DAY 4 - Tuesday May 29th

A VERY BEARY DAY

Take it from me, the Uhler's tower room is a great place to wake up in! I hear birdsong from every direction. I wriggle out of my sleeping bag and stand up. Wow! So many views to choose from. I'll try them all.

Out front in a field I see a horse - or maybe a moose. I decide horse. To the right a small band of mule deer is on the move, keeping to the cover of brush. I see them as they pass an open spot and leap lightly over what I guess is a creek. There are a lot of them: I count 10. They follow the creek around a bend and I watch their stop-and-start progression along a lane to the right of the house. I switch to the next window. The silent deer parade continues along the lane until they come to a gate in the fence. There is a gap here, but the lead deer seems suspicious of the wire and wood. I see it sniff and stretch its head and neck through the gap only to pull back again. It gathers its courage and this time it dashes all the way through! It runs for about 50 feet then stops. Three more deer follow their leader and dash through but the next deer stops. This one sniffs, looks and listens. Then it, too, dashes through, followed by another four. The last two slip past the gap like it's nothing at all, but then break into a run until they catch up to the others. I move to the next window and watch the whole group cross another field and move into cover again, then they go up a hill and out of view.

I gather my stuff and sneak down the stairs, trying to be very quiet. I shower and dress then go outside to get some things from Ms. Jeep. I tiptoe back through the porch to the front door. Uh oh. Door knob stiff. I've locked myself out. Silly Wendy. Hmmm. Guess I'll just have to wait. I sit on a bench and watch how the mountain changes in the growing light.

When I hear movement in the house I knock on the door. John opens it and I sheepishly explain my latest goof-up. They all make merciless fun of me. I head for Carlene's GIANT kitchen, looking for a pot to boil water in. Geri and Bruce are loading up their car. After many hugs and well-wishes, Geri and Bruce take off and John heads for work. I visit with Carlene over coffee and hear about the great luck they had in finding this house, then head out myself. Thanks again for letting me stay over!

I pull into Mammoth campground to say goodbye to Tim and Betsy. Betsy's up but Tim is still asleep. I drive her to the Grille for a coffee and we run into Joette. We gab awhile then say our good-byes and go our separate ways. I set off towards Tower to try to get a spot there tonight. Shortly after I pass Roosevelt I see my first black bear. He's about 50 feet from the road, grazing and grubbing his way up-slope through timber and brush. A small jam develops but people are delighted and respectful. I get out my tripod and camera. The bear remains in the open and attracts more photographers.

Just then I hear an odd noise above me and see four longs legs and a bouncing body. It's a young mule deer. I'm not sure what happened but it may have been startled by something up there on the hill. The noise was weird, kind of a cross between a honk and a cough. The deer bounds down the hill towards the bear and continues past it into the timber. The bear looks up but seems otherwise un-perturbed.

I re-focus on the bear as he continues to graze and dig. All is well until Sammy Selfish comes along, not satisfied with the excellent opportunity the bear is giving us. Out of his car he pops and crashes through the brush towards the bear despite a warning from his wife. Several of us call to him saying "get back to the road or you'll ruin it for all of us". Sammy turns and looks but keeps going, although now more stealthily. Well guess what? The bear runs away.

I get a site at Tower and then head up the mountain to try my luck at grizzly-spotting. The roads seem deserted today compared to the weekend. I like it! It's a nice day and I have a great view from the highest pullout above Antelope Creek. I find elk scattered all over and I scan the treeline and the ridgeline for movement. I don't find any. I do find a thermal feature I've never noticed before. It's really high and you can see white sinter plus fairly continual steam. Even with the scope I can't tell from this distance whether it is a geyser or what.

A few folk pull in and join me. I think having Doug's scope pointed at a hillside makes me look a lot more informed than I actually am! Everyone is friendly and we chat. I hear of some interesting wolf sightings and of a griz up on Washburn yesterday morning. No one knows what the thermal is, though.

After a while I head back to Mammoth to try to tweak the lodging reservations I made. Right after the Petrified Tree I spot a moose in timber without even trying! I was just glancing at the fallen-down trees and saw a color and shape that stuck out. I find a spot to pull over and happily assemble my gear. It's a young male. He's at a perfect distance - close enough for photos yet far enough that I don't disturb him. Two older couples and I have this guy all to ourselves. Very nice.

Like I said, in Yellowstone, things have a way of working out. In Mammoth I am able to re-arrange everything just as I want it. I head over to Albright and up the stairs to John's office, thinking I will ask him to post a message to Tim that I can do the Lamar hike after all if he still wants to. John goes one better and points me to the computer in the Archives which he says I might be allowed to use if I talk nice to them. I do. It works. And I meet Lee Whittlesey, too.

And now for for some lunch and perhaps a nap.

