Sunday, November 6, 2011
Silver Gate, Montana

    We wake to a couple of inches of new snow on the vehicle and surrounding the cabin. The motion detector light went off in the middle of the night. We peeked through the curtains hoping to see a moose or deer or fox, but the area surrounding the cabin was empty, leaving a big question mark. Still, the silence and white blanket surrounding us is beautiful. The mountains glow across the creek. Last night as we passed Baronette Peak, I realized I had not even thought about it, and there it was, looming over us.
    The snow plow passes just as we leave the cabin and breaks through the snow. Wind blows snow around us. Tim tests the brakes. The road is only partly plowed and stops before the Wyoming line - why is that? We usually see a moose or two near the ranger station, but this year the woods are empty. Elk and bison stay far away from the road.
    Except for one or two vehicles, Lamar Valley is empty. Bison graze on Jasper bench and the slopes above Amethyst Creek. The Lamar Canyon Pack is not here. Laurie, Doug, and a few others wait at Slough Creek, but only 752's signal is there near the old carcass. Howling is heard for a moment, but there are no sightings. The morning starts at 16 and doesn't get much warmer. No wolves in sight, we backtrack to Lamar Valley looking for two Lamar Canyon pups, who are missing, not seen with the pack. We think they may have returned to the carcass, but don't find them there.
    Over and over I am reminded what a silent, peaceful place the Park becomes this time of year. The roads on the east side are covered completely with snow and in some places, patches of ice. Driving is nerve racking, especially over high passes and curves. When we reach the Blacktail Plateau the snow is gone. The plateau is miles and miles of miles and miles. No wolves here either. But, at Blacktail Ponds a large patch of white reflects in the sun. Swans! I count 26 white swans floating in the water, preening, among a flock of grebes. A couple from Wyoming told us they saw "hundreds" of swans near Lake Yellowstone, but we didn't believe them. And here are these magnificent birds! The park has been looking for nesting swans, trying to solve a puzzle of where all the nesting swans have gone. It is a happy surprise in this trip.
    Elk bed on the hillsides near the Gardiner Bridge. Delicate red heads pop above the grasses. They seem so contented, undisturbed by us or anyone else. Snow blows across the road as we pass the Upper Terraces. Patches of ice stick to the road. On Swan Lake, another large flock of migrating swans dances on top of ice. They lift their wings prancing. The wind is icy, even in the sun. No wolves today for us, though we looked diligently and patiently. I would have loved to see the Eight Mile Pack on Swan Lake Flats.
    We drive through Paradise Valley, dusted with snow, white capped mountains rising in the distance. Horses play in the snow. I will miss the emptiness in the Park, feeling like we were the only ones there - and we just about were.

Author - Christine Baleshta
Photography - Tim Springer

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Yellowstone Experiences 2012