My friend Veronica (yes, Granite Head/Veroniac/Former Loon, now Bozeman neighbor) suggested we do a short day hike in the Spanish Creek wilderness area, just a half hour outside Bozeman. It borders both the Turner Bison Ranch and the Lee Metcalf Wilderness.
We’ve visited before, in early spring when we were itching to be outside. The trails were still too icy then and we always wanted to return for a glimpse of wildlife and open landscapes.
There are some bison visible along the drive, which offers a nice view of Spanish Creek as it flows through thick willows and meadows. The road climbs and turns through wide open landscape, which eventually becomes more and more woodsy, before ending at the campground.
Along the way we see several deer with fawns moving diagonally up a hill, then more and more bison. The campground is busy and trailhead parking almost full. But we find a spot and set off along trail #407 around 8:30.
The hike is very nice, about four miles total and we get back to the car around 11AM. On our way back we pass even more bison, grunting bulls, bored cows and skittering calves.
About 4 miles from the highway, we stop in a pullout to ID a bird perched on a branch. Yes, it’s a red-tail. We linger a bit, enjoying the timeless view of bright green willows crowding the sparkling blue creek, while bison graze contentedly all around.
A red pickup drives up and stops beside us. A man hops out excitedly, pointing across the valley to the hill above the creek.
“Can you see it?” he asks
We don’t know what he means.
“Black wolf” he explains
“Where?” I ask, trying to contain my excitement. I follow his pointed finger.
I see a black dot on the hillside where he points. I have no scope and no binoculars. Luckily, Veronica hands over the small pair with which she ID’d the hawk.
As I raise them to my eyes, she tells the man that I watch wolves in Yellowstone.
OMG! It IS a wolf!
It’s past noon, a sunny day, about 75. And we are seeing a wolf less than 5 minutes from 191. A half hour from my home!
We thank the man profusely and pass the binos back and forth. The wolf remains in view quite a while. It sits on its haunches, staring to the northeast. I scan around in case there is more than one, and to the northeast to see what this wolf is looking at.
I ask Veronica to take a photo. She’s reluctant because she knows it will not be a “good” shot, but I say I just want to document it.
The wolf stands again, facing broadside and she clicks off a few shots. Its tail is tucked close to its body.
The wolf sits on its haunches again, continuing to show interest in something it sees (hears? smells?) to the northeast. Eventually, it turns and trots up the slope, tops the hill and disappears.
We are both over the moon. Seeing a wolf today was NEVER on our expected wildlife list!
Once we get home, Veronica uploads the photos and sends them to me, which I forward to Jeremy. He says he is not surprised, reminding me that Turner has at least one pack on his ranch, and adding there are many wolves all over Montana but very few people ever see them.
But I did!
Today I saw: bison, butterflies, a chipmunk, deer (including fawns), 2 red-tailed hawks, a garter
snake, red squirrels, and a black wolf.