Gardiner Canyon is newly covered in white. The winter weather is just not willing to let go. Although it's not snowing at the moment the sky promises it has more in store for us later.
We stop at Blacktail Ponds with Calvin and Lynette. We scope for a few minutes but then the snow starts to fall. There goes our visibility! We decide to move on to the carcass area from yesterday, because at least that was fairly close.
But we find the carcass completely picked over, making it unlikely that any wolves will be visiting.
There is a chance, though, that perhaps 692F or one of the other recently-ousted wolves from the Blacktail pack could make an appearance.
Calvin thinks he hears a howl coming from the northeast, behind the comfort station. We scope all over but the falling snow makes it impossible to see anything.
It's already past 7 and the snowplow has still not cleared the westbound lane, so that gives you some idea of how much snow there still is to plow! Those boys are getting a workout!
Becky, Chloe and I decide to head for Lamar in hopes that visibility might be better there. There are two bull bison in the road as we approach Hellroaring. The drivers ahead of us are being very considerate, but the bison start to run, and when they do, they start to slide on the icy parts. One bison has a pronounced limp on its front leg, poor thing. They take a needed break in the Hellroaring pullout.
The further east we go the deeper the snow is. Boy, it really did dump yesterday!
Lamar is more gorgeous than ever. It is also quite empty, of people, of animals, and of tracks. We finally find Laurie and Rick at Hitching Post and learn we have just missed seeing the Lamar Canyon pack. We chuckle to ourselves. The visibility IS better here, but we are too late!
Laurie tells us that the pups have been far too casual of the road and that Law Enforcement had to take action. Just a little while ago, some of the pups were cracker-shelled.
It is unlikely that we will see any of them for a while.
The snow is falling so thickly you can barely see the road, much less the hillsides. So we decide it's a good time to go up to Cooke City. I leave my car at Hitching Post and carpool with Becky & Chloe. We have heard there is are still record-sized snow piles up there.
And boy, it does not disappoint!
The snow has indeed been plowed into enormous piles, many 10-12 feet high, and in varying degrees of thickness. In order to get to the doorways of the various stores and cafes you walk past high wall of packed snow. And once inside, the view out the windows is of solid snow!
We see the sad remains of the fire that gutted Hoosiers, a scrappy motel. Luckily no one was hurt in the explosion two days ago, but the resulting fire did a lot of damage. We choose a cute "new" place for lunch, The Loving Cup. It has very interesting soups and sandwiches and great coffee!
On our way back we see Kathie's car at Laurie's so we stop in for a visit. We have a nice chat and around 3PM we see it's cleared up outside, so we head back out and on down the valley.
We stop at Hitching Post and I trudge through the snow to Brian's Hill to see if I can see any wolves in that area. Nope. Rick comes by and checks signals. Apparently, the two collared wolves of the Lamar Canyon pack are in the den area so our hope is renewed. We decide to split up and keep our eyes peeled for wolves.
I set up at the Confluence while Chloe and Becky head to the Footbridge. I watch the area around 21's crossing, in case any of the wolves decide to come down. I watch several bighorn rams for a while on the nearby slopes. Then a bull bison walks up from the road and displaces the rams, scaring them uphill to the cliffs.
After about 15 minutes, I hear Becky on the radio say "come to the Cone". Hmmm? Wonder what's up?
I pack up Layla and head their way. As soon as I arrive I see they have found a wolf!
It's one of the gray yearlings, probably restless, needing a bit of a walkabout. Becky & Chloe were tipped off by a couple of visitors who saw this animal trotting along the south side of the river. At first they all thought it was a coyote, but then they realized it's a wolf!
We are not sure which of the Lamar pups this is, but I think it's the female that Laurie and I call Butterface. (in joke). This wolf has creamy cheek patches and almond-shaped eyes.
She messes around with the bison carcass for just a few minutes, then heads further east. She stops and beds in a snowbank, near some aspen. Soon she finds something in the snow, perhaps it's a coyote pelt. Whatever it is, the yearling tosses it about, then chews on it a while, then rolls in it.
After a few minutes of this, she gets up and starts moving east again, happy as a lark. Several visitors stop while this young wolf is in view and get good looks at her. She is very active and close enough to be seen with the naked eye (although using binocs makes it even better).
Eventually Butterface moves slightly uphill and hops over a trickling stream. Then she alternately bounds and trots uphill and through the trees. We finally lose her in a thick stand and can't find her again.
We keep watching a while, hopeful that another wolf might come out to roam around, but around 4:30 another squall comes in, dumping snow so thickly that it even obscures the frozen bison.
Then it starts blowing. I am staying with Laurie tonight but Becky & Chloe are heading back to Gardiner. So I follow them to Lamar Canyon, hoping we might see some otters there. But the weather has other plans.
So we say goodbye, still hoping we might wolf-watch together one more morning tomorrow. There is still talk of the Park shutting down as the debt crisis in Washington has not yet been resolved.
I linger in Lamar Canyon a bit, looking for otters. I don't see those animals, but enjoy listening to the river. On my way past the Confluence I stop to check out a winter-kill bull elk carcass that some visitors told me about. I find it due to the magpies.
A bull elk seems to have fallen off the cliff. His rack is draped over several rocks. His body is partially eaten so I think the Lamars have been visiting. No wonder their signals are in this area.
I head east as the snow is starting to stick. There are several spots in the road where melted snow has pooled, that make great splashes as I drive through them.
I am treated to a lovely dinner at Laurie's with another couple, Joyce and Kim, as well as Dan. The talk is mostly about the threat of a shut down, and what alternatives there might be. Everyone assures me that I will be allowed to travel to Gardiner; the trouble is, I won't be permitted to stop!
Then at 10:30PM we learn that a deal has been made. Yay! We will get into the Park tomorrow after all. Hooray!
Soon I am snuggled into bed in the loft, drifting off to sleep.
Today I saw: bison, elk, bighorn sheep, 1 wolf (an uncollared gray yearling of the Lamar Canyon Pack) and the spirit of Allison