DAY ONE - Sunday, December 23

WAPITI WELCOME

Yesterday, the US government began a partial shutdown. Thanks Grima, you DOTUS!

Some of my friends are already in the Park and they kindly send messages to those of us who are soon to arrive, so we know what to expect.

The road between Mammoth and Silver Gate (which serves the gateway communities of Gardiner, Silver Gate & Cooke City) is still being plowed. Thatís the road we drive at Christmastime so it should be ďnormalĒ. So far, the only really troublesome issue is that the various out houses will not be maintained, and if the shutdown lasts a while, I should plan to bring my own TP!

I leave Bozeman at 11AM. Rick has asked me to stop in Livingston to pick up some special blueberry bagels for him, so I do.

Itís 30 degrees with partial sun. The roads in Bozeman are packed ice from an earlier snowfall but easy enough to drive on.

By the time I get to Livingston, the roads are clear and dry but it is quite windy. The sun feels great, though. My car this time is a ďSanta FeĒ, which, suffice to say, is not the model I will be buying. It seems to have been made for people living in Arizona or California; not Montana!

The wind is so strong I can feel it coming through the seams. I keep both hands steady on the wheel. I reach the Park just before 1PM and see Sepulcher shrouded in cloud. The Park seems quite empty, which certainly could be due to the shutdown but itís a bit too early to tell.

The Gardiner River looks gray and cold. I see very little snow and the roads continue to be clear. I stop in Mammoth for my visit with Allison and now Iím on my way east.

The temp is hovering around 32 degrees and the skies promise snow. I see a lone bison at Phantom Lake and lots of gorgeous winter vistas along the way. I notice a few areas where cars went off the road and eventually got out.

When I get to Elk Creek I see Linda & Larry. They have wolves!

I knew the Wapitis had been in the area the last two days and Iím thrilled to be able to see them before they leave. They often make an appearance on the northern range at this time of year because their home territory gets much more snow and the elk leave.

I get a quick glimpse of the white alpha female as sheís crossing the snow-meadow below us, heading west. Several photographers drive that way in hopes of getting a close shot of her, which leaves open space in the lot for my car.

Once I get set up I find her again, just topping a ridge to the west. She is followed by two more grays. A little later a third gray, possibly a pup, scent trails his way behind them. There is a single bull elk directly north, right at the edge of the snow-meadow, starkly visible against the conifers. The wolves pay him no mind. He is aware of them but not troubled by them.

In a wooded area to the right we see a large black collared wolf, possibly the alpha, plus three other blacks and another gray.

Larry & Linda have been watching these wolves since early this morning, and have seen all 11, which is the current count for the Pack. They have a carcass out of sight that is likely nothing but bones by now. For the next hour we watch various individuals move about. We hear howling on and off to the southeast. Which means itís likely that the pack is split, on either sides of the road. Sometimes the wolves in view answer the howls. At one point it grows in volume, becoming quite gorgeous and echoey.

Eventually another black appears to the right. Iíve no idea where he came from but he may have just crossed from the south.

The alpha female comes back; in fact, so do the three grays that followed her. They all retrace their steps and head back towards the black wolves. They greet happily; one of them is particularly rambunctious, jumping on his pack matesí backs, as if theyíve been separated for days instead of minutes. Itís one of my favorite wolf behaviors to see.

Shortly after this they all disappear from our view. My count is up to 9, which I think is great for my first day!

For the next half hour we have no more howling and no more sightings so I load up and head east. Iíd like to get to Silver Gate before dark if possible.

At Junction Pond I see 3 bighorn ewes. Little America looks really beautiful under its thick blanket of snow. At Dorothyís I see a sweet little coyote trotting in the road.

As I near the Confluence I find the road full of people and cameras. That means otter! I squeeze into a spot and find a big fat otter putting on quite a show. Heís in the river right next to the road, making photogs very happy. He dives and surfaces, looks appreciatively at the huge crowd heís drawn, and then plays comic by resting his head against the ice.

This goes on a solid 10 minutes before he finally moves further west and out of sight. I continue east.

At Round Prairie I spy a moose in the willows. Woo hoo!

As I reach Baronette, the snow thatís been threatening all day finally arrives and is falling heavily when I reach Silver Gate. I find a note from Kara that she and Rick are watching football at Bobís and will be home late.

I get unloaded and settled, then Rick M calls to ask if I want to watch a 60 minutes program on Yellowstone. So I trot over there. Itís pretty good, overall and Doug S is particularly good. Laurie is in it, too, as well as a few other wolf watching folk I know. And Rick has a nice short segment as well. I walk back in the snowy dark and find Kara & Rick have returned.

We have a nice reunion and then I hit the sack!

Today I saw: bison, a coyote, mule deer, elk, an otter, a moose, 3 big horn sheep, 9 wolves of the Wapiti pack (including the alpha female) and the spirits of Alison & Richard.

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