Trip Report - Winter 2002

Lewis and Debra Demler

This is the trip report from our annual winter pilgrimage to Yellowstone.  We have gone before in January, but this was the latest.  This trip report covers the period from Wednesday, January 16, 2002 through Sunday, January 27, 2002.

We flew into Bozeman on Wednesday, January 16, 2002.  We stayed at Mammoth from January 16 through January 17.  We took a snowcoach to Old Faithful on January 18.  We stayed at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge from January 18 through January 20, returning to Mammoth, by snowcoach, on January 21.  We then got a room at the Best Western in Gardiner from January 21 to January 26.  We finished our trip at the Wingate Inn in Bozeman, staying the night of January 26.  We returned to Pennsylvania on Sunday, January 27, 2002.

We hope you enjoy reading this Trip Report as much as we did putting it together.  Click on the small pictures if you want to see a larger image.  The videos are rather large, so be patient while they load.

Lew and Deb

Wednesday, January 16, 2002

Abiathar Peak from Lamar River Trailhead We arrived at the Harrisburg Airport at an ungodly hour. We checked in at the ticket counter and headed up to security. The security people must think we are both suspicious characters. Neither one of us got through the metal detector. We were both hand wanded and patted down, which is not unusual for us because of all the zippers on our hiking pants and the metal grommets on our boots. Deb's backpack was pulled out of the x-ray machine and hand inspected because it had a curved piece of metal in it - the tripod mount for the 50-500 mm lens. While the security agent was unpacking her pack, she noticed that they were running some sort of detector over my pack. When she got finished and went over to me, she said the security guy was very brave, because he sniffed my shoes. He explained that the sensor was an explosives sensor that had a cloth pad on the end. They wiped it over the pack and then made me remove my shoes so they could wipe it over the inside and the outside. The cloth pad was then placed in a machine to detect and explosive residue.

We then went to wait for our boarding call. The gate attendant announced that boarding would be delayed for about 15 minutes while they completed paperwork. Everyone settled back to wait. About 2 minutes later he announced all rows could board. We were closest to the jetway, so Deb jumped up to be first in line. MISTAKE! Another gate attendant motioned her to the side and said she had been selected for individual baggage inspection. She had to once again unpack her pack, as well as her purse, and was again hand wanded and patted down. They even checked to make sure it was the clasp of her bra that set off the metal detector. Other than a delay waiting for a flight attendant at Cincinnati that almost made us miss our connection to Bozeman at Salt Lake, the rest of the trip was uneventful. On the drive down from Livingston, we saw at least a dozen eagles soaring over the Yellowstone. We saw our first elk herd around Dome Mountain. We arrived at the Arch around 3 p.m. Upon checking in at Mammoth, we found they had closed the Aspen Lodge annex and we were stuck in the Mammoth Hotel.

Thursday, January 17, 2002

Bull elk near Wraith Falls We got a late start today but we actually saw more Druids than we would have had we been out at the crack of dawn. We passed several large herds of elk and bison, at different locations than we had seen them before, either in winter or summer. We had to stop for a bison jam just past Blacktail Lakes. They couldn't decide which side of the road they wanted to be on. We got out to the Hellroaring overlook around 10:00 and noticed Rick's SUV, an Institute van, and a couple of Wildlife Safari vans pulled over. We stopped and soon had our scope trained on 11 Druids. Rick said they had been straggling in all morning. 42 and 21 were there as well as several pups of the year. As we watched, 3 more wolves, a gray and 2 blacks joined in so that there were 14 in all. Rick said that the same group had been out there last night. We watched until noon and then packed up to head down to the Lamar. There was a kill at Round Prairie that we wanted to check out.

There were numerous large herds of elk and bison in the Lamar; many of the elk herds were near the road at the western end of the valley. When we got to the kill, a researcher was checking it out, so we didn't see any scavengers on it. It was only about 40 feet from the road. We went on up to the Soda Butte Lodge for a late lunch. We then headed back to Hellroaring to find the Druids had moved to the east. We could find only 6 of them and they soon disappeared into the trees. We figured that was our cue to leave and came back to the hotel. We leave for three days at Old Faithful tomorrow.

Friday, January 18, 2002

Trumpeter Swans on Gibbon River We went to bed early last night so we would be rested for our trip to Old Faithful. We woke up about an hour before our 6:00 a.m. wake up call and thus were able to have a nice leisurely breakfast. By the time we got back to our room it was light enough to see the elk herd right outside our window. We got our bags out to the portico and discovered that our snowcoach driver from last year was the luggage coach driver this year. We teased her about being stuck in Firehole Canyon last year and she said that that adventure had become quite a legend among the drivers. Lew spied a rabbit seeking warmth next to the ski shop. Snow was falling lightly as we arrived at the snowcoach loading area. We were assigned to one of the newly purchased Mattracks snowcoaches. It was by far the smoothest riding and quietest snowcoach we have been in. It has four triangular treads in place of the tires and doesn't have skis. Each "wheel" operates independently and has a relatively small footprint compared to the treads on the Bombardiers or the older van conversions. It handles the bumps much better and you don't get the rocking motion that is so apparent on the older vehicles. It is a vast improvement.

Rime Frost at Frying Pan Springs The Golden Gate area is very rough this year because of the lack of snow. Usually, there are a few spots where they have to spread sawdust, but this year about 500 yards was practically bare. Swan Lake Flats was mostly deserted, just one small bison herd near the western hills. The sun began to peak through the clouds around Indian Creek and by the time we stopped at Roaring Mountain for photos, patches of blue were showing as well. As we passed the end of North Twin Lake, we ran into a bison jam on the road. We waited about 10 minutes for the bison to move on. We stopped at Frying Pan Springs to listen to the sizzling and admire the rime on the trees. Our next stop was a potty break at Norris. It was so cold, even the seats were frosted. Past Gibbon Meadows, we saw a number of swans and cygnets in the Gibbon River. Beryl Spring was steaming so much that you couldn't see it, and the steam cloud seriously reduced visibility on the road. From this point on you could see signs of the road construction and new cuts in the rock face along side the road. The road appears a lot wider the whole way down to Madison. Gibbon Falls was our next stop and then it was on to the warming hut at Madison.

Old Faithful After a short break at the Madison warming hut, for hot drinks and food, we headed up Firehole Canyon Drive for a view of the falls. Between Firehole Canyon Drive and the old Freight Road, we saw several pairs of swans with their cygnets in the Firehole. A new treat this year was being able to take the snowcoach back the Freight Road. We had heard a radio report that there were wolf tracks along the road. Just past the bridge, we saw the tracks on both sides. They were larger than my hand, so we were pretty sure they were wolves and not coyotes. We did see several coyotes along the way and noticed their tracks were much smaller. We stopped at Ojo Caliente and saw a bald eagle in a burned snag. We continued on the Freight Road, past the trail to Fairy Falls and Grand Prismatic Spring, across the Iron Bridge. We headed on down to Old Faithful, checked in, and ran into Yellowstone Girl as we were collecting our luggage. We let a message at the desk for Krazy Karen, who later stopped up at the room with some suggestions for things to do. We made a quick trip out to see Old Faithful around 2:45 and saw Plume and Sawmill from a distance while we were waiting. It is now time to go to dinner. See you tomorrow.

