Saturday, September 30, 2017
The last morning. How many last mornings have I had here? I wish there was time to take a leisurely walk around the lodges, something we do at Silver Gate and Mammoth. We are checked out and on the road to Hayden Valley by 7:14 a.m. It is 32º. Not as cold as past mornings and the fog is not bad.
The bear that was at Cascade Meadows is not there this morning. Across the road the snow-covered field is empty – no elk, no bison that were there last night. At Alum Creek other visitors are mesmerized by the elk herd across the river and geese floating in the river as mist rises around them. Only three vehicles are parked at Grizzly Overlook, a stark contrast from the beginning of the week. The Wapitis are obviously not around.
Hayden Valley is strangely quiet. Without wolves or the usual number of visitors crowding Grizzly Overlook, it’s a somewhat lonely place. Tim wonders out loud why there isn’t another trail in Hayden Valley because it’s such a large place. Mary Mountain Trail crosses the valley, but there is more to Hayden Valley than that.
At Fisherman’s a group of photographers are watching a coyote hunt in the tall grasses near the road turnoff. He has a full fluffy tail with a black tip and a bit of a saddle. His ears are red tinged, classic coyote. Pouncing disguises, a limp – he holds up his front left paw as he works his way through the grass. He is healthy looking, but I worry about his limp. Because we have seen more coyotes this trip, I wonder if there is less competition in this part of the Park between wolves and coyotes.
We have spent more time in Hayden Valley and Lake this trip and enjoyed it. The south seems more peaceful, without as many visitors. We head over Dunraven Pass to Antelope. No wolves today here either. Later, we hear at the Yellowstone Institute store that no wolves were seen yesterday in the Park. It seems unusual, but it isn’t; I remember trips where we didn’t see wolves for the first few days.
Near Tower two black bears graze along the road in separate areas. One is a cinnamon and the other, black. Bears are having their last feast before the long winter. On our way into Lamar Valley we run into the worst bison jam perhaps of our Yellowstone experience at Lamar Canyon. It took at least 30 minutes, and maybe 45, to cross the narrow canyon. It’s hard to blame the bison – how do they feel trotting across narrow roads chased by vehicles of all sizes, cliffs on one side and a deep canyon the other?
Lamar Valley is as quiet as the rest of the Park. We stop at Pebble Creek to look for moose and then Soda Butte picnic area, one of my favorite places. The willows are changing color now, golden tinged with red. The creek bubbles past us. A couple with two dogs picnics near the creek, the dogs running around playfully. It feels like fall here, not winter.
At Slough Creek, a pair of bald eagles perch on a cottonwood, with a magpie for company. One calls to the other. Striking black and white, they sit above the bends in the river, waiting. They don’t dive, but the male flies away and I lose track of him.
We wonder what to do with the remaining hours of daylight before we have to head to Bozeman. There is a service road off the Blacktail Plateau we have never explored so we walk down. It’s easy hiking after yesterday’s climb through mud. A pair of hairy woodpeckers flits through the trees, landing and pecking. A savvy Clark’s Nutcracker ingeniously places pinecones in wedges of logs and pecks out the nuts. He has done this before.
We make it up to Swan Lake Flats, surprisingly enough with road closures. It’s beginning to rain and visibility is deteriorating. Driving back to Mammoth I notice the aspen and cottonwoods above the terraces are just beginning to change.