DAY FIVE - SATURDAY, December 27


SNOWY SENDOFF

For the first time on this whole trip I wake up to NO overnight snow. It's 15 degrees at 6:15AM

By the time we get up to Mammoth the flurries are coming down again! But now that the plows are running full schedule, the roads are amazingly clear and we make better time than usual. It's barely first light by the time we get to Slough so we stop to scope here. The temperature has dropped to 7 degrees.

As we are setting up our scopes we are greeted by a raucous coyote chorus. Some bison move onto the flats behind us and keep us on our toes. Rick pulls in and tells us he has Druid signals in the neighborhood but they are hard to pinpoint. They might be on Specimen, above Crystal, on Secret Passage or even the Slough den area. If the skies were clear and bright, I bet we'd find them in five minutes but as the sun rises, the snow thickens.

Rick heads back through the Canyon to check from Dorothy's again. Chloe, Becky and I scope as hard as we can. I mostly scan the Crystal area but I sometimes turn to scope the Slough den hill. Nothing either way. Lots of cars pull in and we get very chatty, despite the giant snowflakes falling upon us.

Visibility is steadily worsening. The snow is beautiful, of course, but today is my last day and I still have not seen 302. There is talk about this being a serious blizzard-type storm but since it's been snowing for a week straight what difference does it make?

Rick returns and tells me that 302 is most likely in the Hellroaring area, moving east. I am torn. With visibility this bad 302 could be 10 feet away from me and I wouldn't see him! And I don't want to leave my friends this early in the day because I won't be able to come back east. But in the end, my wish to see 302 wins out. I say goodbye to Becky and Chloe and begin to drive west. But I get no further than Aspen when Chloe radios that she has howling - and it's coming from the Slough den area.

I pull into Aspen and hope out to listen. I hear it! Oh how beautiful! I look toward the ridges I know are there but can't see because of the snow-fog. I hear these gorgeous notes float out of the fog. Many, many voices. I don't care which wolves they are - it sounds great!

Rick heads down the campground road and miraculously gets there in time to see 13 shapes before they disappear. They are in the flats! He confirms they are Druids. Yay! If I don't get to see 302 at least I got to HEAR wolves today!

I keep scanning the area but the snow is too thick. The howling ends and the predominant sound is the snowflakes on sage. I head back to Slough in case anyone might want to hike up Dave's hill. When I get here I see some new arrivals...Calvin and Lynette! It's so great to see them. We have big hugs. We yack and swap fruit and cookies. Lynette surprises me with a gift of a DVD with footage of the Druids from last Christmas. Wow! How cool. Thanks Lynette.

But the consensus is that no wolves will be seen in this soup. Maybe later. We decide to move because you never know if one area might be snow-free. We have all learned that just because it is snowing in one area doesn't mean it is snowing in all areas - so I head west, intending to go to Hellroaring.

But there is nothing at all to be seen there. In addition, the snow is falling so thick and fast that the road is completely covered again, as if the plows were on strike. We all end up hanging out at Floating Island Lake, yakking and laughing. And we watch a huge bison bull grow white before our eyes.

Finally I say goodbye to my wolfing pals and wish them happy sightings. Slowly I make my way back west.

I see a coyote jumping through deep snow at Phantom Lake and continue to see lots of elk all the way out. I expect the S curves will be treacherous and snow covered, and I'm pleasantly surprised when I find them basically clear. I stop to watch an elk herd on the slopes to the south.

But I see no wolves today; 302 remains elusive as do the Canyons. At the bottom of Gardiner Canyon, though, I join the crowd watching the bighorn herd graze close to the road. There is a nice big ram, several ewes and some darling lambs that scrape the ground with their delicate hooves and munch the grasses they release from beneath the snow.

My cell phone rings! It's Frank, warning me about this storm. Apparently there have been some extreme winds in Livingston and a section of the highway has been closed. I thank him for his concern but assure him I will not be on the highway at all - I'm taking Trail Creek Road back to Bozeman. And by doing this I do miss the worst of the winds.

My last sightings in the Park include an eagle soaring above the Gardiner River and a large herd of pronghorn in the large parking area just east of the entrance station. Yay! My first (and last) pronghorn on this trip!

All too soon I am back in Bozeman, safe and sound, with wonderful memories of another Christmas in Yellowstone.

Today I saw: antelope, bison, 1 coyote, 1 bald eagle, elk, 1 red-tailed hawk, ravens, 12 bighorn sheep, 6 Loons and the spirit of Allison.




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