DAY SIX - Sunday July 8

FORDING THE LAMAR

I get up so late I decide to skip making coffee and head straight for Lamar.

On the way over Dunraven I see several elk on a ridge in silhouette. This is a very pretty sight and I watch them for a while. I see some bison in the meadows at Tower Junction and some mule deer in Little America.

I head east intent on finding wolves. As I near the Exclosure Fence I see several scopers on the hill and a family of five making their way down. I may be too late. I roll down my window and ask "are they still seeing animals?" The lady responds, "yeah, two wolves, but you can't see 'em unless you have a scope." Well, lucky me. I pull in and haul out my heavy metal.

Soon I have a Druid in my sights. A grey. A yearling, I presume. I watch it stalk and mouse. There's that jump! So sweet. He doesn't get whatever it is he was after, though. He tries again. He digs, still comes up empty. There's a second grey yearling out here as well, bedded down. I talk to the other scopers. They say it's been a pretty quiet morning.

I watch a while longer and the mouser gives up and beds. I figure I'll see what else there is to see. I drive up to Round Prairie and see a few bison and a single pronghorn. I may have already missed the morning's action. Still, I am happy to be where I am, breathing this delicious air and seeing the haunting beauty of this valley.

On my way back I run into Jim S. We stop our cars in the road to chat as there is no one else around. I'm hungry so I ask him to join me for breakfast. He says he just ate. Ah well. We talk about Fairyland and I thank him for the sodas. After we go our separate ways I realize I didn't think to invite him on the hike later today. Sorry Jim!

I still have to check out so I go back to Canyon. I find a note from Jake that says he's got the afternoon off. Does he ever work? We meet in the parking lot and decide it's probably too warm for good animal watching so how about Norris? Agreed. In fact, Jake says he loves Norris. I haven't spent much time there myself so I luck out again with a handy geyser guide.

It's overcast when we arrive. We stuff raincoats in our packs and head down the boardwalk to Echinus which I have never seen. On the way we pass Steamboat's huge plume and I try to imagine that day last May. We have about 15 minutes to wait for Echinus so we take seats high up on the left side. Jake explains about the indicator pool and what he usually watches. People are getting excited but he knows it's too soon. The skies darken and we hear the rumble of thunder. Then the lightning begins. We're in none too safe a place but there's nowhere to go that would be better. CRACK! Wow, that was close! Just then Jake says "OK it's gonna go soon" and off it goes! First a bubbly splash in the back and then it shoots high into the air. Nice roar! As the geyser starts spouting down comes the rain, too. The wind picks up and blows the steam in my face, so I miss most of the eruption. I see some interesting wave action at the edges but mostly I see fog. People seem happy afterward and clap but Jake says this was nothing.

Once the eruption is over most people make a mad dash back to their cars but we stand under some trees and wait it out. In a little while it blows over and we take a tour of the lower loop. Jake is a helpful guide here, too and has lots of additional information about the features we see on this walk. We see a gorgeous dragonfly resting on a bright green bed of moss. I highly recommend Norris to anyone who has not yet seen it. It is so different from the Old Faithful area and has very unusual and fascinating formations. My favorites are Green Dragon and Porkchop which blew itself up one day and became a whole different feature.

As we near the end of the loop it has cleared up again so we decide to go back to Echinus. This time I see what Jake means about how full the indicator pool is. We get a terrific eruption with lots of spray and sparkle and splash. I especially like the rhythmic waves which roll across the pool. Jake pronounces it a good (but not great) eruption, far better than the first one.

On the way back we stop to find a suitable hiking stick to help me in crossing the Lamar. In addition Jake finds wild strawberries all along the roadside. We collect handfuls of the tiny things and pop them in our mouths. Oh man - they are so delicious! I don't think I'll ever get store-bought strawberries again!

