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       Day 5 May 23th, 2016

Monday, May 23th, 2016
Mammoth Hot Springs, Montana

    Today is supposed to be the rainiest day of the week; when we finally open the cabin door, icy air flows in. 36 degrees. There is light drizzle and snow flurries, but hardly the dreaded precipitation we expected and worried about. We fill our mugs with coffee and cocoa leisurely and off we go. The sky turns gray and forbidding; icy mist sifts through the air. As we cross Gardiner Bridge I glance down to see a cow elk bounding across the river, reaching the other side in three long graceful leaps. We curve around the cliffs at Undine Falls. Vehicles in front of us slow - a black bear sow with a year old cub pads along the road, fur midnight black and shining, ignoring us.
   We stop at Slough Creek. The den is quiet; a gray wolf sits in the logs below the den, keeping watch. We move on to the carcass in Lamar Valley where ravens are flying and fluttering up and down. We cruise past Hitching Post when we hear the lone black wolf is moving east from Amethyst Bench toward the carcass. We reach Buffalo Ranch in time to watch the black wolf slowly edge toward the carcass. He walks around it in a wide circumference, wary. Out of nowhere three large black wolves from the Mollie Pack explode from behind the carcass and chase lone black wolf through the river corridor. They chase continues half heartedly which raises the question again of "who is this wolf?" It seems like the Mollies know him and only want to keep him away from their food.
   After the short chase the three Mollies return to the carcass while black wolf lies down. We drive past Soda Butte Cone where scopes are pointed north watching a grizzly foraging at the edge of the trees. When we return to black wolf, the Mollies are moving east, away from the carcass. Two black wolves make their way across the bench and into the trees allowing black wolf to slowly zigzag up the bench and feed at the carcass. We don't see the third black Mollie leave, and the others do not reappear in the higher meadows. There seems to be a certain tolerance here; otherwise the Mollies would not be so casual about the outsider.
   On Tower Road, the black bear with two coy is in the deadfall and forest again. I can barely see them through the trees and people crowding the road. After checking Petrified Tree and Elk Creek we stop to hike up the hills west of Blacktail Plateau. There's always an urge to see what's out there beyond the next hill. Sometimes it's more hills, and sometimes unexplored meadows open up filled with wildflowers and new vistas. We can see Blacktail Ponds! And we meet a new bird - a horned lark - pecking through the grass.
   We go back and forth between Petrified Tree and Lamar Valley. A cow moose, maybe the same one from yesterday, nibbles the willows across from Hikers Bridge. At Slough Creek three wolves followed by two black puppies bed in the sage and brush below the den site. One adult is black, while the grays are quite light; it's too far away to see collars. In Little America, a large grizzly sow and her two cubs of the year traverse the slopes of Specimen Ridge. Watching a suspicious coyote trotting nearby, the sow leads her two cubs cautiously through the sage. She is a big bear and shields her youngsters beneath her. One cub has a blonde face while the other is chocolate brown.
   We pass the fox at Yellowstone Picnic once more, hunting in the meadows below Junction Butte. Across the road next to the picnic area, an antelope welcomes her new tiny fawn.

Author - Christine Baleshta
Photography - Tim Springer

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Yellowstone Experiences 2016