I find my spot at the Wrecker pullout. It's hidden from the road and I have a nice view of a hilly meadow near the steep yellow walls of the lower Canyon. I make a sandwich of PeggyB's food. She left me a jar of olives, too. I love olives! I have never thought to have them on a road trip but I will from now on. I push back the seat and eat, gazing contentedly at a gorgeous Yellowstone vista. I see two bison, a lone tree and some very large boulders. One bison is methodically rubbing his head and neck against a boulder as if to scrape off every bit of itchy old winter hair. I get the impression this boulder is a favorite. The bison keeps at it, changing position every few minutes. Hey! There are pronghorn out there, too! I didn't see them at all when I pulled up. The pronghorn are resting with heads up, not nervous but alert. I watch them and the bison and soon I start to doze.

Upon waking I see the second bison has moved closer to the first one and the first bison is now scratching his rump! I see a new dance idea, Peggy! After a few more minutes the second bison assumes control of the boulder as the first one moves off to graze. The second bison repeats nearly every move that the first one made. Some boulders just have all the right angles.

I sit here happily watching this wonderful ordinary day in the life of two bison. I look at the meadow. I think this would be a good place for a coyote to show up. Seconds later I notice all three pronghorn facing the same way. I follow their gaze and there is a streak of beige - a coyote! Yahoo! Oh I love that jaunty trot. Coyote stops briefly to sniff under a log, then continues briskly toward the bison and the boulder. Then he seems to think better of that as he curves smoothly to the left away from them. However this move brings him closer to the pronghorn. These three are now standing. Coyote ignores them and trots beyond them; his plan for today does NOT include them. I wonder if the pronghorn have a baby hidden somewhere but they sit back down again after the coyote has passed. I watch him crest a hill and disappear down the other side. That's all for now.

Well done. I have had my lunch, my nap and an afternoon's entertainment. It's time for Lamar.

Nobody is stopped at 103's so I keep going. Lamar is quiet, too, but this allows me to appreciate her beauty more than ever. This valley tugs at my heart like nothing else and just as strongly as ever. I smile at how it feels like it's been ages since I looked on these hills and that curve of the river there. It's been barely more than a day, but I am filled with happiness to be back.

Just past Soda Butte Cone I see a lone bison fairly close to the road. I haven't gotten any good bison shots yet so I decide to stop. The afternoon light is inviting, the creek is very blue against the green grass. I attach camera to tripod and snap away. He is a big guy this lone bull, one of the ones that that hang out in Lamar, famous for their cantankerous dispositions. I notice there is only a steep embankment and a narrow braid of the creek between us, all in all about 100 feet. I do not want to be any closer than this.

This bull may be past his prime but he still walks with majesty. What an effort it must take to hold up that massive head all day. He chomps on the lush grass at the edge of the creek. He inches forward and dips his muzzle into the water for a long drink. He raises his head to look at me. Water gushes from his shaggy beard. He steps into the creek one deliberate hoof at a time and pauses as if enjoying the coolness. He walks forward about 10 feet and stops again. A moment more then he climbs out and goes uphill to my left. When he reaches a bare spot he stops and crumples his legs beneath him, half gracefully, half not. Then he rolls, kicking up all four silly looking legs, once, twice, about six good rolls. Shakes that massive head. When he is finished he sits serenely on his side and surveys the valley, thinking about the good old days.

I head back west but find nothing going on at either the Footbridge or Hitching Post. No Rick either. I wonder where the Druids are? (most were at the den I found out later) I make my way west, with a vague plan to hang out at 103's but I end up stopping at B & B. I think I will scope the Jasper Bench and see what I might find there.

It is quiet here, too. Well, there are meadowlarks and the peeping of ground squirrels. I try to capture some shots of them on their hind legs. People pull in and then pull back out because nothing seems to be going on yet. I am just about ready to leave when I hear some talking that sounds promising. Yep. Someone has found a bear across the road on the opposite hill. Wow! How great! I swing around and find a beautiful grizzly mom with a classic, golden-grizzled vest and two darling cubs of the year. The cubs are SO CUTE as they play, bouncing and boxing and biting each other. Mom, of course, is all business, nose to the ground as she moves.

