Dan & Laurie did get in last night, just at dark. Dan ran the snow blower so there is now room for us to park in the driveway.
But this morning we find another 6 inches has fallen overnight so he runs it again. Itís 28 degrees so, not too cold.
As I get underway I discover that the plow has cleared a center path but itís barely wide enough for cars to pass. Lucky for us there is hardly any traffic. But Rickís car is stuck in a snowbank near the ranger residence entrance. He leaves it there because heís on company time anyway and asks us to help him with it later.
There is nothing in Lamar so I go on to Slough. I set up in the lot because wolves are already in view. I have Larry & Linda on one side and Jeff M on the other.
I am so happy to have wolves the day that Laurie & Dan are back. Itís the Junctions. I first see them coming out of the horizontal forest, heading west towards the bottom of the diagonal forest. They disappear behind those trees a while but then emerge on the rocky knob in front of it. They continue past the crescent rock and into the old den area.
They pass the eastern trees and then 969 goes right to the sage den and then Ė disappears inside! Hah!
The rest of them pay a visit to the sage den, some mark it, and at least one black also goes inside. They them meander around the area, traipsing up to the bow log and the natal den, sniffing all over.
They start to climb up the cliff above the den. I think weíll have them in view a good long time but somehow they disappear. We all search for them, panning left and right and all around.
I hear coyotes howling and I find a herd of elk far to the west on that snow slope where Calvin found the Prospects yesterday. But the wolves elude us.
I notice the sky to the west is still dark. It looks like the snow is not yet finished with us.
Most of us head west. Steve and Robin get to Elk Creek first and he finds the Prospects from there. I find room to park at the upper lot and walk down. Luckily I am in time to see them because they are moving quickly across the slope.
I see 4 grays, one collared (964M). There is some charming romping play from the yearling (probably the only remaining pup from the litter that people watched during May & early June at Slough this past spring). Rick and Steve believe the other two are adults.
They travel across the high bare ridge with a few stops to sniff here and there. But they quickly go out of sight. They seem so carefree up there heading off to their next adventure.
Next we move west and gather again at Hellroaring, hoping to see some 8 Mile wolves but they do not appear today. All the Christmas wolf-watching crowd is in this pullout, passing out food, just like old times. It reminds us all of our dear Richard. Boy, do we miss him.
Then a few flakes start to fall and although we have nothing in view, we know we will soon have more snow than this to contend with.
So, those of us who live east decide to head back that way. Near the Hellroaring trailhead, I have to swerve to avoid a grouse in the road. Silly thing.
Driving is fine on the Blacktail but once we get into Little America, the flat light makes it really hard to drive! You canít gauge any depth and you have to guess where the edge of the road is. I get advice later from Calvin who tells me to get yellow tinted sunglasses to help with that.
Rick alerts us via radio of a report of an avalanche in Icebox canyon blocking the road. He says the plow is already there, trying to clear the road.
As I am approaching Picnic, itís clear from the cars and people that there are otters in view. I stop in the lot and see them through my binoculars. But I donít want to stop too long. The snow falls more thickly and itís clear we are in for a serious snowfall. Itís not a problem with my car. The Outback handles the snow just fine, but when itís accumulating so fast, I donít trust any other drivers. Each time I see a car approaching in the other lane, I slow down to nearly a stop to make sure they get past me ok.
At Round Prairie, the snow volume seems to double. Itís as if the plow has not been through here at all. And maybe thatís true; itís probably stuck clearing the avalanche. But still I notice two moose through the thickly falling snow.
I am last in line in a caravan, behind Rick, Kara, Laurie & Dan. I am quite relieved when I get through all of ice-box canyon: the avalanche is actually well east of there, around the corner from Soda Butte Picnic. A large galump of snow has sunk down the north hillside onto the road. Itís narrow and woodsy here, and the creek is just a few feet from the road, so I can imagine it blocked the road pretty seriously for a while.
We wait in a line for about 15 minutes, while traffic from the east creeps through, then we get waved on by a flag man. I donít envy these guys their jobs!
When we get close to the Gate, we stop again to help Rick. Kara is amazing with her shovel and Rickís car is clear pretty quickly.
We are all safely back in Silver Gate before 2 and stay in for the rest of the day.
Today I saw: bison, coyotes, elk, 2 moose, 3 otters, 12 wolves (including all 8 Junctions: 969, 907, 996, 1047, 1048 plus three un-collared blacks) and 4 Prospects (964 plus 2 adults and one pup) and the spirits of Allison and Richard