For the very first time on this trip I am still inside my room at first light. I have begun to pack for the trip home when I realize I have never seen dawn arrive at this place. I tiptoe into the kitchen and look out the double glass doors. True to form, Yellowstone serves up a stunning last morning for me to remember.
I throw on more layers and go out on the deck. I am greeted by the short yipping calls of unseen coyotes. I see color just beginning above the hills that enclose the Black Canyon of the Yellowstone. I see the river running far below and marvel that I hadn't known it could be seen from here until today. A great white expanse of rolling hills spreads out before me to the south. I can see the North Entrance Gate and the road that leads to it. Above the entrance gate looms Bunsen Peak and I see an avalanche chute that looks even longer than it appears from Mammoth. I can see the steam rising from the Upper Terraces as dawn begins to tinge the slopes of Sepulcher and Electric Peak. It is all too marvelous and I simply stand still to drink it in.
A little later I have finished packing and Doug is having breakfast. The light has changed again and I get more pictures. Doug and I both look out at the wondrous view. Doug spots a hiker in the open area. I see elk running. We put them together and realize the elk are running from the hiker. Doug thinks the big backpack he's carrying may mean he's out there doing research. He sure is walking fast and seems to know right where he's going. There are LOTS of elk out there and they are all spooked. They keep running up a fairly steep hill before they stop, turn and look back. I watch with interest, expecting even after all the great luck I've had, to see wolves from right here on the deck! Maybe someday I will. The elk have gathered together and are now following a leader up a steep mountain trail. The leader walks several feet ahead with the rest strung out in a long line, nose to tail, winding along the mountainside. I count 40 elk in this line.
It's time to go and Doug wants to know if I want to go into the Park one last time since we're a little ahead of schedule. Yep. We decide to go as far as Boiling River. I see elk resting in the folds of the hills. I look for bighorn on the tops and sides of the cliffs. Not far into Gardner Canyon I see a big bull elk grazing on a steep and rocky hillside, his sides full of old battle scars. As I aim my camera he does me the courtesy of turning his noble face my way. Click. Thank you Mr. Wapiti. On we go up the canyon, looking for anything along the river and then Doug points and pulls over. How he spotted this I simply cannot say. He has found a kingfisher poised at the end of a branch of a dead tree sticking out over the river. A kingfisher! I have never seen one outside of nature shows on TV but they have an unmistakable shape. I had no idea you could see them in Yellowstone. What an absolutely amazing full-of... surprises place. I knew Doug was a marvelous photographer of both animals AND landscapes, but I didn't know he was such a great spotter.
We watch the kingfisher but it doesn't stay long. Off he goes with a quick flit-flit and we drive on. Reluctantly we turn around at Boiling River and I regret not having tried Tim's favorite soak-spot on this trip. Ah well, next time!
Out of the park we go and on up beautiful Route 89. Then we have another surprise. I am looking up at the rocky cliffs to my right. Between the cliffs and the road is a narrow strip of sage flats and willow thickets. Running fast along here are four Bighorn Sheep! Doug slows down and stops. The sheep have stop and look around, wary. I get great pictures. One ram, one ewe, and two youngsters with those cute spiky horns. Who knew they could run so fast?
A bit further on I see a herd of mule deer resting on a hill in the sun, a coyote prowling the sage and a red-tailed hawk in a tree. Finally we reach more civilized land and the animals I see are horses and cows and dogs. But I'm not complaining. We talk about all we've seen and done on this wonderful trip and what shots we hope hope hope will turn out. I worry a little about how hard it will be to go back to my regular life after this. At least I know I'll be back in the Spring. Doug drops me at Gallatin Field and we have a Loon hug goodbye. I haul my pack into the airport. My flight is on schedule and I have plenty of time to write before they call me to board.
Thanks to John & Carlene, Matthew & Mary, Frank & Cathy, Carl and Sarah, Rick, Bob, and John. Thanks to Doug for being such a pleasant and Loony companion to travel Yellowstone with. Thanks for doing all the driving, for helping us both save money, for sharing your winter expertise and expensive equipment, for all the free photo advice, for the great conversation and for not laughing at my head-wear (at least not when I was looking) and of course, for the junior mints. And thank you, Yellowstone Park, for yet another magical tour.
Today I saw: elk, mule deer, four bighorn sheep, a kingfisher, a coyote, a red-tailed hawk and one Loon.
Winter is a good time to see Yellowstone's animals with the major exception of bears, due to their habit of hibernating. I missed the one bear that was seen in the Park during my trip.
WOLVES: On six occasions, all 27 members of the Druid Peak pack were confirmed in the area I was viewing but I can claim only 25 seen with my own eyes. (I may have seen the two I missed on another occasion without knowing it!) I saw all 6 members of the Tower wolves (former Rose Creek wolves plus some dispersed wolves). I saw 21M six times, 42F five times and 105F two times.
I saw a total of 133 wolves in 11 instances Morning attempts: 5 out of 6 successful, ranging from 3 to 25 Evening attempts: 6 out of 6 successful, ranging from 4 to 20
Morning total 61 (55 Druids and 6 Towers); Evening total 72 (all Druids!) Druid wolves 10 times out of 12; Tower wolves spotted once in 12 attempts; No Rose Creek Wolves or Leopold wolves in any of 12 attempts
All Druid sightings were in Lamar: from Lamar Canyon to several miles east of Soda Butte Cone
Tower wolves observed from Elk Creek pullout between Petrified Tree and Floating Island Lake
COYOTES - 59 - my all-time record!
Hundreds of ELK and BISON
Dozens of ANTELOPE, MULE DEER, GEESE, RAVENS & MAGPIES
DIPPERS - 20
SWANS - 16
BIGHORN SHEEP - 10
BALD EAGLES - 9
MOOSE - 4
GOLDEN EAGLES - 2
RABBIT - 1
RED TAILED HAWK - 1
First time in Yellowstone: OTTER - 1, and FOX - 1
First time ever: KINGFISHER - 1