In no time a jam builds up. Gary pulls in and we have a great time. Periodically we lose the three bears behind a fold in the hills but they always re-appear a bit further east. Then there is another buzz of excitement. Another bear is spotted higher up on the hill, in fact right where the sow & cubs had been about 15 minutes ago. It is quickly decided that this bear is a boar (or as some newbie put it "that's not a boar - that's another bear!") for it follows its nose along the very same route taken by the sow & cubs. This worries me of course as I know what males sometimes do to cubs. No one has the sow in sight and it's been a while. There is talk of an old kill being in that area. Someone suggests maybe the boar is just looking for the kill. I watch a fold in the hills where I saw the sow last. Suddenly she BURSTS out over this fold at a hard gallop, her cubs hard-pressed to keep up. She is all fluid-muscle-motion as she drives down the hill toward us. Boy is she moving! Then she stops abruptly and to my everlasting delight, pops straight up on her hind legs, turning her head to look back. Is she looking for her cubs or for the boar? The cubs reach her and stop. Both cubs pop up on their hind legs; tiny, perfect mimics of mom and oh-so serious! For an instant all three stand in a row like that - it is SO CLASSIC. In another instant mom drops back to all fours and gallops another good distance downhill. She slows a bit and finally stops. Again the cubs reach her and stop. Up she goes again and the cubs too! Oh! That is just too sweet for words. Please excuse my gushing but I have never seen this with my own eyes before. Whatever mom sees or smells I couldn't say but she must believe that they are out of danger as she now moves off east at a more relaxed pace.

The bears are still two levels up from the road but this is the closest grizzly sighting I have ever had. And cubs of the year! As much as I love wolves, there is absolutely nothing on earth cuter than a bear cub. These bears can be seen with the naked eye but binoculars make it great and my scope makes it incredible. Every penny I spent has just paid off. I can see her eyes, her wet nose and her formidable jaws.

No one has seen the boar for a while and we figure he must now be on the kill. Mom and cubs wander up the next drainage. At one point mom seems to sit down and gather the cubs to her. It takes me a while to refocus the scope but when I do I see she is nursing them. Since this act is so soon after the gallop I believe it may be as much a gesture of comfort to her babes as it is for their nourishment. I have never seen such an intimate little drama in the life of a grizzly family before.

Fifteen minutes later the boar is out again, still following their route. I hope I don't see something I'm not prepared for. As I watch him wander up the same drainage, I wonder what will happen.

I meet quite a few new folk tonight but since my note-taking was abysmal this trip I am now quite confused as to who was where when. Sorry friends. I do remember meeting the famous Bill and Bobbie, hosts of Tower Campground. I tell them I am a friend of John Uhler's and that I'm staying at Tower tonight. They could not be sweeter. I met New-Loon Bonnie, who works at the Institute Bookstore and also Loon Wayne, who posts as John Deere. I think Bob M was here with his big lens and maybe Chief, too? And we get more than bears in our viewfinders: we get sky-drama too. Gauzy streaks of sun have burst through a gap in the clouds in that awe-inspiring "light of God" way, a sight in fact fairly typical for an evening in Lamar. Twenty people leave their scopes unattended to take this shot.

Mark and Carl join us and someone reports news that at least 15-20 wolves just crossed the road near the den site and that more are in the rendesvous area. Time to go! I head east with a few others. I stop at the old Picnic Area when I see Jake and Leslie. Jake finds the wolves! Well, two greys at least. They are a bit to the west of the rendesvous area. We figure they are very likely two yearlings. There may have been more but I saw two for sure. I happily do my Druid Dance! The wolves roam around, worrying some elk but they don't seem very serious. Mostly they are barely visible, bedded down. I am so happy to see Druids in this area. I left the Park last year before they started hanging out here and was always envious of those who saw them so easily in the summer. There are so many members of this pack they obviously need room to spread out!

Ashley and some friends pull up and I finally get to meet her, too. Now that we are turned the other way we catch sight of a big grizzly on the western flanks of Druid Peak, turning rocks. This is thanks to a man with a scope whose name I did not catch. He apparently had several more grizzlies up there earlier in the evening. A very beary night in Lamar! We are losing the light but I want to head toward the Hitching Post in hopes I can at least hear what happened with the Druids earlier. We find Rick here but have missed the main wolf activity. The majority of the pack evidently came down to the road, crossed and headed out into the valley. It is much too dim now to see them at that distance. Ah well, I am too late. One can't be everywhere at once, can one?

Jake and Leslie and Mark and I have an intellectual discussion about what women find attractive in men. I can't say they bought my theory but at least I made them laugh. We've gotten to that point of the evening where every shadow looks like something it isn't, so we bid each other adieu and head off to our respective abodes.

At Tower, as I head up the path through the woods to brush my teeth I find I need no flashlight as even the quarter-moon gives plenty of light. The trees are dark silhouettes on the topmost ridge and the stars are shining, too. Ah me. This is what I've always loved about camping, feeling the embrace of the wild night world. I smile and walk on.

Today I saw: 3 antelope, 1 black bear, 5 grizzly bears (3 adults & 2 cubs), bison, 1 coyote, 9 mule deer, elk, 1 horse, 1 meadowlark, 1 moose, ground squirrels, 2 Druid wolves and 17 Loons.


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