Last Day: Wolves, Bears and a Badger Jam
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Saturday, May 21, 2022
The moon was still out and the sun was coming up over the mountains when we left the cabin this morning. Moisture formed little snowflakes scattered across the windshield and frost glistened on the grass. We expected cold, rainy, sleety, snowy weather this morning and dreaded driving in bad weather, so it was a relief that it was clear and dry for the most part.
We headed straight for Round Prairie where a bull moose and a cow grazed on the slopes above Pebble Creek. The moose carcass was still there, more of it consumed since last night. A photographer said that a wolf was feeding on the carcass at daybreak, but had since left. A crowd of photographers and other visitors waited in the pullout and at the edge of the road, hoping for another wolf or a bear to show up. We thought about waiting, but moved on, thinking it could be a long wait.
The grizzly family, the sow and her two yearling cubs, were grubbing on the slopes north of Fisherman’s again. We stopped to watch the bears and scanned Jasper Bench on the other side of the river. Ravens hopped and flitted around a group of rocks, a sign that a carcass might be there. A black wolf stood up briefly, but no other animals appeared. We waited for a while then moved to the south den.
The wolves were scattered in the sage and grass, but hard to see sometimes because of heat waves. The heat waves were not as bad as other mornings, but it was still hard to see, especially looking into the sun. Fortunately, we were still able to watch five adults and two puppies at the south den. At the natal den, a black wolf climbed out of the den onto the ledge, shook off some dust, and wound her way down to the grass, slipping behind the trees. She trotted through the flats along the creek toward the campground road, bounding across the road and up the rocky slopes toward Secret Passage.
We rushed back to Lamar Valley and got stuck in what we first thought was a bear jam, but was actually people watching a black wolf on the slopes above Fisherman’s, probably the same wolf we had seen cross the road at Slough Creek. The wolf tested a bison and her calf sending them both running across the road. The wolf continued east, but we lost her when she traveled up and over the ridge.
The rest of the morning we drove back and forth from Lamar Valley to Little America to Tower Junction and back. Our black bear luck continued, spotting one on Tower Road, a cinnamon phase black bear in Little America, and a sow and a cub near Phantom Lake. We’ve also seen more elk in Lamar Valley and Little America this trip; many of the cows we saw today looked pregnant. One small herd of elk cows in Little America wanted to cross the road, but wary of cars and people, turned back.
Noticeably more people were in the park today, probably the beginning of the Memorial Day weekend crowds. There was a colossal traffic jam near Soda Butte Cone which we assumed was because of crowds watching the coyote puppies, but turned out to be people following a badger carrying her cub to her den. She waddled hurriedly along the side of the road as people just stopped their cars in the middle of the road to watch or take photos. One woman turned off her engine and got out of her car to take a picture while a long line of cars waited behind her.
When we finally headed west out of the park, a pair of Canada geese led their two goslings across a meadow in Little America. The little yellow goslings flapped their wings as they sped after their parents on their skinny legs – the perfect end to a remarkable last day in the park and another outstanding trip to Yellowstone.
Three weeks after we left Yellowstone, a combination of heavy rain and melting snowpack flooded the rivers and streams in Yellowstone and the surrounding area. In the northern part of the park, Lamar River, Gardiner River, Soda Butte Creek and the Yellowstone River overran their banks; crumbling roads and carrying bridges and other structures away in the rushing water. The devastation to this place we love so much and the surrounding communities is alarming. I worried about all the wildlife and the people in Gardiner and Silver Gate we have come to know and think of as friends. I wondered what the park would look like our next visit; what changes would there be in the face of climate warming. At this time, Yellowstone National Park is open, and most of it is accessible to visitors, thanks to the efforts of Superintendent Cam Sholly and the National Park Service. But the June floods warn us that we cannot take Yellowstone for granted, ever, and that we play a role in its conservation for current and future generations.