I’m up at 4:30. As I come out the campground road, I see a sweet little mule deer feeding all by itself. Almost without thinking I turn right and head up to Antelope Creek. If Calvin and Lynette are up here, perhaps I can bring them some luck to break their wolf-less curse.
In an open spot I see six pretty elk grazing close to the road. I have learned to keep moving as I pass them, instead of stopping as I used to do. I find in the early morning, they spook if you stop.
As I get up to the top I am surprised to see Calvin and Lynette already set up! They come all the way from Slough but still they beat me! I tell ya, these two are hardcore! We chat quietly and enjoy the cold morning while patches of fog drift here and there. It‘s brisk and chilly and I am glad I brought my down coat. We see various elk grazing in the wide bowl below us and on the hillsides above and below the road. There are bison as well. Then Calvin spots a black bear roaming on a far hillside. It is awfully far away and still quite early. It might have been a grizzly but probably not.
Just as the light begins to grow, the bear goes out of sight. We go back to watching elk. I notice that green-up has not yet arrived up here; the snow and cold have only just begun to loosen their grip. It looks more like the first week of May rather than the last. Then the radio crackles with a report that the Unknowns are being seen on Jasper Bench. I see Calvin’s eyes light up but he stays put. Lynette seems torn. I tell them I think this is fate, that they ought to head down to Lamar and see themselves some wolves.
But none of us leave! One reason is that we have noticed some wary elk on the hill below us have begun to bound away, all in the same direction. Next thing you know Calvin calls out softly “grizzly“. Aha! I see it! The big bear is far below the elk but they are clearly taking no chances. They all get out in a hurry.
We watch the big bear amble around in the zig-zag pattern I’ve learned to recognize as hunting for elk calves. I look around and see elk everywhere, on the hillsides above us, and on both sides of us, small groups of two or three, here, there, everywhere.
The reports from Lamar continue and when the bear goes into timber I am persuaded to leave. I head downhill and watch a chipmunk scurry across the blacktop. It is still very early and I meet no-one else on the road until just below Calcite, when I see a single car pulled over to the side.
A single visitor stands next to the car, looking down the hill at a lone black bear. It’s not the sow and cubs so I take a quick peek and then leave the man to enjoy his sighting.
I pass mule deer at Rainy Lake and several more in Tower Flats. Then I have a small group of bison and their calves cross the road in Little America. I wait patiently as they plod across the pavement and move into the green.
I arrive at Dorothy’s in time to see two blacks of the Unknown Pack, roaming atop the left side of Jasper Bench. I peg them for yearlings, because they seem to be goofing off. The spotters on Cardiac Hill can see the rest of the pack still bedded up there, pretty much where they were yesterday.
I am pleased to report that Calvin and Lynette arrive at Dorothy’s in time to break their curse. They finally see a wolf today, and I think they pretty much got to see wolves every day for the rest of their trip. Woo hoo!
One black wolf is still visible on Jasper, trotting past a group of alerted cow elk. Suddenly an elk charges the yearling wolf, running really fast with a clear intent to trample him. Boy, did that wolf get the message! He bolted out of there, tail tucked to next week! Man, that is the fiercest elk behavior I’ve ever seen!
The wolf manages to escape the Hooves of Death but he’s not out of the woods yet. As he passes a group of bison, they charge him, too! He dodges them as well and eventually disappears into the trees, looking a bit desperate to get back to his pack-mates.
Dorothy’s has always been a good place for me to see animals. If you run out of wolves or bears to watch, there are always bison and calves. Their antics are always amusing and sometimes instructive. In addition, this morning there are eagles, and the Hawk on a Rock.
I see a lone elk mother walking along the edge of Jasper Bench, right by the treetops, with a sweet little calf at her heels. I wonder if she might be the one we saw last night on the little sand island?
We hear a report of a grizzly walking along the Specimen Ridge trail, and Chief gives me a “told you so” kind of look. Laurie comes by and presents me with a radio! Yay! I become unit 35.
As the excitement winds down, I find I have a hankering for breakfast food and Chief wants to know if I’m interested in driving to Cody with him. We decide to combine our two interests and head east. Since I’m staying in Silver Gate tonight the timing is perfect. We arrive at the Grizzly Pad in Cooke City, and find Mark and Lynn just finishing up and also Christine and Art who have just sat down. We join them and have a terrific breakfast (my favorite meal, yum!). I am delighted to report that The Grizzly Pad serves breakfast until 11AM which is perfect for a wolfer’s schedule.
The day turns bright, warm and sunny. I find a good place to leave Golda and all my stuff and I hop in Chief’s car. Off we go to Cody. The Beartooth Highway is under construction for a short way beyond Cooke City but the scenery is just breathtaking and most of it I‘ve never seen before. We turn right onto the Chief Joseph Highway and head toward Painter Estates, where Chief has a “near the Park” house.
Beyond this the terrain really changes. Instead of high rocky peaks and fir-clad forests, we now enter mesa land, and a section of sharp geologic uplift. Then I see the dramatic plunge into Clark’s Fork canyon. The road over the Clark’s Fork makes the High Bridge look tiny! There is amazing scenery all around, stunning vistas one after another; open range, forested mountainsides, craggy cliffs. Next the road climbs a very high pass, and we stop to look at a plaque which explains how the Nez Perce “escaped” over this pass on their way out of Yellowstone to Canada. “Escaped” being a relative term, we say.
I catch glimpses of the Sunlight Basin which Chief says is named by the old timers who said nothing could get into that basin except sunlight. It’s very rugged. We pass a huge red rock cliff and then an area of meadows and pastureland that Chief says is a single gigantic ranch. I see a pretty river winding through it, lined with greenery.