Click here for a video of Old Faithful

Saturday, January 19, 2002

Bison in snow along the road We rode one of the new four-cycle snowmobiles today. Amfac has replaced their snowmobile fleet with Arctic Cat 4-cycles. These machines do not have that obnoxious oil smell; in fact you don't notice any odor at all. We picked up our clothes last night and didn't even have to isolate them from the rest of the room. The 4-cycles are much quieter with a deeper tone to the engine than the high-pitched 2-cycle whine. The machine handles a lot better on the groomed roads, too, since it is heavier than the 2-cycles. The machine had adequate power for anything we wanted to do - no laboring on the hills. Every time we stopped at a warming hut, guys who wanted to take a look at the machine surrounded Lew, asking all kinds of questions.

Today was not a productive day for photography. The morning was snowy with a heavy overcast sky. In spite of the weather, Lew took a bunch of pictures with the Mavica but they didn't come out. It was either too cold, or the camera got bumped when we put it in the pack, because it wouldn't bring anything in. It had to be completely reprogrammed once we got back to the room.

Trumpeter Swans in Madison River We were on the road by 8:00, but it didn't do us much good. We headed north toward Madison and were the only ones going in that direction. We saw a few small bison herds near the Firehole, but not much else. After we passed the Mary Mountain trailhead, we saw a herd of about 20 bison in the road ahead. We stopped well back because the herd consisted of a few mothers and calves of the year, plus a lot of young feisty bulls. In typical teenage fashion, they were jostling each other, butting heads, and generally shoving each other all over the road. We followed at a safe distance as they headed toward Madison. We thought they might leave the road at the old Freight Road, but they continued on. Every time we got ready to go around them, they spread out on the road again. By this time, the traffic from West was picking up. The bison would move to the side for the oncoming traffic and then spread out again. We tried to follow a snowcoach through, but oncoming traffic again prevented us from getting by. By this time, we had about 15 snowmobiles behind us. Finally, a ranger came down the other way, turned around and led us past the bison. It took us about three hours to get to Madison from Old Faithful.

From Madison we headed up to Norris, hoping to spy one of the wolves that was seen in the vicinity. We never saw a trace of one. We hiked toward Porcelain Basin, but then decided to hike the Back Basin. We broke trail most of the way from the Porcelain Basin overlook, past Pearl and Porkchop Geysers, past Green Dragon Spring, and were almost to Echinus before we met someone coming the other way. Echinus didn't look ready to erupt, so we stopped to watch a couple of Steamboat minors. We had a picnic lunch in the shelter of the Norris Museum and headed back to Madison. After a quick stop, we decided to check out the Madison. We were rewarded by seeing 29 swans, several pairs with cygnets, and a large bison herd. Rangers were out along this stretch, enforcing the new 35 mph speed limit with radar guns. Throughout the day we saw more rangers patrolling the road than we have ever seen in the winter.

We turned around and headed for Old Faithful, so we could get back by the 4:30 deadline. We had to take it easy because the road condition had seriously deteriorated during the day. Moguls and ruts were everywhere.

We saw a pair of swans with 4 cygnets in the Firehole, just before the old Freight Road. They were probably there in the morning but we were concentrating on the bison. Between Fountain Paint Pots and the entrance to Firehole Lake Drive, we had a wonderful treat. A pair of bald eagles soared right overhead at treetop level, their white heads shining even without the sun. We saw a single swan just past Biscuit Basin, but didn't spend too much time there since we were anxious to get back to our room. We pulled up right at 4:30 and made a beeline for some Ibuprofen and some rest.

Sunday, January 20, 2002

Lion Geyser We woke up to snow and a strong westerly wind. The wind blew the snow into huge whirlwinds that beat against our window on the third floor. It showed no signs of stopping after we ate breakfast, but we decided to go out anyway. We bundled up with our normal gear - long johns, Polartec shirt and pants, heavy Polartec jackets and our Sorel -100 degree boots. The only concession we made to the wind was the addition of our Goretex shells. Wind pants would have been nice, but we didn't bring them along this trip. A Polartec balaclava and our Aussie hats completed the outfit. We had Polartec vests and scarves in our pack, but we never got them out. Grabbing our hiking poles, we were ready to go.

Riverside Geyser It was not a great day for photography, since the snow came down all day. Most of the time, you couldn't see the hill behind Old Faithful. As we headed down the bicycle path for Castle, Lion began erupting with huge plumes of steam. It was difficult to see the water through the steam and snow. Castle looked dead, even though an eruption had been predicted. We met Mic L waiting there and he said he thought it might have had a minor. The castle walls were covered with icicles and only small puffs of steam could be seen. We talked for awhile and then we decided to continue on toward Riverside as we had just missed Grand. The path was beginning to drift shut from the wind. At the Giant viewing area, the wind just about blew us from the path. We saw very few people and no animals. We passed only about 6 skiers returning to the Visitor's Center. Grotto appeared to have just finished an eruption - the area surrounding it was cleared of snow. At Riverside, we saw 6 more skiers as we arrived just in time to see it erupt. It was a very steamy eruption, again difficult to see the water through the steam. The wind was blowing the steam in all directions. We watched for awhile and sought shelter from the wind near a small pine. Mic L caught up with us again just as Riverside was finishing. None of us had the courage to go up to Daisy since the wind was so strong. He headed back toward Grand while we continued on to Morning Glory Pool.

Click here for a video of Riverside Geyser

Firehole River near Riverside Geyser At Morning Glory we found that almost all of its blue had disappeared leaving just a small blue area in its throat. Orange and brown bacteria were predominate from the edge down to the middle of the vent. We couldn't tell whether the change was from the cold temperature or because the vent is clogged with trash. We turned around and headed back to warmth and shelter. At Grotto, we decided to take the long way, going by Giant and Grand because Lew was hoping to get pictures of Sawmill. Grotto was gurgling, but now had some snow or rime, we couldn't tell which, building up on its sides. Giant was showing small splashes, just above the low point in the front of its cone. Chromatic was small; Beauty was dominant. Grand was completely finished as was Sawmill. At this junction, we decided to take the short way back past Castle. Castle still did not show any signs of an impending eruption. We finally saw our first animal as we approached the Visitor's Center - a raven. You know it is not a good animal watching day when all you can report is that you saw a total of 9 ravens. It's pretty bad when you count ravens! When we got back to the Snow Lodge they told us that with the wind chill, it was the equivalent of −35° in the basin. Polartec is wonderful stuff! All in all, even with the snow and wind, it was a wonderful day. We had the basin practically to ourselves and God knows we need the snow.

