During the last two weeks I have been attending to appointments and domestic chores in Bozeman, but when Laurie & Dan return to Silver Gate, I canít resist the chance to spend more wolf-watching time with them. Although Covid restrictions remain a drag, I definitely like retirement!
I leave Bozeman around 2PM. Weíve had a lot of snow in the last two weeks, as well as unusually cold temperatures. I meant to leave yesterday but the roads were still iffy.
However, today the temperature has returned to normal, 35, and the roads are melting slush. The Park got snow and cold temps, too Ė in fact there was almost a week at minus 20! Through Laurie I heard that our friends Larry and Linda were sorely missing certain sub-zero clothing items they forgot to pack for their October trip.
Poor things have had to spend hours in their truck with the heater on, instead of out at their scopes! So, since I have access to clothing stores, I pick up some items at Bob Wards that I hope will make them more comfortable.
Once Iím on the highway I find a very different Montana on the other side of the pass. There is snow all over! I remember that during my October trip last year, it snowed every single day for a week. My Subaru was brand new at the time. I am prepared for snow this trip, but the long-range forecast looks pretty nice.
Traffic is marvelously light. The sun has already warmed the day to 43.
Oh! My first view of Pyramid and Pointy Head, now covered in snow. Wow, they look BEAUTIFUL!
I really enjoy the subtle winter palette: blue distant mountains, straw-yellow dry grass, gray-green sage and bright white snow. This is a four-color combo I am getting quite used to. And I really like it.
My first elk are in a meadow opposite the road to Tom Miner basin. Later I see some bighorn sheep grazing a still-green lawn near the old Lighthouse restaurant.
There is noticeably less snow in Corwin Springs and Gardiner, and there are also lots of elk.
In Gardiner, looks like progress has been made on the burned block. There is a lot less rubble and some heavy machinery. But itís still so awful.
As I drive through the Arch I am surprised to see no one at all taking selfies. Hmm, wouldnít it be nice to have an empty-ish park for once?
I stop for my visit with Allison and after that I check in by phone with Laurie & Dan. They say the Junctions got an elk at Slough this AM so they will likely still be in view. Woo hoo!
My drive east is full of beauty but not too full of animal sightings. I do see a nice coyote, though, trotting past Floating Island Lake.
There do seem to be fewer people here than on my last trip. I guess a week at minus 20 will do that. Too soon to tell for sure, though, until I get to a spot where critters are in view.
At Tower Junction I see a small group of elk in a field opposite the corrals. Itís nice to be seeing elk again!
As I drive, I think about the changing habits of the Junction Butte Pack. Since my last visit, they have begun their nomadic period. Instead of always returning to an established rendezvous area where the pups hang out, they now travel as a group. ďHomeĒ is now wherever they have a successful hunt; wherever they have a fresh carcass to feed on. This makes wolf watching more unpredictable and challenging, but also more rewarding when they are found.
At Slough I see the campground road is still open, so I drive to the Knob lot and walk out.
Almost instantly I see 3 black wolves bedded between the Round Tree and the Marge Simpson tree. I have a moment of Dťjŗ vu because this is exactly the spot where I saw the Junctions on the last day of my earlier trip.
Itís as if they never left!
There is only one other scoper out here, a young man named Connor. We talk a bit. He is very friendly and knowledgeable.
One of the bedded wolves gets up and turns around, then the one to the right gets up and walks into the drainage. Another wolf moves in the opposite direction to the south.
I see many birds flitting about. Then a gray head pops up to the left of the first wolf. I hear howling, but itís not coming from the ones in view. Aha, there must be other wolves nearby but out of sight.
I am always happy when my trip starts with visible wolves right away. But I donít stay long because I want to take a nice slow trip through Lamar Valley.
There is a lot of ice in the Lamar River through the canyon. Even though the temps are now back to normal, itís not been warm enough to thaw.
I stop at Dorothyís because the view is always good from here. I find bison and so much beauty. The light is particularly nice right now at 5:30.
As I continue east on a nearly empty road I re-memorize which cottonwoods line up with which fan and which pullout.
I spy another coyote trotting through the snow south of Trash Can.
At Confluence I see a nice herd of elk grazing the river bottoms. Wow, itís been quite a while since I saw elk here. Then Laurie & Danís pass me going west. I call over my radio to say hello. They say meet at Slough so I turn around.
Laurie has a new favorite pullout spot, past the Knob, down the campground road. Faye and Dale are here, perched on a little hill to the east which affords a good view of the flats.
I get to know the various locations from this angle. I end up seeing a total of 11 wolves (Laurie & Faye see more, 17 or 18). Then Faye finds a grizzly, roaming the area to the left of Marge. This sighting is REALLY turning out to be a match of what I saw on October 13. Pretty cool!
The sunset tonight is amazing. We all pull out our phones and get photos. The glow turns Slough Creek a rich pink color. Itís really gorgeous.
But it starts to get dark a good deal sooner, so we are now heading back east. The sky turns crimson behind me.
Darkness descends for me at Dorothyís. Just before YES I have to brake sharply for a lone bison in the road. You gotta keep your eyes peeled!
But we all get home safe and sound and itís not even 7PM!
Today I saw: 1 grizzly bear, bison, coyotes, elk, bighorn sheep, 11 Junction wolves and the spirits of Allison & Richard.