DAY 8 - Saturday, June 3

THE THIRD LOONION

I'm up at 6 and go right out to greet the geyser. It's due to erupt around 6:30. I have really fallen in love with Old Faithful on this trip! A few hardy early birds share it with me. It's promising to be another incredibly gorgeous day. How do I get so lucky? The eruption, right on time, is very powerful and I get great pictures. I take a last look at the gorgeous smoking valley and head back to my cabin for breakfast.

I'm on the road by 8AM. First stop is Fountain Flats Drive to watch the buffalo babies. The herd is on both sides of the road. I set up my camera on its little tripod facing the gorgeous bright blue Nez Perce Creek. I see three generations of bison here: big, lumbering adults, yearling calves with their small horns, and this year's little orange fuzzies. I watch the fuzzies romp and play. Four big adults oblige me with a slow walk-and-stop in the creek. All around me I hear soft rumblings and low grunts. I follow a single calf as it explores the meadow on its own. A coyote happens along, trotting nonchalantly by the edge of the water. It sees the lone calf. Hmmmm. The coyote trots toward the calf. The coyote starts to run! The calf runs too, but he's just playing. Just then an adult, maybe the calf's mother, maybe not, turns and faces the direction of the coyote. That's all she does. The coyote slows to a trot and smoothly curves away as if to say "just kidding". It sits down for a minute and scratches behind an ear, then abruptly trots off into the woods.

The thing with buffalo herds is you have to always be looking behind you. Individuals move as they graze (duh) and my attention is drawn by a cluster of moms and calves that WERE NOT THAT CLOSE when I started taking pictures! I check out my escape routes and decide I'd better give them room. I get back in my car and wait for the leaders to cross the road, which they do a mere 10 feet away. As it turns out, staying in my car is the best plan. They finally move far enough into the next meadow for me to feel safe and I get out again. I look around to find another group that makes good camera subjects. Three adults, two yearlings and one calf. There are lots of dandelions growing here and the green grass, orange calf, blue water and yellow flowers make a winning combination.

But I can't linger as I have to be in Mammoth by 10:30. So on I go up Gibbon Canyon. The large bison herd I saw yesterday is still here. In Gibbon Meadow I see a pretty little coyote hunting. Except for some Elk mamas and babies near the Ranger Museum, the rest of the drive is wildlife-free. I find this highly unusual but at least it allows me to arrive on time.

In Mammoth I see many familiar faces. Geri and Bruce - gee, it feels like we haven't seen each other in ages! Lew & Deb - wait till they tell you about the strange experiences they had on the dread drive home last night! Carlene and Rachel have rejoined John; it's good to see them again. And BallPark Frank and Web Cam Tom, too. Then we meet two new Loons at long last: Sunflower and Joette! Joette unfurls the banner she made. It's great! Sunflower unfurls a blown up photo of Allison. Yahoo! Then over comes Doug Dance in his great-looking hat and we begin our poses. It is the warmest day yet and most of us are in shorts. Led by Joette we shout the names of the other Loons. I've never done anything like this but it's great fun and I highly recommend it. When we come to Charles' name we add "Go Druids!" People passing by think we're nuts.

We take over the Grille again by pulling the tables together. We meet even more Loons: Cindy (Wolf Lady) and her husband and cute little Dakota. Brenda and Dave, whom I haven't seen since the last Loonion, join us too. We chat and joke and catch up and make plans. Geri and Bruce get kiddie meals just for the sake of the tootsie roll pops. Dakota charms everyone within reach. On the way back to the Albright Center Rachel says to me "I like my dad's friends".

Sunflower and Joette stay to watch the wolf film and I make plans to meet them later for a short hike. In the meantime, I follow Geri and Bruce to Swan Lake flats in search of griz. We get there too late for bear but see some Sand Hill Cranes dancing. There is one on a nest and the other coos and croaks and knocks out his love song. We also see geese but nary a griz. We meet some other folks who have heard of the Page and we surprise them by introducing John. We see some Elk but no bear. We decide bears don't like this weather.