Tomorrow morning we will spend a little time in the basin and then return to Mammoth. We plan to have dinner with Quickcarl and Mark R. at Mammoth. Our report will be late, if we have time to make one at all.

Monday, January 21, 2002

View of storm from Old Faithful Snow Lodge We woke up to our last day at Old Faithful. It was still snowing and the wind was blowing. There was a drift of snow right outside our window. We were leaving for Mammoth today so we got up and went down for breakfast. The lobby was packed. A large contingent was leaving for Flagg Ranch and a couple of large groups of snowmobilers was headed south. Everyone was checking out at the same time. The line at the Obsidian Dining Room was just as bad. This was the last day of the holiday weekend and everyone was leaving. We finally got into the dining room for breakfast.

While we were eating, we saw the snowcoaches leave for Flagg Ranch. The snow was coming down heavier and the wind was really blowing, but since the Flagg contingent left, we were not concerned. After breakfast we stopped by the ski shop to pick up new ski trail maps and also talked to snowmobile people. They said they had one snowmobile left if we wanted it. All the rest were rented out for the day. We went back to the room to pack as we had to check out fairly early.

We checked out and put our bags in storage. We noticed that the lobby was starting to fill up with people with snowy luggage. As there were no snowcoaches due in this early, we asked where they came from. They were the Flagg Ranch contingent. They were turned back before they got to Craig Pass. They had closed the road from Old Faithful to Flagg Ranch. The road from Flagg Ranch to Jackson Hole was also closed at this time. The snowmobilers soon returned and it was a circus as everyone was trying to check back in. The housekeeping staff had stripped the rooms, so they had to hustle to get them ready for occupancy.

We decided to forego our last trip to the Geyser Basin and waited until the lines at the front desk thinned out. We asked whether the snowcoach from Mammoth was still coming and whether they would return early to avoid any problems. They said the snowcoach was on the way and they would stick to the regular schedule and layover for three hours as they had to allow that for the day-trippers.

We went to the Geyser Grill for lunch. Kristine was at lunch but came back right before we left. The snow and wind were getting worse. You could not see the Inn from the Snowlodge. They had now closed the roads from Canyon to the South Entrance and also the East Entrance road. We found out they had closed the Hayden Valley road yesterday.

Mattrack Snowcoach It was now time to leave for Mammoth. We got assigned to a Mattracks van again so things were looking up. We talked to our driver and he said the roads were "bad but passable" coming down. He was concerned about running out of gas. He used 27 gallons of gas and the tank holds 28. The van was full with twelve passengers and the luggage coach had three employees making the trip to Mammoth. We left about 5 minutes late and headed for our first stop at Fountain Paint Pot. The roads were not too bad but visibility was 20 feet in some spots. We saw a pair of swans at Biscuit Basin and some bison further up the river. We arrived at Fountain Paint Pot and the driver asked if anyone wanted to go for the basin tour. Everyone went except us. We wanted to try to take some pictures of the features from the road. We started for the road, but the wind and snow was so bad we decided to wait in the snowcoach instead. Soon another couple returned saying it was too bad on the boardwalk. Then another couple returned. We watched a raven go through the backpacks on a couple of snowmobiles.

The rest of the group returned from the tour and it was time to go to the Madison Warming Hut. Before we left our driver called ahead and asked that the Prinoth snowcoach leave a couple of gerry cans of gas as he was running low. The wind and snow had picked up and visibility through Fountain Flats was about 10 feet. The snow had blown off the road so we were driving on bare pavement. The snowmobiles were having problems steering. We got through Fountain Flats and were back in the shelter of the forest and cliffs. The road conditions improved and things were looking up. We saw six more swans on the Firehole and later another pair just before the Firehole Cascades. We arrived at the warming hut and stopped for a break. The Prinoth had waited for us and our driver filled up the gas tank, using all the spare gas on the Prinoth.

Prinoth Snowcoach We left Madison and headed for Norris, our next and final stop before Mammoth. The snow and wind were letting up and we could see the cliffs across the Madison. There were a couple of elk along the river across from Terrace Spring. Before we got the Gibbon River Picnic area there was a loud grinding noise and the van shuddered to a stop. Things were not looking good. It had sheared a hub and could go no further. The wind and snow were picking up again. The driver radioed dispatch and they decided to send a Bombardier up from Old Faithful. It would take at least an hour for the coach to get to Madison, so they decided to shuttle us back to Madison in the Prinoth. Unfortunately, that snowcoach is very slow and only holds four passengers. It took half an hour for the round trip. While we were being shuttled back to Madison, the driver tried to do something with the van. He took the damaged hub off and put on the spare tire. He was able to nurse the van back to Madison and arrived at the same time as the last group of passengers and the Bombardier from Old Faithful.

Bombardier Snowcoach They put ten of us and the driver of our van in the Bombardier and two passengers and the staff in the Prinoth and we were ready to continue our journey to Mammoth. Our driver said we were lucky as we got to ride on three different snowcoaches for the price of one. The Prinoth needed gas so it, and our luggage, had to remain behind until it could fill up. While we were waiting to get started again, the groomer had gone past and we had good road part of the way. We made excellent time until we caught up with the groomer. We followed the groomer for about fifteen minutes until we could get past it. From there up to Mammoth we were on virgin roads. There were large drifts and the road was no longer defined. The Bombardier is the perfect vehicle for these conditions. Ours was manufactured in 1965 and was able to take the drifts in stride. It is a very powerful vehicle and the hills did not slow it down. The Bombardier is built like a tank. It also has some very interesting idiosyncrasies. The will hold 7 passengers comfortably. With 9 passengers you become very "friendly." We had eleven. There are two temperature levels, hot or cold. We selected cold since we were packed in like sardines. It also has a tendency to throw snow over the windshield and fishtail when you go through snowdrifts. The tracks can also hit the undercarriage and that can be disturbing if you do not expect it. The woman sitting next to Deb eventually covered her face and did not want to watch anything. The woman next to me kept asking "How much longer do we have to go?" Deb and I have ridden the Bombardier several times before and were ready for this. No one else had. The only problem we had was that the snow and wind were picking up. Visibility was now down to 15 feet. The snowcoach driver had to stop several times to get his bearings while we went through Gibbon Meadows and Elk Park.

We finally got to Norris Junction and everyone decided to forego the break. We wanted to get to Mammoth as soon as possible. The snow started to let up at Beaver Lake and Deb made a comment to that effect. Then it really started to snow. Visibility was down to 10 feet. We got to Swan Lake Flats and conditions got worse. Since the wind was gusting, we were able to get very brief periods where the visibility improved. We would wait for these periods to get our bearings and then go forward a bit. We limped through Swan Lake Flats and got to Golden Gate. We all thought things would improve there, but they got worse. You could not see to the side of the road. Our van driver got out and walked the snowcoach through Golden Gate. We could not see him, but we could see the bottom of his shoes as the lights reflected on the snow.

