GOVERNMENT SHUT DOWN TRIP

OCTOBER 17-19, 2013

DAY ONE - THURSDAY, OCTOBER 17

AFTER THE BREAK

I've been in Bozeman since Saturday, 10/12, and I've had the TV on in spurts (when I can stand it). Finally on Wednesday afternoon, the news was full of the rumor that a deal had been struck but until I heard that the recalcitrant House had passed it, I was loathe to commit to actually packing the car.

But I am finally on the road.

It's 7:37AM - 35 degrees. A light snow is falling, the sky is overcast. The Bridger mountains are in fog, so I expect I'll have an interesting time over the pass. Hertz has issued me a white Santa Fe - it's a smallish SUV, a little bigger than the Rav4's and Outbacks I prefer. But it drives fine and rides slightly higher.

I'm now past Livingston and fog still obscures the mountain tops. The roads are clear though and I make good time.

There is nice fall color along the river and in the trees of the low slopes. Pointy Head and Pyramid have snow on their tops. Fall color has progressed further here than in Bozeman.

A light snow begins to fall. Everything looks beautiful. A white tail-deer crosses the road south of Emigrant.

Now I see pronghorn and elk on the hillsides.

Ahead of me, the Park is shrouded in a snowfall cloud; the flakes are large but widely spaced.

My first stop is at Blacktail Ponds where I find a bison carcass with 7 coyotes on it. There are so often bison carcasses here. This one looks at least a day old, maybe more, but there is still some pink meat to be had.

I see many bison at S Curves. The sky is still overcast but the snow has lessened. I hear nothing on the radio. Its a bit after 10AM, about 30 degrees.

As I drive I have a vision of the Park during the shut-down - empty of people, giving the animals a break from the tourists, but I soon see that the Tower Road contstruction project did not stop. I hope it means they are ahead of schedule. The poor animals do not get a break after all.

I drive through a gorgeous and empyt Little America, well, empty except for the ubiquitous bison herds. At the confluence in Lamar I stop when I see a large shape against the orange willows - it's a Grizzly! He is grazing on something on the ground - not sure what. Two couples also stop, happy to watch this beautiful animal.

I continue east, and run into a second bear jam - this one opposite Ice Boz Canyon. It's another grizzly, a little smaller than the first one - up on the hill digging and overturning rocks, lapping up whatever is underneath them.

Big John is here managing the few cars. He tells me Rick went to Hayden with Mark & Carol today, which is why the radio is so silent. That suggests to me that there is no news of either the Lamar Canyon wolves or the Junction Buttes.

The day brightens a bit, then begins to snow again.

I head back west and stop at Slough, where I call Laurie. She suggests I try looking from Rick's pullout or Elk Creek for the Junctions. I do that but have no luck.

I head on to Hellroaring. While I am scoping from here, the sun comes out, and the afternoon becomes quite nice. I find bison and elk but no wolves or bears. I look for carcass activity, birds, etc. but do not find any.

I did see a big bull elk with a harem of about 60 cows and calves. 7 of them were calves. I meet Rick around 3:30 just east of Blacktail Ponds. His trip was successful - they did see the Canyons. Bob had called him in the morning when he had howling there.

Rick and I drive to Wrecker, where he wants to check on Junction Butte signals. Big John joins us and we walk out on the hill for a better angle. Alas, we do not find them but it's a good bet they are in the river corridor, probably with a carcass, down low.

We do see lots of elk and hear some lovely bugling, too.

I follow Rick back to the east while he takes signals. We stop at Floating Island Lake and Pete stops to talk with him. Pete is the wolf-project volunteer I met last summer. I remember him because he was part of a rescue team that hiked out to Cache Creek at night to help a woman who was injured when a wobbly bear pole fell on her. He tells me she came through fine.

I also discover that Wyoming hunters have already killed 5 wolves in a 4-quota unit, because one of the hunters did not report in the standard time frame. So there is an effort being made to lower the quota of another Wyoming unit likely to have Park wolves in it.

There are little to no penalties pressed on hunters who do not follow the rules. It is very much an "honor" system, with little actual honor being evident.

Around 5:30 Rick heads east and I turn back west. I stop again at Blacktail Ponds but now the carcass is attended only by birds. I do have a nice quiet conversation with some nice folk who work for YA.

I turn in relatively early.

TODAY I SAW: 2 grizzly bears, bison, 7 coyotes, mule deer, white-tailed deer, a juvenile bald eagle, elk, pronghorn and the spirit of Allison.




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