As I head out to the car this morning I find a fine layer of snow. It brushes off easily and I head down the valley in the dark. It continues to snow lightly on my way in, but it presents no trouble on the road.
There are no moose to greet me at Round Prairrie this morning and I find Footbridge deserted, so, I continue west. At the confluence I see a long low cloud of fog forming. Visibility becomes quite compromised, even on the road, and all the pullouts seem equally enshrouded.
I keep driving, slowly, and eventually pull in at the Institute, where I set up with a few others. Rick has Mollie signals on Jasper Bench. I can't see much of Jasper Bench at the moment but we all know the fog won't last. It's cold this morning. I wait out the fog by putting more layers.
Then I begin to see dark shapes moving in and out of the cloud so I know I am looking in the right direction.
This is a typical mid-level fog, shrouding Jasper Bench, but leaving visible areas both below and above. So I scan the flats and the peaks for whatever might be found. I hear sandhill voices and finally find 3 separate pairs plus one loner, strung out in the flats.
Then the fog begins to break up. I see several wolves running suddenly west, still partially shrouded in mist. They seem to be attacking an adult bison. It kicks and bucks and wheels. What I don't realize is that this bison has a calf and THAT is what the wolves are after. Alas, this cow made the mistake of getting too far from her herd.
The wolves grab the calf and drag it downslope. Or, rather what I see is five wolves with heads facing inward, moving together down and sideways, like men in a rugby scrimmage.
The calf is dead and they are feeding. The fog has not fully disapated, so I can't really see this (which is fine with me, yuck!). This lasts only a few seconds. Then I notice the herd comeing from the west, too late for rescue but they succeed in breaking up the feeding frenzy. The wolves scatter and the bison gather around the spot where the calf died.
The herd stops and sniffs a small patch of left-over snow. One corner is stained pink with blood. This is a ritual I have now seen several times - bison paying their respects to the dead.
The wolves want to get back to what's left of the carcass. They mill around restlessly, trying to get them to move off the spot. There is a good deal of give and take with lunges from both sides. Eventually the bison move and the wolves grab the few tidbits that remain. They continue to roam around a bit and finally move off into a drainage, disappearing behind a curve in the slope. We expect to see them come out at the top, but they never do.
I decide to move up to Dorothy's where Laurie and Dan are. We compare notes and Laurie says they had an excellent view of the interaction. Rick says signals indicate the Mollies are now at the western end of Jasper, so they did indeed give us the slip.
While we are talking a fierce snow squall comes in, with big wet snowflakes. We all retreat to our cars, waiting for it to pass. I fall asleep listening to the pat-a-pat on my windshield.
When sky lightens I hop out and start scoping the west end of Jasper. Laurie and Dan need to leave so we say our goodbyes. Richard finds a grizzly just above the back of the bench, slowly climbing the burnt-tree hillside. Shortly after this I find a lone black wolf. This animal is slim and beautiful and looks female to me. She is testing bison all by her beautiful lone self. She is very dark black and looks slender but robust and in her prime. She howls, facing east, south and west. We do not hear any return howl, but she suddenly turns her head east. It looks like she has heard something familiar. She immediately heads east, following the regular route.
We follow her up the valley. She passes several bison herds, some with a calf or two, some without. We expect her to try for the calf, but she passes them by. She is on a mission to the east.
My friends and I caravan east, following the wolf all the way to Exclosure, where suddenly we lose her. Sian and Richard convince me to climb the hill with them in order to find our pretty black Mollie. As we climb, the wind picks up and once we are set up on top another squall comes in, obliterating our view of the R-V.
We hang out until the squall clears but when it does, we still can't find our wolf. We do find a lot of bison. Some of them are acting up, rushing around as if the wind has excited them.
Alas, the time has come for me to head back to Bozeman, so I say my goodbyes and hike down the hill. I begin my drive west, saying goodbye to all my favorite places. I see some bison trying to cross the part of Rose Creek that winds through the flats. The first bison tries to leap over it, but does so none too gracefully. The bison behind her jumps too, even more awkwardly. They are just not very good at jumping! I give them a 5 and a 4 out of 10. 8~)
I stop at Dorothy's and find the eagle on the eagle-nest and stop again at Fisherman's to locate the osprey.
As I continue west, the weather remains unsettled; it's very windy and the skies threaten more snow. I begin to worry about Bozeman Pass and decide that I will take Trail Creek. I know it's gonna be muddy but I trust I can get through it. And you know I hate to drive that Pass during weather.
I stop in Mammoth to say goodbye to Allison and let her know what a great visit I've had.
I decide to avoid the "normal" Trail Creek route, the one that parallels 89 for a good long while, because that section is always the muddiest. I take the other Trail Creek turn off Rt 89. This means I have to back-track a little but I figure it will be worth it if I can avoid some mud. All is well initially, but when I start to climb, I find this section pretty muddy, too. Some parts are so thick that if I accelerate a tiny bit the car fishtails. But I keep my head and just plug along at 20mph. There is little to no traffic, so this helps.
I pass maybe five cars coming the other way the whole time. I do my best to stay in the middle of the road (except on curves) to avoid what I'm sure is thicker mud at the sides.
For a while, there are many birds, (robins, I think), flying along with me in the middle section of Trail Creek. They are, no doubt, interested in the bugs that are disturbed by my car's passing. But I fantasize that I am like Snow White and these birds are escorting me through danger to safety. And, sure enough, as soon as I reach the end of the mud and my tires grip pavement, the birds peel off. Those little birds gave me great comfort when I most needed it. 8~)
I get back to Bozeman surprised to find it has really been dumped on. The ground is covered by four more inches of brand-new snow and it is still coming down.
But I am now safe and sound, with a filthy car, after another thrilling visit to Parkadise.
Today I saw: 1 bear, bison, coyotes, a bald eagle, elk, an osprey, pronghorn, 15 Mollie wolves and the spirit of Allison.