We finally got through Golden Gate and conditions improved so we now had about 10 foot visibility. The van driver got back in and we were on the final leg of our odyssey. We had to navigate the Hoodoos and then on to the snowmobile shop where we would transfer to a wheeled van to Mammoth. But now we found out that the Bombardier driver had never driven to Mammoth before. He did not know that the snowmobile shop was off the road or how to navigate through the woods. I'm sure glad they did not tell us that at the onset. We finally arrived at the snowmobile shop and everyone cheered. The final leg of the trip on the bus was uneventful even though the snow and wind had not let up.

We arrived at the Mammoth Hotel at 7:00 and Mark and Carl were waiting for us. We decided to have dinner at the Yellowstone Mine rather than the Mammoth Dining Room. Since it was snowing so bad they decided to go back to their hotel and wait for us. We were staying at the same hotel. We were going to wait for a luggage as the staff at the hotel said that would only take half an hour. The luggage van had problems navigating Swan Lake Flats and finally arrived at 8:00.

We left the hotel and thought we had plenty of time to get to Gardiner, check into the hotel and get to the Yellowstone Mine before 9:00. As we went through the hair-pin turn at the employee housing area it stopped snowing. Deb again commented on this. That was a mistake. The heavens really opened up and we were in near white-out conditions. We were going so slowly that it did not register on the speedometer. Fortunately the road was clear so we did not have too much trouble following it. When we got to Boiling River we got behind two snowplows. We followed them into Gardiner. They were having problems and had to stop at every curve to get their bearings. We finally got to the hotel at 8:30, checked in and Mark and Carl helped get our luggage into the room.

We had a nice dinner at the Yellowstone Mine and a very pleasant visit with Mark and Carl. They are leaving in the morning so we wished them a good journey and finally retired after a long and harrowing day. Mark said they closed the road to Tower Junction so I am not sure whether we will get to the Lamar tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 22, 2002

Soda Butte Creek near Round Prairie It was a cold and windy night, but when we got up we saw some breaks in the clouds. Maybe this would be a better day after all. We had breakfast and when we returned tot he room you could actually see some spots of blue in the sky. We packed the cameras and spotting scope and prepared for today's odyssey into the park, but before we could leave we had to go to the grocery store to get an ice scraper for the car and some other necessities. We gassed up the chariot and now proceeded into the park. The reads were snow covered but had been plowed and were in very good condition.

We some elk in front of the Amfac building, a lone ewe in the sheep management area and a herd of bison just past the management area. We also saw more elk as we got closer to Mammoth. It started to snow when we got to the Mammoth campground and got worse the further we went. By the time we got to the Gardner River bridge, the snow was so heavy you could not see to the other side of the bridge. So much for clearing and blue sky. The wind also picked up so driving became very treacherous. It was a wet snow, so ice was forming on the wiper blades and they were not clearing the windows.

We stopped at the Undine Falls turnout to clear the ice from the wipers. The turnouts had not yet been cleared. Thanks for 4-wheel drive. There was a slight break in the snow when we got to Blacktail Lakes and we saw 5 coyotes on the lakes. The snow picked up while we watched the coyotes and soon they were hidden from sight. We continued on and saw a very large bison herd at the Blacktail Trailhead. We had to stop at the Children's Fire Exhibit to clear the windows again. It got colder as we gained in elevation and the snow was not freezing on the windows anymore. There was an elk herd at Phantom Lake. We stopped at the Hellroaring Overlook to let a car go by. You could not see the tree line at the bottom of the overlook. I got out to take a few pictures and it started to clear again. We waited a few minutes and I was able to take some pictures.

Clearing sky in the Lamar Valley It would appear that we were following the edge of the storm. If we stopped for any length of time, the snow would stop, but when we started driving again we would catch up to the storm. They were just starting to clear out the turnouts when we got to Tower Junction. We saw a bison scratching his head on a rock across from the Yellowstone Picnic area. We were back into the heart the storm when we crossed the Lamar River bridge. You could see the Lamar River canyon, but you could not see the hills near Slough Creek.

We got into the Lamar Valley and saw a large herd of elk across from the Fisherman's turnout. There was an even larger herd of elf across from Dorothy's Knoll. You could see to the base of the benches, but not the tops of the mountains. We saw a coyote along the road. This one had obviously been fed. He had no fear of the car and came up when I opened the window to take a picture.

We continued on toward the confluence and saw a few small bison herds on both sides of the road. The confluence was pretty well frozen over now. Mark and Carl mentioned that they saw three bighorn rams at the confluence so we looked for them. We saw two rams with full curl on the overlook. We did not see the smaller ram at this time. We drove out to the hitching post and caught up with the storm again. The wind was vicious and it was bitter cold. After a necessary stop, we continued on to Round Prairie. The kill was nothing more than a rib cage surrounded by ravens. We turned around at the Pebble Creek trailhead. We were able to get a picture of the kill on the way back.

Ravens on elk kill in Round Prairie It was getting late so we decided to head back to Dorothy's Knoll to watch for the wolves. The storm was pretty well past us and the sun was trying to break through the clouds. We stopped at the exclosure near the Buffalo Ranch to watch a magpie sitting on the head of a bison. It appeared to be eating parasites that on the bison's head. The bison finally became annoyed and shook it off. It went to another bison, but did not stay very long. We got to Dorothy's Knoll and the only one there was Bob Landis. Bob had his camera gear set up, but he was sitting in his car. He decided to leave and forgot his camera. He got to the end of the pullout before he noticed he was missing something. Nothing was happening so we decided to go back to the hitching post in preparation for a long wait for the wolves. We passed Rick McIntyre on the way back and everyone was making u-turns to follow him.

We continued on to the hitching post. We saw the three rams at the confluence but were too far past them to take pictures. After we were finished at the hitching post we headed back to Dorothy's Knoll. We stopped to take pictures of the three rams. We also took a lot of pictures of the snow-covered hills.

We stopped at Dorothy's Knoll. Rick was there but he was the only one. We spotted a coyote near the large herd of elk. We watched him for quite a while, as he appeared to be finding all kinds of rodents to eat. We watch him make the traditional mousing nose-dives into the snow. We waited for a while but then decided to go to Slough Creek as nothing else was happening. We saw a lot of cars, including Bob Landis, at the fisherman's turnout so we decided to stop there. There were 9 wolves bedded down above the smaller herd of elk. We stayed with the hopes they would get up and make a kill. The wolves had dug into the snow and all you could see were their backs. Occasionally one would get up, stretch, circle around a few times and settle back in again.

When it got dark, we decided it was time to head back to Gardiner. The trip back was uneventful except for the numerous occasions when there were elk and/or bison crossing the road. It seems that they were on the move again. We got back to the room, had dinner and called it a night.

