Wolves and a Dash of Mountain Shenanigans

Because we came looking for wolves, upon our arrival we asked in the visitor center where to start looking for them in this huge, huge park that is largely inaccessible this time of year. Lucky for us — and I suppose for them, as well — a couple days earlier one pack had taken down an elk in a spot that was within eye-sight of the road. We were given a brief description of the place and were told, “Just look for the line of spotting scopes and the buses for wildlife tours.” And it was very true — as long as you knew the general area and were out early in the morning, if the wolves were visible you’d see a line of spotting scopes set up, usually in front of a couple buses. And because we’re all kindred spirits in our search for wolves in the crisp mountain air, if you weren’t one of the first to be set-up many would be very kind in sharing what they were seeing.

And on our second day wolf watching, we certainly got very lucky. When we arrived one pack — The Mollies — was about a half mile away, in clear view tramping around and playing as canines do. A short while later, two wolves broke from the pack and made their way back to the fallen elk where they chased the magpies and ravens off and scrounged for a few last pieces.

As they did so, they’d take break now and then to howl back and forth with the rest of the pack.

Now we stood about a half mile from the main group and the two on the elk. While it felt very safe with the couple dozen people around, it didn’t escape myself or my husband that we were awfully close to these wild wolves.

Putting aside my innate distrust of wildlife, I watched in awe.

I’d seen packs of coyotes and heard both wolves and coyotes howl, but never like this. It wasn’t where they all get together and howl in a group as they are often depicted. Instead these wolves were clearly “talking” back and forth. Having a conversation while a mile apart. It was incredible.

For the most part, while we wildlife watched it was cold — in the teens & 20sF — and that’s a little brisk for standing still even for the winter hardened, fully equipped Wisconsinites that we are. I was very happy to have finished my Connectivity Gloves before the trip. They were actually quite a bit warmer than I expected and they absolutely saved my fingers when snapping photos with my phone.

img_2182As I mentioned before the trip, I purchased this kit from Feel Good Yarn Co and the fingertips of these have SilverSpun yarn making them compatible with my smartphone.

img_2181-1Plus, I really love the look of the two-tones of grey (I selected Storm Cloud & Silver Dust for my kit). For those interested, the pattern — by Mari Chiba — is extremely well written and easy to follow and it’s free on Knitty.

Because of the cold, throughout the wildlife portions of our trip we let the kids hang out and read in the car, calling them out to see things when we had good views. They were exceptionally patient, so as a treat we drove further on into the mountains to find fresh snow in which they could play. At home we’d been having an unseasonably warm winter and had very little snow, so having a foot of powdery snow to romp in was hugely exciting. We did a little searching and found a good spot, not far but far enough from where we’d viewed some bison and a couple moose and the kids were elated.

It’s a national park so Moose wasn’t allowed to play with the kiddos away from the road or parking lots, but he dutifully watched over his people as they built snow forts and played until they were too cold to play any more.

That is, of course, when he wasn’t posing majestically for photos.

We also embarked on a few short hikes including one up to Wraith Falls.

img_2021As was only right, there were more snowy shenanigans along the way. It was a nice short hike and because it’s rather popular, the snow was packed down so the hiking wasn’t hard.

img_2031Of course the waterfall was mostly frozen and dimly lit snuggled into a little fold in the hills as it was, but it was rewarding nonetheless.

And when you’re 8 and tired halfway through the hike…

img_2038Dad is always there to help you polar bear slide down the hillside safely.

Now it’s worthwhile to share that I was not super comfortable with the wintry mountain driving in our compact front-wheel drive car. True, we put new snow tires on before the trip and true we had everything we possibly could need to survive should — worst case scenario — we get stuck overnight in a ditch somewhere, but while the road through the Lamar Valley isn’t bad, there are slick spots and icy runs. For a fair bit of the time I was kind of a hot mess about it even though I did a decent job of just being quiet and letting Mr. Knitting Sarah focus on the roads Thankfully among his many talents he’s an excellent winter driver.

No moment was more harrowing for me, however, than a certain bison traffic jam.

I admit this doesn’t look bad, but there were moments when these behemoths were surrounding our car at which point I just put my head in my shawl and stopped looking. Logically I know these bison were not a threat, but a couple years ago I witnessed one get cranky with an unsuspecting Chevy Malibu in front of us in the Black Hills and take a swing with his horns at the car’s quarter panel. To this day, close proximity to these guys reminds me of that and kind of makes me squirm in my seat. Eventually they crossed the 2-lane bridge farther down the road and we got around them without incident.