I wait at the Ham store while Jake fetches Leslie and then off we go. It clouds over again and this time it looks more serious. The hike we have planned is all in the open and I begin to fret about getting drenched. When we get to Coyote Overlook the rain is falling steadily and looks like it will last a while. I suggest we wait for it to clear up. They both look skeptical. But then I look out at the river and the valley and I think "do I want to be back in New York saying I chickened out of fording the Lamar because it was raining?" I open the car door. "Let's go" I say. Jake and Leslie say forget my hiking boots, that I should wear Tevas and wool socks.

We start across the wide meadow. The first thing I learn is that the "flats" I've been looking at from the pullouts these past several years are not flat at all. The ground is full of depressions and hillocks and at the moment quite mushy to boot. Our feet and legs get soaked immediately as we shuffle through the damp grass. Quite soon we come to a little stream which you don't even see from the road. It's a little trough about two feet deep and two feet wide and we jump over it easily. Then we cross a section of firmer ground with sparse grass and lots of thistles. I stop to look around at where I am and I am blow away. The road rises behind us and the soft green hills tower above that. The valley is edged in fog. It's wild and wet and absolutely wonderful.

We cross another trough, this one wider. I slog through the water. It's a bit tricky to get back up the bank and I see how having four legs would help. Again I marvel at what features are out here that I never knew of. How hard it must be for an animal to run on this terrain. I am amazed at the distances here, how big everything is. The Jasper Bench looks like a mountain and I can't even see the ski-slope hills, they are so high. The meadow goes on forever. It is utterly thrilling to be out here. I am walking where last winter I saw all 27 Druids on a kill. I feel like a child again; it's like discovering the world.

There are three bison about 300 yards away who eye us with unfriendly stares. We consider our options and find none but luckily the bison are content to watch. What a wonderful thing to be able to do, to step into the animal realm like this, to walk where they walk.

We reach the Lamar River and stop just to look at how beautiful it is. I creep forward and I place my feet in its shallow bed. I can't believe I'm doing this. I am standing in the Lamar River, holy water as far as I'm concerned, like the Ganges to a Hindu. I look around in all directions burning this memory into my brain. I drink it in for the longest time, savoring this unique opportunity I've been given, and the steady rain falling on us makes it more wonderful, not less.

This is the first of two main braids, the shallower of the two. We see lots and lots of exposed rocks, most worn smooth from the water. They are many colors and shapes and we find interesting things among them; bone fragments, feathers, petrified wood. We proceed across slowly, facing upriver and moving in a diagonal, hop-scotching toward the riffles when we can. The current is strong and the rocks are slippery but it is not deep. We stop half-way to take pictures. The mountains are SO high and the river is grey and wild. It is incredibly cool.

We emerge from this channel onto a pebble island and I think about the grizzly mom and two cubs that I saw in the Spring. The river is lower than it was then and we are further downstream than they were but it might as well be the same spot. You can see how the banks have steadily widened from the early spring torrent till now. We find rhyolite and smooth picture-sandstone worn by centuries of rushing water.

The next crossing looks deeper, rougher and quite scary. We scout a route and I remind Jake how short I am. I find myself depending again on Jake's good judgment and he doesn't let me down. As I get a few feet from the edge I immediately feel a MUCH stronger pull from this current. But we take our time and use our heads and aim for the rills. We steer quite a ways upstream. I am in about knee deep for three or four steps, then I'm across. As I reach the safety of the far bank I have a new appreciation for the lives of the animals of this valley.

From here we get a fantastic view of Druid Peak. Most of the mountain is hidden in an encircling ring of fog but its hard grey dome pokes above the cloud, making it look quite mystical. It must have been named on a day like this. We turn back to our task. We choose one of several game trails and head uphill. I slip and slide all the way to the top. We are now on a bench about 30-40 feet above the River. From here this section doesn't look at all connected to the Jasper Bench, which is so far away and so much higher. From the road, this place where I am now standing looks like the bank of the Lamar in a bygone, wetter age. We walk along the edge and again I am amazed at how much land there is that one does not see from the road. We walk through sage and other tough, low lying bushes. None of this is flat. How do the animals run on ground like this without breaking their legs?