Wednesday, January 23, 2002

Sunrise behind Hellroarong Overlook The sun was already up when we got started this morning, so we decided to go back the Old Yellowstone Trail to see if we could find any of the antelope Mark and Carl had told us about. While we didn't see nearly as many as they did, we found 8 between the cemetery and the Yellowstone River. As we made our way back through the Arch, we noticed that the sun was causing the snow to sparkle in rainbow colors, almost like thousands of Christmas lights scattered across the snow. A small elk herd pawed the ground searching for their meager breakfast just by the entrance gate. A little further into the park, we saw a small bison herd making its way down toward the entrance. Hopefully, they were headed into the CUT land that was acquired for winter pasture. We stopped at the Visitor Center and chatted awhile with the ranger on duty. Back on the road again, we headed out to the Lamar. The roads were well plowed, and black pavement showed through in spots. At Lava Creek, Lew wanted to get some pictures of the water in the sun, but the creek was totally frozen over and covered with drifted snow. The large bull elk were back out of the shelter of the woods at Wraith Falls. Another two huge bull elk were digging through the snow on the hills by the service road across from the Blacktail trailhead. The bison herd at the trailhead had moved down into the Blacktail Deer Creek drainage and weren't visible until we were directly across from them.

Magpie on Bison in the Lamar Valley We next stopped at the Hellroaring overlook. Rick McIntyre was there, looking to the east, but he soon left. The only thing we saw from there were about 30 - 40 bison down in the valley. We headed east and saw several vehicles pulled over at the Hellroaring Mountain viewpoint so we stopped. Several Druids were in sight and we were told that others were in view down at the Slough Creek Road parking area. We also heard that the Druids had gotten up after dark last night and gone after the elk herd they were near, but did not make a kill. We stayed for awhile and then decided to head down to Slough Creek and see what we could find there. On the way out, we saw two coyotes off to the south, just before the Crystal Bench trailhead. By the time we got down to Slough Creek, the wolves had left. The only people we saw there were some coyote researchers.

Upon entering the Lamar, we saw that the elk near the Fishermen's pullout were now scattered across the bench. This was the herd the Druids had chased during the night. We saw three more coyotes while we were scanning the hills. Further into the valley, the large herd on the valley floor was now more spread out as well. The bison were still hanging around the exclosure and the magpie was still annoying them. This time we got some pictures. At the confluence, the three rams were again up on a small rock outcropping. The confluence had totally frozen over, the Lamar had snow drifts over it just before it joined Soda Butte Creek.

One of the Big Boys near Wraith Falls We turned around at the Hitching Post to go back and see if the Druids were still visible at Hellroaring Mountain viewpoint. The lowering sun was shining directly on the hills to the north and we noticed that each rock and sagebrush looked like a small comet. The snow had drifted into long tails behind anything that stood up more than a foot above the ground. The hills glistened with these horizontal streaks. We stopped at Dorothy's Knoll and overhead Rick saying he thought the Druids had moved north and that he was going in for the day. We decided to call it a day as well. As we drove across the Lamar River bridge, the wind picked up and began blowing clouds of snow across the road. There were still a few cars at the Hellroaring Mountain viewpoint, so we stopped, but the wolves had moved back into the trees, and perhaps had even gone north to join the rest of the pack. Back on the road, we noticed a sundog on the right side of the setting sun. We followed the setting sun to the west, the first time we got back to Mammoth before dark. The elk began to move as dusk approached, so we had to be very careful around Mammoth. Scanning the cliffs of the sheep management area, we saw five ewes and one young ram with just barely a half curl. Six deer looked like they were ready to check in at a motel just across the Yellowstone in Gardiner. We got back to our room with the half moon rising behind us and the sun setting in front of us.

Click here for a video of Elk feeding

Thursday, January 24, 2002

Pronghorn Antelope on Old Yellowstone Trail It was cold and overcast when we got up this morning. There were snow flurries and the day did not look too promising. After a good breakfast at the Yellowstone Mine we started today's odyssey. Instead of going directly to the Lamar, we decided to checkout Jardine. It is about 5 miles northeast of Gardiner. We followed a number of switchbacks through Forest Service land, seeing numerous mule deer and elk along the way. Jardine is a very small community set back in the mountains. We then returned to Gardiner and decided to check out the Old Yellowstone Trail.

Yesterday we went to the Old Gardiner Cemetery and saw a number of antelope, but we decided to pass that today. Further down the road we saw a much larger, more mature herd of antelope. They became very nervous when we stopped to take pictures, so we did not stay very long. We continued down the road, through CUT property, stopping to take pictures of the Devil's Slide. We crossed the Yellowstone River at Corwin Springs and started back to Gardiner on highway 89. Along the way we noticed a number of ravens and bald eagles. There was an elk carcass along the road. We saw a total of seven mature and two immature bald eagles. We saw several more eagles before we got to the north entrance of the park.

Eagle watching elk kill near Blacktail Lakes We saw another eagle as we entered the park. There were twelve sheep, all ewes, at the sheep management area. Then we saw three more bald eagles and a young ram near the rock slide area. It started to snow. We saw another eagle near Boiling River. It was becoming a very "eagle" day. We stopped at the Visitor Center in Mammoth to pick up a new book called "Silence & Solitude: Yellowstone's Winter Wilderness" by Tom Murphy. While we were in the Visitor Center we talked to the owner of the Little Red Car. The owner said the Little Red Car still lives. She doesn't like to go in the cold. Perhaps, the Little Red Car will reappear when the Web Cam does.

We continued on towards the Lamar. The snow got heavier and the wind picked up. We were buffeted quite a bit when we crossed the Gardner River bridge. The Wraith Falls elk were in a sheltered area. We counted eleven large bull elk. There was one with a large set of atypical, palmated antlers. We had never seen this one before.

Coyotes on elk kill near Blacktail Lakes As we approached the Blacktail Lakes, we noticed several eagles and a large number of ravens. Four coyotes crossed the road in front of us. We figured there must be a carcass nearby. We turned around at Blacktail Lakes and, heading back towards Wraith Falls, we noticed a fresh kill abound 50 yards off the road, down a steep embankment. Two coyotes were on the carcass and the other two were standing by the side. The two that were feeding would occasionally stop eating and would approach the others with the "gator" posture. After the other two moved away, they would return to feed. The eagles perched in the surrounding trees, waiting patiently for their turn. Two additional coyotes approached as we were leaving. The word was out. We turned around at Wraith Falls and continued on towards the Lamar.

Click here for a video of Coyotes feeding

Bison on road near Frog Rock We initially did not see the bison herd that was at the Blacktail Creek Drainage for the last two days. We soon found them . . . . in the middle of the road. They were near the Frog Rock area and had settled in for the day. We waited as several crossed the road, but five decided to stand there waiting for the walk signal. Cars started to stack up in both directions. We waited patiently and then we waited some more. These bison were content to spend the rest of the day in the middle of the road. Finally a woman driving a small, white station wagon and some NPS employees in a pickup truck literally pushed the bison off the road with their vehicles. We did not get their license numbers as they were covered with mud, so we could not report them.

