DAY ONE - Thursday, February 18


For the last two weeks, Bozeman has had snow off and on (mostly on) adding up to about 2 feet. Within that snowy time frame we had a full week of below zero temps. But the last two days have been far more “normal”, allowing me to grab a good weather “window” for a drive to the Park.

It’s getting towards the end of wolf mating season but I hope to still be able to observe the kind of behavior I find interesting.

I leave around 9:30AM. It’s a normal 20 degrees and the highway drive turns out to be fine. The day is clear enough to see the tops of the mountains along the way, which I like very much.

I stop at Albertsons in Livingston to get some muffins as a surprise for Taylor & Jeremy.

My first view of the Yellowstone shows only a tiny sliver of open water. But the snow level looks good. The sun comes out, making everything gorgeous.

I see a substantial herd of elk along the way, plus a bald eagle perched on a telephone pole. The scenery is gorgeous!

I make good time, reaching the entrance gate at 11:15. There are many elk in the rolling hills nearby. There is steam rising from the Gardiner River. The sun is out in full, which feels like a “welcome home”.

I stop below Mammoth to have my visit with Allison. Despite the cold and snowy weather there are few hardy souls parked in the campground.

There is a herd of bison in the snow in front of the Mammoth Dining room, which makes a great “first timer” photo, I’d imagine!

I have been tipped off that a carcass of some sort is viewable in the Mammoth area. I soon see a pullout jammed with cars and trucks plus numerous cameras set up on tripods. But as I get closer, I see the cameras are not attended, so I surmise that the action has ended for the moment.

There is no one behind me so I stop and ask if wolves have been visible. “Yes, early” is the answer – but none for a long time. I say “thanks” and continue east.

There are no cars at any of the Blacktail lots, so I keep going. No one at Hellroaring, either, but at Lower I spot two coyotes. Floating Island Lake is so covered with snow you cannot tell it’s water at all. Watch out, bison!

It is now 2:14, a very sunny 20 degrees. I see Rick’s car at Elk Creek so I pull in to join him. He has seen no wolves today, alas. The Junctions were seen very early this morning from this lot, way up on Specimen, but unfortunately, they moved south and out of view.

Rick is waiting on word of the arrival of a visiting group connected to YF. He will be doing a talk for them. We catch up as we wait.

A guide radios from Children’s Fire trail that two wolves were in view briefly but now out of sight. Rick and I go there, but unfortunately, we do not find any wolves.

We head back east and this time we stop at Lower HR. The group is on their way and will meet here with Rick, as well as Jeremy and Taylor. I deliver their surprise and they are happy. The YF people arrive and Jeremy hauls out his “show and tell” box for them. I wave goodbye and head east to see Lamar Valley.

After I pass the big Ski Lot pullout I am on my way down the hill heading towards Tower. Ahead of me two cars are stopped in the road, one in each lane. I stop and put on my flashers. Two young women are trudging back through deep snow to the car they abandoned in front of me. When they arrive they say they saw wolves and point across the snow field to a line of trees above Yancey’s Hole. Hmm.

The other car, heading west, has moved on so I pull around the young women and continue east. I turn around at the Ranger station and go back, intending to pull over in Rick’s pullout. The two women are still in their car, looking across the snowy meadow with binoculars. I ask if they are sure they saw wolves and coyotes? They say “wolves”.

I say thanks and keep going. But when I get to Rick’s, I see it is not plowed. There is still no one behind me so I decide to test it. I drive one wheel into the crunchy snow, but it feels too deep to risk all four tires in it. So I continue west to the Ski Lot pullout. I hop out and walk back to Rick’s with my binocs.

To my surprise, I see movement right away, two animals, walking away from me into the trees. Both are gray, one larger than the other. I see only their backs and tails, not their heads. They disappear into the trees.

Shoot! I WANT them to be wolves, but don’t trust the sighting enough to call it in to Rick, especially since I know he is busy with the YF people.

I go back to my car and continue east. I stop at various places in the Tower area, scanning for those two grays but do not find them again.

I drive through Little America and into Lamar Canyon, basically having the place to myself. The snow cover in Lamar looks quite good. It’s probably well below a “normal” year but at the moment it looks quite healthy, with vast expanses of pure white snow.

I drive as far as Picnic, where I stop to look for otters. But there is barely any open water so it’s pretty clear they have not been here. I head back, enjoying the solitude and spectacular scenery.

I spy another coyote roaming the flats south of the ranch and I enjoy several bison herds on the way back.

When I come around the turn at Elk Creek, though, I see numerous cars parked and people looking towards the open area with lots of blow-down. I stop to ask what is being seen. A guide tells me there is a new bison carcass in the area. He adds that there is nothing it on it at the moment, so I continue west.

The wind picks up as I travel the Blacktail. I stop to scope again at the Fire Trail but the biting wind discourages me from staying too long. Already it’s driving drifts into the roadway.

I continue west. As I approach the Mammoth carcass I see only one car, so I pull in. The people here are kind enough to give good directions. I see the hilltop and a still-pink rib cage beyond it, pecked at by a few birds. Hmm, looks like it’s mostly done. Ahh well.

Around Rescue Creek I stop for a small herd of elk which is attempting to cross the road. I give them room but another car does not. I wait a while longer and finally they all cross.

It’s nice to see them so close. They look quite healthy.

I check in at the Super 8 and wipe down my room with Lysol Spray that I brought. It’s already clean but I am being extra careful. It’s not yet dark and I have plenty of time to get settled before hitting the sack.

Today I saw: bison, 3 coyotes, a bald eagle, elk, 2 mystery canids (either coyotes or wolves) and the spirits of Allison and Richard.

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