Thursday, June 25, 2015

Yellowstone Day 3 - LaMar Valley Day

Today was the day for the big plan. Today was the day we were going to see animals. Daddy and I woke up at 4:00 AM, packed up clothes and snacks and a sleeping P and headed out for LaMar Valley - THE place to see wildlife.

The drive was spectacular! A foggy mist hung close to the earth and carpeted the vistas as the sun sleepily crept over Mount Washburn. I've seen the sun rise over the ocean, over mountains, over plains, over hills and forests and cities, but noting can compare to the sunrise we shared that morning.  We were on top of the world watching it come alive - witnessing the cobweb of fog slowly sweep away and reveal the grand terra firma. Mother earth was curvy and feminine wearing her dress of morning color. She was at her finest and she knew it. She was showing off. She was so beautiful, I had to keep my camera down and simply drink in the moments as they came at us curve after curve in the road.

Suddenly, there! There on the left!! A bear! A sweet little cinnamon bear on the side of the road! We think there was a little black cub with her, but we never really got a good glimpse. Mama was keeping her baby well hidden. I woke up our little bear so he could see too. This is what he had been waiting for. I only managed to get one half way decent shot of her, just enough to tell it was a bear. The light was very, very low and we were very, very excited. P saw a bear! A real live bear in the wild. One he could see with his own eyes, not through a set of binoculars. If this was any indication of where the day was headed, we were in for a real treat.

Inspired by the bear event, we moved on toward the valley. Of course we came across a huge bison that had zero effs left to give as he trotted down the middle of the lane. Once we were able to pass him he snorted at us like some old man warning us to keep off his lawn.

When we got to LaMar there were plenty of indicators with scopes all focused in the same direction. We parked and I put on my nosy pants to find out what sort of action was happening. There was a group of college students and a Park Ranger asking and answering questions, so I was able to get some really good information. A lone wolf was in the area. He was a Prospect wolf who had come to the valley alone. There had been a kill a day earlier, so unfortunately the pack wasn't hunting. We never got to see the lone wolf as he had found his way to a thicket of trees right before we parked. However, a Park Ranger gave P a wolf badge for coming to the valley and looking for animals. We stayed for a little bit, but when everyone started to pack up and head out, so did we. Along with the wolf info I also got some word about a mama grizz and a couple of cubs at Slough Creek, so that's where we went.

Slough Creek - the campground hadn't opened yet due to bear activity. The dirt road was as lonely as they view was lovely. When we got to the end of it, we parked and explored. I will admit, our exploration was a bit trepidatious. We didn't have bear bells or bear spray. We walked around and even hiked a bit, but we didn't venture far. There was a curious old stable and a parked truck which lead to the mystique around the place and kept the butterflies flittering inside our tummies. It was definitely a cool, sense heightening experience. I think it's probably a good thing we didn't see mama grizz. We did however meet a super cute Uinta Ground squirrel, some groovy caterpillars and a pronghorn.

We decided to drive back to LaMar valley just to see if anything was happening. Sooo glad we did! There was an awesome coyote hunting and baby bison frolicking across the road.

The next stop was Trout Lake. Some dear friends had seen baby otter there a few years earlier and every Ranger we asked said that is where they live, so off we went in search of funny little river fellows. The hike was incredible! Very steep and very beautiful. I fell in love with a tree along the way. It was old and huge and gnarled and magnificent. At the end of the trail the forest opened up to reveal a graceful lake. It was as smooth as glass, reflecting the mountain back on itself in it's mirror like water. We followed the trail around and took respite in a magical corner with a bridge and waterfall. It looked like a place where fairies would live.  As we continued on, we met a man from Hawaii who had brought the sun with him to Yellowstone, found the otter's home, but no otters, and stumbled on the remains of a predator's recent dinner. We decided to follow the stream that fed into the lake and wound up surrounded by splendor. At one point the panorama was so breathtaking I had to break out into, "The hills are alive with the sound of music.." It truly was a Von Trapp view with snow capped mountains and wild flowered hillsides. Simply music inspiring.

The hike back down was as much fun as the hike up. We left the trail head and knew it was time to get some lunch. Off to Roosevelt Junction. Talk about history! This place reeked of it! This is where Teddy himself stayed when he visited the First National Park. There are great little cabins, restaurants, gift shops and best of all - showers! We took advantage of everything but the cabins. While daddy cleaned himself up, P got to meet a couple of cowboys and pet a pair of draft horses, so I decided it was time to tell him a little bit about his heritage. The cowboys were more impressed than my little guy. Then P and I showered - ahhhh... blissful soapy water. After everyone was good and squeaky, we sat on the porch and rocked in chairs with other guests. We met a family from Arkansas. They were basically just spending the day in the park and had already seen more animals in one morning than we had the whole trip. Well if that didn't spark a sense of urgency! We got up and got out and were dadgum bound and determined to find ourselves some serious wildlife!

And wildlife we found! First up were a pair of brother moose (we decided they were brothers). Their antlers were still growing back - yes, moose shed their antlers annually. They lazily grazed and rambled through a clump of trees and fallen branches. I may have shed a bit of a tear watching them. This was the one animal P was most excited about seeing, and there they were. He could see them, right there, with his own eyes. Yes, I am that mom.

When we got back in the car, P told us he wanted to nap. So sweet. Daddy and I took the opportunity to drive up to see the North Entrance. It was under construction, but still majestic and impressive. Since P was sleeping, I was the only one who got to get up close and personal. I even got to touch the cornerstone that Teddy put in with his own hands in 1903. On the way we to the entrance, we made a pit stop at Ft. Yellowstone and decided it was well worth sharing with P once he woke up. We took our time getting back to it so he could get some good rest, but once he saw the exhibit inside he was so happy to be awake. It's a pretty cool place that I highly recommend. Some of our best souvenirs were purchased at the gift shop here - my awesome water bottle and a book written in 1932 called Cubby in Wonderland. It's a children's chapter book all about a mama black bear moving her cub from the Grand Tetons to Yellowstone and all the adventures they encounter along the way. It's a fantastic tale! We'll be ordering the sequel - Cubby Returns to Yellowstone.

All done with Ft Yellowstone, we headed back to our campground. That is when we had our National Geographic moment of the trip! We spotted some indicators on the side of the road at Phantom Lake and pulled over to discover a mama black bear with two of the most adorable cubs! The babies played as she tried to teach them how to be bears. The clambered over logs and climbed a tree. Mama found some bugs in a fallen log and taught them how to sniff them out and tear apart the bark to uncover the yummy goodness. P sat on a rock and watched and giggled. We were all taken by the cuteness and stayed until the threesome made their way up the hillside into the cover of trees. We were giddy from the experience as we made our way further down the road only to discover more indicators! This time there was a pair of adult black bears sauntering in the meadow. Another amazing experience!

By this time, the sun was setting low and light was fading fast. We got back in the car, drove along and spotted the moose brothers once again. It was as if they were wishing us a good night on our way back to camp. And a good night it was. Eco played among the pine trees and met a pair of new friends from England. They played until we needed artificial light to see. Then campfire, story of the day and bed. We watched the sun come up. We watched the sun go down. It was a full day indeed.

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