We continued on towards the Lamar. There was a lot of drifting near Frog Rock and the road was down to a single lane. Eventually the NPS sent someone out to clear the road. There was no one at the Hellroaring Overlook or the Hellroaring Viewpoint so we continued on. There was one person at the Elk Creek Drainage pullout, but since it was so late and he was sitting in his car, we did not stop. There was no one at Slough Creek. We stopped at the Fisherman's pullout. The elk herd that was there for several days had spread out. We did not see any coyotes today. We continued down the Lamar. The larger elk herd had moved further down the valley and was now spread out near the Picnic Area.

Bighorn Ram at Confluence Overlook We saw the three bighorn rams at the confluence overlook. They were right alongside the road. We continued on to Pebble Creek and turned around there. There were only three ravens on that kill. It was getting late so we decided to head back to the room. We saw a coyote in front of the Tower Ranger Station. The car was still at the Elk Creek Drainage pullout so we decided to stop. This time the man was out of his car and looking towards some pines in the drainage. There were five wolves, including 217F and 218F. There was a kill in the drainage and they eventually went back to it. There were a couple of eagles over the kill site. We heard two of the wolves howl. Later all five started howling in unison, their voices rose up and down in a haunting harmony. Deb was thrilled. They howled for at least a minute.

Click here for a video of Bighorn Sheep feeding

We talked to Kevin Sanders and asked if he had heard anything about the kill near Blacktail Lakes. He said he did not think it was a wolf kill as the Leopold pack was further in. Bob Landis had been filming them and had to go way back. He also said the Druids had appeared to have gone north from Slough Creek. There may be slim wolf watching for a while.

It was getting dark, so we decided to go back to the room. On our way back, an elk started to cross the road in front of us. She stopped and just looked at us, trying to decide what to do. She eventually decided that we were not a threat and continued across the road. We finally got back to the room and called it a night.

Friday, January 25, 2002

The morning dawned cold and gray again today. We headed into the park and noted the lack of animals. The bison, elk and sheep we had been seeing on the Gardiner to Mammoth Road had seemingly disappeared. It was flurrying again by the time we reached Mammoth. We made the turn for the Lamar and saw only a few cow elk on the hills outside of Mammoth. The big boys were out near Wraith Falls, so we got a few more shots of the atypical bull. We stopped by the carcass, but it was not much more than a backbone and a string of hide. The eagles were still keeping watch in the trees above it, however. The bison herd had moved to the south of the road at Blacktail Creek trailhead. They were spread out along the top of a ridge there, looking for grass laid bare by the wind. The road past Frog Rock was again drifting shut; it was two feet deep in spots. All in all the morning did not look too productive.

Uncollared Druid in Little America We continued on to Hellroaring Overlook and made several stops between there and Elk Creek, but were again disappointed. We didn't see even one coyote before we reached the Yellowstone River bridge. We saw a couple of bison hanging out on the frozen ponds below Junction Butte. A few scattered elk herds were scratching out a living in Little America. As we approached 103's den site, we noticed several cars in the pullouts before the rock pullout. We were able to find space at the rock pullout and as we opened our doors, we heard wolves howling. We checked with one of the others there and were told that 13 of the Druids, including 21 and 42, were bedded down on a ridge to the right of the den area. We quickly found 7 black wolves, but were unable to spot any grays among the sagebrush. After a few more choruses, four of the wolves got up and headed west, below a small elk herd, eyeing them along the way. The elk got nervous and moved on over the ridge. The wolves continued to the west, so we decided to move down a couple of pullouts to see what would happen.

Druids in Little America We met some wildlife photographers who were watching a small elk herd, hoping that the wolves would come down that way. After waiting awhile with no action, we decided to go back to the rock pullout and watch the remaining wolves. We had the pullout to ourselves. We could still see 3 of the wolves and as we watched several more arrived and bedded down. One uncollared black eventually was restless, got up, stretched, yawned and trotted toward the east. After she disappeared behind a small hill, she began to howl. The others answered her in a rising chorus. We decided to move east as well to see if we could find her again. At the next pullout we had a clear view of her across a relatively open area. She continued to howl to the others and they responded. She called them to her. We saw a few wolves spill across the ridge and then the entire pack was on the move. The uncollared black turned back and raced to join them. The entire pack continued east until they disappeared behind a ridge. Everyone else headed for Slough Creek, hoping to see the wolves come out there. We stopped at a pullout well short of the Lamar River bridge. We were able to watch all 13 wolves head single file over a ridge toward Slough Creek. We decided it was a good time for a break and went out to the Hitching Post.

Click here for a video of Wolf howling feeding

Coyote at the Lamar River Trailhead On the way out, we noticed that the large elk herd was still on the valley floor, but now was almost directly across from the Buffalo Ranch. The three rams were still above the confluence, but had moved well up the hill. A tour bus was parked at the Hitching Post, so we turned around without stopping and went back to Slough Creek. At the Slough Creek parking area, it was obvious no one was seeing anything, so we went back to the pullout where we had last seen the wolves. One of the photographers was there. Rick McIntyre had told him that the wolves seemed to be bedded down out of sight near Slough Creek. We watched 3 coyotes move in and out of the sagebrush right above the Lamar and then decided to call it a day. That way we could get back in time to meet Wendy. We stopped at a few pullouts on the way back to see if we could find anything else, but there was no other action. When we got to Mammoth, we stopped at the hotel to see if Wendy had checked in yet. She hadn't, but as we were leaving she drove up. We made dinner plans, and she went to check in and we headed back to our motel. Wendy soon arrived and we had a pleasant dinner. We made tentative plans to meet in the morning depending on the severity of the storm that is blowing in. The wind is whistling outside our room, rattling the windows. The forecast is calling for snow starting tonight and accumulating to 20 inches by Sunday. We may be snowed in at Yellowstone. Oh, drat!

Saturday, January 26, 2002

View of mountains in the Lamar Valley The wind blew all night. When we finally got up we expected to find ourselves drifted in. To the contrary, there was NO snow. It was snowing but the snow was blown away as soon as it fell. Since this was our last day in the park, we decided to delay breakfast and get back into the park as soon as possible. We did a quick pack job, checked out of the hotel and started for the Lamar. The wind was blowing so hard that the ranger at the entrance was glad to wave us on with only a cursory check of our pass.

We could not see to the top of hills in the sheep management area, but there was very little snow on the ground. It was also very warm. We would be grateful for this later on. The snow was heavier by the time we arrived in Mammoth. It was also sticking to the ground and the drive became more treacherous. We saw no animals until we arrived in Mammoth. All of the elk and bison disappeared. We continued on towards the Hellroaring Overlook. Maybe the wolves were back there. The Wraith Falls elk were bedded down on the opposite side of the road. They were in their "white coat" phase. We did not see any of the bison in the Frog Rock area. The snow started to let up and Deb said "I am not going to say it," but just the thought was enough as it started to snow really hard.

We stopped at the Hellroaring Overlook to clean the ice off the wipers. The whole Druid pack could have been in the valley but we would not have known it. We could not see past the pine trees. We continued on and saw some elk at Floating Island Lake. We would become very familiar with this area later in the day. The elk herd at Tower Junction had spread out. We did not see the bison near the Yellowstone Picnic area. There was no one in Little America so we continued on to Slough Creek. This is where we left the wolves the night before. There was no one there either. We continued on to the Lamar.

