It's about 2PM when I head to the Park.
The sky is a mixture, as Montana skies so often are, of clouds to the west, and sunlit blue to the east, with gusty winds. At 75 degrees, it is exceedingly warm for this early in the year.
I head up the dreaded Bozeman Pass, skipping Trail Creek since it is likely very muddy. This time of year, washouts are common, and I am not experienced enough as an all-wheel driver to face that. But I have very little traffic and the weather remains dry.
The mountain I call Pyramid has hardly any snow at all, except a tiny patch at the top plus more in its avalanche corridors. The mountain I call Pointy Head has more snow than Pyramind, but not much, especially for April!
When I get to 89 and head south along the Yellowstone, I see it is running high, but not at all like I saw last June. I do see many signs of the early melt but I know there will be more chilly weather to come.
The cottonwoods and aspen are beginning to turn green, which looks really nice.
I am now driving into rain. The Gallatins look spectacular - right now, a very dramatic light falls on them, framed by heavy gray rain clouds above the gold.
I see mulies in a field, and elk, too. There is a hint of green, there, too, though, mostly in the trees.
I see lightning in the distance, and just now, a meadowlark trills!
It's 3:30 PM as I arrive in the Park. My first animal sightings are bighorn, elk, bison, and pronghorn. Yay! The Gardiner River is the color of cafe au lait.
To my eye, the Park itself looks somewhat green. There are elk at Chinese Gardens, two yearling calves and a cow.
I stop in the lot opposite the Mammoth Campground and have my visit with Allison. Her hillside is definitely beginning to green, as is Mt. Everts.
I stop at Blacktail ponds to look for a bison carcass I've heard about. I find it easily. It is mostly white with decay and it hosts many black birds as well as a pair of golden eagles. They call and swoop around, and I'm not sure if they are courting or squabbling. Maybe a bit of both, but their cries are wonderful to hear. There are many ducks in the ponds, and geese, squawking.
At Phantom Lake some hail begins to fall. Hmm, where'd that come from? The area looks marshy and muddy but I can't really call it a proper lake. The hail turns to steady rain. I notice patches of snow here and there.
The area where I saw the Christmas Bear once upon a time is now a pond.
The rain continues as I pass through Little America and into the Lamar Valley, making for a fairly gloomy afternoon. I am pleased to have the Park so much to myself; looks like the weather has discouraged most visitors. I stop at all the normal spots but see no canids.
I keep driving east and stop at Soda Butte East - where there once was a coyote den. I look for signs of one this year and through the rain-curtain I find instead a pair of sandhill cranes. Then I hear an owl hoot. I scan the trees and finally find the bird. Yay! It flies off and perches in a tall tree. I watch it a while and it begins hooting again. I memorize the sound so I can look it up later because the rain makes for difficult viewing. It looks big and mottled gray/brown and that's about all I can swear to. (Note: When I get back to Bozeman I check the Cornell University bird website and listen to the various owl sounds. The best match is Great Horned Owl.)
My Great Horned owl flies off again and I lose it. I decide to call it a day and head up to Laurie's. Best for company to arrive early rather than late on the first day!
On the way up I enjoy seeing many melt-streams gushing down the hillsides. I have a lovely reunion with Laurie and Dan. We yak and laugh and catch up and I show off my new iPhone.
Then it's off to dreamland.
Today I saw: bison, sandhill cranes, mule deer, ducks, 2 golden eagles, elk, a Great Horned Owl, pronghorn
and the spirit of Allison.