I leave for the Park at 3:30 today. At 65 it's quite warm in Bozeman, and the snow is nearly gone. There are a few stubborn patches on north-facing roofs and lawns. The sky is cloudy with patches of blue.
With no traffic and clear roads I decide to take the highway for a change. Honestly, given the sudden warm temperatures I am concerned that Trail Creek will be far too muddy for me. Bozeman has had a lot of snow this winter and not too much of it melted until the last few days.
Happily, I make it up and over the dreaded pass without incident and I am now back on my preferred type of road, the two lane blacktop. I see my first wildlife just outside of Livingston - a large mule deer herd to the left. I also see two black dogs trotting in someone's yard, looking like shaggy wolves. One dog's tail is raised high like an alpha's.
The roads are empty and there is still quite a lot of snow on the mountains, including the foothills and fields. The fishing areas are empty. I stop to eat a late lunch from a fishing pullout above a gentle curve of the Yellowstone. I notice a group out for a horseback ride along with a doggie escort. The group trots down the high bank and wind in and out of the willows near the water.
The sky remains overcast and there is a bit of a breeze. It feels so great! I watch a pair of swans working the river here until they go out of sight.
There are a lot more mule deer at Big Creek. At Yankee Jim Canyon the river level seems very low, so perhaps the snow-melt in the Park has not begun yet. I hear a meadowlark sweeten the air and see a substantially large herd of bighorn. Electric Peak looks encrusted with snow.
I reach the Park at 5:50 and I'm greeted by elk and pronghorn in the flats to the south. What a lovely welcome for visitors! Then a snowshoe hare hops right across the road just yards from the entrance station. His feet are enormous white bars but his coat is already mottling dark.
The North Entrance Gate is unattended. Hmm, that's a first for me and a sign of how unattended I will find the Park. Honestly, that is fine with me. I need some respite from my usual 8 million neighbors! The Gardiner river is low and chalky colored, so it appears that some snow is melting. I see more elk above the Rescue Creek trailhead.
I see Bison in the flats along Gardner river and a lot of geese.
Mammoth Campground also seems deserted. There are three campers and a few tents. There is a lot of snow still on the ground. I pick a spot, fill out my envelope and deposit my night's camping fee. Then I head out for some early evening viewing.
I continue to see elk pretty much all over. Not herds, but small groups. Eastwards I go, seeing elk all the way. Two pedestal bulls hang out at Wraith Falls and some bison, too.
I stop at Blacktail ponds, a favorite spot. I see bison, elk and geese. The ponds are still frozen although there are small strips of open water. The flats and lower slopes are nearly snow-free but there is still plenty of snow up high. The sky looks dark on the eastern horizon.
I go as far as the Children's Fire trail and have bison in the road as I come back down.
Now I head back west, all the way into Gardiner in order to meet Frank and Liz at Pedalinos for dinner. I hear about their snowshoe hike today from Chittenden Bridge to Grizzly Overlook and back. They say they had all of Hayden Valley to themselves. And they saw an otter!
Dinner is very good and after dessert we run into Loon Cathy Wise and two of her friends. It's so great to see her after so many years. She looks great and is still every bit the cheery spirit I remember.
I wind back up the hill and pull into my little campsite at Mammoth. I have a nice "visit" with Allison before making my evening preparations. I "cheat" and use the heated bathroom with the running water (!) It's 53 degrees when I take off my watch and snuggle into the back of Raja. Ahhhh! Gee it's great to be back home.
Today I saw: bison, mule deer, ducks, elk, geese, 1 snow-shoe hare, 1 meadowlark, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, 2 swans, 3 Loons & the spirit of Allison.