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Trip Report ~ Bear Sightings ~ by Frank Smith

04 May 2012

Yellowstone Grizzly Bear taken April 2012 ~ © Copyright All Rights Reserved John William Uhler

~ May 2012 ~

Friday - 04 May

Yellowstone Grizzly Bear taken April 2012 ~ © Copyright All Rights Reserved John William Uhler

I'm trying to get this out pronto, for the benefit of those heading into the park this weekend. Randal's report on his Thursday jaunt was helpful to me. I ran into some hard core wildlife photogs today who had been in on the Mollie's scene yesterday. They said they saw 14 Mollie's wolves in all.

I should mention that I do have some photos from today. Most are not your typical wildlife shots. Let's say they are "unique". Then there are some very special landscape shots at the end. I hope to publish a photo-equipped report sometime in the next week. I have a trip to NIH in Bethesda Sunday through Wednesday, and I will have some down time, hanging around in between blood draws, imaging sessions, and other harassment, plus time on aircraft to work on it.

I was supposed to be hiking, but the closer I got to Mammoth, the more I could feel the magnetic pull of the lands south of Canyon. I surrendered to the siren's song. (I did get a token hike in at the end of the day.)

Going south out of Mammoth, the large black bear was hosting a swarm of paparazzi in the aspen grove between the Upper Terrace Loop and the Hoodoos. On Swan Lake Flat, the "Quad Mom" grizzly was out in the sage with her two surviving cubs. They are 2 years old, and should be emancipated some time in June, so mom can start the cycle over again. The photographers I was hanging out with on the roadside were complaining about the "porcupine" or "Obsidian Creek" female griz not being out when they drove through there. When I continued south, I found her at the extreme south end of Willow Park, just north of the Mount Holmes trailhead, doing her trademark digging for burrowing critters. She was within 50-75 feet of the road, on the west side; and only had a few vehicles parked in the roadway.

The road damage south of Canyon has indeed been repaired. You do have to take it slow through there, particularly when going northbound.

Hayden Valley was very quiet. The pros at Swan Lake Flat reported it was that way early in the morning. It was still that way in early and late afternoon. Just a few bull bison and some geese around. There is quite a bit of bare ground. The landmark snowbanks at Grizzly Overlook and just south of the South Overlook are smaller than I've seen them on Opening Weekend in at least 4 or 5 years, maybe 7 or 8 feet high at the most.

Yellowstone Grizzly Bear taken April 2012 ~ © Copyright All Rights Reserved John William Uhler

Fishing Bridge is a little beehive of activity behind the scenes. The store and the R.V. park open next Friday, and work is under way to get everything ready. I spotted what looked to be at least 3 RV's belonging to campground hosts at the RV park, at sites close to the office.

I went as far east as Lake Butte Overlook, a standard stopping place for me. I ate a peaceful lunch drinking in the sprawling view of Yellowstone Lake and the terrain that surrounds it. A funny thought occurred to me while I was sitting there. For some reason, I thought an "Occupy Lake Butte Overlook" campaign sounded funny. Then I tried to think of a reason to occupy it (other than hogging the killer view). The only negative I could come up with was crowding. I was very surprised at how many other vehicles kept coming up that road. Everyone was very cordial and quiet. There tends to be an endemic solemnity that pervades this place, not unlike Mather Point at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon at sunset. I decided I would conduct my campaign secretly, just sitting there, with no signs or slogans. Can you imagine someone at Lake Butte Overlook with a "Kick the Bums Out" sign?

I closed my "campaign" at 3:00 p.m. Other than a maintenance fellow pulling up snow stakes and loading them on his truck, I had the place to myself. (Oh, I should mention that as you would expect, the characteristic big snow drift is much smaller this year, but still covering all but one of the parking spots -- the one I got for my campaign!)

Here is one bummer to report. The road damage between the Nine Mile trailhead and Sedge Bay has not been repaired. That single lane traffic light arrangement is still in place.

As I was approaching the area where the Pelican Valley trailhead road meets the pavement, I noticed an SUV pulled off on the dirt road. A woman riding shotgun was hanging out the side window, taking photographs with a long lens. I looked where she was pointing, and spotted a female grizzly with a yearling cub. I invested some time observing and photographing. The cub was a hoot (not our Hoot, just a "hoot"). He/she kept standing up to get a better look above the sage. Of course, I never got the money shot of the cub standing! Mom and offspring were on the north side of the road, heading east, like maybe they heard the Fishing Bridge General Store was opening soon, and there would be ice cream available. Eventually, one of the Lake rangers showed up. Everyone was staying on the road, most folks inside their vehicles, so the ranger's job was much easier than it often is. After a bit, I proceeded west, intent on getting a token hike in up north before dark.

Hayden Valley was still relatively sterile, but at least, ALL the closure signs that graced the west side of the road last year are gone! There are still closure signs at the Cygnet Lakes trailhead, and the usual seasonal closure at LeHardy Rapids. I stopped at the Wapiti Lake trailhead, and found a few photo-worthy things. I will save them for when I post photos.

The rest of the way back to Mammoth was very peaceful, with no roadside critters, other than bison, thus no jams.

I only had a few hours of daylight left, so I decided it was high time to hoof it up Kite Hill and visit Allison. In many respects, it was the highlight of my day, along with seeing what my lovely wife drew on my sandwich bag. I will also save this story for when I am photo-ready. I was up there at the same relative time (in relation to the sun) as we were on the Solstice in 2004, but there is still snow on Bunsen Peak, Sepulcher Mountain and the Washburn Range.

We have flaky weather moving in tonight, and tomorrow may not be so nice. The weather is supposed to improve markedly by Monday or Tuesday. I can't wait to be back in Wonderland next weekend!


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