On Wednesday we crossed over to the northeast side of the park and were blown away by a drastic change in landscape. We drove uphill for miles and at the top, the mountains were covered in snow. Now that a few days had passed since the race, I was capable of a true hike. We opted for Lost Lake Trail in Tower Junction, a three mile moderate loop that begins and ends behind Roosevelt Lodge. It started with a fairly steep uphill through the woods, then opened up to a meadow with one lone bison. We saw only one other group on the trail, a refreshing change from the masses of people on the boardwalks.
After we skirted around the bison, we found a calm lake and a shallow stream that led us to the Petrified Tree parking lot. We opted not to get up close and personal with the tree, but instead continued our hike. There was a bit more climbing and then at the top, a wide open meadow that made way for an overlook of Lamar Valley surrounded by mountains. We frolicked through the tall grass, hand in hand, stopping to watch some lady elk out on their afternoon stroll. As we descended, we found a few Mule Deer on the path who were completely unaffected by our presence. Even when we tried to make noise so they would put a little distance between us, they lazily looked up and rolled their eyes. What a place.
We had been told by multiple park rangers that Lamar Valley was the place to go for wildlife, so we took a right at Tower Junction onto Northeast Entrance Road to try our luck. Almost immediately, we saw our first herd of Bighorn Sheep. Shortly after, we were slowed to a stop by a mass of tourists who had spotted a Black Bear sow and her cub, who had nestled into a strip of sunlight among the trees. More babies?! Springtime in Yellowstone is a dream! Park Rangers were doing their best to keep a gap in the crowd, informing visitors that earlier in the day, the sow had killed an elk calf, and her other cub was left behind to feast on the other side of the road. We waited a few minutes, hoping for a little action, but Mama Bear was fully committed to her afternoon nap. As we walked back to our car, another group of visitors pointed out baby number two, who was in fact at the top of a mountain on the other side of the road, enjoying a hearty lunch. Our car was parked right across the street from the Specimen Ridge Trail head, so we grabbed our back packs and started walking.
Specimen Ridge is a strenuous 18 mile trail, but we only covered about a mile and a half. We followed the dirt path past a duck pond, a smattering of Pronghorns, and a small group of Bison WITH BABIES! The midday heat reared its head while we shuffled uphill alongside a swarm of Ground Squirrels, but once we made it to the top of the ridge, we found a breathtaking canyon overlook. Pleased with the view and anxious to refill our water bottles, we turned around.
When we came back down to our car, the parking lot was full of people glued to their binoculars. While were gone, a Grizzly sow approached the black bear cub and stole the elk calf! Through the binoculars, we could see the Grizzly and her two cubs ripping apart the remains of the carcass. The Black Bear cub had scurried away, out of sight. We heard from other visitors that the Black Bear sow and her cub had not changed position, so we got in the car and drove a bit deeper into Lamar Valley. In this part of the park, the Bison population really picked up and entire herds speckled the rolling hills.
When we turned back around to find a picnic spot, we passed back through the area of the Black Bear sighting, excited to witness part three of the saga. We pulled over and joined other visitors to watch the sow come out of the woods and ease into a pond to cool off. Her cub followed behind, but remained on the edge of the water. Something must have spooked the sow, because she started heading toward the road at full speed. Park Rangers repeatedly yelled for everyone to get back in their cars, which we were able to do just before the sow picked up speed and ran right behind our vehicle and up the mountain on the other side of the ride. Her cub remained across the street by the pond, squealing in distress. It was the most pitiful, heartbreaking sound and I have spent every night since hoping they were peacefully reunited.