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       Day 2 May 20th, 2016

Friday, May 20th, 2016
Mammoth Hot Springs, Montana

    Climbing the upper terraces at 6 a.m. the temperature drops to 37 degrees this cloudy morning. Elk graze in the flats along the highway. A group of cows on the east side looks longingly to the west, wanting to cross the road, waiting for vehicles to pass. Yesterday's rain has left the air cool and fresh. There is still snow banked along the road from Norris to Canyon. The road appears icy in places, but is fine. The fog lifts and it's clear all the way to Lake. By the time we reach Hayden Valley, it's 33 degrees.
   We check all our usual haunts - Grizzly Overlook, Indian Pond, Mary and Sedge Bays, Lake. There is not a critter to be seen, aside from bison and elk, and geese and ducks. We park at Grizzly Overlook shortly after 7 a.m., about the earliest we've ever been there. 755M has been seen recently with his female yearling, a light gray, like her mother. His alpha female was seen also, swimming Alum Creek. They have probably denned, but there have been no confirmations. We haven't seen 755M in how long? A year and a half? Two years? I would really like to see him again, and the rest of the Wapiti Lake Pack.
   So many areas are closed because of "bear danger" it makes one wonder what's left of the Park to hike. Only the smallest perimeter of Lake Hotel is walkable, all else is out of bounds. At Otter Creek we gaze across the Yellowstone River at the Hayden Pack's old den site. It's a bittersweet memory not easily forgotten. We climb the hills across the road, following the stream that curves through tall grass and arrowleaf balsam root. This place that was at one time the site of a Park dump where visitors came to watch bears, has become a favorite for us. Away from road noise, hidden by forest, we step carefully through marsh, avoiding just emerging wildflowers. We can hear the steady pounding of a waterfall wedged in the hills.
   While waiting for the Wapitis to show up at Grizzly Overlook, a crowd gathers to watch a grizzly sow and her two cubs of the year just north of the turnout. The cubs wrestle each other and lope after their mother, who is grubbing in the sage. They are almost at the top of the slope, halfway between two patches of melting snow. A little hard to see, but with the scope they become shapes. It rains again between 2 and 3 p.m. We pull over at Alum Creek and wait, read, draw.
   At Sheepeaters there's a sign that states the familiar "Bear Frequenting Area," but this time with a handwritten note warning on "5/15 a sow grizzly with two cubs was seen near the Osprey Falls trail" and to "be vigilant." We laugh as we remember a light phase, almost blonde black bear wading through the willows on the opposite side of Indian Creek years ago. Good advice, I think, as a golden mantled chipmunk climbs over the rocks. We park, read the sign, and drive out. And there she is at Swan Lake Flats with her two adorable cubs, wading through tall grass and sage. She is about 50 yards off the road, ignoring lines of vehicles on both sides of the road, some parked almost on their sides. Deep in the sage, the cubs pop up frequently, wrestle, paw their mother, run after her. Both cubs are dark brown; one has a white, uneven collar. The mother looks as if she has seen some bad times. Her face is ruffed up, but not exactly scratched. She is extremely tolerant, never lifting her head in suspicion or alarm, even when a car alarm goes off. It isn't until much later that we find out this is Quad Mom, a grizzly sow who mothered four cubs one year. We never saw her with the four cubs, one which was probably an adopted orphan, but we looked for her. Like Bear 264, she has become a grizzly icon in the Park.
   We try another hike again after dinner - a short stroll to see the great horned owls - and again are thwarted. There seems to be a pattern of afternoon rain by the time we're ready to hike, but at least it didn't rain all day.

Author - Christine Baleshta
Photography - Tim Springer

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Yellowstone Experiences 2016