DAY ONE - Friday, June 24

CHANGE IS HARD

Itís 6:30AM and Iím off to Yellowstone. Not via my usual route, but through Gallatin Canyon and 191.

Itís a perfect Bozeman day, a perfect 53 degrees. There are clouds overhead but no rain in the forecast.

The Gallatin River is rip-roaring, with lots of whitewater and many logjams caused by high water last week. Traffic on this road is MUCH heavier than what Iím used to on 89. I have no idea if this is normal for an early Friday morning or not.

The river is beautiful, but boy, I have a new appreciation for its power.

I am relieved when 95% of the traffic turns off at Big Sky. Gas is 5.29! Glad I already have a full tank.

The landscape around here is gorgeous. Very green and happy. I forgot how pretty this drive is, especially the high meadows. The last time I came through here, I was travelling the opposite direction. It was October and pouring down rain!

Boy, if I were a fisherman, this is where Iíd do my fishing!

As I emerge above the Hebgen Lake intersection, huge meadows spread out on both sides full of bright yellow flowers. Wow, this is GORGEOUS!

There is a bit of traffic at the West gate; 6 kiosks open with maybe 3-5 cars waiting for each. I see two cars being turned away for having the wrong number license plate. Wow, I feel bad for them.

As I drive along the Madison I recall my early visits to the Park. I would stay at Madison Campground and spent many evenings in these big pullouts, watching elk and bison graze along the river.

Madison Campground is not yet open. Hmm, well, thatís a surprise.

At Madison Junction, all the cars ahead of me turn right towards Old Faithful but I turn left.

From here to Norris I have almost no traffic. I admit itís nice to have the road to myself, even though these are not the parts I like the best!

At Gibbon Meadows I see one bison way out there, and lots of pink flowers. The area looks quite marshy, and I hear chorus frogs.

This would be a good time to visit Norris Geyser Basin I say to myself. Because itís EMPTY! I drive through the lot counting a total of 6 cars!

I head over Blanding Hill towards Canyon. A big bull bison is walking the center line. Heís a great looking specimen and I wonder if he got used to no traffic during the week the Park was closed?

I arrive at Canyon at 9:15 and find Canyon is not open yet, either. Well, the general store and the VC are open but not the lodges nor the campground. I feel lucky to have gotten my Lake reservation at the last minute!

No wonder there are so few cars on the roads. Thereís nowhere for people to stay! As you well know, I am 100% fine with less people in the Park!

I head towards Hayden and start to see elk in various places.

I stop at the Mary Mountain Trail pullout. Some people here have their scopes trained on the trees across the Yellowstone. Itís an eagle nest with two chicks, being fed by an adult. Nice!

My next stop is at Alum, where I scope the hills on the power-pole side. In the last few days, there have been Wapiti sightings in this area, but I donít really know the terrain nor their routes. I call out over my radio ďany unit in HaydenĒ but get no answer.

I do see bison, 3 pairs of sandhills, elk, and a quarter of a million geese. I also hear more chorus frogs.

I stop at Grizzly Overlook. I say hi to a couple here and ask if any wolves have been seen today. Yes, they say, a gray and a black early this morning after the fog lifted. Right out there, about an hour ago.

!!!!

Thanks, I say.

Weíll Iím glad to hear this but wish Iíd seen them!

I continue south and turn in to the Nez Perce Ford picnic area. Wow, itís empty! I take a short walk down to the riverside. It is still in flood but not raging. I have to be careful getting through the marshy ground.

Itís a peaceful spot, very green and lovely.

I then remember that Chloe and Becky are arriving today. Maybe we can find wolves together?

I head back north and call over my radio. Aha! They just got here. We meet at Alum, where Chloe just lost sight of a single gray. She was looking for bears and says the wolf was in her scope for about 2 seconds before it topped the hill.

Oh well.

We chat and catch up and discuss the flood. We agree that the reason weíre finding the roads so empty has to do with the lack of lodging opportunities.

We see two nice bull elk in velvet and several sandhills. We move down to the Mary Mountain trail and I show them the eagle nest.

Then we head to Canyon for a late lunch. We take our food from the grill and eat it outside, where we are pestered by some persistent ravens. We do not indulge them.

One our way back south we get into a bison jam. But itís not animals on the road, just first timers who stop in the lane (both ways) to gape and take video.

We go on past Fishing Bridge, enjoying the lake views and all the waterbirds. We drive up to Lake Butte Overlook but the overcast sky prevents our view of the Tetons.

Around 4PM we go to check in Ė me to Lake while they go to the R-V park at Fishing Bridge, planning to meet again around 6 at Grizzly O.

Unfortunately, by the time I see them again, rain has arrived. We talk a bit through our respective windows but the rain is so heavy we have to retreat.

It lets up around 7:30 so I hop out to scope. Itís very pretty and green but I only see distant elk and bison.The rain soon returns, though, so at 8PM we call it an early night.

Today I saw: bison, sandhill cranes, 3 bald eagles (1 adult and 2 chicks) elk, geese and pelicans plus lots of beauty, and the spirits of Allison, Richard and Jeff.


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