DAY ONE - Friday, January 1

A LITTLE TOO LATE

I leave Bozeman at 8AM. Itís a clear morning, 21 degrees, and there is a lovely sunrise ahead of me. This good weather is predicted to hold through tomorrow.

Itís a breeze traveling the pass, because I am the ONLY car going east! Once I start down the other side, I end up accompanied by a total of four other travelers. Not a single truck, though. Yay!

There is very little snow on the flats along the way, but the high peaks look like theyíve had a fresh dusting.

I see mule deer on the right side of the road near Trail Creek. The sun tops the mountains at 8:45. Everything looks great, although there are darker clouds ahead.

At Tom Miner basin, a herd of maybe 100 or 150 elk stands alert in a field.

Sepulcher Mountain is fully shrouded in cloud and the sky to the east looks very overcast. Itís gotten colder, too; just 15 degrees.

I spy elk on the north skyline and more close by in Gardiner itself. I reach the park entrance at 9:30. There are the usual bighorn in Gardiner Canyon and more elk near Chinese Gardens.

So far, I am a bit surprised to see so many cars in the Park. Looks like this could be a pretty busy day.

I have a nice visit with Allison, then head up the hill.

The skies over Mammoth are fully overcast; snow begins falling at Lava Creek and continues all through the Blacktail.

I see cars at Hellroaring so I pull in. I have a nice greeting with Larry & Linda and Iím delighted to see Steve & Robin here, too, with their friend Betsy. I deliver the radio and some cookies.

Snow is falling but not heavily enough to ruin visibility. There are no reports of wolves to the east so we hope-scope from here. 1109 was seen very early this AM from here but has not been seen for over an hour.

I hear about a fresh carcass near the S Curves. But while my friends were watching it to see if wolves or coyotes might visit it, an obnoxious fellow (SB) walked right out to it, camera in hand, ruining things for everyone. Apparently he is well known for this behavior and various punishments have not deterred him.

Itís 10:47 and 18 degrees. Weíve tried to find wolves for an hour with no luck so we begin to consider other plans.

First, we try from Lower but come up empty here too.

I scope from Elk Creek, looking north at Junction Lake and way up on Specimen, as well. Nothing. The snow has stopped, though, and the sun has peeked out. Ahh, thatís better!

I drive east just to enjoy the scenery. By the time I get to Lamar, the sun is out in full and everything is sparkling.

At Round Prairie I find 2 foxes hunting in the meadow on the far side of Pebble Creek. One is a gorgeous red color and the other is more grayish. They are separated by about 200 yards but clearly aware of each other. For all I know they could be a mated pair.

I also see 3 goats up on Thunderer.

I watch each fox intently. The red one listens, cocking her head, then gathers for the leap! Each does this three times while Iím watching but only the gray is successful.

I giggle a little when the red one aborts its third jump, landing on all fours with kind of a ďwhat was I thinkingĒ attitude.

I see Steveís truck in the next lot and decide to join them. But before I get there, a blue pick-up ahead of me drives too far right and suddenly plunges down a steep slope off the road. Itís shocking to see.

I drive up parallel to them and call out to see if they are ok. Luckily they are. I ask if they want me to notify a ranger and the man enthusiastically says yes. So, I turn around and tell Steve that I will go up to Silver Gate.

The Ranger at Silver Gate says itís already called in and a wrecker is on the way. So, I go back.

The wrecker is here and both lanes are blocked as he tries to pull the truck out. It takes the better part of an hour and a line of at least 25 cars on both sides has accumulated.

One thing Iíll say for the driver; he seemed to know instinctively to drive INTO the problem. Had he tried to brake or swerve back to the pavement at the spot he went off, he likely would have rolled and ended up far worse.

I take it as a good lesson for me.

Finally the road is cleared and I head back west, with a little more than an hour of light left.

I am temporarily held up by two separate bison jams on the way. I stop at Elk Creek to look for a while but then go on to Hellroaring.

I expected to see my friends here but the lot is empty. I later learn they stopped at Slough and I missed them somehow. I scope here for a little while but I donít want to drive in the dark so I leave around 4:30.

As I pass Blacktail ponds I see two cars stopped in the road and the people are both looking north. I roll down my window and ask if they have seen any wolves.

They point and say ďyeah, right out there!Ē I thank them and pull over to watch two coyotes trotting along.

Then I have a third bison jam at Lava Creek. Welcome to winter in the Park!

I also see lots of elk and bison in the rolling hills outside Mammoth

I check in at the Super 8 and wipe down all the surfaces with the clorox stray I brought. Once Iím settled, I check in with Linda and we make a plan for tomorrow.

Today I saw: bison, 2 coyotes, 2 foxes, mule deer, elk, 3 mountain goats and the spirits of Allison and Richard.

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