DAY FIVE - Saturday, January 22


It looks like we got several more inches overnight and it's still snowing as I head out for my last morning.

At 6AM it's a relatively warm 31 degrees. The snowplow came by as I was packing up my car and I have no trouble driving up the Canyon, but when I make the turn at the hotel, the unplowed left lane is a good 5 inches higher than the right!

I do love how the new snow makes everything nice and neat again! It sort of tidies everything up.

Just below Undine I pass the plow coming back down the hill and I can see it turned around in that lot. So now I am breaking trail! And the snow is falling more heavily than ever.

Welp, every day is an adventure in Yellowstone!

This is the only day I have any trouble driving. I feel the tug on my tires every once in a while and there are numerous spots where the gusting wind creates ground blizzards and temporary white outs. I really miss the comraderie of Chloe and Becky this morning!

I am glad I know the road as well as I do. I'm not scared, just extra cautious, and mindful of critters that could be in the road.

And, just as I'm thinking this, my headlights reveal a coyote, trotting in the road ahead of me. I am close to Blacktail Ponds and he is likely headed for that old carcass. I slow to a crawl, waiting for him to hop over the edge, which he finally does.

I stop at the next pullout and step out into the dark to look back at the carcass area. Through the falling snow I can tell there is some movement there, but none of the shapes looks big enough to be a wolf.

On I go.

The snowfall increases the higher I get, as do the gusts. There is so much swirling snow, my view of the road is sometimes totally obliterated for a minute or two. I feel lucky there is so little traffic, then I wonder if I am the nut-case and should not be attempting this at all.

But having been through snow events like this before I just keep going, slowly and surely. By the time I reach Little America the snow takes a breather, and I can see that there has been a good deal of accumulation last night. It's not terribly cold, though, the gauge reads 28 degrees.

I meet up with Rick and Doug M at the Institute. Rick has signals for the Lamar Canyon wolves, but it's one of those situations in which it's impossible to tell whether they are north or south of the road. Not that it matters much, because we can't see anything anyway!

I go east to Mid Point. Since the pullouts are not plowed I am very careful to choose where to park so I don't get stuck. I scope from here for a long while, in the only truly unpleasant conditions I've had on the whole trip. The snow is blowing right in my face and accumulates inside my scope, no matter what protections I devise.

Kathie L arrives and we catch up a bit, laughing about how crazy it was to drive in this morning. We scope our hearts out but the wolves elude us. I figure they are probably shaking their heads at us nut-cases while bedded snugly under the fir trees.

We notice a single large bird and maybe two ravens flying above the hills on the north side, but that doesn't really seem to be enough activity to suggest a carcass. And we couldn't see it anyway, even if there is one!

Oh well, looks like I am skunked on my last day. After scoping for two and a half hours in driving snow and near white-out conditions, I decide to call it a trip. I say goodbye to Kathie and Rick and Doug and Gerry and Ellie and all the unseen wolves, and set off west.

When I get to Slough, it looks like the snow has let up a little so I stop and haul out my scope just for the heck of it. I can actually see the top of Crystal Bench and the eastern end of Specimen Ridge, so I train Layla's eye up there. And... HEY!

There's a wolf!

It's one lone wolf way up on Specimen, a little higher and to the right of where Gerry and I watched 586M yesterday afternoon. I don't think it is 586M - this wolf looks lighter-colored and a bit less husky than he did, but it's definitely a wolf, not a coyote.

Just that quickly the snow returns and I lose it. There are a few other folks in the pullout so we all try our best to find the animal again. I get a few more glimpses between the squalls, including one in which the wolf stands broadside, a little higher on the ridge.

Of course, as soon as I notice Rick's car headed this way the snow revs up and we are in white out again. I know he believes me but I'm sorry he didn't get to see it!

We scope a while longer, then I have to get going.

I say my second goodbye to Rick and head west through the blizzard. It backs off a little once I'm west of Hellroaring but as I head down towards Phantom Lake I meet another obstruction.

Bison in the road.

It's a fairly large herd of cows, yearling calves and guard bulls, walking three and four abreast in the road ahead. I guess they have had enough of all this snow and are moving down to lower elevations. Bison tend to run when they move down hill but the road is so icy they start to slip and slide.

This makes me very nervous so I decide instead of trying to find a spot safe enough to pass them I will just sit in the pullout and watch. I may be late getting back to Bozeman, but so be it. Then I notice a small group of bison bulls moving across the snow towards the road, as if they mean to join the marching herd. It is amazing to see them plod slowly through the deep snow, which comes well above their bellies. Imagine walking through snow that deep on four hooved feet, not showshoes!

When the bulls get to the berm at the edge of the road, the leader just bashes his way through the packed snow, leaping and lunging, until he forces a purchase at road level. His fellow travellers have a much easier time getting through, thanks to him.

I wait until they are out of sight up the road before I start out again, moving very slowly. At the top of the next hill, I catch sight of them again, and see a line of four cars coming east, sensibly stopped to let them pass. The leader hooks a left, leaves the road and plows his way through the snow between a stand of trees, heading roughly in the direction of South Butte.

I watch the now-single line of bison as they snake along, heading to, hopefully, better pastures.

When I finally arrive at the S Curves, the skies seem slightly clearer, and in a few more minutes the sun actually pokes through.

The rest of the drive is free of incident, and considerably easier than the drive in! I stop in Mammoth for a farewell to Allison and then just inside the Arch I find Calvin and Lynette. They are such stalwarts, searching for Canyons or Quadrants or 8 Mile wolves in the rolling hills below Sepulcher Mountain.

So far they have not had success but I assure them that they've missed nothing in Lamar this morning!

Another wonderful Yellowstone visit has come to an end. It will be a long time till April, and I suppose the Park will look utterly different then. But for now I look back at the white, white, white, and smile at the thought of seeing green, green, green.

Today I saw: bison, coyotes, elk, bighorn sheep, 1 wolf (an uncollared gray) and the spirit of Allison

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