I wake to a whole lot of overnight snow. It's 23 in Gardiner. The skies are relatively clear as I scrape snow off my car. Despite the rain last night the snow itself is very powdery.
I head over to the Absaroka and help Sian scrape the snow of her car. The plow rumbles through town and we are glad to have it in front of us as we wind up the canyon.
However, when we turn east at Mammoth we are breaking trail through the snow, with one set of tracks ahead of us (probably Bob L)
It's easy enough to drive in but we know there is ice underneath and it makes us a bit concerned about whether to try the pullouts.
We stop at Nature Trail to listen for howling. A light snow is falling and all is quiet, with a moon overhead. Visibility slowly improves but we drive on.
Some mule deer cross the road in the low spot by the blue bird tree. As we are passing Phantom Lake we see the plow appear in the east, coming down the hill. I pull over to the right so it can pass, and misjudge the edge of the road. My right front front tire slips off.
The plow passes. Sian backs up, and we begin to excavate snow from around my tires. A guy in a white pickup happens by and stops to offer help.
I try to reverse my way out, but my back tires spin on the ice beneath the snow. They guy gets a shovel and starts to dig, smartly bringing small amounts of dirt from under the snow, which he spreads under my back wheels.
This gives me an idea and I rummage in my car for two old towels and an old sweater. I place one behind each back tire and one under the left front tire to improve traction on the ice.
Then Sian and the guy get in front to push while I straighten my wheels, and put it in reverse. I touch the gas and in one try I'm out!
We cheer and hug. I thank them profusely and the man drives on. I stay FAR from the right edge the rest of the drive!
We stop at Hellroaring and the sky is clear! We scope from here and find hundreds of contentm grazing elk and many bison, but no wolves! We talk to Rick over the radio, who tells us he has no signals for anything and is heading our way.
Then a long low cloud moves in, ruining our visibility. Soon after, we see the wolf crews drive by so we head east, following them.
We hear from Bob that he's found a carcass in Slough. He did not see wolves, and his hunch is that it is not a wolf-killed critter but there are coyotes and eagles on it.
We drive there, climb Dave's hill and find the carcass easily.
There are five coyotes in the area, including, alas, one with a mangy tail. This poor critter hops up on a rock and curls up to try to nap.
The actual carcass is out of sight, in a gully, but we see birds flying in and out of that spot, and we see tracks leading to it from various directions, made by the coyotes. Eventually, the coyotes begin a lovely morning howl.
Sian finds a second carcass, a bit east of the other one; much higher on the hill in the open. It is a dark thing, and somewhat small. With a bit of a sick feeling I worry that it might be 752, but find out later that her signal was detected in another spot several days later.
We also speculate about the black bear that Calvin and Lynette spotted in this area three days ago. The remaining fur seems to be quite dark. On this carcass is an eagle and one coyote. While we are watching, the coyote suddenly looks over his shoulder and then dashes up the hill.
We see why. The four coyotes who were howling are now making their way to this second carcass. As they arrive they flush the birds away.
We spend our time watching both carcasses, and a seventh coyotes emerges from the sage, and then an eighth. We see a total of three balds, two goldens and many ravens, crows & magpies. Every once in a while I turn around and scope to the south, and find two big bull elk walking high up on Specimen.
We hear a woodpecker rat-a-tatting and try to find it but we never do.
Then on the hill above the second carcass we notice a small herd of bison. The herd suddenly starts to run downhill. They get feisty and bump into each other, then run down a fairly rocky section which makes me think they are going to break their legs. But they finally make it down to the river and slow down again before they cross it.
And older couple has come up to join us here on Dave's Hill and the lady looks up to try to find out what made the bison run. She says, quietly, "I think I found a bear". What?
Sian and I immediately think she means the black bear that Calvin saw, but when we see it we both say "Grizzly!"
We congratulate Wynell on her spot. I am amazed to see this. It's a large grizzly, but what really captivates me is how slowly it walks across the hillside. The snow is fairly deep up there, but I don't think it's the snow that is causing his sluggish gait. I think he's sleepy!
The bear does not seem to smell or know about either carcass. It moves in a fairly straight line high across the slope above the small carcass. It crosses a line of willows and heads uphill into a stand of Douglas fir. At the base of one of these trees, the griz stops and noses the ground. It scrapes a little with its claws, almost in slow motion, then lies down. And that bear is out for the count!
Visibility from here is mostly great although a few thin clouds of fog wisp by every once in a while. I keep looking at the sleeping bear in amazement. I sure didn't expect to see a bear on this trip!
It's now 11AM. We get a few radio reports and find there are ll no signals anywhere. We make sure everyone knows about the carcasses and the bear and a few people arrive at the pullout for a look but they don't come up the hill.
Alas, the time has come for me to head back to Bozeman. I say goodbye to Sian and thank her for her conversation and comraderie.
There is a large herd of elk at Tower flats and the Park looks beautiful on the drive out. Sunlight on newly fallen snow is just gorgeous!
The plow has been through by now so the roads are easy on the way back, but I do use 2nd gear on the hills, just to be safe.
I stop in Mammoth to say goodbye to Allison and notice how much happier I feel now, than I did at this time yesterday. Somehow, I got my mojo back, just by deciding to stay in Gardiner, rather than heading back to Bozeman. Weird, but I'll take it! 8~)
I have an easy drive along 89 and take Trail Creek road. It's easy peasy with hard-packed snow to smooth out the ruts. And I see the usual mule deer herd at the junction of Old Yellowstone Trail and Trail Creek.
Another trip to Yellowstone has come and gone. But I'll be back at Christmas!
Today I saw: bison, 8 coyotes, mule deer, 3 bald eagles, two golden eagles, elk, one sleepy grizzly bear and
the spirit of Allison.