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Signs of Spring - Griz by John W. Uhler - 19 April 1998

Signs of Spring - Griz by John W. Uhler - 19 April 1998

April 1999 Trip Report

15 April 1999 - Thursday

Spring is hear and there is a natural migrating tendency to head north around the middle of April... I don't know what it is, it must have something to do with ancestral instincts... or maybe animal instincts... ha! Joseph and I were up at 5:30 am and we had things packed and we were on the road by 6:30 am.

The morning was warm and clear and a great day to be heading back home and to start another year of visits to the park or home.

The traffic was light early in the morning and we had a nice easy drive. We stopped at Smitty's Pancake and Stake House in Idaho Falls and had a great breakfast. We then headed north to Rexburg, Idaho to do a little last minute shopping and to look around.

We were greeted by the Tetons just a little past Blackfoot, Idaho and they stayed with us all the way up to the high plateau above Ashton, Idaho. In fact on this drive we saw the Tetons the farthest north we ever had. They were visible all the way to the Buffalo River crossing just south of Pond's Lodge on Highway 20. It was good to see them again and to feel at home.

We arrived at West Yellowstone at 1:30 pm and checked into the Three Bear Lodge. It was good to see old friends again and to enjoy the hospitality of the great folks at Three Bear. There was tons and I really mean tons of snow all scooped up around all the hotels and businesses in town. This was the most snow I had ever seen in West Yellowstone, they must of had one great winter for cross country skiing, snowmobiling and winter activities.

We walked around town and did some visiting and just enjoyed the feel of the wind and cool crisp air with the scent of pine trees and of logs in the fireplace... I always feel at home in West Yellowstone, it is small and comfy and cozy.

The crew for this trip was my son Joseph and myself for the Thursday trip. On Friday, my son John and his wife Dawn and their son Hayden, and my son Jared and his wife Amanda and their son Brandon would be meeting us at the Best Western by Mammoth Hot Springs in Gardiner, Montana. We were excited as it would be the first time we were all together on a trip to the park.

Joseph and I had supper and then hit the pool and hot tub to relax and get psyched up for tomorrow.

16 April 1999 - Friday

We were up at 7:00 am and checked out a little before 8:00 am and headed to the west entrance to buy our annual pass and take a nice easy drive through the park on our way to Gardiner, Montana at the north entrance of the park. There is still plenty of snow but the roads were dry and clear all the way north. No snow or ice on the roads at all. We saw buffalo, elk, Canada geese, mallard ducks and other birds and three bighorn sheep just south of the north entrance.

We arrived at the Best Western at about 11:00 am. Steve was manning the desk and it was good to see him again. The good folks at the Hotel allow us to stay in the same room with a kitchenette on each of our visits. It is our home away from home. We unpacked, walked around a little and of all things, Joseph wanted to go swimming... go figure... ha! We hit the pool, played, swam some laps and then enjoyed the hot tub and sauna... nice relaxing afternoon.

We were not expecting the rest of the clan until later in the evening, so we relaxed, had supper and about 4:00 pm headed out to Lamar Valley in the northeast corner of the park. We stopped and scanned the hillsides for any signs of bears or wolves. The elk were still up high on the mountains and hillsides. There were plenty of buffalo and it was good to see them. Hopefully by the end of this year we will have the buffalo slaughter that the governor of Montana continues to pursue all settled and behind us.

We did not see any bear or wolf activity from the Tower / Roosevelt Junction up past the top of the ridge, known as the narrows above the Slough Creek Campgrounds road.

At the narrows, there were eleven elk carcasses in the Lamar River. It seems that back in November or December these elk were on the ice and it broke. The area where it broke was a deep hole in the river and the elk could not get out of the water and they became winter kill. There were a few cars parked here so we stopped and checked on the activity in the area.

Ravens and magpies were working on a couple of the kills. Two bald eagles were in the area just before we got there... should of been here five minutes ago... where have I heard that before... ha! We met some old friends, Ray and Jo from Idaho Falls and Lynn and Dorothy from Utah. We discussed wildlife activity and plans for the weekend.

Ray and Jo were headed back to Gardiner and Lynn and his wife were headed to Cooke City to check in at their lodge. Joseph and I slowly made our way east down the valley stopping and spotting along the way. Elk, buffalo and coyotes... Oh, one bald eagle came back to the kills at the narrows before we left. It just sat in a tree watching the ravens and waiting its turn for supper.

Joseph and I made our way to the Lamar River Trailhead turnout and glassed the area for any signs of bears or wolves. Nothing! Joseph wanted to head back to the hotel and get something to eat. I agreed to that if we would just drive a little further east to the Soda Butte Cone. As we left the turnout, I looked up on a hill top just east of the old den site and there stood a large black wolf. We were excited! The wolf was headed east up the valley so we moved to another vantage point and watched and waited. The wolf came down to us and crossed the road right in front of us. I was able to finally after four years to get some good photos (I hope they turn out as I was excited and shooting as fast as I could) of my own wolf. The wolf headed south across the valley and we set up the spotting scopes and watched him travel down the valley.

When the wolf entered the trees I noticed two raven fly off so I figured there was a kill just inside the woods. I was right the wolf stopped and started to eat. We first saw the wolf at 6:48 pm on the hillside. A few folks stopped and wanted to know what we were watching, when we told them a black wolf they got all excited and we let them see their first wolf in the park. It was fun. Lynn and Dorothy came by and were excited that we had a wolf spotted and joined in the fun.

At 7:50 pm, Joseph and I headed back to the Best Western to meet our family and see how their trip went. Lynn and Dorothy stayed to watch the wolf until o'dark thirty. The next morning, Lynn told me that he thought the wolf was number 21 the alpha male because just before it was too dark to see, another wolf came down to the kill and showed subservient or submissive behavior to the larger wolf. This is a good indication that is may have been the alpha male.

