Day 7: Bear Friday!

Friday, August 29, 2003

I am in no hurry for breakfast or getting up today. I have to get the van fixed and I know nothing will open before 8:00 or 9:00. So after breakfast I get some recommendations for mechanics from the front desk. At 8:00am I begin calling. By 8:30 I have someone on the phone. It's only a couple of blocks down the street from Three Bear Lodge, so I take the van down there.

The only problem is that the alt light doesn't stay on when I start the car. Oh, oh. I go down there anyway. He hooks his equipment up. Everything checks out okay. He doesn't want to charge me but we agree on $5.00. I start up the van to leave. Ha! Now it's doing it. So he hooks his equipment up again and gets some readings. He shakes his head a bit and then bangs the alternator with a big rubber mallet. "The bushings are starting to go inside the alternator," he says. He does some checking around for the part. He thinks he can have it done by 10:30. That sounds good to me.

So I walk back to my motel room. The wait is mind-numbing. I channel surf; I snooze. Finally 10:30 rolls around and I call to check. He hasn't got to it yet. This isn't good. He says to call back at 1:30. So I channel surf some more. I finally decide to take a little walk around West. I am bored and have no desire to look through touristy shops.

It's finally close enough to lunch time so I find a bite to eat. Then I head back to my room for more waiting. Finally 1:30 rolls around. As I call I remind myself that this would have been much worse if I had to pick Laurie up in Rexburg at 4:30 as was the original plan. The van is done! Yea! I walk back down to the auto shop and pay my bill.

In a few short minutes I am heading back into the park. I have no agenda and I try to narrow the possibilities. Sometime before Seven Mile Bridge I pass Jake and Leslie going in the other direction. I wave but they don't notice me. Leslie has her head down. I bet it's that cross stitch. They are probably headed off to meet Tim and Betsy and make the vehicle drop off at the Bechler Ranger Station.

I am now interested in each and every car pulled off the road. What are they doing? Photographing elk? That's okay, I don't care about that. When I get to Seven Mile Bridge, I slow down to scan for swans. I don't see a swan at the bridge, but off in a curve in the Madison I see a double crested cormorant. I pull off at the next pullout. It's even better than I thought. There's a swan right at the pullout.

I pull out the tripod and the cameras and go to work on the swan. There are geese off in the distance as well. After I am convinced that the swan isn't going to do anything interesting like fly, I turn my attention to that cormorant. I break out the binoculars and mount them on my tripod. It is too far away for the zoom on my camera. The cormorant is standing erect in the middle of the Madison. People stop to take a look at the swan. A few ask me what I am looking at. No one seems interested that I have a double crested cormorant in the binoculars. So I watch the cormorant on my own. Finally he (or she) launches into the Madison and swims out of sight.

One of the swans on the Madison River.   It's pretty interesting what they can do with their necks   Swan.  Madison River.

The swan is still nearby, but I now have other business. I decide that I will stop at Old Faithful again and see if Kristine is around, then I will head out to Hayden to check on the bison carcass. It will be a nice drive and my first chance to see what is going on with the fires near Yellowstone Lake.

I am still interested in the cars pulled off the road, but invariably it turns out to be an elk or bison. Just south of Midway Geyser Basin I see there is a new bison carcass just off the road, between the road and the river. I know there is no way they will leave it there, but what a jam that would have produced if the scavengers had found it in time.

Once at Old Faithful I head over to the Geyser Grill again. Still no Kristine. I am now almost convinced that I didn't have good information on her new job. I take another quick look for interesting books and another look for gifts, but nothing looks appealing right now. So it's back to the road for me.

At Kepler Cascades I pull off the road to take a look at the Lone Star trailhead. I just want to be sure that the trail is not closed due to fire. I am a little relieved that it seems perfectly normal.