Sunset from the Childrens Fire Trail The smaller elk herd was still on the benches where they have been spending the last few days. There was a new herd of elk in the valley. They appeared to have crossed the road and were now crossing the river. The large herd of elk was spread out more and they were now down near the Yellowstone Institute. We did not see anyone until we got to the Institute. There were several photographers there and they said they had seen one black. They also heard very weak signals from some of the others. We decided to continue down the valley and look for Wendy. We found her at the confluence. She had not seen any wolves and was now watching the ouzels and looking for otters. The three rams had disappeared. It was late and we decided to go to Cooke City for breakfast.

After breakfast we decided to make one last pass of the Lamar before we left for Bozeman. When we got down to Round Prairie, Wendy pulled over into one of the turnouts. We scanned the area and Deb noticed a strange black object under a pine tree. It was a black wolf. Rick said it was 105. We watched her for a while and soon she got up and moved to a kill. She picked up a leg from the kill and disappeared into the forest.

Then Jeff Hogan pulled up and told us the entire Druid pack had gone by on one of the ridges behind the Institute. Unfortunately we were at Cooke City having breakfast. We introduced Wendy to Jeff. He is in the area working with Bob Landis. We had to leave so we said our good-byes and headed west. It was getting late.

It was very warm and most of the snow had melted off the roads in the Lamar. This did not seem like the same area we were in for the last few days. Just west of the Crystal Bench trailhead there were several cars parked in the middle of the road. We saw that they were all looking at a coyote. Several cars behind us also stopped. We went around them and continued on. We saw another coyote as we started up the hill past the Tower Ranger Station.

As we started up the hill past the Tower Ranger Station, the roads became icy and snowy again. We were approaching Floating Island Lake and some %#&@^$* decided to take her share of the road out of the middle. We were forced off the road into a ditch. Looks like Carl and Mark started a new Loon tradition. Fortunately, there was a bank at this area and not a steep drop-off. We tried to back out to no avail. Several cars passed by and the people just looked at us. Soon a couple of cars stopped and they offered to help. We said they could try pushing, but before we could do anything three vans from Yellowstone Safari came by and stopped. They offered to help pull us out. A couple of their drivers got shovels and dug around the car while others of their staff got a tow strap and hooked it to our car and one of their vans. They pulled us out with no problems. They then checked out the car to ensure that nothing on the undercarriage was damaged and that all hoses and cables were ok. I thought that was great.

We continued on to Mammoth with no further problems. We left a message for Wendy and left the park. On the way to Bozeman we saw several herds of deer along the road. The road was clear and there was no snow in the Paradise Valley. You would not believe it was the end of January. We would find out later that the temperature was 43 degrees. We are now in our hotel. We have finished packing and hopefully will be in the air around 6:30 AM tomorrow.

Sunday, January 27, 2002

The alarm went off at 4:00 am. Was it time to go back to the Lamar and search for wolves? No, it was time to head out for the airport and return to Pennsylvania. It had snowed over night, a lot more than the dusting that was forecast. We had called the airport the night before and were told the Delta ticket counter opened at 4:30 and security would be open by 4:15. We wanted to get there in plenty of time. We had three duffel bags to check as well as two backpacks of camera equipment and the computer.

We got our tickets and proceeded to security, only to find out they did not open until 5:15 am. We waited! Security soon opened and we were advised to take off our hiking boots and send them through security separately. The computer also had to be removed from its case. I had two lead bags of film, so I took them out and asked whether they wanted to hand check them. They said no, just send them through the x-ray equipment. You can not see what is in the lead bags, but they are the bosses, so I sent it through. Deb had two souvenir wine glasses we purchased in Yellowstone. No problems with security. They left the lead bags go through without question.

We proceeded to the boarding area and waited for the airline to board the plane. No problems here. They boarded the plane starting at 5:55 for a scheduled 6:30 takeoff. We had a scheduled one-hour layover in Salt Lake City. The airplane, a 737, was covered with snow. They closed the plane on schedule and started the de-icing procedure. That took half an hour. The plane was pushed for the gate and the pilot tried to start it. The right engine started ok, but the turbine fins on the left engine were frozen. They called the de-icing equipment out again to try to free them up. Half an hour later they were able to start that engine. So much for our one-hour layover in Salt Lake City. We thought they would hold our connecting flight as most of the people on this plane were making the same connection.

We got clearance to take off and started down the runway. Normally we are airborne before we go halfway down the runway. This time we saw the warning lights at the end of the runway and while we left the ground we did not gain altitude as normal. We knew then there was something wrong. We slowly gained altitude and at about 4,000 feet the pilot made a right hand turn. We started to slide and you could see the ground coming closer very fast. We leveled out and started to gain altitude. Whew!

Then we heard a lot of noise coming from the front of the plane. I could see past the bulkhead and saw all kinds of flashing red lights. I had never seen ANY red lights before. There was a lot of loud beeping and the flight attendants were looking in the front restroom. They were going up and down the aisles and checking the carry-on stowage compartments. Then I noticed a lot of smoke in the first class compartment. The red lights and the loud beeping were from the smoke detectors. Deb started watching the right engine. Luckily she did not look at the left engine because that was not right. There was a lot of smoke coming from it. What a way to end a trip to Yellowstone. The smoke started to come into the main compartment. It was very light smoke, more like fog, not black like I would have expected. It also had a sweet smell to it.

We were now past Jackson Hole so they decided to continue to Salt Lake City. The pilot made an announcement to the effect that all of his indicators tell him there is no problem. He felt that it was the de-icer burning and the smoke was drawn in through the air vents. He was going to vent the air in the cabin and he felt that should take care of the problem. Unfortunately, they had no way to turn off the smoke detectors so we would have to put up with the flashing lights and the loud noise. I saw that the left engine had stopped smoking. Soon the cabin cleared out but the smell lingered. They eventually were able to turn of the loud beeping but not the flashing lights. The plane also appeared to have picked up power and was now running the way I thought it should.

We made up some of the lost time and arrived at the gate in Salt Lake City at the time our connecting flight to Cincinnati was supposed to leave. Deb noticed that the Departure Board said that flight had departed. We checked with the agent and he confirmed that. He told us to go to the information booth and they would help us get rescheduled. When we got the booth, we found out they had already rerouted everyone. Most of the people were put on a plane to Atlanta that was scheduled to depart an hour and a half later. They put us on a plane scheduled to depart for Atlanta in 15 minutes. The agent said he did not have time to print the new tickets and boarding pass. If we waited for him, we would miss that plane also. He said to go to the gate and he would call ahead and have them print our documents. Everything was in the computer.