We are heading for a wooded cleft in this bench. Fairies' stream comes down from the ski-slope hills and disappears into what looks like a hole in the ground. Only when we get nearer can we see the cleft that the water has worn. Jake scrambles down a ways. I try a different angle and see the falls, gushing straight down to jagged rocks below. It must really roar with spring snow melt. An abundance of wildflowers grows along the edge, set of by bright green grass.

Just before the water goes over the edge there is a logjam of sorts. We cross above this and walk along the other side, getting an even better view of the falls. We scramble our way down the hill to the bottom. It's very lush and marshy down here. There are several large trees with reddish patchy bark that contrasts nicely with the rain-drenched green. There are more wildflowers, some elk bones and some big fallen logs.

Fairies' Fall drops about 40 feet in a white veil into a dark pool. The rock behind it and tumbled at its base is dark grey, almost black with the rain and its many large boulders still have sharp edges. Both sides of the cleft are lush green and thickly grown with trees, briars and grasses. The cleft is narrow and nearly hidden by the vegetation. It can't be easy to see this waterfall from the road.

I take a rest on one of the logs while Jake and Leslie explore the falls. It's so sweet to see Jake extend his hand to Leslie as they scramble from boulder to boulder. Leslie stops at one point and lets Jake do the rest. He manages to get right up to the water curtain and then slips behind it, into what must be a cave or grotto. He then re-appears on the other side! I imagine myself an Indian using this cleft for cover while on the hunt. Here would I slake my thirst and bathe my tired feet.

Beyond my log seat the ground falls away down another hill to the wide valley. The Fairies' stream drips down this hill in many channels to the valley floor, making a marshy area that I imagine is beloved of moose. In a few final meandering curves it joins the Lamar. I look at this amazingly gorgeous valley that I have now been privileged to see from the inside out. What a world we have. What exquisite beauty.

We decide to take a different route back and walk downstream along the pebble-strewn former riverbed. We reach a section of mud and sand and explore it for prints. I am hoping for bear. We identify coyote, elk, and bison. We also find many small bird prints and some dinosaur-looking ones left by sandhills. We see the webbed-footed prints of otter and those of weasel and we flush a plover from its nest. We see swallows swooping past catching bugs. Jake looks in the water under the shadow of a boulder and points out a very large rainbow trout! We find goose feathers and more petrified wood and finally strike the motherlode. Wolf prints! Oh do I love finding these!

Although it looked quite treacherous from the hill, the Lamar crossing proves much easier than I expected. Still, the water is above my knees for about six steps but I manage it. The second shallow braid is cake in comparison. We start across the meadow and Jake finds a giant cricket. And I mean giant; this sucker was as big as a hummingbird! We trudge on through the valley and I see the same three bison looking at us again. We cross the troughs and get our feet muddy again. The green hills loom incredibly high and the road is a thin grey line at their feet. Our tiny human shapes are utterly swallowed in the immensity of the valley.

I am happily drenched upon our return. What a wonderful hike. And to think I almost didn't do it! I rummage around for dry socks to put on before we head out again. It's nearly 8PM and we're late for evening viewing.

At the Hitching Post we have a merry meeting with Ranger Bill and we are introduced to Erin of the wolf-watching team. After a little while Tonya joins us, too. We tell stories of our Fairyland hike. We all have our scopes trained on the confluence but none of us get any Druids. The rain has receded to a fine mist. It is pleasantly warm or maybe I am just too happy to feel any chill. We laugh and talk quietly as the light deserts us.

Night falls and we realize the Druids are staying in tonight. Oh so reluctantly I bid goodbye to my wonderful friends Jake and Leslie whose help and companionship on this trip have been invaluable. Thanks for everything, you two! They head for Canyon and I drive back slowly, feeling wistful all the way. At Roosevelt I receive a last-night gift of a suddenly clear sky and a nice, bright moon.

Today I saw: 1 antelope, bison, 1 giant cricket, elk, 1 plover, swallows, a rainbow trout, 2 Druid wolves and 6 Loons


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