DAY ONE - Tuesday, December 26

A WELCOME SURPRISE

I am leaving a very beautiful white Christmas in Bozeman to head to YNP. Itís a chilly 3 degrees; I have two and a half feet of snow on my front yard!

Itís 9AM. I was actually supposed to leave yesterday, but another all-day snowstorm changed my mind. Itís been VERY snowy since I arrived on Dec 11, with several all day and two day events. But today the snow has ended: the sun is out and the sky is blue.

Our condo snowplow arrives in the driveway just as I am leaving. It took three attempts to be able to scrape all the snow off Laurieís new car before I moved it inside my garage.

I stop in Paradise Valley to visit Jackie & Phil. Itís warmed up to 4! Her driveway was not completely plowed, but my Outback handles it just fine.

The roads have not been great on this drive. With all this snow, I cannot trust Trail Creek so I take the Frontage road to avoid the trucks on 90. The first part of 89 is ok but as I get closer to the Park I have a lot of ice & drifting snow. This slows me down a lot, but better safe than sorry.

There are nasty cross winds just before Yankee Jim so I put on my flashers.

The countryside, however, is absolutely beautiful. There is thick ice on the river, snow everywhere, and the mountains look gorgeous. I see osprey, bald eagles, elk, as well as the usual domestic critters. I love seeing western horses in their thick winter coats.

The roads in Gardner are clear, as is Mammoth. I have my visit with Allison around 12:30. From here on, though, the roads are packed ice. Itís ok to drive on, as long as I go slowly. But Yellowstone is so beautiful to look at!

The sun is out but itís partly cloudy. The temp has risen to 20 which actually feels warm. I see a mist floating at the tops of the eastern mountains.

I stop at Blacktail Ponds to glass around. I find a carcass in the usual spot, with a lone coyote feeding. Nearby I see lots of birds that look so fat they canít eat or fly, they are just sitting around. On second thought, maybe they just have fluffed up their feathers against the cold. I see many tracks leading to and from this carcass and wonder if any of them were made by wolves.

I pass several snow-covered bison in Phantom Lake. Holy Moly, it is absolutely beautiful here!

I reach Little America at 2PM. I see a Jeep off the road east of Boulder Pond. I stop and ask if they are alright and offer to call a Ranger when I get to the Ranch. They say, they are fine but yes, please tell a Ranger. I offer water & food but they say they're ok.

As I proceed, I count 13 troughs in the snow where cars were off the road and had to be dragged out. And thatís NOT counting the ones where itís clear they got out on their own.

A Ranger passes me with lights on just before the Ranger station, so I expect he is heading to the Jeep. But I stop at the Ranch anyway. There is no Ranger here so I talk to a YF driver who says he will notify a ranger about the Jeep.

At Confluence I see the bighorns are causing a photo jam. I find Rick, Becky & Chloe at Hitching post. Both their cars are facing north. The word is that Lamar signals are good but so far, no visuals. C & B report that the Lamars may have made a kill this morning. They keep looking for signs but have not found any yet.

We go to Confluence East and scope from here. Then we move on around the corner to Picnic. We scope to the north, looking for Lamars along the ledge trail or up by the moose head rock. Rick drives further west.

I find a bison up high and we fall into chatting. A visitor stops and rolls down his window, asking what we are seeing. ďSo far, just bisonĒ I say. The visitor says ďwell, do you think those are wolves?Ē and points to the south. I turn around and look where he points. I see critters moving. Too big for coyotes, and, um three of them are black, so I say to him. ďYES! Those are wolves!Ē Hah!

I happily thank the man and say if he pulls over we will show him the wolves through our scopes, which he does. His whole family gets out and I thank them profusely.

B & C hop out and set up their scopes. Truthfully, these animals are so close you donít need a scope!

These are the Junctions. All eight of them. I suppose they were bedded in the trees and just happened to move into the open when the family was driving by. They are now about a third of the way down from the treeline of the big fan. Heading east. We radio Rick and he comes back, happy to have wolves to watch.

The Junctions roam around the area where the Mollieís bison carcass was a week ago Ė now reduced to bones and bits of fur, covered with snow. They sniff everywhere. We notice their various limps and identify each of them. It is so great to see them this close on my first day!

Despite the numerous limps, they look quite healthy. Rick says they are sniffing everywhere the Mollies had been. Steve and Robin show up and a lot of other people, too.

Then a single otter appears right on the icy bank. It gallops, humpbacked, across the ice to a hole of open water, and dives in.

We show lots of people the wolves and the otter. Then the wolves stop, at the far end of the line of trees. They turn around and head back up the hill into the trees. One by one they disappear. And now the otter is gone, too.

Ah well.

I decide to head east to unload my car. Steve jokes that I should rub it in to Kara that she missed the Junctions!

I notice some sort of small critter just above the bank of a channel of the Soda Butte creek, opposite 21ís crossing. Not sure what it is, but there isno place to stop.

As I reach Round Prairie, snow starts to fall. Little did I know then, that it would be the theme of the trip, and that it literally would not stop falling until my very last day.

Itís not too thick, however, to block my view of a big bull moose in the moose meadow.

Today I saw: bison, coyote, mule deer, a bald eagle, elk, 1 moose, an osprey, an otter, 8 wolves (all from the Junction Pack, including 969, 907, 1047, 1047, 996, and three un-collared blacks) and the spirit of Allison.




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