We ran down two concourses and got to the gate as the plane was loading. There was a long line but we got to the agent in plenty of time, so we thought. This agent was very nasty and told us she did not want to hear anything from us. She said she did not even want to talk to us if we did not have a paper-boarding pass. We told her our story and she said she closed the plane 15 minutes before and would not even check the computer. She then ordered us out of the area. She said there was no way she was going to let us on the plane.

We went back to an information station near the gate, but there were about 30 people in line. I waited and Deb went back to try to get the agents name. While I was waiting I heard our names being called over the paging system. What trouble did Deb get into now? I went to the gate and the agent taking the boarding passes said they were waiting for us. I explained that we did not have boarding passes or revised tickets, but she said she would cut our boarding passes and we could get the tickets in Atlanta. The other agent heard that and came storming over. She stated that she told us we were not getting on the plane, that she had closed it and then she proceeded to close the door to the jetway.

The agent that had just cut our boarding passes said that these people have confirmed reservations and that they were going to go on this plane. She held the jetway door open and we left. When we got to our assigned seats, we found a "deadhead" that wanted to take all three seats. She got very upset that we were on the plane, but the flight attendant moved her to First Class. We were off to Atlanta, but had no idea what flight we were taking from there. We asked the flight attendant to get us schedules and we determined that the reason we got the early flight is that that was the only way to make our connection to Harrisburg.

We arrived in Atlanta and went to the nearest information booth. They checked our reservation and told us we were confirmed on the Harrisburg flight, but would have to go to the gate for our seating assignment and boarding pass. The gate was on the other side of the airport. We got to the gate, only to be greeted with - "I was expecting you." This flight was filled several days before and there were no seats from us. They had overbooked us at Salt Lake City. She also said that all of the rest of the Delta flights to Harrisburg were full and there were no seats on any of the US Airways flights.

She checked for other options and came up with an Atlanta to Philadelphia to Harrisburg scenario. That would require that we go to Philadelphia on Delta and change to US Airways to Harrisburg. Unfortunately the US Airways agents would not answer the telephone and she was not sure there were seats on the US Airways flight. She said to take a seat and then she disappeared. About 15 minutes she came back and said she had confirmed our seats on the US Airways flight. When she checked the computer, she said she could not find us, but she saw the agent put us in so it should be ok.

She proceeded to write us real tickets, as all we had were electronic tickets. She had problems and eventually completed the tickets for flights on February 27. She said we had been jerked around all day and that she would try to make it up to us. She wrote out a $250 voucher in my name. She stopped and thought a little and said since we were really jerked around, she would increase the amount. She changed it to $350. Then she proceeded to write a similar voucher for Deb. $700 will go a far way to our next trip to Yellowstone. But while she writing this, I kept checking my watch as the departure time for our Philadelphia flight was rapidly approaching.

Then she thought about our checked baggage. A new law went into effect on January 19 that requires that our baggage accompany us. She had to reroute our bags to our new flights. The computer would not accept the routing. She got another agent and finally got that taken care of. We now had 20 minutes to get to our departure gate, which was back on the same concourse where we had originally started. They had almost finished boarding when we got to the gate. The agent had all kinds of problems getting our boarding passes, but he did get them printed out and sent us to board the plane. Unfortunately, he gave me two passes with the same name and seat number. Back to the agent so we could get boarding passes for both of us. Then he thought of the checked baggage, so he had to go through the same transfer procedure as the other agent.

We finally got on the flight and were on the next leg of this odyssey. We arrived in Philadelphia and the fun begins! The Philadelphia Airport does not have central security screeners. You have to go through security at each concourse. By now we were exhausted. It was fourteen hours since we got up in Bozeman. Delta no longer gives meals on any flights under 1,900 miles so all we had to eat all day was two small bags of pretzels. We did not have any time between flights to get anything else.

We got to security and went through the normal motions. Off with the hiking boots. Computer out of the case. All metal in the dish. Off with the packs. Off with the hat and vest. Turn the belt buckle. (I guess you could hide something behind the buckle.) I forgot to take the lead bags out of the backpack but they had no problem with that. They then took both backpacks to an explosive screening machine, even though they were aware of the unprocessed film. Goodbye pictures. These machines were high voltage x-ray machines and we probably lost all of our photographs from Yellowstone. At least the digital pictures are ok.

After we got home and processed our film, we confirmed that it had all been destroyed. The snow was a foggy green color and there was a lot of banding on the pictures. We did try to fix some of the pictures with Photoshop and even called Kodak for advice. There is nothing that can be done. They are not repairable. I have since discovered that this is not uncommon at the Philadelphia Airport.

We proceeded to our gate. I think the gate was half a mile from the screening area. Fortunately we met one of the courtesy carts and they drove us to the gate. At the gate they said the computer indicated we already had boarding passes. We convinced the agent that we didn't, so she issued new passes. Almost there. The plane was scheduled to board in 10 minutes. The agent made the boarding call and Deb took off. But not too far. She was selected for additional security screening again. We had discussed this possibility and decided if one of us had to go through the screening, the other would board the plane and wait. That was not to happen. The screener also wanted me.

Off with the boots. Everything out of the pockets. All bags, vests, hats, etc off and on the table. Hand check everything. Unpack the backpacks. Cameras out of the cases. Lenses out of the cases and lens caps off. She had to look through the spotting scope. Open up all of the little things like extenders and cables. Same with the computer. We were wanded and patted down. They had to be satisfied with every beep made by the wand. I guess they thought Deb was carrying a weapon on her back when the clasp on her bra made the wand beep. They checked our boots for explosives. They did not check the contents of the lead bags. This was the same girl that had screened us at security. Finally we were finished.

I asked why we were both selected. We were told we fit the profile for people they were allowed to screen. The NTSB Guidelines say to avoid screening any one of Middle Eastern descent unless they set off the metal detectors. Pick older couples. These candidates are less likely to complain. We matched the profile. It makes no difference that every single hijacking of American aircraft since 1975 has been done by young, Middle Eastern men. We do not want it to appear that we are targeting them. We could not believe this and checked it out when we got home. This is correct!

We finally got on the plane. The last two seats. It was a twin engine propeller driven commuter plane that carried a maximum of 37 people. it was time to take off, but the pilot had not started the engines. We noticed maintenance people getting on and off the plane. Soon the pilot let us in on the reason for the delay. They had topped off the fuel tanks and now the plane was too heavy to take off. They were trying to decide what to do.

The decision was to take one passenger off the plane, which also necessitated getting his luggage. Under new federal law, you cannot separate a passenger from his luggage. I guess they want to make sure the terrorist has his explosives available when he gets on the plane! They finally got one volunteer and we were able to take off.

We arrived in Harrisburg and went to baggage claim to wait for our checked baggage. Needless to say, it did not make it. Also eight other passengers did not get their checked bags. They had no idea where the baggage was. So much for making sure the checked baggage goes on the same plane as the passenger. It really makes sense to close the boarding of the planes early and cause hundreds of missed connections. It took 17 hours to make a trip that used to take 9 hours at the most. We still do not have our baggage! Not even one of the three bags. This sure gives one a feeling of safety and comfort!!

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