I look out my balcony window onto a changed world. It's 26 at 6AM and I'm scraping snow off the windshield. Correction, I am brushing snow off my windshield. It's so light and dry it's like those potato flakes they use for snow in the movies.
Although it is still pretty dark, everything looks gorgeous. And quiet. How lovely!
I head up Gardiner Canyon, guessing that two to three inches have fallen. The trees look like they have been sprinkled with powdered sugar. I wonder if that's why we like the look of powdered sugar, because it reminds us of snow on trees?
Light comes early when the world is dressed in white. There is a gorgeous necklace of fog just below the summit of Mt. Everts. When I get to the high bridge that fog encloses both sides of the gorge and I can't see the railings. I am driving into the unknown! Oooo! Creepy!
I can see only directly in front of me and I follow one set of tire tracks. It is an absolutely gorgeous drive out. Yay Yellowstone. I LOVE it!
The temp sinks to 22 at Blacktail Ponds, where I briefly see some antelope and 2 sandhills, but then it rises again to 27 by the time I get to Little America. I see bison all over the place and wonder what the new calves think of the cold whiteness? The radio crackles to life and I pull in behind Richard's truck at Fisherman's.
Wolves have been seen on the north slopes so after our whispered "good mornings" we train our scopes on the skyline and search for them. Apparently the Druids are out hunting. I wonder, if I had stayed in Lamar a little longer last night whether I might have seen them after all. I had convinced myself that 480 was way up at Cache.
I'm glad to be wrong!
The sky is overcast and fog lingers here and there, threatening to diminish the visibility. Finally the Druids appear on the north slope between Fisherman's and Coyote. I see six: 480 stands out due to his bulk, and there are four more blacks and one gray. They move through the sage, just below skyline and disappear in to a fog bank.
I am just getting ready to pack up and move east when they re-appear, chasing elk to the west. Well, first the running elk appear out of the fog; three of them, just below skyline. Behind them, far behind them are 4 blacks and the gray. Aha! 480 is not participating in this chase. In another moment we see why. These elk are hale and hearty. They easily outrun the wolves. The older and wiser 480 most likely sensed this and saved his breath.
The running wolves slow and stop. They've given up. The leader turns around and heads back east, but instead of appearing sad or disappointed by their failure, the wolves are quite boistrous with each other, as if they are high-fiving each other. They bounce around and wag their tails, as if saying "That was fun! We scared them, huh?". It kind of tickles me. Perhaps these are very young wolves. LOL
I watch them traverse the snow-dusted hill, heading for a v-shaped dip in the outline of the hills. Just then a large flock of birds appears, dark against the slate-gray sky filling the "v". The wolves move east as the flock moves west, and the sky becomes an animated backdrop for the wolves. It's a cool picture, although I didn't have my camera ready!
The wolves go out of sight again, but soon reappear further east, now re-united with 480. They are now quite high on the next hill and I watch them disappear into the fog at the summit.
Richard and I move on to Coyote where we watch them play hide and seek in the fog. We drive further on to Dorothy's and wait for them to show up. But they don't. We travel further east, trying to anticipate where might be the best place to see their next appearance. We choose the little pullout on the north side of the road west of the Hubbard Hill. I call it Mid Point North.
We scope high and low and all points in between. We even scope the valley behind us. Nothing. There is a tree nearby that Doug Dance and I once referred to as a "filigree tree" because of its intricately woven thin branches. (I think its a young cottonwood). Well, this tree is just beginning to bud and its slender branches are lined beautifully with snow and there are four fat robins perched among these branches. It reminds me of a Japanese painting. I try to capture it with my camera but fail miserably. LOL
We are just about to give up on the wolves when another visitor spots them. Druids! They appear in a clearing, much lower than I would have thought they'd be. One of the blacks stops at a low conifer. Another black and now the gray seem very interested in smelling this conifer. The other wolves take advantage of the break to bounce around each other playfully. 480 keeps moving. He's headed somewhere. Boy, he's big! Soon the others follow him in a dutiful line, making it easy to count all six.
Once they are again out of sight we head on to Mid Point, where we join Jon & Steve. We get a quick glimpse of the hunters up high again as they pass through another clearing between the trees. I hang out here a while but the Druids do not appear again. I see the same large flock of dark birds (or perhaps another one?). As I watch them, I notice some behavior I've not seen before. Towards the back of the flock, I see a bird suddenly drop in a dive at another, sort of like when a small bird mobs a crow. But the bird that is "attacked" is not a predator but part of the flock. The diving bird makes several attacks on the other as if it has a bone to pick with its lower-flying neighbor. After two or three dives, the bird would return to its position. But then I noticed several birds doing these diving attacks as the flock progresses. Weird, but kinda cool.
I have no idea what kind of birds these were, but they seemed song-bird size to me.
On the valley side of this pullout we have other animals to watch, including a brand-new baby bison, the first I've seen in Lamar Valley. Part of his umbilical cord is still attached. His mother is very attentive and he seems not to mind the cold white stuff on the ground. All in all, it's quite a nice way to spend my last morning in the Park so I decide to quit while I'm ahead. I say goodbye to Jon & Steve and drive back west.
On my way through Lamar Canyon I notice the river is really churning and the color has become cafe-o-lait.
