This year, in May, I will be traveling with my family on a once-in-a-lifetime visit to New Zealand. So, instead of visiting Yellowstone in April as I usually do, I decided to squeeze in this short visit in mid-March.
I leave Bozeman at 12:30PM. Itís overcast but the early spring sun makes it bright enough for sunglasses. A light snow starts falling as I enter the highway and continues up the pass. But helpfully, it stops on the other side.
Roads are dry in Livingston, where itís a comfortable 30 degrees. There is ďChristmas levelĒ snow in this area; maybe a bit more. The mountains are nicely dressed in white. It almost seems that Paradise Valley has less snow than Bozeman, but I wonder if thatís because the wind has blown a lot of it away?
I see mule deer just outside Emigrant plus geese in a field.
I check into the Super 8 in Gardiner, then I continue to the Park, going thru the Arch just before 3PM. Itís already warm at 34 degrees.
I see bison & geese at Chinese Gardens. Mammoth has less snow than I expected. But then I think I donít really have a way to compare things because I have never been here this early in March! Usually this time of year is referred to as ďmud seasonĒ. But itís been quite snowy and cold the last few weeks. This is likely the warmest day in quite a while.
I have my visit with Allison and say hello to Richard, too. Then I head to Lamar and points east.
I notice a government car in the Geode lot and consider it a good sign that wolves could be in view, since itís likely a wolf crew vehicle. But when I get to Hellroaring I am not sure I should pull in. The pullout is full of lumpy, hardened snow. Two cars are already here and there is plenty of room so I take a chance.
Iím glad I did because the people here help me see wolves; 5 members of the Junction Butte pack.
I meet Bethany & Lou and another couple, John and Brenda. I introduce myself and they recognize my name from the reports. The only way to see the wolves is to climb down to where Lou has his scope set. Itís the same area where my eyepiece rolled out of sight last summer.
Itís kinda scary but I use my stick and carefully make my way there. The view is a bit to the west, through tree branches. But I do see them. I can really only claim two of the four blacks, but they say a gray is there to. They are bedded and moving only slightly.
Yay! Wolves on my first day!
I thank them and carefully climb back up. Now I head east.
I notice very few cars in the park which is how I like it, of course! The roads are fine, mostly dry with a few icy stretches in the more shaded spots, which I am able to anticipate.
I am told there is a carcass at Lamar Bridge and one at the Confluence. The one at the bridge is a bull elk that the Junctions got several days ago. The one at Confluence is bighorn lamb/yearling and might have been a cat kill.
As I pass the ski lot pullout, a largish herd of bison, mostly yearlings, are coming down the hill into the road. Itís a little tricky to maneuver around them here but I manage.
At Tower I see a lone coyote resting atop a snow berm, admired by two carloads of visitors.
On the way down to the Yellowstone Bridge I see warning signs of a bump. I slow down but not quite enough. Itís BIG bump. I believe they are fixing the bridge. Next time Iíll slow to a crawl!
Little America seems to have the most snow yet. The berms are really high in many places.
A small group of elk crosses the road at Curve from north to south and I manage a nice video.
I end up driving as far as Round Prairie. I had heard a Lamar pup was seen this morning in this area. I donít see any wolves but I pull over in RP east for a bit, thinking back fondly and sadly to the last time I heard 926F howl, right from this spot.
A coyote appears in the open field so I watch a while. The snow looks so pure and white. Itís really so pretty here. Partly itís the setting but I also think itís due to the light as well. Itís nearly 5.
I notice that most of the snow on the ground is old and wind-blown. Itís still pretty deep, covering most of the sage. I wonder if this is normal for March?
I head back west and stop at Footbridge. A fox stops by and I watch him, all to myself!
As I pass Tower, I hear a voice on the radio (Jeff A) calling that he has Junctions from Hellroaring. I head there and risk parking again. This time I get a better look at them, mostly because they are active!
One black remains bedded separate from the rest who have moved to the left of him. I ask Jeff, where are his tracks? It looks like the wolf was just plopped down in that spot by helicopter. He says he thinks the snow is so crusted over that the wolf simply doesnít leave tracks. Pretty cool!
I donít stay long because Iím not used to the cold yet.
On my way back I see the wolf crew at S Curves so I stop. Lizzie is here so I say hi and she introduces me to Annie. Jeremy was also here but I somehow missed seeing him. This crew is following the 8 Miles. Lizzie says they have signals out towards the donut forest but nothing in sight.
The wind has picked up and I get quickly chilled again.
So I head on. I have lots of bison in the road between Undine and the High Bridge, and feel glad that it doesnít freak me out the way it used to.
There are scattered elk on both sides of the road all through Gardiner canyon. At Chinese Gardens two elk cross the road so I pull over to watch a while. They move down the slope and enter the river. It doesnít faze them in the least to stand in cold, moving water in below freezing temps. I need a thicker skin! A little further on some mule deer cross the road, also heading for a river crossing.
I get back to the hotel and warm up fast. I type my note to Laurie & call it an early night.
Today I saw: bison, 2 coyotes, mule deer, elk, a fox, geese, bighorn sheep five Junction wolves and the spirits of Allison & Richard.