Overnight I decide to leave Laurie's a day early, rather than deal with heavy snow alone up here in Silver Gate, so packing up makes me a little late.
I am a little confused at my timidity this trip. I feel off-balance and seem to be missing my usual adventurous spirit. I suppose I really miss the comraderie of my wolfer buds more than I thought I would. Thank goodness for Sian!
Anyway, some additional snow did fall overnight, but not as much as I expected. The big surprise is how warm it is: my car gauge reads 32!
But the sky is overcast, keeping first light at bay. The roads are fine to drive on but it sure looks like a lot of snow is coming. I notice numerous animal tracks in the overnight snow, crossing the road, hinting at stories.
Although the Lamar Canyon Pack was in Round Prairie last evening, they are nowhere to be found this morning. 715 is still in the same spot, perhaps a bit higher on Specimen but in the same general area. Our hearts go out to her, but I remember how we worried about 571 when she was injured by the Hoo Doo wolves a few years ago. She was not seen for 11 days but she survived that fight.
However, Rick does get good signals for 752 at Slough, so Sian and I join him and Bob L out on the Knob. Just like yesterday, we find lots of beauty but no wolves.
We head west, momentarily stopping to Boulder and to watch some alerted elk - but nothing pans out.
Our next stop is at the Ski lot, where Becca has Blacktail signals. Snow has begun to fall from the gray sky, in intermittent squalls, some quite heavy. The western sky is a dark, gray blanket.
Finally we see the Blacktails parading by. Rick gets a high count of 15 which is the whole pack. They follow a short stretch of the Blacktail Road, then leave it to cross a low hill and head up the other side. Between getting my scope set up and the bad visibility, I see only two, a black and a gray. The gray wolf has a pencil tail, a sign of a bad case of mange, poor thing.
We then pack up and drive to Elk Creek, where we pick them up just below the crest of a hill, the one southwest of the Tower Ranger Station.
From this spot I see 13, including Big Blaze (my favorite), the black female yearling that he is sweet on (some call her Lady Blaze or Mrs. Blaze), his alpha brother, Big Brown (778), Medium Gray and alpha 693F.
But they quickly go out of sight so we try to predict where to go next in order to see them. The consensus is to head to Tower flats, and we set up in the road-closed section.
Now the falling snow comes in more heavily. Still, we scope with great dilligence. One one hill we notice several elk, with a very small calf among them. They seem mostly calm, and every once in a while one of them seems to be extra wary. When this happens we all get excited, expecting the Blacktails to come running over the hill. But they don't! Hah!
We notice more elk above this group, more and more of them at skyline amongst the trees.
Then we notice several in the herd looking up hill and soon thereafter, a single elk cow starts to walk down to the group with the calf. As we watch her, it becomes apparent that she is injured. Her mouth is open as if she is panting and her back legs move oddly, as if maybe her hip is out of joint. Oh, poor thing.
Snow continues to fall, more thickly now, accumulating on our hats and hoods. The signals are weaker now than before. Becca thinks they might be heading away from us toward Lost Creek.
It's now 10:15 and 26 degrees. I suggest to Sian that we take a look for otters. She's game for that so we head into Lamar, checking all the usual spots. We go all the way to Round Prairie.
Sian drives further east to look for wolf tracks while I stay put. I find a coyote and a lone bison that is sleeping out the squall. The squall passes and the bison gets up to turn around. Hah! One side of its fur is white with snow, the other side dark brown!
The sun comes out for a few minutes and Round Prairrie looks stunning!
Sian comes back and we chat a bit, watch some dippers, and find two sets of tracks going up the little bench on the western side. Could be wolves, could be just about anything!
We move to Footbridge and scope from here. I tell Sian I am thinking of leaving today, a day early. She suggests I consider staying in Gardiner tonight, reminding me that I can probably get a good rate with the Park so empty.
We watch a bison try to dislodge a magpie from its back by tossing his head. The magpie is tenacious, probably only trying to warm its feet for a minute or two. The fifth toss gets the magpie's attention and she flits off.
The snow returns with a vengeance, compromising visibility on Mt. Norris and everything beyond. We cannot find the Lamar Wolf crew either. So we drive east and scope from Dorothy's, where visibility is a tiny bit better. We see a lot of beauty, some bison, bedded elk and a lone bald eagle.
We meet up with Rick and chat with him a bit. He says he sent the wolf crew home and is going in early himself due to the oncoming storm.
When he heads east, Sian and I call it a day, too. I have decided to stay over in Gardiner tonight after all. As we drive west, the wind is quite fierce; it creates a little snow-spray tornado that crosses the road in front of us from south to the north.
Since there is no plow ahead of us, we notice the growing accumulation of snow on the road. I don't mind driving on snow, but we find it a little surprising that the plow has not come through yet. It's mid-day and the temps are relatively warm at 32 degrees.
We stop at the exit of the Blacktail road and take a short hike back there to see if we can see the tracks of the Blacktails that came through earlier. We are cautious, though, to avoid actually crossing their tracks or leaving human scent.
But once we get back a bit we see they crossed a good deal higher than it looked from the pullout. We see the route they took, but don't get close enough to see tracks.
We turn and follow a little path across a small footbridge that leads, eventually to the Petrified Tree road. The snow is almost a foot deep and at times we are up to our knees in it, but it's a nice little excursion. There are actually 3 footbridges on this short trail, which I don't believe I ever noticed before!
We walk back out to our cars along the Petrified Tree road. The wind has blown much of the snow off the road and has made some interesting patterns which we enjoy.
A coyote crosses in front of Sian's car and I see it mousing on the north side of the road. The sky gets grayer and grayer; in fact the whole Blacktail Plateau is socked in, full of "snog" (snow+fog). A small herd of bison grazes along the west edge of Floating Island Lake.
There is some drifting along the S curves, but not as bad I had expected. By the time we get half-way down Gardiner Canyon the snow has turned to rain.
I check in at the Super 8 and then meet Sian for dinner at the Mine for a hearty bison burger. Yum.
Today I saw: bison, 2 coyotes, a bald eagle, elk, and 13 wolves of the Blacktail Pack (including Big Brown, 693, Medium Gray, Big Blaze, Lady Blaze, Pencil Tail and others) and the spirit of Allison.