I leave Bozeman on a beautiful fall day a little after 9AM. Itís 47 degrees; pretty perfect if you ask me.
Over last few weeks, I have been enjoying the autumn changes in my adopted town, put on by all our trees and shrubs. We have red and gold and orange and bronze and we still have green lawns as a nice contrast. Bozeman has been smoke-free for quite a while and the air is delicious.
I get over the Pass with no issues and Iím now on 89. I drive through a tunnel of gloriously golden cottonwoods which line the road on both sides. While the air in the valley is clear, a haze remains on the mountains.
At the Park entrance construction is in full swing. Passing the fire damage still makes me sad but it looks like work has begun on clearing the debris. There are a few partially-standing walls, reminders of what the town lost.
I park across from Mammoth campground to have my visit with Allison. A large bull elk is climbing a hill so I watch him a while.
Mammoth looks golden which is exactly right for October.
Just before the high bridge I see an orange-vested worker with a stop sign. Both lanes of traffic are affected. Itís a very pretty place to be delayed and I use the time to grab lunch. Once I am waved through, I find that the cause was a tree that fell across both lanes on the winding way to Undine. It took a while before crews could clear it.
I stop at Blacktail ponds as I usually do. I see what I think is the splash of a duck diving. But the duck never comes up. I wonder if I saw a fish jump?
So far, the road feels emptier than on my last trip.
I stop at Lower Hellroaring to look for elk. Wolves will go where the elk are, so I want to know if they are in this area. I find only bison.
The day is just glorious and Iím happy to be back.
A little further east I am stopped by another orange-vested worker. This delay is not a fallen tree but road-work. There is a section through here that has become quite warped, causing cars to tilt towards the drop off, which made me quite uneasy the last few times I drove over it. Iím glad they are fixing it!
I continue past Tower and into Little America. The landscape continues to reveal lovely fall colors, under the bright blue sky.
In Lamar itís even better! Wow, thatís pretty!
On Hubbard Hill I see cars parked and people with binoculars looking south. I pull into Mid-point and see two coyotes out there, mousing. But beyond them is a black wolf, across the river, trotting east. Woo hoo!
I go on to Trash Can and see the wolf arrive in the rendezvous. There are two more wolves bedded at the edge of the Middle foothill. The arriving wolf greets the bedded ones and continues out of sight.
Iís a good feeling, very satisfying, to simply lift your binoculars and find wolves in Lamar Valley!
I decide to keep going, though, to get the groceries into the fridge.
As Iím settling in to Silver Gate I hear knocking at the door. Itís Becky & Chloe! We have a great distanced visit on the deck.
Barb joins us a bit later, telling us tales of her visit to Hayden. By 5:20 we are all on the road back to watch wolves for the evening session.
The light is SO gorgeous!
On our way down we see a fairly large jam just east of Pebble. Apparently people were seeing a grizzly sow with two coy in the area maybe 15 minutes ago. They are no longer in view though, which is just as well since there is nowhere to park. I keep driving.
As I approach Trash Can I see more than a hundred cars lining both sides of the road from Exclosure to Picnic. Becky & Chloe tell me this is ďthe new normalĒ; that itís been this way every day since they arrived.
Most visitors viewing the wolves do so from the road level, leaving plenty of room on Trash Can Hill for us. But then I see how many visitors have already walked out from the road through the sage meadow to the trees lining the riverbank. That is very unusual. It suggests most people are first time visitors.
I donít see anyone cross the river, but apparently yesterday a couple of (ignorant/selfish) visitors did exactly that, causing all the wolves to leave and retreat into the forest, ruining the sighting for all the sensible people.
Eventually a ranger arrived and the people were ticketed, but the damage was done.
Iím glad I have wolves in view now, though. Alas, there is much more smoke in the Park than in Bozeman, and it greatly diminishes visibility, just like it did back in September. But I have five wolves, all pups, 4 black and 1 gray.
Marlene is scoping from Exclosure and calls in a grizzly sighting. Chloe finds it near the eastern foothill. The bear walks the treeline from east to west over the course of the evening. As he nears the Middle foothill, he disappears within the trees for a while.
For the next two hours we watch wolves in the rendezvous. Two pups are busy mousing but we donít see much play activity. There are two adults, 907F and the husky black yearling, bedded in the gravelly area in front of the double foothill. That remains a favored bedding spot.
Later in the evening more wolves rise up from their hidden bedding spots. We recognize 1229F, who, true to form, sets off almost at once to the east.
There are now 10 wolves in view. We joke to each other that this is kind of a ďslowĒ night. Which only goes to show you how good the wolfing has been, when seeing 10 wolves fairly close is considered ďslowĒ!!!!!
The grizzly appears again at the tree line left of the Western Foothill. He meanders along heading towards Amethyst drainage.
The light has faded, so we pack up our scopes and make our careful way down the hill. On my way past Pebble I keep an eye out for the sow grizzly but the jam is long gone. I hope she and her babes are safely out of sight for the night.
Today I saw: 1 grizzly bear, bison, coyotes, elk, 10 Junction wolves (including 907, 1229, husky yearling and the rest pups) and the
spirits of Allison & Richard.