Day Five - Wednesday, September 28

BOZEMAN AND LEOPOLDS

Yay! I get to sleep in this morning. I have business in Bozeman and donít need to leave the motel until 7AM. When I do I feel like the only car on the road. Fog lies in patches and the mule deer seem to think those are the best places to cross the road. I manage to avoid them, though.

By the time I reach Livingston the sun bursts out fiercely and I welcome it. Since Iíve never been on this road at this time of day I notice things Iíve never seen, like a llama farm!

Note: Feel free to skip the next 6 paragraphs about my real estate experience in Bozeman. But Iíve decided to include them in my report for historical purposes.

What am I doing in Bozeman? Looking for a home. I have been looking to buy a place to which I can someday retire and of all the places Iíve been, I feel the most ďat homeĒ in Bozeman. Of course itís proximity to Yellowstone is the main factor, but in being near the Park I do not wish to be too isolated.

I seek isolation at specific times; most of the time I like being near people. Bozeman gives me the amenities of a city as well as proximity to the solitude of wilderness. Bozeman has a marvelous history, a connection to Lewis & Clark, gorgeous mountains and bright stars.

I have arranged to meet a real estate agent who was recommended to me by several people I trust. He turns out to be everything I hoped for: warm, engaging, knowledgeable and honest. Ballpark Frank joins me as Ray takes me on a tour of Bozeman properties. He learns about me and what I am looking for, and I learn what is and isnít available in my price range.

We look at two small houses and quite a few condominiums. We visit all kinds of neighborhoods and I get a much better sense of how Bozeman changes from area to area. After the tour is over Frank and I have lunch. I am very discouraged. Prices are so much higher than I expected. The places I like the looks of are way out of my price range, while the ones I can afford are probably not good investments.

Frank wisely reminds me that I am not on a deadline. He says just keep looking. He suggests I check out Belgrade and Livingston as well, since prices are lower there. I am stubborn and say ďno, itís gotta be Bozemanď. Frank leaves to go back to work but we plan to talk more about it later. I head to Bridger Communications to do an errand for Rick, and then drive around various Bozeman neighborhoods, getting a more accurate picture of the lay of the land.

At 4PM I am ready to head back to the Park, quite depressed. I start to think that my search is going to be long and drawn out, hugely complicated by long distance. If I lived here, I might have the luck to find the one decent house in a less decent neighborhood. But what are my chances of lucking into that while Iím so far away? How could I act on it? Or I should forget owning a house and focus on a condo? But I havenít seen a single one in my price range that I like the looks of. Should I be less picky? In my depressed state, the last thing I want to do is drive highway 90 so I impulsively turn at the sign for ďTrail Creek RoadĒ.

What I know about this road is that it is not paved and it leads to Route 89. And that Roadieís depot can be accessed from it. Well, Honey has 4WD and the chances of the road being muddy or washed out are slim. I need to distract myself from my worry with some wilderness therapy LOL!

Trail Creek Road is quite bumpy, But wow! What scenery! It is absolutely beautiful back here.

Small ranches, an audacious modern house every once in a while, and more small ranches. Gorgeous creeks lined with willows, cottonwoods and aspen, and hillsides freshly green from the recent rain. Lots of horses back here. And you best have a truck, or 4WD. The road is dirt and gravel and gets quite ribbed in places, and itís not really graded. Just wide enough for two cars to pass. I go between 25 and 30mph. But, oh my goodness! What scenery!

I bet this is the actual Bozeman Pass, the one taken by emigrants in the 1860ís. I see mule deer on grazing on hillsides and lots of birds. The fall color is as beautiful here as in Blacktail Plateau. The day is perfect, warm, sunny and crisp, cool air. Horses everywhere. Hey, if I manage to find a home in Bozeman, maybe I can board a horse somewhere in here?