I head back to meet the girls at the Wraith Falls trailhead. We have a pleasant hike and Joette nearly steps on a snake! It's grey, about a foot long, and has an iridescent green head. We also see many pretty wildflowers, most of which Sunflower (who is a Master Gardener) can readily identify. Oh yeah, and Wraith Falls is very pretty, too. I can tell Joette and I are gonna have some fun. This is her first-ever by-herself trip and she is psyched. She's a good-hearted, smart, tough cookie. I can tell she's trying to balance her eagerness for adventure with just enough caution to keep it safe. Seeing her encourages all that in me, too. The trail has a boardwalk over a marshy patch and a little stream. You know me and streams when my feet are hot. Yep. My tootsies get a good cold soaking.

We say goodbye until tomorrow and I head for Lamar. As I come into Little America I am stopped by a bear jam. It's a black bear and cub reportedly asleep behind a rock behind a tree. I wait and look and wait some more and look some more but never see anything other than a rump-shaped lump. I don't feel right counting this as a sighting so I don't. I'm on my way to Silver Gate to check in for the next four nights. I stop at Barronette Peak and find the diamond snow patch, find the waterfall but don't find the goats. I do see some animals on the much lower hills before the brown cliffs begin. Three of them, all the same size, I'm pretty sure they are bighorn as the terrain is rocky but not quite as sheer as where the goats are. Their coats seem too light for Elk and they have white rumps. Finally one of them moves up a ways and I'm sure. The build is just too stocky for Elk. Definitely Bighorn.

After a short snooze in my cabin I head back down. I stop at the Footbridge and find Doug Dance and Tim A. I meet Betsy who is just terrific and just as smart and pretty as I expected from Tim's praise of her. They are going out to Dead Puppy Hill for a hike. Doug tells me of the Druid activity this morning and that there is probably still a kill site opposite the Institute. I begin to wonder if we should head out there. John is not here and that may mean we're missing something. Doug says he'll check it out. If he doesn't come back in 15 minutes that I should follow him. I give him 20 then light out after him. I find them all at Dorothy's Knoll. John, Geri & Bruce, Doug, Lew & Deb and some others. I see where the kill was but the wolves are long gone. Despite this we get an immature bald eagle (maybe a golden) which perches nearby and many ravens. A coyote trots past but doesn't even stop. Must not be much left! I ask John if he can call Tim A on his radio and tell him where we are. John does and a while later Tim and Betsy join us. Then so do Cathy W. & Mike.

It's the last night in Lamar for Lew & Deb, Geri & Bruce and John. I wonder what in the world I will do for my evening's entertainment! All kidding aside, they are such wonderful people I know I will miss their company. We talk and joke as the sky melts into another lovely sunset. I start to take pictures but Doug suggests I wait longer, assuring me that the colors will improve. As I impatiently wait I turn South and watch the snow on the distant peaks turn a soft pink. Then someone says "wolf" and we all look but soon realize it's the Ruffian, the big collared coyote, loping across the valley. We all talk about him, how different he seems, how much bigger and tougher and more sedate than the flinty coyotes we're used to seeing. Everyone has a story of how they had to explain to newer visitors that he was not a wolf. We get a lone pronghorn buck walking briskly along the riverbank. He is one of the prettiest antelope I've ever seen, very robust and proud, with quite large horns.

We spot two more Sand Hill cranes. One stretches and flaps its wings while standing still.

The sunset does get even better, and thanks to Doug, I have proof. I will post them for you soon. The Loons begin to leave and the night descends. No Druids tonight. Ah well. We know 105 is still out there but she's on her schedule, not ours. We bid a sad farewell to our friends, with heartfelt promises to meet again. Another evening in Lamar comes to a close. My last sighting of the night is two deer in Round Meadow, still as statues in the cool clear air.

Today I saw: Antelope, 1 immature Bald Eagle, 3 Bighorn sheep, Bison, 4 Coyotes, Deer, Elk, Geese, Ravens, 4 Sand Hill Cranes, a green-headed Snake and 19 Loons.


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