DAY ONE - SUNDAY, March 16
I leave Bozeman at 8:30AM; the day is clear and bright, making the snow on the mountains look particularly pretty. There is a quite a bit of snow on the high slopes, but lots of bare ground down low.
My friends Jackie & Phil recently became full time Montana residents. They have a beautiful home in Paradise Valley and they very kindly invited me to breakfast.
Phil is a great cook Ė and their coffee is delicious. We have a lovely time visiting and yakking and catching up and we see a few white tailed deer out by the riverís edge.
Around 11 or so I set off for the rest of the drive to the Park. Itís already 53 degrees! The first critters I see are mule deer, just south of the little rest area.
The wind has picked up but I still have bright sun.
When I arrive in Gardiner I check in with Laurie. She is at Slough Creek, watching the Junction Butte wolves. In fact, everyone is excited because the both alphas are digging at the old Slough Creek den. The dirt is really flying, she says!
I doubt I will get there in time, but I head east anyway. There are bison and elk just inside the gate and Bighorn on the cliffs. Gardiner Canyon is dry but there are many patches of snow on north facing slopes. This is the beginning of mud season, but itís not really muddy yet.
At the lot opposite Mammoth Campground I have my visit with Allison.
There are some melt ponds near the high bridge, with bison grazing their edges. A few left-over icy patches on the road up to Undine.
Something Iíve never seen before is Blacktail Ponds totally covered in snow. Only one small circular area indicates water below. No wonder bison fall in so often!
On the Blacktail plateau I see lots of drifting snow over the roads and some really cool wind sculptures. The sunny skies make this drive spectacular!
Just above the S curves I see photogs and people out of their cars. They are watching Rangers on the slope directly east. People tell me there are two bison carcasses, presumably road-killed and the Rangers are moving them further from the road. I learn later that there is more to this story Ė the bison were shot by someone, from the road, with a hand gun.
I see cars at Hellroaring so I pull in there and find lots of my wolf watching friends: Kirsty and Alan, Sian and Richard, Calvin, Colleen and Marlene! How great to see them all! They are with one of the winter study crews and there are signals for some of the 8 Miles, but no visuals. Laurie calls with an update, the Junctions are no longer in sight at Slough. I scope from here for a while, then continue east.
Itís now 1:20. The temp is a warm 38. Floating Island Lake is totally covered with snow and has lots of tracks on the surface. I stop at Elk Creek and see some clouds that indicate new weather coming in. Many bison on the roads; some look fairly thin while others look shaggy, ready to shed their warm coats.
Little America is quiet and beautiful; Lamar Valley is even more so. I stop at Dorothyís and, as usual, I find coyotes out in the flats. Laurie calls over the radio. She and Dan are at the Institute and headed my way. We talk a bit, then decide to head over to Slough in case the Junctions have popped back out.
We scope from the lot and I can see the dirt they excavated, itís turned the slope below the den a dull gray. Dan finds a coyote up high which we watch a while. Laurie shows me where they last saw the Junction pups. Interesting that both alphas were digging. Laurie says she has never seen a male join in the digging and she speculates that since the alpha male is young, he may not know any better!!!
Now we head east, all the way to Silver Gate. Lamar is full of snow, and I see virtually no tracks. Itís really pretty. I see a good deal of open water in the Lamar River. There are Bighorn on the slopes above the Confluence.
At Footbridge we notice the winter study group is out by the creek, examining the carcass that the Lamarís killed in December when I was here, the one that was dragged out on the blue sled.
At Round Prairie I begin to see higher and higher snow berms on both sides of the road. This continues all the way to Silver Gate.
After a delicious dinner we head back out and meet Rick at Round Prairie.
L & D stay there while I follow Rick to Trout Lake. He says signals are very good to the south between these two pullouts. At 7:40 we hear howling that reverbs oddly (like owl hooting) against Mt Norris. But itís definitely wolves. First one low voice then a higher voice joins. Itís lovely!
The signals confirm that we just heard 925M and 926F, the Lamar Canyon pair. They were both collared in February.
Although we try hard, we never see them. Rick says Big Gray especially sticks to the trees and has been rarely seen. Darkness settles in and we head east.
TODAY I SAW: bison, mule deer, white-tailed deer, 3 coyotes, elk, bighorn sheep, heard the howls of two wolves, and the spirit of Allison.