Ahead of me is the mountain I call ďPointy HeadĒ, the one I usually see at the junction of 90 and 89. So I know I am going in the right direction. There are hillsides covered in what seems to be golden-green velvet. When I pass another car, the driver waves in friendly fashion and I wave back. When I come to a fork with no indication of which way is which, I just stop and wait, figuring someone will soon come driving by. My instinct tells me right instead of left but IĎll wait to make sure. With my windows down I hear crickets and snap hoppers and bird song. Ah me. I feel so much better.

In just a few minutes, a cute trucker guy drives up. He stops and I ask him if this is the way to Emigrant and he says yes. I am tickled that my instinct was right. I am soon in an area called Pine Creek. The creek bed is indeed lined with pines instead of willows, but I think they are actually junipers. Hmmm, are junipers considered a type of pine? This area is full of contrasts - some decidedly low-rent spots right next to elaborate rich-people spreads.

I hear highway 89 before I see it and I confess I am actually disappointed to know that I have come to the end of this delightful shortcut. But then I remember that 89 leads to Yellowstone and it looks like I will arrive in time to head east for some wolf-watching. Note to Roadie: You see? This is how I got distracted and forgot to look for your depot. Next time, though!

All along 89 I see bright green alfalfa fields and dozen of mule deer feeding in them. In one I watch a mule deer fawn race over to its mother and begin to nurse. Awwww! I see many more mulies all the way to the Park. I stop at the Yellowstone Village Inn to pick up my scope and an extra coat. I get a tip about a carcass near the road at Blacktail ponds.

I see the usual elk harems and resident bulls at Mammoth but head straight for Blacktail Ponds. When I arrive there are two cars here already. I recognize Tim and Christine from yesterday and they tell me a lone black wolf way up on the hillside has been howling on and off for some time. The carcass is visible in a hollow at the bottom of a low hill, about 200 yards from the road. Judging from the size of the antler sticking up, it is probably one of the Big Boys.

Tim and Christine tell me they saw this black wolf on the carcass earlier today and later, two coyotes. More Loons show up: itís Helene, Rene and Heleneís parents. We have a joyful reunion and I catch up on wildlife news. They have see a grizzly on the eastern side of the Park! We all figure that as soon as darkness descends, the wolf will come back down to eat. When the wolf howls again I am able to get Layla fixed on him. He is sitting on his haunches up on the hillside. It looks like heís looking right at us. As he howls I see his white throat with a dark band underneath. It might be a collar but I canít be sure. The wolfĎs howl is a fairly low note.

And sure enough, as the light begins to dim, the wolf stands up and starts down the hill. Oh! Heís limping! Very badly! Oh, it hurts to see it. Itís his front leg, his front right leg. It looks very painful. Nevertheless, the wolf makes his way slowly down the hill, resting frequently and often howling again.

Two coyotes are now on the carcass and I wonder if this injured wolf will be able to scare them off? He limps his way down, down and pauses again on top of the low hill. He beds. Howls again. This time, his howl is answered by a wolf behind us. We turn and look south. We now spend our time looking north and then south, hoping for a glimpse of which the answering howler, and also looking west at a glorious orangey-pink sunset.

Finally as the light is nearly gone, Helene spots the other wolf. A gray. With her help I finally see it, too, moving just below the crest of the hill. We think there are more animals up there, but I only see one. The gray stands on all fours, staring across the road at the carcass (or the black wolf) like a pointer.

I begin to worry that our presence here will prevent the injured wolf from getting his dinner so I decide to call it a night. I bid goodnight to my Loon friends and head west. My drive back is uneventful until I am heading down the last slope to the high bridge. I see something in the road and hit the brakes. Itís a huge bull elk, standing broadside across both lanes. I have to pump hard and I come to a stop about 25 feet from this regal monster. He turns his huge-racked head and looks at me in a most unpleasant way. I think I may be in trouble and put Honey in reverse. But before I can back up he steps forward and disappears over the hill.

Whew!


Today I saw: birds, bison, 2 coyotes, mule deer, elk, horses, llamas, sheep, 2 Leopold wolves, 7 Loons, and the spirit of Allison




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