Saturday, November 5, 2011
Silver Gate, Montana

    It's snowing when we wake up, tiny flakes streaming down. Snow coats the front stairs, the car, the road. Silvergate is frosted.
   The snow plow comes toward us as we pass the entrance gate erasing any tracks. Driving into the Park we enter a silent, white world. The roadsides are empty - no bison or elk. So many times we have driven this road in fall, always careful of the elk and deer, but this morning the wildlife is somewhere else; perhaps hiding in the trees.
   Usually the snow stops by the time we reach Lamar Valley, but at Pebble Creek the snow is still coming down. We pass a pickup in a turnout before Soda Butte Cone and then another at Dorothy's. The traffic is thin this morning. Bison huddle far from the road.
   We drive slowly passing Fisherman's and going slowly through Lamar Canyon where the road is slippery. Below us the Lamar River, crusted with snow, runs over rocks. I replay in my mind the Lamar Canyon Pack stepping through the river.
   Only two cars are parked at Slough Creek where Doug is watching. The visibility could be better. Down the road, Rick is stationed near Boulder, waiting for the Agates. He isn't getting any signals, except for 755's. The wolves are somewhere else today.
   Elk cross the road in a line near the Yellowstone Picnic area, walking into the meadows, turning their heads to look at us. There are more elk in Little America than Lamar Valley. We pass a coyote hunting near Specimen Ridge. The snow creates a haze; like we are peering through a thin veil.
   At Blacktail Deer Plateau the snow has stopped. The Plateau goes on forever in muted green and shades of gold. How could one ever see a wolf way out there? The Blacktails are up on Mt. Everts and the Quadrants sometimes visit Swan Lake Flats, so we continue driving west, up past the Mammoth Terraces.
   Snow returns here in flurries, flakes whirling about. The Flats are another huge area of rolling hills going on forever. Rick has signals for the Eight Mile Pack, a large pack. They are out there, somewhere in the trees, behind a hill. I would love to see this pack, which is only a name for me right now. We wait. And wait. And wait. Changing turnouts, turning the car around, driving to Indian Creek and back. Rick comes up to the car and speaks with us, tells us what's going on. After a while we take a break and drive to Gardiner River to look for Big Horn sheep, but see only two fat blacktail deer on Antelope Flats. At Mammoth Campground, a few RVs and tents occupy sites. At 25°or 26°, it's cold to camp.
   When we get back to Swan Lake Flats, only Calvin and Lynnette are there. The Lake is frozen under a gray sky. I remember the time we watched the Swan Lake Pack here and all the hikes we took back into the hills; the time a gray wolf crossed our path only 40 feet away from us. About 1:30 we give up. Calvin and Lynnette stop before driving by and tell us Rick is at Cascade Meadows where a wolf crossed the road in front of him. He has seen his wolf, so they are going home and we head back toward Silvergate.
   In front of the church at Mammoth a coyote sits, testing the air with his nose. His ears are orange, as are his flanks; a handsome, calm looking fellow. Several yards away, a young woman holds on to a golden retriever who is barking and leaping toward the coyote. The wild canine ignores the dog and trots in front of the church, zigzagging and crossing the road into tall, golden grass. Elk bed on the hillsides near the Gardiner Bridge, their heads sticking out above the grass.
   It begins to snow - again. The road is layered with white, trees dusted with snow. This is winter. The snow is not deep yet, but this is winter with all its silence and isolation. We stop at Blacktail Plateau and walk along the creek to the old cabin. The wind is icy, burning my skin. The plateau is brown and deep red and gold. Tall grasses sprout above snow. Blacktail Creek bubbles over rocks and under ledges of snow along its banks. Mountains rise like shadows in the distance.
   The snow is falling faster, heavier as we reach Pebble Creek. Barronette Peak is hazy, white. At Silvergate inches of snow cover the road. Tim sees the fox cross the road and we try to follow him on foot, but he is too quick for us. Later we see him out the kitchen window, hunting around the back sheds.
   Darkness falls, pulling its curtain over us. Winter is here.

Author - Christine Baleshta
Photography - Tim Springer

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Yellowstone Experiences 2012