Thursday, October 4, 2012
Silver Gate, Montana

    The morning starts cold - 28 degrees- but there is no wind today. Somehow it just feels colder than yesterday, even with no wind. The wildlife have taken the day off; there is barely a bison until we reach Soda Butte cone. We heard about a moose family - a bull, cow and calf in Round Prairie, but we haven't seen them yet. As we drive through Lamar Valley, though, a moose marches along the tree line, like he has somewhere to go.
    The wolf shuffle begins early. We drive back and forth between Buffalo Ranch and Soda Butte, looking for one wolf who was seen shortly and disappeared behind the rolling hills. I still don't know if it was gray or black, male of female. We drive to Little America and look for the New Pack and see nothing. Then we hear that two wolves, a gray and a black, have been seen on Jasper Bench; so we go there and wait, but they have bedded. Others are packing up their scopes and so do we.
   We stop at Buffalo Ranch to enjoy the stream and single bay horse in the ranger's corral. He doesn't know what to make of us and stands in the center of the sage covered paddock. The day began cloudy and gray, but now the sun is up and the sky is blue. Since the wildlife are taking the day off, we drive to the Beartooth Highway and Absaroka wilderness. The highway has closed early in anticipation of bad weather, but the road up to it can still be driven. The sky has clouded over now; snow is not out of the question.
   The beginning of the highway from Cooke City passes ranches and bed and breakfasts high in the forested mountains. The Clark Fork of the Yellowstone River runs alongside the highway. We pass Soda Butte campground and Coulter campground where the camper was killed b a bear last year. The sign at the campground now reads "No Tents."
   Ours is the only vehicle at the Clarks Fork Trailhead. There is a picnic area with fire pits overlooking a waterfall on a flume built many years ago to provide hydroelectric power to the Henderson Mine about three miles away. It's a peaceful, pretty setting. This is a different kind of hike for us, outside the Park and away from other people. The rocky trail winds up through lodge pole pines and is also used by horses. We pass a large, marshy pond, its shoreline edged with ice. The trail continues through the forest and widens as the elevation increases, finally descending to Kersey Lake, surrounded by mountains and grassy meadows. At one end of the lake is a wooden dock; on the other side, where we stop to rest, are four overturned aluminum boats, one labeled "Montana Department of Agriculture." The sun returns briefly, but it still feels like 28-30?, so we don't stay long.
   To explore a little longer, we drive to Lilly Lake, up a dirt road winding up to a campsite by the lake. A large sign greets us at the beginning of the road "BEARS FREQUENT THIS AREA." The campsite is completely empty. So this is what it's like camping in the Beartooth Wilderness in the off-season. Deer run across the highway and jump into the bushes. A fawn peeks out at us from between the leaves until a doe nudges it on with her nose. Cows graze alongside the road and stop in the middle of the pavement, staring at us as if expecting us to shuttle them down to warmer elevations. The temperature is now at 28 degrees and we head back to Silver Gate to enjoy what feels like a winter evening.

Author - Christine Baleshta
Photography - Tim Springer

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Yellowstone Experiences 2012