It's a warm 82 in Bozeman, with blue sky and lotsa fluffy clouds. Behind me, to the west, it looks a bit rainy but I think I may outrun it. It's just about 2:30 and I'm on my way to Yellowstone.
I've had a really great week in Bozeman, spending a lot of time with my friend and neighbor, Barb, making some fun dishes, doing a bit of shopping. Bozeman is quite green for mid-July. Barb says it's due to all the rain in June. But the dry-up has now started. The Bridgers are completely bereft of snow and the Absaroakas have only a tiny bit left on the highest, north-facing peaks.
Laurie says it's been warm in the Park and wolf sightings have been few and brief, so I ratchet back my expectations. Her refrigerator in Silver Gate is broken so I am bringing an extra cooler.
Paradise Valley is quite green, too, but most of the forested slopes on the mountains look unhealthy - large swaths of trees are dead from disease - maybe blister rot? The mountain tops are snow-free, allowing me to see their true rocky shapes.
Further south, though, the forests seem fine. I wonder what the issue is closer to Livingston? I stop at the Wildflour Bakery and buy some of their delicious pastries. I tell myself to remember they are closed on Sunday.
Just north of Yankee Jim I see my first elk, grazing in the fields. The closer I get to Gardiner, the drier the land becomes. In fact everything east of Corwin Springs looks like spring has come and gone already. It's brown, brown, brown.
I'm through the Arch at 4PM. There is a huge parking jam at Boiling Springs. I've never seen it this busy, but maybe this is normal for a summer Friday afternoon. The landscape remains quite dry-looking all through Gardiner Canyon.
I have my visit with Allison and tell her the latest news, while I watch a small band of elk graze in the campground area and hear a meadowlark trill nearby.
On through Mammoth I go. The land gets a lot more green again east of the High Bridge. A golden-mantled ground squirrel dashes across the road safely into a field of bright yellow buttercups. There are lots of lovely wildflowers all over.
I stop at Blacktail Ponds, surprised to see not a single bison or pronghorn in the flats. I look for traces of the old bison carcass that I watched at Christmastime and in April. The area looks so different, I can't really be certain I'm looking at the right spot. I had expected to see some leftover bones, but I don't.
I do hear the distinctive call of a yellow-headed blackbird and then find it flying to the east. I see some geese with goslings, a coot on a nest, and eventually, two pronghorn, out where I saw Big Blaze and Lady Blaze once upon a time.
On I go through the beautiful Blacktail Plateau. A red-tailed hawk soars above the S-curves. They love riding the thermals in this spot.
Phantom Lake and the Elk Bowl are both very green and lush. Oh, it's so gorgeous!
Just before Tower Junction I come upon my first bear jam. It's for a mom and yearling cub in the trees south of the road. Yay bears!
And I finally see my first bison - a herd of cows and calves are grazing in the bowl below Yellowstone Picnic. The cows are still shaggy with un-shed winter wool.
The construction equipment at Lamar River Bridge is gone! Wow, is it possible this bridge is finally done? I think it is, except for a few orange cones. The ripped-up sage on the eastern side is now smoothed over, ready for re-seeding.
In Lamar Canyon I see numerous cars parked and realize this is the spot where people stop to look at the osprey nest. Welp, no room for me at the moment, so I I will come back to see them another time. Right now I need to see Lamar Valley!
And here it is! Wow, the soft, green slopes look so intense, as always. The river looks a bit muddy and pretty low. And there is Druid Peak, looming, beckoning. I glance to the south and see the jumble of rocks across the river. I instantly remember seeing the 06 bedded on those rocks once upon a time. Oh, how I miss her.
I stop at Dorothy's to scope a bit. Something is running below. Of course, I want it to be a wolf, but it turns out to be a coyote. In fact, two of them. I also see pronghorn and bison and just as I am leaving I recognize Bill H. I turn around and get how to say hellow. He tells me the latest: Lamar Canyon wolf 859's signal was out this way earlier and two other Lamar wolves were seen early this AM.
I thank him for the news and we watch the coyotes cross the road to the north.
I continue on through the gorgeous Lamar Valley, enjoying each new vista. Hello Picnic! Hello Confluence! Hello Footbrige! I see Bob L parked east of 480's crossing reading a paper, but decide to not bother him.
The numerous wildflowers continue to surprise and delight me, especially several large patches of bright red Indian Paintbrush on the way east. At Barronette I join a goat jam. The people here have found three goats, a nanny and two kids, way up high. Eveyone remarks on the small amount of snow left on the cliffs.
I arrive at Laurie's around 6:00 and we have a great reunion. I dump some of my stuff and then follow them back into the Park for the evening session.
It's golden hour in Lamar, making the sage and everything so lovely. We join Rick M, Kathie L and Jeremy who are already in place on the rolling hills south of Hitching Post. And I meet a teenager named Story and her dad who are great spotters and very enthusiastic about wolves.
It's a lovely cool evening. Laurie and Kathie are very patient with me as I ask them questions to try to familiarize myself with the area I call "the den hills". The Lamar Canyon den actually not visible at all - and it is most likely much, much further back in the forest of Druid Peak, but the hills and forested slopes directly north of Hitching Post is an area where the pack seems to "hang out" at this time of year. So it offers better odds than most other spots, to see a wolf, IF you can find them despite all the trees and other obstructions.
Any slightly open area in the den hills gets a sort of "short hand" name to help others find what a spotter is seeing. We call one area "the badger hole" because that's what it looks like - it may be a ground squirrel hole for all we know. Over the months, wolves have sometimes been seen digging in that hole, or sitting in it, or just walking by it. The "badger hole" is towards the top of an open slope with tree trunks above and to the right - all of which have been lucky spots for me in the past to see wolves. Another good place to watch is the fairly open cliff-edge slope a ways to the left of the "badger hole".
But I don't see any wolves tonight! Instead I see swallows, pronghorn and bison, and hear meadowlarks and robins. And there are a few skeeters and some biting flies that descend on us whenever the breeze lets up.
Although I end up wolfless, I'm happy to be home.
TODAY I SAW: 2 black bears, a yellow-headed black bird, bison, 2 coyotes, ducks, a bald eagle, elk, geese & goslings, 3 mountain goats, a meadowlark, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, swallows and the spirit of Allison.