DAY ONE - Thursday, July 5

THE GIFT OF BISON

Itís 68 pleasant degrees at 9:30AM as I leave Bozeman. Iíve decided to take the Gallatin River canyon route and Iím glad I did, because it is just beautiful. There are rafters on the water and numerous fly fishermen.

The high marshy meadows are gorgeous, and I honestly did not remember such beautiful mountain views. Very different from Paradise Valley but just as nice. And one other thing is very welcome Ė there is hardly any traffic!

As I near West Yellowstone, I prepare myself mentally for summer crowds. Good thing I did, because there are four lanes of bumper to bumper traffic trying to enter the Park, backed up for about a quarter mile (which isnít too bad). I stay in the right lane which is designated for frequent visitors like me who already have a pass.

But, funny thing, once Iím inside the entrance, the traffic nearly disappears. I guess itís that people stop and pull over for various reasons. Anyway, I enjoy seeing the very different landscape here, especially since itís been so long since I last saw it.

Somehow, I miss all the fabled bison jams of this area. The drive brings back many lovely memories. It warms up around noon, but still under 80, so not too bad.

I stop at Madison Campground to sort out a few things and grab a sandwich from my cooler. I have my visit with Allison here, looking at the beautiful Firehole River, knowing she stayed in this campground once upon a time.

I have happy memories of the place, too, from my early visits, before I began to concentrate on seeing wolves.

There are many more wildflowers than I saw in June. The lupine is particularly plentiful and lush, blanketing whole meadows and hillsides, along with contrasting swaths of yellow blooms and bushes with white blossoms.

Every large pullout is jammed with cars (Gibbon Falls, Beryl Springs, etc) and the traffic tends to clump in lines of 8-10 cars behind a slow poke, but whenever I feel someone getting anxious behind me, I just pull over and fall in at the end of the line.

I reach Norris in great time and turn right towards Canyon.

I stop again at a trailhead at the top of the pass to get some more food to snack on but in this shady spot, the skeeters are pretty intense, so I donít stay long.

Coming down Blanding hill I decide to cruise into Hayden as long as Iím here. At Alum pullout I see Natalie & Warren looking to the west so I stop to chat. She says one Wapiti wolf was seen by Melba from here early this morning, and late last night some pack members were seen on the east side.

I drive south to 3 panels to see if anything is going on here, but find few cars, no scopes and only wildfowl: geese, pelicans and ducks. I have a short bison jam south of Grizzly Overlook but it breaks up fairly quickly.

I check in again with Natalie and then head north.

As I pass Dunraven picnic I note it has finally greened up, and I see a very pretty blacktail deer finding nourishment there.

A few curves before Mae West, I notice an unusual cloud formation to the east, so I pull over to take a photo. The sky is clear blue except for a single roundish, puffy cumulous cloud, but what makes it odd is that this cloud has a tail. I have often seen curtains of rain falling from clouds in the distance, but this is long and narrow, more like a sash of rain than a curtain. The ďtailĒ does not quite reach the ground. Itís really cool.

As I continue down the winding road I catch my first glimpse of the ďLamarĒ mountains. There is something about the landscape of the northern range that I prefer 100% to any other area of the Park. Itís not just one thing; it seems to be everything combined, from the flowers, to the hillsides, to the rock, to the surrounding mountains. Everything taken together. I just love the look of it.

Wildflowers I see are paintbrush, sticky geranium, wild rose, and lots of lupine, in colors ranging from pale blue to pinkish purple and everything in between. There are also big tufts of thick grass, just bursting with exuberant life. I just prefer this look to all the other areas of the Park and feel most at home here.

Itís a little late in the day for black bears so I am not surprised when I find none on my way down the mountain. Now Iím back in Little America, where I hear the pleasant sounds I have come to love: meadowlarks, yellow headed blackbirds, even snap-hoppers.

There is a crowd at Long pullout watching a herd of pronghorn, fairly close.

I have a small bison jam at Aspen; and this time the bison are not on the road but picturesquely bedded and grazing on the north side of the road, with the Lamar River in the background.

There is a huge pile of gravel in the Crystal/Specimen trailhead lot Ė I suppose this is in preparation for the re-paving of the Lamar road.

The same type of gravel mound has closed Fishermanís pullout, too.

The Lamar Valley looks very green and welcoming. There are bison all over dotting the plains; in fact, it looks quite Serengeti-like.

I pull over at mid-point to watch some bison cross the river through my binocs. I also notice what I think is pollen filling the air, just below the pullout. But itís not pollen! Itís SKEETERS!!!! rising en-masse from the marshy grass.

More gravel piles appear at both Footbridge and Pebble. Boy, thatís a lot of closed pullouts! Pebble Campground is open and many fishermen are here. I also see gravel at the upper lot of Warm Creek!

I arrive in Silver Gate around 3:30, unload and rest a bit. I call Laurie to let her know all is well. She gives me a tip that Junctions wolves were seen this morning on a brand new bison carcass, out in the old Druid R-V. She says if I am going out tonight, that would be the place to go.

After some dinner and a rest, I head out to do just that. And itís even more pleasant, because at Trash Can pullout, I find not only Dorothy, but Missy and Andy. Together we watch 4 Junction wolves (the same four as were seen this morning) from a bit before 8PM till I can no longer see at 9:30.

The wolves first appear from their bedding spots behind the western foothill and proceed to the carcass area, which is near the eroded area in the center of the R-V. As is often the case, the actual carcass is not visible from here; itís likely in a depression. Apparently it can be seen if you climb high on exclosure hill and those who did that have confirmed it is a bison. Most likely it was not killed by these wolves, but perhaps a casualty of the rut, old age or hit by a car. But the wolves look very happy.

For the record, they are: 1048M, 996M, the uncollared black male and the uncollared female. We watch them feed and tug a while, then they slowly make their way back where they came from, with time for lots of endearing play (mostly between 1048 and the black female) and several stops for bedding and a little scratching. We leave them bedded in the high grass, right in front of the western foothill.

There are happy people all over trash can hill and all along the road to exclosure, and we have a light breeze which keeps the skeeters away.

Another wolf watcher is here with us tonight, Hunterís dad (Kevin). He is my hero because he found my scope eye piece last summer when it rolled down Hellroaring hill. Itís great to spend time with him again, too. Hunter is not with them this trip but Hunterís mom is watching the wolves from inside their truck.

Itís a really nice evening and a propitious start to my trip. And on the way back I see several mule deer, grazing both sides of the road.

Today I saw: bison, mule deer, ducks, elk, geese, pelicans, pronghorn, 4 wolves (all from the Junction pack, including 1048, 996, uncollared male & uncollared female) and the spirits of Allison & Richard

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