Our animal tally for this part of our drive includes several mule deer, a grouse, one coyote, various birds, and lots of horses and cows.
Then soon we are in Cody, crossing the Shoshone river. Knowing I have a condo to fill, Chief thoughtfully takes me to a furniture store with an interesting selection and far-better-than-Bozeman prices. I will definitely be visiting this place again! We see the rodeo center which is gearing up for its first weekend. Man, is it huge! Then we visit the Buffalo Bill museum which is really terrific and far too extensive to explore in one afternoon. We spend the little time we have in the Native American section and the outdoor sculpture gardens. I especially like that the museum has ingeniously drawn the local songbird population into its gardens by providing multiple cleverly built birdhouses. The local birds seem to love it, and provide joyous free music for all.
On our drive back we watch the sky grow darker and darker, threatening to explode into something apocalyptic. But then it all blows over! Before I forget, I am saying THANKS to Chief for taking me to Cody. I know I would never have gone on my own and now I have reason to return. Now I’m back in Golda, heading to Silver Gate. I see Chief pull over at the little church. He’s spotted something. Aha! A moose! We peek at it around the side of the building. Nice big moose, chomping away at the vegetation.
I check in at the Silver Gate motel and cabins, the first time I’ve stayed here in a number of years. I find it perfect for my needs: great log furniture, clean and warm and the towels are really soft! The new management is very friendly and helpful and the price is right, too. And they have an extended front patio with an open fireplace where guests may gather in the evening. I highly recommend it.
Once I’m settled, I head back to the Park for the evening session. Naturally, I stop at Round Prairie. No Druids are here but there is beautiful evening light. At the confluence, on a sandbar, I see a lone bison rubbing his itchy head on the upended roots of a dead tree. It looks like he is fighting with it!
Lamar seems pretty quiet and I pull in at Dorothy’s to see what might be seen. Hellroaring Kat is here and several wolfers. I see “my“ elk are now protecting 7 elk calves! The Unknowns are still being seen by the spotters up on Cardiac and I start to wonder if I ought to climb up myself. Chief pulls in and I ask him if he’s game for it. Well, sort of. We get about 2/3 of the way up and I have to stop to rest. When I raise my binocs, I find a black bear. One bear is better than no wolves, so we set up our scopes right where we are and watch the bear.
The bear is roaming in front of the same stand of aspen where the wolves disappeared yesterday. He moves in an elk-calf-hunting way, sometimes doubling back and sniffing from side to side. He’s a nice little black bear, and he may be it for tonight.
A beautiful sunset begins to develop. The clouds are fairly low and the sun throws out a nice broad beam that lights up Amethyst Mountain, particularly the north facing “ski slope” hill that still has snow. As the mountain turns red, the shadows become a lush deep green, while individual tree trunks glow golden. Then the snow turns to a soft rose color and then I gasp as the entire length of the Lamar River turns rose-colored, as well. It is breathtaking! And finally, the elk themselves, still grouped along the river’s edge, are caught in the same rosy glow, and each rump patch turns pink.
Such magical light never lasts, of course, and soon the vision fades. So we pack up and start down the hill to the cars. Chief has to leave for Minnesota tomorrow.
Usually, as wolfers leave a pullout at night, those heading west and those heading east usually caravan home as a form of safer travel, so tonight, I follow Chief just as Becky follows me. After just a few minutes, Chief has to brake for some bison crossing the road. It looks like a small herd, moving from south to north and that it will be just a matter of a short wait. But the bison don‘t cross, they remain on the road, and more and more of them continue to appear where there were none before. There are many small calves and the moms are understandably protective of them. But what makes our predicament worse is that we are all stopped in a section of road with high embankments on both sides, so there is little shoulder room and the bison have no easy way in or out.
They are entering the road from a lower spot just ahead which could be our escape if we could just get past the throng. Chief makes a move and I follow but just then the gap closes. Just as things are feeling the most claustrophobic a huge bull appears on the embankment to the right, tail raised high in agitation. Uh oh. I hope he doesn’t have a thing for cars.
The bull steps into the road right ahead of Chief’s smallish car. eek. More bison continue to surround and engulf us. It’s another bison nightmare. Then we see the headlights of an approaching vehicle. This could either hurt or help, I say out loud. The approaching car sees the animals and stops with about 30 feet to spare. I see the driver raise his camcorder. Ah, I think. He’s going to stay there and watch. Then unexpectedly, a new group of bison move into the road from the left, drawing several of the ones on Chief’s left into the lane ahead of him, temporarily emptying the left lane. Chief seizes his chance and creeps into the left lane away from the monster bull and headlong towards the camcorder guy.
I tuck in right behind him and so does Becky behind me. The three of us creep through the left lane and then gently snake back into the right, while the bison fill in the left lane behind us, leaving the camcorder guy in video bliss. In my rear-view mirror I see the agitated bull plan himself across the center lane and stop, so I hope the guy has extra film with him.
Compared to this drama, the rest of the drive is uneventful.
I see one last pretty picture, though: Baronette Peak in stark silhouette with a gorgeous half moon riding above it.
Today I saw: Antelope, 1 grizzly bear, 3 black bears, bison and calves, 1 chipmunk, 2 coyotes, mule deer, 2 bald eagles, elk (including 8 calves), a grouse, a red-tailed hawk, a moose, ground squirrels, 2 wolves of the Unknown Pack, 4 Loons and the spirit of Allison.