DAY ONE - Sunday, April 23

LOTS OF SNOW LEFT

I head out around 2PM and have an easy drive over the pass. The snow is mostly gone from the flats although plenty remains on the tops of the mountains to about half-way down the slopes.

Weíve had a LOT of snow in Bozeman in the last 30 days. There was a three-day blizzard March 25-27 and several heavy dumps during April. It has now finally started to melt but there is plenty still on the ground. The Park has had a lot of snow, too. When I get onto 89 the temp has risen to 58 and it feels like 90!

I see pronghorn just past the Rest Area. The sky has grown overcast and the temp drops a bit.

There is a small herd of big horn sheep just before the cattle guard. It looks like some cleanup work is going on in the riverside campground area. That spot got pretty messed up from the flood.

Closer to Gardiner I see elk on both sides of the road. Mixed in with them are a few bison and pronghorn. The flats at the airport are full of grazing ungulates.

When I reach the entrance gate the wind picks up. The center line on the new temporary road is totally faded. It could use some fresh paint!

The new/old road offers quite a variety of sightings: bison, elk, mulies and pronghorn. There are still substantial patches of snow here, too. I stop at the high lot and have my visit with Allison.

Mammoth is quiet. There are still patches of snow in the rolling hills below the chapel. I notice quite a few melt ponds Iíve not seen in a very long time.

The high bridge is being repaired, so only one lane is open, with a timed, automated light at either end.

Quite a bit of snow on the way up to Undine, and more all through the Blacktail. The road itself is clear, though.

I stop at Blacktail Ponds to glass around. For a week or so, a grizzly was entertaining crowds here with his Hollywood-style antics; rolling, grabbing his toes, gorging on a winter-killed bison. But heís not here today.

I see whatís left of the carcass and lots of tracks surrounding it. A pair of sandhills nearby is very noisy. There is a single sandhill walking along the edge of another pond to the east.

I go on to the Nature Trail lot, where I find plenty of remaining snow from the huge piles built up by the snowplows. They are reduced, of course, but still a good 4 feet high. The temp is a perfectly pleasant 47.

Bison have returned to many areas throughout the Blacktail. New calves have been reported by visitors, but I have not seen any yet. There is a melt pond at Christmas Bear.

I am very glad to be back in the Park, but truth be told, this time of year does not show it off at its most beautiful. Nothing is green yet, no flowers, no leaves on the aspen yet. Itís ďmud seasonĒ.

Floating Island lake is still frozen with snow on top but you can begin to see the border around it now.

I find Laurie & Dan at Elk Creek talking with Bill H. We greet each other and I scope while we talk. Bill says visitors have been crowded around the bear den at the big lot just east of here for days. He heard a report of two cubs seen there recently.

Eventually we head east and I stop at the big lot for a quick look. I see a shadow inside the hole which is the sleeping bear mom but I do not see her cubs.

Construction on the new Yellowstone River Bridge has begun, further disrupting the landscape. There are dozens of trucks and other machinery. I can see the newly made route where the eventual road will be, east of the corrals.

There are more construction vehicles at the Yellowstone Picnic area and a new dirt line carved out of the east side of the river gorge, which trucks will use for the next 2-3 years while they build the new span.

Wrecker is closed off; itís being used as a storage site. If it remains that way (which is likely) it will impact winter wolf watching a bit.

In Little America I find quite a bit of snow yet. Lamar Canyon itself is full of the white stuff and Lamar has even more. In fact, the valley is still nearly full of pure-white snow. No bison, no elk, just a few coyote tracks.

We need a week of sunny days to start getting this snow to melt!

I donít stop to scope at Slough but I do note how much snow is still here! I think itís more snow-covered than Iíve ever seen it at this time of year.

Further east, the Baronette fox trots towards me down the center line.

Laurieís driveway is still full of snow, but itís packed and no problem to drive on. We unload our cars, fill up the fridge and then have a rest and a chat. My legs hurt a bit, but they are better than they were this morning.

Around 7:30PM I glance out the east window and see dark shapes moving. Itís three moose Ė mama and her two gangly yearlings - browsing the willows. Several cars stop to enjoy the sight while we watch from the warm comfort of the house.

One of the yearlings starts towards the road, post-holing in the soft snow. A car stops, scaring the moose away. Poor thing plunges through the deepest spot, up to its belly, trying to get closer to mom. Those long legs do come in handy this time of year.

Today I saw: bison, mule deer, elk, a fox, 3 moose, pronghorn, bighorn sheep and the spirits of Allison, Richard and Jeff.


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