DAY FOUR - Friday, October 30

A TRIP DOWN SOUTH

Itís a chilly 17 degrees this morning as I head out in the darkety dark.

I start at Slough as usual with Doug but there are no wolves here today. I hope it means the lone howler from last night and the threesome finally found each other. I hope they are all together again.

I continue to Boulder to have a look from here. Others radio from Elk Creek that nothing is in sight yet. Jeremy stops by but he has no good news. He says they are still up on Specimen but further south, in the Tower area, where they cannot be seen.

He tells me he and Taylor saw 1109 briefly from Confluence, traveling out towards Cache. So, she is on the outs with the pack again, poor thing. Laurie & Dan are still in that area, hoping for a glimpse.

We all spread out, trying to find the Junction Pack.

I stop at Elk Creek and talk with Larry & Linda. We decide to go further west to Lower Hellroaring to look from there. No sooner do we get set up than Rick calls. Heís now at Elk Creek and heís found them.

We grin and pack up, driving back to where we were. The regular lot is full so I join Laurie & Dan in the higher lot. I walk down to Rick, thinking that the wolves can only be seen from there. I was mistaken because Laurie & Dan find them pretty quickly.

They are up on Specimen, just as Jeremy said. But they are far to the right of the terrain I got familiar with yesterday. And again, just like yesterday, the view is right into the rising sun, so itís really hard.

Rick says they were chasing elk a little while ago and he thinks they got one. Most are already out of sight to the right. By the time I get set up I see bunched elk and briefly see two wolves moving past them to the right.

By the time the sun moves enough to allow a decent view, I can only see elk and they are relaxed. I scope all around but see no other wolves. Ah well, some days are like this.

I walk back to my car. This is when I learn I should have stayed with Laurie because they saw the wolves from here. They still missed most of the action but their count was five.

Itís turned out to be a beautiful day, so I decide to take a drive down to Hayden. The Park will soon close the roads to the south so this is really my last chance until June. And I know Barb, Faye and Dale are in Hayden and I think it would be fun to see them.

I bid adieu to my Northern Range buds and off I go.

On my way past the bluebird tree lot on the Blacktail, I see two big bull elk in good view, bedded. They make some photographers VERY happy!

I have a bison jam through Phantom Lake but most of them are in the opposite lane so I get through pretty quickly.

As I drive the winding way above Mammoth and through the Golden Gate I try to remember the last time I took this route to Hayden. Iím not as big a fan of Hayden Valley as I am of Lamar, but if I have an urge to see it, I usually take Dunraven. But of course, that option isnít available this year.

I think the last time I drove this way was June of 2015 when my family visited. I remember wanting to show them Norris Geyser basin. The road was under construction then, and we were stopped several times by flagmen.

Once I reach Indian Creek I realize Iím seeing the new road for the first time. Mostly the change is a widening of the highway, plus lots of big pullouts designed to accommodate busses, campers and RVís.

At Roaring Mountain the whole layout is different. When I first drove this road back in 1998, the parking lot was on far side of the road and you had to cross both lanes of traffic to get to the boardwalks.

The new layout is a big improvement, with a much larger parking lot on the same side of the road as the thermal attraction.

Another big change is at Frying Pan Springs. The road used to go right beside this fascinating and active thermal feature, with barely any shoulder; I remember stopping in the road just to snap a quick photo.

The new road curves up and away from the thermal. At the crest is a large pullout and a walkway offering a safe way to an overlook above the sizzling thermal.

The rest of the route looks much the same as I remember it, including the various high pullouts which offer views of the Norris basin.

The drive from Norris Junction to Canyon is uneventful except for my surprise at seeing a fair amount of un-melted ice still on the road. There are thick trees on both sides and I suppose they keep the asphalt shaded most of the day.

At Canyon Junction I turn right and soon enjoy my first view of the mighty Yellowstone. Itís quite shallow right now but still gorgeous. I see swans near Otter Creek and I continue to see these beautiful waterbirds on the river all the way through Hayden.

Geese, too.

I radio Barb and find her with Faye & Dale at the Alum double pullouts. They heard howling in the Antler Flats area early this morning but there have been no sightings. Apparently, the fog didnít burn off until nearly 10AM!

We watch a coyote mousing in the flats. Very nice. Barb and I drive on to Grizzly Overlook where we see swans and geese and a few bison. I am reminded that this is really a beautiful spot.

There has been talk of a Great Gray owl being seen a bit further south so we decide to try to find it. Along the way Barb helpfully shows me the ďheron rookeryĒ which I have heard people refer to in past reports.

There are no herons here now Ė it is a spring event, but I have long thought it was hard to find. Welp, I couldnít have been more wrong! Itís really easy to see, just south of Nez Perce Ford, and there is a handy pullout, complete with a picnic area.

We continue to Fishing Bridge and stop just past it to scan a meadow where we have been told the owl is often seen. The day has turned windy and we do not find the owl.

Then Barb hears from another visitor that the owl has moved further south. We find the beautiful bird at Bridge Bay, handily perched in a tree, not too high, in easy view of several photographers.

I take a quick look and whisper to Barb that I am past my ďturnaround timeĒ so I need to start back. She nods and gets set up to take some photos of the majestic fellow.

I had not intended to come this far south, but the time spent is worth it for the owl and for the spectacular views of Yellowstone Lake.

And Mt. Sheridan looms quite majestically in the distance, covered in snow.

I notice a further increase in the wind my drive back, but no problems on the road. When I get to Lamar I notice the wind again. And the trees are really swaying as I head east from Pebble Creek.

As I come over the hill just west of Baronette I see stopped cars ahead. A lodgepole pine has dropped across the road. Eek! I donít think it hit anyone but people are out of their cars.

And then I realize two of them have chain saws and are already cutting the huge tree in to manageable sections. Others are pulling the cut branches to the side of the road. Only in Montana would people have chain saws in their trunks!

A Ranger arrives and takes charge.

There are two cars stopped behind me which turn out to be Rick, Mark & Carol. A few short minutes later the Ranger beckons me to proceed.

Wow, I feel very lucky!

I reach Silver Gate safe & sound and catch up with Laurie & Dan. Later we pay a visit to Mark & Carolís sweet cabin about a mile away. We chat and reminisce and have a really nice time.

Today I saw: bison, coyotes, elk, geese, a great gray owl, swans, 2 Junction wolves and the spirits of Allison & Richard.

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