We were thrilled to have seen a wolf that close on our first drive into the park. Great day and time to be home!

There were two trumpeter swans on one of the glacial ponds just above the Lamar River Bridge.

When we arrived at the hotel, our family was there and waiting for us. Plans were that John and Dawn would leave Hayden with his grand parents, but that didn't work out. So when I walked up the stairs to our room, I was greatly surprised to see Hayden standing there waiting for me with a big smile, hug and a kiss. Hayden and I are soul mates, there is just something there that clicks, it was there when he was born and I held him in the delivery room and it is still there and I hope and pray it will always be there. Not that I don't love the rest of my family, I do, sometimes there is just a special feeling and bond between two people, it is hard to explain but you know what I mean.

We gathered together and went to the Yellowstone Mine Restaurant by the hotel and had supper. We had a great meal and time visiting together as a family. Dick and Joanell Feit friends from Minnesota joined us. We had a great visit and then planned our strategy for Saturday.

Today we saw: antelope, elk, buffalo, ducks, bighorn sheep, magpies, ravens, a bald eagle, two trumpeter swans, a couple pairs of mallard ducks and barrow's goldeneye ducks, coyotes and probably the alpha male of the Druid Peak Pack.

17 April 1999 - Saturday

We were up, but not awake at 5:30 am and on the road at 6:00 am, still not awake... ha! We drove out from Gardiner to Lamar Valley. We stopped and looked around at the narrows and the elk kills. John and Dawn saw the bald eagle in the trees by the kills.

We continued down the valley and looked along the hills and dales for any signs of the great bears or wolves. Nothing happening at that time. We headed to the Lamar River Trailhead turnout and met Lynn and Dorothy as they were headed west down the valley. They had heard that they had some telemetry signals on some of the Druid Peak Pack. We told them we would check out this area and join them in a little while.

It was a beautiful clear morning, but the wind was cold and a few folks forgot their coats... Yellowstone at any time of the year is cold in the morning and evenings and coats are always recommended.

We huddled a top the large rocks there at the turnout and looked all over the valley for bears and wolves. We were just about ready to head west when Jared spotted something on a ridge top (7:20 am). It was a black wolf that was moving west along the ridge. We got everyone out of their warm cars and let them see the wolf. The first wolf sighting for them, it was exciting for them and Joseph and myself. We watched as the wolf disappeared below the ridge. We waited for the wolf to reappear but to no avail. We then decided to move west up the valley and see if we could find the wolf.

At the next turnout (the large turnout for outfitters), we saw folks looking up the hillside and knew that the wolf had reappeared. Lynn and Dorothy said that the wolf was either 105 F or 106 F. She slowly made her way up the hillside and lay down. We watched her and again the kids got a good view of their first wolf in the wilds of Yellowstone. There was some low moaning howls and then the wolf moved into the trees and out of sight. We waited and visited with family and friends for a while and then we decided to move west down the valley and slowly back to Gardiner for breakfast.

At a large turnout just north of the Hellroaring Trailhead road we stopped to see what was happening. Bill Hamlin from Poky told us that there had been a report of a grizzly sighting near there. When we stopped they still had a very very large brown black bear in their scopes. The grizzly had gone down into a ravine and had not come out and did not come out while we were there. John and Jared wanted to see a griz really bad. We tried our best to spot one, but we will have to make another trip to the park to do it... drats... ha!

All in all, still a thrilling day for everyone. To see one on the 111 wolves running loose in the 2.2 million acres of Yellowstone is nothing to be scoffed at and a large black bear to boot... made the trip worth while and the chance to share it together with family and friends is the stuff that memories are made of...

We drove back to the hotel and picked up Amanda and Brandon and went to breakfast in Gardiner. We then drove down to Norris and Old Faithful. Old Faithful put on her display for us and it was great. There was still all kinds of snow so we couldn't do a lot of walking without some kind of boots, which no one but Joseph had. The day was clear and bright and warm except for the wind or hawk as it is sometimes called.

We saw a little of Norris and the Old Faithful area and then headed back to Gardiner. Hayden and Brandon wanted to swim so we headed to the pool where we swam and had fun. The other members of the group took a nap for some strange reason... ha! The night before, Hayden and Brandon didn't sleep too well, so their parents didn't either... there are some nice things about being a grandparent!

We just spent a relaxing evening together at the pool and took a few walks around Gardiner, got some ice cream and had fun.

That evening we ordered pizza and played games and enjoyed each others company and being together.

Wildlife seen today: one large black bear, one black wolf from the Druid Peak Pack, probably number 105 F or 106 F, three bighorn sheep on Norris peak, ducks, Canada geese, ravens, magpies, swans, two bald eagles, hawks, coyotes, elk and buffalo.

18 April 1999 - Sunday

We slept in (this is for you Ray) until about 8:00 am and then got up and had breakfast and got ready for the day. We packed the cars and headed for our homes away from home. We had two CB radios, which made it nice to be able to communicate along the way.

This was the best weather we had ever had for an April trip. Last year we had to wait at the Mammoth Visitor Center for the roads to be cleared of snow and ice. No snow or ice at all on this trip, I think it was a sign of things to come this year... ha!

We had a great time together with family and friends and I wouldn't trade that for anything in the world!

Hey it's good to be back home again. Sometimes this old park feels like a long lost friend...

Wildlife Seen on This Trip

Antelope, buffalo, one black bear, four bald eagles, eight bighorn sheep, three coyotes, ducks, Canada geese, elk, hawks, one moose, mule deer, barrow's goldeneyes, mallards, two trumpeter swans, and two wolves of the Druid Peak Pack.

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