Monday, October 3, 2016
Lamar Valley is almost empty this morning except for a bull elk trotting across the hills, some geese pecking through the flats across from the Institute and bison scattered everywhere. In the morning light the valley opens up in all its golden colors. Wolf watchers are at Antelope Creek this morning. We climb the winding road toward Mt. Washburn, turnouts packed with vehicles. We scan the slopes of Mt. Washburn to the valley below south towards Tower. If wolves are there, they are too far in the distance to see. Soon, even the wolf watchers leave.
Back and forth, turnout to parking lot, we wait for wolves to cross Specimen Ridge. But they don’t and the chase is on again to see them. From just south of the General Store we watch two black wolves cross the sage and disappear down the slope into the river canyon. It’s a wonderful view from this point on Tower Road, the wolves straight across from us. The elk are the key. A harem of cows bunch together on the slope, all facing the same direction. They see the wolves cross the Yellowstone and make their way up the slope. In minutes a gray wolf speeds through the sage up the slope toward the elk, followed by four more wolves. The gray stops and sits, looking down the slope toward the elk, while the others slowly weave uphill. Suddenly the elk chase is over. The wolves disappear in the trees only to reappear on top of Specimen Ridge where we see them tugging on a carcass. They have food and perhaps they’ll be there awhile. I always wondered how and where wolves crossed the Yellowstone and Specimen Ridge.
Since it’s supposed to snow tomorrow and Dunraven Pass might be closed (which would mean no Hayden Valley or Wapitis or Lake Yellowstone) we go on to Canyon. Snow dusts the hillsides, but temperatures stay between 37◦ and 38◦. We cross Fishing Bridge, searching the Yellowstone for trout, following a path curving path toward the Lake. Shaded by fir trees, the narrow trail leads to the Lake where we have the beach almost to ourselves stretched out before us. We wade through sand to the Visitors Center where there is an impressive display of birds of Yellowstone including swans, eagles, pelican, hawks, and much smaller birds like night hawks, nuthatches and chickadees.
Concerned Dunraven will be closed because of weather, we head back toward Mt. Washburn. North of Chittendon Bridge a great gray owl perches in a tree in a meadow off the road. He swivels his head around and looks down, unconcerned about the large crowd gathered in the trees while rain pours down. Climbing Dunraven Pass, the temperature drops to 37◦, then 36◦. White clouds descending in thin veils clear by the time we reach Mt. Washburn. The view in any direction is a sea of fir trees growing bright green after years of fires.
The rain dissipates after Mt. Washburn only to pour down in Lamar Valley. I often wonder if it bothers the animals. Deer greet us in Silver Gate, grazing along the side of the road. Tomorrow snow showers – maybe.