I awaken this morning to a steady rain. It fits my mood.
I know I don’t have time to get out to Lamar so instead I aim for Swan Lake flats.
But first I pull over beneath Kite Hill and have a visit with Allison, telling her what a great trip I have had (as if she doesn’t know all about it!) and how I wish I could stay longer. Mostly I just sit quietly and think about her, watching the light grow in the sky.
Now I begin to wind my way up above the Terraces. There are beautiful aspen along the road and I see I’ve been missing some lovely color up here. Some of the yellows look almost orange. And in every clearing I see elk; cows and calves, fat and sleek with shiny coats. And wherever I see elk cows I see a bull tending them. I hear their bugles, softly muted by the rain.
At the Hoo Doos the rain turns to snow. Snow! It starts to stick as I reach the Golden Gate. The wet whiteness now dresses the pines and clings prettily to the golden rock. I am delighted to see this and I hope it is a sign that the Park is in for a good wet winter.
Rustic Falls looks wonderful, but when I get to the top I drive into a transformed landscape. Swan Lake Flats is totally fogged in and its snowing like mad! The sage is heavy with wet snow and the tops of the high grasses bend with its weight. I hear elk bugling right away and scan the hills and meadows for the creatures themselves. I see a few bison and some geese on the Lake and I hear many haunting elk songs, floating in the quiet whiteness. I have a companion in my pullout, an elderly man in a pickup. He comes over, friendly and excited, and asks if I am looking for elk. I smile and nod and say “if I can’t see them I like to hear them“. He smiles in recognition and it warms my heart.
This happens all the time in Yellowstone and it is one of my absolute favorite things: sharing the joy of wildlife with a like-minded stranger.
Together we hear an insistent bugler somewhere in the north meadow. And then he gets an answer from the south. In this foggy setting it sounds especially fantastic. I see a raven walking in the road, doing that distinctive raven two-step-hop. It makes me laugh. Ah me, I sit and listen and soak in the memories for when I‘ll need them back at work. Another wonderful trip, full of wolf sightings, Loon meetings, hikes and surprises. How I love it here!
Then, oh so reluctantly, I start the engine again, wave goodbye to my pullout companion and head out. The snow persists almost to the bottom of Gardiner Canyon, but then it turns back to rain.
My last wildlife sighting is a small band of pronghorn in the flats to the left as I head to the Arch. Goodbye Yellowstone! See you at Christmas, I hope!
Today I saw: antelope, bison, elk, geese, a raven and the spirit of Allison.