Magical May Moments

As promised I am going to share with you a magical May day we enjoyed recently. While every day in the Centennial is magical (if you look for it) - just like every day anywhere else - some days are, as John Denver said, 'Diamonds.' This was one of those days.

Once our guests begin to come in earnest, we have little time to get away and just explore. While I have been just about any place you can reach on foot from the lodge back door, once in a while we extend our excursions. And so, we took an afternoon and went to see what we could see. We were not disappointed!

The first sighting of our excursion were two trumpeter swans swimming placidly on the 'tarn' at the north end of Elk Lake. Unfortunately I only seem to see swans on the lake early and late. I suppose, private birds that they are, there is just a bit to much traffic to make Elk Lake a comfortable nesting location.

While there have been some springs when we managed to be in the right place at the right time to see, literally, hundreds of elk, this was not that year. However, with an increasing wolf population, I am always glad to see good numbers of elk on my excursions. This time I quit counting at about 50. The first sightings were just over the hill. From there on sharp eyes could usually spot at least a small group of animals - resting in the trees or grazing on the hillsides.

Just a bit further and we spotted a lone moose browsing on the edge of the timber. It did not even lift its head to acknowledge our presence. I have met a few humans who really get into their food - however they are usually on the younger side. This fellow appeared to be past that stage. None-the-less the south end of a moose does not make for much of a picture - so I had to pass on that one.

A tad further and a deer caught my eye. While deer are a fairly common sight in the summer, this time of year they are just beginning to return. Thus we see fewer deer - at least until the first part of June - than we do elk. In fact, while the White-Tail Deer are the last to leave in the fall, I have yet to see a White-Tail this spring. From that I conclude they must be the last to return. However, the Mule Deer are welcome returnees.

On up the trail we spotted more elk and an occassional deer. Birds - large and small - graced our path. However, things remained 'normal' until about mid-way through our outing. Moving comfortably along we topped a rise and. . .what's that? Stop. Shush! Grab the binoculars and the camera. A bear. What do you know? A BIG black bear!

What a treat. While we have seen bear sign - and my hubby once spotted a Grizzly in the middle of a dead cow - however, actually laying our eyes on a bear is usually reserved for one of our 'lucky' trips into the Park. Thus I was more than pleased the kids were getting to see a bear in their own backyard (at least if you consider the several thousands of acres around the lodge their 'backyard').

This guy didn't run. He didn't pay us much mind. But, I have little doubt he knew we were there as he limited his grazing to right along the edge of the trees before fading back into the forest to disappear from view. Yep - he's that big black spot in the middle of the picture. I would have tried for a better shot, but I did not want to either tempt him to attack or chase him away - - - so distance seemed a good thing!

Well pleased with ourselves we turned toward home. Elk. Deer. Moose. Bear. Swans. Hawks and Eagles. Birds large and small. Grand vistas. Pure nature. NO PEOPLE! A great day it had been - or so we thought. Little did we know the adventure was not yet at an end.

Traversing across a ridge top we crossed some wolf tracks. While they were not 'smoking' (minutes old), they were distinct despite the recent rains which told us they were not very old.

Only in our part of the world would wolf tracks come with a bit of a ho-hum attitude. They are becoming common enough they no longer send my heart to racing. However, it was interesting to note where they had been - and how close.

By this time we had seen just about every species of big game typically seen in the Centennial. I must admit, we were feeling mighty pleased with the day's offerings. Yet- - -there was more to come. Remember that wolf track I mentioned? Well, it seems there were more than tracks to be seen this fine day!

You guessed it! Around the corner we go and there, just ahead, a big black wolf is staring at us. Some of the wolves we've 'met' recently have appeared quite undaunted by the presence of humans. We were very glad, therefore, when this one seemed to be more than willing to head for the hills - literally.

Now I would like to show you my fantastic picture - taken at fairly close range. However, such is not the case. I do have a good excuse, however. The wind was kicking up. In fact, it was getting downright chilly. So I had pulled up my hood and tied it snugly. And. . .along came the wolf. By the time I untied the knot (which resulted from my first desperate jerks to remove my hood and retrieve my camera), he had disappeared over yonder ridge. So. . .take me at my word or not!

The end of our day found us traveling along the Northside Centennial Road. The eastern end of this road is extremely sandy - as it traverses the unique sand dunes which grace that section of the Centennial.

First to be seen were two dozen pronghorn, grazing peacefully in a meadow until we came along. True to pronghorn peculiarities, they decided to 'race' us for awhile. Since we weren't feeling too competitive at this point, they easily won!

And, just to emphasize wolves are fairly prolific in our neck of the woods, we came across a nice large wolf track in the road - quite a distance from the wolf or the tracks we had seen a bit earlier. It was still quite impressive, even when compared to my hubby's size 10.

But, around the corner a tale, written on the road sands, unfolded before out eyes. The wolf whose track I had photographed had obviously been a recent traveler down this road. It does not take much wind to move those sands around - and these tracks were clear and distinct - and on top of the most recent vehicle tracks which did not appear to be too old themselves.

Shortly after we spotted the wolf's tracks, they headed off into the sage and grass at right angles with the road. Keeping an eye peeled - just in case - we continue down the road. Yet the story lay not on the road side but in the road itself. Back onto the road come our wolf tracks, only now, they are covering the ground in a long-loping stride obviously on the heels of running a calf moose or calf elk.

We followed these tracks for miles (at least three), expecting around each turn or on the other side of each rise, to find a wolf in the middle of a young moose or elk. All the way to Elk Lake Road the saga continued. Yet, just before the junction the calf apparently gained enough lead it left the road, lept the fence - and hopefully (since we could find nothing in sight to indicate otherwise) is still grazing on a nearby hillside. A bit wiser. A bit more alert. And, hopefully, fast enough to outrun the next wolf to cross its path.

After a day like that, I'm not sure why I ever bother to make the long trek through the Park. Who needs to fight the crowds when they have such a variety in their own back yard? I truly am blessed, once again, to be the

Lady of the Lake