Saturday, September 23, 2017
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. So, we decided to drive to West Yellowstone and enter the Park there.
Driving along the west side of the Park, the Gallatin River danced alongside the road. Horses grazed in the foothills of the Spanish Peaks. This area is different from Paradise Valley and yet the same. On the west side there are more fir trees while Paradise Valley has more aspen and cottonwoods. The Madison River meanders beside us as we wind our way toward Canyon and the Madison elk herd is in their usual place on the grassy banks of the river. A harem of cows is guarded by a majestic bull who winds his way down the mountain slope while more elk graze down river. Turning north towards Norris, snow covers meadows and mountains. A few inches blankets Cascade Meadows where more elk graze. The cold weather has finally brought the elk down from the upper elevations.
Hayden Valley is covered with snow, sage sticking up from a white blanket. Grizzly Overlook is crowded with vehicles, people looking toward the Wapiti Lake Pack rendezvous site across the river. They are 20 wolves now! Both the alpha female and 1091F must have had litters, though the only reports I heard over the summer were of 1091F guiding her five pups through the valley. The alpha female was rarely seen, and not with pups. Then suddenly they were all there – adults, yearlings and puppies.
We stop briefly to scan and don’t spot any wildlife. Our reward for getting out of the car is a chorus of coyotes somewhere in the distance. Near the Canyon intersection cars line the road where ravens peck at a carcass hidden in a deep ditch. Someone must have seen a bear – two rangers armed with shotguns stand at the edge of the road watching the crowd.
When we finally check in to Canyon Lodge – a new experience for us because we have always stayed in the cabins – it’s almost dark. Our room is nice enough, but small with no place to hang clothes or store them other than our suitcases. It will do just fine.