The mulies are bedded on the eastern corner of the lawn with snow on their backs. They watch me suspiciously as I open the hatch to load up.
I take my time going up the Canyon road and spook a cottontail rabbit. Shouldn‘t bunnies be hibernating at a time like this? Mammoth looks stunning in the new-fallen snow. There is a lot up here, I’d say six to eight inches. The snowplows are out but it looks like they have just begun. I have to plunge through the snow-wake to make the turn onto the road to the east.
The snowplows have turned around at Undine Falls and the road conditions change dramatically. There are deep tracks visible, of maybe two brave cars ahead of me, but I decide to trust my All Wheel Drive and plunge in. I do my best to stay in the tracks but the center hump in many places is high enough to scrape against the bottom of my car!
What I can see of the scenery in my headlights is gorgeous, especially throughout Blacktail and Hellroaring. The fir branches droop beautifully under the white weight and create a tunnel effect above the lonely, winding road. At various times the moon peeks through, lifting the darkness into a beautiful moonscape.
I am the first to make tracks in the Tower comfort station parking lot. I look for animal sign and I am surprised to see none, at least none in the area lit by my headlights. I drive on through Little America and Lamar, loving every transformed vista and watching the sky lighten all the way.
I pull in at Dorothy’s Knoll and set up Layla. I locate the carcass quickly, hoping to find wolves on it but instead I see birds and two coyotes. I look around at this amazing land and whisper my thanks and farewell.
Reluctantly I head back west. Given the road conditions, I nix my earlier plan to drive all the way to the confluence. It’s not the Park roads that worry me, but the unknown condition of the highway to Bozeman.
In Little America I run into Dorothy and Ted and with them are Chloe and Becky, removing their tire chains. I report the lack of wolves on the carcass and they give me this morning’s radio wolf-pack update The Agates have a kill at Tower, the Sloughs are back in their home territory and, best of all, the Druids are napping at the rendesvous! Oh! I am so tempted to wheel around and head there for a last glimpse!
Dorothy and Ted are going there so I decide it’s best for me to enjoy it vicariously through them. I hug them good bye and ask them to blow kisses to the Druids for me.
Then Chloe and Becky and I head to Tower. Today is supposed to be their last day, too but I sense they may stick around, now that this beautiful snow has fallen. When we get to Tower we see that the Agate’s kill was probably made during the night. It‘s right at the base of the hill and quite close to the road, and currently covered in ravens. On the hilltop above it, or mostly behind it, the Agates are sleeping off their meal. Chloe finds my first and last wolf of the day, a great big grey Agate wolf, curled up next to a rock in the snow. I take a look and see his head lift for a moment, then he lowers it again to rest on his paws.
Hooray! I have now seen wolves every day of my trip. A few days ago I had changed the words to the seasonal carol “Ring Christmas Bells” into “Wolves Every Day”. I know I‘ll be singing that song all the way back to Bozeman.
Welp, the time has come to leave and I feel very melancholy. I hug Chloe and Becky goodbye and thank them for their invaluable help. I promise them a good visit in New York when they come in March. I ask them to say goodbye to Calvin and Lynnette for me and wish them good sightings. Then off I go through the ever-brightening day.
I stop at the Children’s Fire Trail pullout partly to change out of my heavy boots and ski pants into my traveling clothes and partly in hopes that the Leopolds might come trotting by while I‘m doing that. They don’t. I do hear howling but it’s the wind, not wolves. I stop again at Wraith Falls to do the rest of my packing-up. Below me is a herd of bison, their heavy heads and shoulders draped in matching snow-capes. They seem indifferent to the change in the weather; only interested in the grasses hiding underneath the snow and for some reason that tickles me.
I stop in snow-covered Mammoth for a last look at the Christmas tree and a final farewell to Allison. What a gorgeous view she has of Mt. Everts today. I wish her Happy New Year and tell her I’ll see her again in the Spring.
The driving gets progressively easier, as the snowplows have now had time to drop sand on the curves. But I get more and more melancholy as I wind down the road for the last time. I stop to watch a pair of mallards feeding in the Gardner river. And at the Rescue Creek Trailhead pullout I find a herd of elk blocking the road. Are they trying to tell me to stay? I wait and watch them and enjoy this close view.
As I head toward the arch I glance at the rounded mogul hills below Electric Peak, bright white with new snow but crowned here and their with golden-grass tiaras. They look more beautiful than ever and I tear up. Oh, you know how I am.
I get two unexpected last-minute sightings on the highway: my first and only antelope herd near the Gardner airport, and then two swans flapping their huge wings in a picturesque bend of the Yellowstone River a few miles before Livingston.
It’s been another wonderful, eventful and soul-refreshing trip. Nothing is as good for me as a visit to this beautiful place. Thank you Yellowstone. See you next time!
Today I saw: Antelope, bison, 2 coyotes, 3 mule deer, elk, 4 mallards, 1 cottontail rabbit, ravens, 2 swans, 1 Agate wolf, 4 Lurker Loons and the spirit of Allison.