On my drive back from West Yellowstone this morning, I stopped frequently and explored the Madison River area in the western portion of the park. Although the sun was bright, snow had fallen in abundance over the past two days, and the park had closed the road to the public twice from Mammoth Hot Springs to Norris, only allowing administrative traffic with 4WD because of blizzard conditions.
My declarations of spring have definitely been premature--most of the park remains entrenched in winter. Some portions of the river remained under ice and snow, and elk and bison grazed in the small patches of uncovered ground.
The Madison River runs 183 miles through Montana and Wyoming and is a headwater tributary of the Missouri River. Lewis and Clark named the river in 1805 for then US Secretary of State James Madison. I'm also told the river is paradise for fly-fisherman, especially in fall for rainbow and brown trout.
A small herd of bison crossed the river while I watched, and a small calf walked tiredly through the snow. A dozen elk also lingered in one of the areas left bare by snowmelt, and Canadian geese strolled along the banks of the river.
Further up the river, I discovered a less idyllic scene: ravens perched on the carcass of a bison. The long winter has taken its toll on the Yellowstone ungulate population, and winter kill has been high this year. I waited an hour to see if a wandering grizzly or a pack of wolves would come claim the kill, but the ravens had the feast to themselves.