A cold, wet spring day. Driving I-90 toward Yellowstone we pass pastures greening up with new grass and mountains dusted with snow. Elk fill the valleys - there are so many of them! Gray clouds cover the sky with intermittent rain showers breaking through, but the elk and horses and sheep are not disturbed from their grazing. It’s been a few years since we visited the Park in May and it’s good to be back when it’s cold; the wildlife is out and there aren’t so many people. It just feels wilder.
After a year without Yellowstone, we are finally back in the Park. I want to sink into the mountains, trees and rivers, Yellowstone Lake, all the wildlife. I am so glad just to be here there is nothing that could make this a bad trip. As I write this I am sitting near the banks of Soda Butte Creek, watching Tim throw a line into the water. It is cool here, clouds shielding me from the sun’s strongest rays. Jagged mountain peaks rise up over the rushing water; patches of snow fill rocky crevices.
Yellowstone is gradually settling into fall. As the light changes and the temperature falls, mountain slopes and valleys slowly turn golden even as snow dusts the peaks of the Absaroka range. The Junction Butte Pack has moved into Lamar Valley.
There is still light over the mountains and a dusting of snow shines in the fading light. It is almost 10 p.m. I took a brief walk after dinner, gazing up at the tall lodge pines and the crescent moon. Soda Butte Creek rushes past our little cabin. When we arrived yesterday, it began to snow; fat, wet flakes that quickly melted on the deck and under the pines.
The grass has turned golden. Spring accented by vibrant wildflowers has faded, but its muted colors are a striking contrast against the deep green of fir trees. October begins tomorrow, but the aspen here are still undergoing their metamorphosis to fiery yellow. Their leaves shimmer in the sunlight.
The Yellowstone River is running high and fast and muddy with snowmelt and the Bridger Mountains are still capped with snow. A few river rafts filled with brave souls bob up and down in the rushing water. A golden eagle flaps his wings high above Dome Mountain Ranch.
Yesterday, the first day of fall, it snowed 14 inches in the northern range of Yellowstone. We expected cold weather and snow, but not a foot or more. The road from Mammoth to Norris was closed and though Dunraven Pass was reopened, it could easily be closed again by another snow shower. If we drove to Gardiner and couldn’t get over the pass to Canyon where we are staying, we would wind up going back around anyway.
The Junction Butte Pack has moved to Lamar Valley. Seven wolves, five black and two grays, including 907F, were bedded in the sage on the south side of Lamar River. Earlier this morning they tested bison, no doubt looking for calves, weaving in and out of the sage, or lying bedded, still watching the bison.
Yellowstone is having a cold winter. Snow is everywhere - deep snow, with moose and elk up to their bellies in pure white powder. Floating Island Lake is frozen solid allowing bison to walk across without falling in. The thermometer dives below zero daily, reaching -40 at least once. We should have guessed it would be like this during that first week of October, a time the Park usually basks in Indian summer. Instead temperatures rarely rose above 45 and it rained and/or snowed each day until one drizzly day slid into the next snowy one. In the end it was one cold, wet week.