At Slough I see Jan & Bill's car. They are not in it, but I venture a guess that I know where they are. I pack up Layla, grab a pole and hike out the snow-covered campground road. Sure enough, I see them scoping from Bob's Knob.
I am happy to join them for my last morning. And guess what? They have a moose! I had told them yesterday, that the one large animal I had not yet seen was a moose, so they are happy to present this one to me! And he is a beauty. He stands at the edge of the water framed by a line of fire-red willows, making a very pretty picture.
His antlers are not very long yet but they are already fairly wide. He munches and munches as we watch from a distance, just how I like it. The view from here is extraordinary as I suppose I always say. There are many, many waterbirds and of course two sandhills feeding noisily. I tell Jan & Bill about the robins in the tree and Bill informs me that the birds I am speaking of are properly called Turdus Migratorius! We like that name and say it several times out loud. LOL.
Then Jan notices that one of the herds of bison down here is headed for the river, and she bets they are going to cross it. It's always fun to watch animals cross a river, and Slough Creek is pretty swollen at the moment. We can see a game trail on the other side and assume (rightly) that they are aiming for that ford.
Well, the crossing does not disappoint. For the old hands that know this route, fording the creek is fairly simple, even under these conditions. The big bulls can almost walk the entire way. There is one deep spot and then they can climb out easily on a gravelly, gradual bank. But many of the yearlings seem to have no sense or perhaps they have never been here before? They miss the shallows and cross further downstream, and soon they have to swim. Most get caught by the current and pulled downstream, far from the easy exit. The river is not so treacherous that they are in danger, and there are no calves to worry about, so it's just amusing to see how many animals don't find the easy way. Plus we giggle to see the herd jammed up on the river bank, like rush-hour traffic.
We get to watch each individual cross and we begin to guess which ones will find the easy route and which will not.
One poor cow gets across pretty fast but misses her footing on the other side. The current pushes her a few more feet downstream to a grass covered hillock. She tries to get out right at the hillock and of course, can't manage it on her feet. She finally crawls on her knees and makes enough progress to finally stand. By the time she does, she is too worn out to shake off the water!
Finally they are all across and begin to wind up the hill. A few stragglers plunge in and move quickly to catch up.
The sun actually begins to peep out around 11AM, reminding me that I'd probably better get going. I invite Jan & Bill to have lunch with me in Gardiner and they say yes! So we pack up our scopes, bid goodbye to the moose and the bison head back to the cars.
On our way west we see Richard at a pullout near the Peregrine Hills. He has a gray Agate wolf bedded in the rocks up there. It is a VERY hard spot because the wolf is motionless and quite camoflauged. It takes me forever to make sense of what is rock and what is wolf but I finally see her move an ear. Suddenly her shape is revealed and I shake my head realizing that she was there all the time! Hello 715F!
I say goodbye to Richard and off we go again. Along the way we see a juvenile bald eagle in a tree above Blacktail Ponds.
We have a good time at the Town Cafe and Jan & Bill introduce me to some very nice gift shops on the Gardiner strip. Jan also warns me about Trail Creek Road. They drove back that way from Bozeman last night and found a culvert washed out. She says there is water on the road but it's passable. I'm glad to have the warning.
It's 2PM and 31 degrees when I say my last goodbyes to my wolfer buds. It has been such a treat to spend time with them this trip, all the more so for not having expected it. I say goodbye to Allison and head north.
At the junction of Old Yellowstone Trail and Trail Creek I stop to watch a herd of mule deer. They move down a hill across the dirt road and into a fenced pasture. It's the way they cross the fence that fascinates me. They walk up to it one at a time. I watch a pretty doe stop to sniff, standing very close. I estimate the fence to be about 4 ft high, as high as her nose. Then she springs and leaps clean over it. This happens over and over, one at a time. Then I see a yearlings. When the yearling gets to the fence it crumples down and crawls under it, in an amazingly agile way. I notice a few yearlings that have crossed already, playing with each other. One strikes out a foreleg at another, like it's trying to trip the other!
I enjoy watching them so much I wait for the whole herd to pass the fence, some leaping, some shimmying under it, more than 50 animals in all. Some of them look long and hard at me before they approach the fence, their huge ears sticking out wide on either side.
Finally they are all across and grazing happily. It's now 3:00 and I have blue sky above me! I pass four spots where there is significant mud and one with standing water. But I get past each of them with no trouble.
I reach civilization around 4PM, get gas and make plans to meet Frank for dinner. We go downtown to Ted's place for a change and I get caught up on Frank's adventures. Another trip to Yellowstone has come and gone.
I miss seeing 302 but at least I know he is hale and hearty, finally living the life of an alpha male, a career he long avoided and seemed to never seek. Ah well, I have found that as one gets older, one's needs and wants begin to change. Stability becomes attractive in ways it never was before. Good luck, 302! May you have many healthy puppies and long may you rule the Blacktail! At least till I get back to the Park again!!!! 8~)
Today I saw: bison, 4 sandhill cranes, 1 bald eagle (juvenile), elk, a flock of gray-crowned rosey-finches, geese, 1 moose, pronghorn, robins, 7 wolves from 2 packs: 6 Druids (including 480, 690 and 695) and 1 Agate wolf, 715F, 4 wolfer buds and the spirit of Allison.