for me. I put Layla in the Subaru and head to Hitching Post.
I pull into the nearly-empty lot, grab my binoculars and follow Laurie to the horse trailer area, and...THERE THEY ARE! Three wolves, two gray and one black, moving silently through the sage at the bottom of the hill, coming to the road.
Five of us stand in the empty lot, watching them. There are no cars coming either way and it is so quiet I hear crickets. Big Gray arrives first. He sniffs the road edge, then walks slowly across, his toe-claws making a soft click click click against the pavement. He stops momentarily in the left lane, looking directly at us - probably little more than 100 yards away. The Black Female is next. She steps onto the road and walks this way and that, sniffing for ground squirrels. She finds one and gobbles it.
Now we see headlights coming from the west. The car rounds the curve at 21's Crossing and approaches the animals in the road. My heart is in my throat.
The car slows down, and then stops. The occupants see the wolves. The headlights flash once, then the car remains still. I can imagine the people inside, looking out, amazed. I see arms and cameras stick out the open windows. Big Gray is still looking at us and eventualy leaves the road, his ghostly shape swallowed by the darkness and the willows.
The Black Female remains on the road, walking to and fro in front of the stopped car. She is brilliantly back-lit, outlined in the headlights. Then another ghostly shape appears in the lights. It's Middle Gray. The two sisters meander a bit more, then slowly move south and disappear.
We try, but it's way too dark to see them now. The stopped car seems frozen in place. Then, as a second car approaches from the west, the first car moves, slowly, as if awakening from a dream.
They pull into the horse trailer area of the lot. I walk over to them, grinning. The occupants get out, still in a sort of happy shock at what they saw. I say quietly to the driver "I bet you didn't expect to see that in the road, did you?" The man says, in a slight German accent, "did you see them?" I say, "yes, in your headlights!" The mom and two kids are all smiling. I whisper "Congratulations on a great sighting".
I walk back to Laurie & Dan. Dan is still trying to find the wolves in his scope. I say "well, that's the coolest way to finally get your first wolf of the day". Laurie smiles in agreement.
For the whole drive home I cannot wipe the grin off my face. That was a cool sighting!
TODAY I SAW: a grizzly bear, bison and calves, 7 sandhill cranes, mule deer, ducks, elk, a bald eagle, a hawk's nest, 6 marmots, 2 moose (including a calf), 2 osprey, pronghorn, a rabbit, 3 wolves of the Lamar Canyon pack (Big Gray, Middle Gray and the black female), and the spirit of Allison.