So I hit the road again, biding my time and enjoying the forests and the hills. There are some folks who seem to be in a hurry so when I can I get out of the way. Soon I make the turn towards Lake and Canyon. As I get along the side of the lake I start to notice a funny noise from the car whenever I hit a little bump. At first I start thinking about the alternator, but there doesn't seem to be any indication on the dashboard. I decide to pull over at the next opportunity. When I find a pullout I pop the hood and take a look. The oil cap has fallen off. It's done this once or twice before now. Fortunately it generally gets stuck in a certain place. I reach down and retrieve it and replace it. I am back on the road again.

As I get nearer to the Lake Hotel I start getting suspicious again. So I pull into Lake and park by the store. I can't believe it. The oil cap has come off again. This isn't good. I fish it out again and put it back on. I resolve to check it each time I stop or pull over.

I head back out on the road again. When I finally get to the Mud Volcano area I am glad to be so close to Hayden. In a few minutes I am at the right pullout for the bison carcass. I walk over to the best vantage point. There are still people there watching the bison carcass, but still no scavengers. Someone says that someone in the Park Service opened the carcass. He speculates that they wanted to know why it died and why no scavengers seemed interested in it.

I am disappointed because I was hoping to see a bear. A bear? Someone knows about one just up the road. Thanks! Off I go.

Sure enough not two miles away there is another full pullout and a small army of people on a small rise overlooking the Yellowstone River. I grab the cameras, tripod and binoculars and head on down. When I start asking around I am told to look across the river towards a small sandy area. There are two trees and a bushy clump to the right of that and a bison carcass right there. That is where the bear had been. In the morning, they say, a black bear had been in there, but a grizzly came in later and chased it off. I am assured that the bear is currently missing, having gone up the hill.

So I scan the hill a bit. Other people near me pack up and leave. It's a little after 7:00pm. Then I see movement. I've found the bear. He is moving through the brush towards the carcass. When he gets to the carcass he goes to work feeding. Every now and then he looks up. I can see the hump. It's a grizzly all right. Although it would have been easy for the bear to sit down, enjoy his meal and then bed down for the night, it turns out that he is pretty entertaining. He eats and looks around alternately. Once, in a particularly gruesome display, I witness a huge hunk of meat pulled from the carcass. He then decides to come out of the thicket and into full view by the river. Everyone watching is getting excited.

People keep arriving and come down the hill. First I meet a family with a toddler, small boy and a slightly older girl. I offer the parents my binoculars and they both take a look. Then I ask the kids if they would like a look. I lower the tripod and get the bear in sight. It is the first time they have ever seen a bear. The little boy can't seem to stop talking. He is full of questions about the bear that no one can answer. "Where does the bear live?" "What's he going to do next?"

After a bit they finally leave. A British couple arrives to take their place. They take a look through my binoculars as well. It is their first bear. They are, if I remember correctly, from someplace north of London. We have a great time chatting about Yellowstone. Frankly, as long as she wants to talk with her cool British accent she is welcome to use my binoculars.

The bear is very entertaining. He splashes around in the river. He surfs downstream a bit. When he raises his head in our direction I can see that he has an absolutely gorgeous face. This is a magnificent bear, and very pretty. I would never get tired of watching him. Someone asks if I have taken any photos. No, he is too far away and there isn't enough light.

Another family arrives and we chat about the bear. I let them all take a look as well. Their son is handicapped and this is his first bear sighting too. It's a great night for first bear sightings.

So I watch the bear until almost 8:00 when there is very little to be seen over there. He splashes and drinks and looks around the bottom. Some geese come floating by. Boy do they get out of there in a hurry when a dirty look is flashed their way. The pelicans seem to keep their distance. Finally he leaves the water, shakes the water from his fur, and heads back to the carcass. I can no longer see in there and he might be settling down for a nap or for the night. I decide to take my leave and head up to Canyon.

For the first time this trip I get myself a Moose Tracks cone to celebrate my bear sighting. I'll come back tomorrow after the hike and see if there is more bear fun to be had. But for now it is time to head back to West Yellowstone and dinner at Pete's Pizza and Pasta. In spite of all the troubles earlier in the day the entertaining bear has made the day more than worthwhile. I love those big bruins.

On to the next day