I leave Bozeman at 8:36AM. It's a chilly 25 degrees. My intention is to drive up to the Park via Trail Creek, but with just a light snow falling and barely any traffic, I opt for the highway.
My car, a Chevy Traverse, is a little larger than I like, but it handles fine and has a lot of new features that I like. One is Sirius XM radio so I listen to 60's tunes the whole way.
The sky is cloudy and the road goes from mostly dry to mostly patchy. Some of those patches are icy so I slow down to about 45. There is absolutely no traffic so this does not cause a problem.
The mountains have a pretty dusting of snow on their tops but the hillsides look like fall. I am well past peak, so the color is in the grasses and the willows, but very muted.
The Yellowstone river looks very pretty. It is mostly open water with ice along the edges and lots of golden grass.
I pass a mule deer carcass on the side of the road, which has drawn a bald and two goldens plus many ravens & magpies.
Clouds come in and obscure the mountains. I pass a largish herd of elk at Pray and more mulies. The temperature has dropped to 19 degrees.
The sun returns around Corwin Springs and the roads are dry the rest of the way to the Park. I stop just before Gardiner when I see alerted elk on the hills above the road. People are probably elk hunting up there. Elk are bedded by the road near the airport.
I am inside the Arch by 10:15 and see more elk in the flats. I pull over in the big first lot and notice a bighorn ram trotting across the wide meadow, heading towards Above the Rest!
There is lovely fall coloring inside the Park: fire willows, golden grass, dark-green firs, sage and a dusting of snow. Mammoth has more snow than expected.
I stop for a visit with Allison, enjoying the view on her hill.
I dial Rick and reach him right away. He tells me Blacktails were seen today near Stephens Creek and that the Lamars are bedded across from Picnic. He says they may have had an altercation with the Agates the night before.
I decide to head east, rather than try to find the Blacktails.
I find the roads fine to drive on, although there are some icy patches through the Blacktail plateau. What I mostly notice is the lack of cars and visitors. I think this may be a fairly lonely trip!
The Blacktail Ponds are frozen over and covered with a layer of snow. A few bison graze in the flats and I see some snowshoers heading out along the Rescue Creek trail.
Phantom Lake is full of snow but sage is showing through so I guess the water that filled it in July did eventually evaporate.
Floating Island Lake is frozen and snow-covered but the edges are clearly visible, unlike in April of this year!
I stop at Hellroaring and scope a bit. I find many elk, both high and low, and bison, too. Wow, there are really a lot of elk!
Next I stop at Elk Creek and find both elk and bison there, too. Less than at Hellroaring.
I am almost at Tower when I pass Calvin & Lynette. We pull over to chat at the Ski Lot. Alas, they are on their way out: today is their last day. They report on the altercation between Lamar and Agate. It seems that 715F, the alpha female, may have gotten the worst of it. Her signal shows she is on Specimen but has stayed in roughly the same spot for a good long while.
They also report a sighting of a black bear at Slough Creek today, which is highly unusual. They are now headed west to see if they can find the Blacktails. They say that pack chased the 8 Mile pack this morning for an hour!
We have a hug goodbye and go our separate ways. I pass Rick in Lamar Canyon and he tells me the Lamar wolves are still visible, so I continue east.
The Lamar River in the canyon looks really nice. I like the "just beginning to freeze" look, with sections of blue-green water and iced-over edges.
I scope again from Dorothy's and find a coyote mousing. His tail is curled over its head in excitement, and his nose is full of snow.
Lamar Valley is covered in snow but with lots of golden grass showing. The high peaks all around are nicely snow-covered. It's warmed up to 26 degrees but it's fairly windy which makes scoping hard.
The valley looks beautiful.
I stop at Picnic and introduce myself to Colby, who is part of the Wolf project. I also say hi to Sian from the UK, whom I met a year ago, when the 06 had her pups at Slough.
Sian helps me find my first two wolves of the day, two blacks, one is a pup and one is 754M, bedded on one of the lower slopes of Specimen Ridge, east of the Amethyst drainage.
I decide to head up to Laurie's to get settled in while I have light. I am staying here by myself, as Laurie's plans changed and she needed to be back in San Diego. I am a little apprehensive of staying here by myself in the winter time, but resolve to make the most of Laurie's generosity.
One reason I am apprehensive is a dream I had last night of a bear breaking in to Lauries house.
I practice driving the car in and out of the garage to make sure I do not slip over the edge. And I pack down the snow to make it easier to drive on.
Then I head back to Picnic. I arrive in time to see the Lamar Canyon pack wake up. The first to get active is a black pup. I smile, remembering my first sighting of puppies way back in July, on the last day of my July trip. They have grown a good deal since then!
The pup goes first to mom and bugs her a bit, then over to uncle 754 and bugs him. 754 gets up and goes over to 755. The active pup starts to did in the snow which wakes up the rest of them. Wolves start to emerge all over the slope, wolves I had thought were rocks!
Mama 06 heads downhill. Soon I am watching a line of wolves, counting until I get 3 grays and 5 blacks. I notice only a slight limp for 754, a vast improvement over the serious injury he nursed during August, September and October. The speculation is he may have broken his shoulder.
This is not the whole pack. The three gray yearlings (Middle Gray, light Gray male -formerly "Barbie"- and 776F) are back east, near the den area.
As this group comes down the hill we lose them for a while, then pick them up again much lower down and to the east. 06 all business, as usual. I think she looks good and seems to have less mange than I remember from the summer.
We see a good deal of romping, which is always nice to see. One of the pups finds a coyote tail and races off with it. A black pup chases the gray, grabs it and takes off in the other direction.
Despite these distractions, the pack heads east towards the river and behind the row of cottonwoods. We move east to Trash Can to see a little better. Rick pulls up and we follow him up Trash Can hill.
Sian heads west in order to attend a last night dinner in Gardiner with Calvin and Lynette. I am invited but don't think I want to drive back to Silver Gate by myself that late.
I watch the alphas and 754 bed near the trees while the pups continue to romp about. They play tag, racing here and there, jumping on each other, tusslingm generally having a ball.
06 looks like she's heading to the river to cross, but then changes her mind and beds. The children keep playing, sending soft snow flying here and there as they wheel and dash.
Then two blacks & two grays head down the river bank to explore and sniff all the fascinating things down there.
The temperature is not so bad but the wind is fierce! I start to lose the light around 5:15 and head in a few minutes later.
On my way home I do not pass a single other car!
Today I saw: bison, 1 coyote, mule deer, 1 bald eagle, 2 golden eagles, elk, 1 bighorn ram, 8 wolves of the Lamar Pack (including the 06, 755, 754 and five pups) and the spirit of Allison.