We romped a bit more and then grabbed an early dinner so the kids could enjoy some pool time back at the hotel. As chief Moose-sitter during the kids’ pool time, I was able to do some spinning (Mr. Knitting Sarah volunteered to supervise the kids — he’d planned that out, too). As we wrapped up our time in Yellowstone I managed to finish half of my roving from Wolf Ridge Icelandics (on the left) as well as singles from a small 2.20z batt from Classy Squid Fiber Co.

img_2160-2I had a number of spinning options because this being my first trip with my wheel I’d packed way too much, but when I finished half of my Icelandic roving and knew I couldn’t finish the other half before it was time to pack up again, I selected this batt called “Japanese Garden.” It was small enough that I knew I could finish the singles before it was time to go so it seemed like a perfect little addition to my vacation crafting. I divided it in half and then created roughly 3″ wide strips just to make it easier to handle. My daughter was totally enamored with them and had a blast petting and handing them to me was I whipped through them. For me, I tried to embrace instead of fight the textural qualities of the batt. In the past, I’ve tried to treat batts like top and worked to eliminate the slubs, but after watching Amanda’s spins on Instagram (she’s the lady behind Classy Squid Fiber Co) I really wanted to let these unique fibers sing. More on those results soon…

I’ll be wrapping up our time in Yellowstone tomorrow with a final spectacular hike and more knitting on the road, as well as some final thoughts from the experience.

Stay tuned!

A Sheep Ranch & Our Weird, Weird World

If you didn’t already know, my husband is very good at planning vacations. He plans 99% of our trips, usually with Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C options throughout to insure they run smoothly even when they, you know, don’t run smoothly. In addition, when he does his research and planning he demonstrates incredible skill in his ability to create a trip that includes something fun and special for everyone. For me, this usually involves some sort of unique fiber arts experience and our trip to Yellowstone was no different.

Just about 40 miles north of our hotel in Gardiner, Montana, set back off the winding roads of Paradise Valley lies Wolf Ridge Lamb & Wool Co., which specializes in Icelandic sheep. My husband contacted the ranch before our trip about visiting the yarn room and he received a very kind note telling us to just call when we were in the area and we’d set up an appointment.

I’m always a little nervous on these fibery adventures because you really never know what you’re going to find. I had an idea of what they had to offer based on their website so I was hopeful, but nothing could have prepared me for this.

img_2190This picturesque little haven nestled in the mountains. And the yarn room?

img_1935 I can only say, “WOW!” The yarns were beautiful, the fiber was absolutely lovely, and Barb — that’s her in the photo — could not have been any nicer. To say I was a kid in a candy store would be the understatement of the century. I picked up a sweater quantity of Paradise Aran in the softest light brown color with the hopes that it’ll maybe turn into Andrea Mowry’s new White Pine sweater, but I’m flexible on what it becomes.

img_2194It’s just gorgeous and will undoubtedly make lovely sweater someday.

In addition, I grabbed an 8oz bag of roving to spin.

img_2192

It’s lamb’s wool & is incredibly soft.

img_1997-2And that very night I started spinning (that was part of my husband’s plan, too). It’s a sumptuous rich chocolate color. Barb assured me that she was just a phone call or email away if I found myself in need of anything else and you can believe I took some notes for future stash potential.

The following morning we awoke early and got into the park before the sun rose with the high hopes of seeing the main attraction for us this trip — wolves. Yes, believe it or not, the fiber & yarn was not the main event for everyone. In any case, the day after visiting Wolf Ridge Icelandics, what did we see?

Wolves. On a ridge.

The photo is quite blurry because this time they were very far away and Mr. Knitting Sarah was snapping the photo with his phone through a spotting scope, but we saw them. Once they crossed over the back side of the ridge we knew we’d be back the following day to try to catch a better look.

In the mean time, we enjoyed seeing a sleepy Bighorn Sheep in the snow…

and a river that had 3 or 4 American Dippers, dipping away.

They may not look all that special, but for those who aren’t birders, American Dippers are North America’s only aquatic songbirds. They sing and dance and bob up and down (or dip) on the rocks or ice of fast-moving mountain streams…

Sometimes they stomp their feet…

And then eventually they dive into the water…

Where they grab little bugs to eat. I managed to see 4 “life birds” — Barrow’s Goldeneye, Grey-Crowned Rosy Finches, Lewis’s Woodpecker, and Bohemian Waxwings — but watching the Dippers was definitely a highlight of the trip for me. While I’ve seen them before, I’ve never had the luxury of really watching them for a long time as I was able to here.

As we wound our way back toward Gardiner, we made a stop to walk the Mammoth Hot Springs…

Where the kids learned that it’s a really strange world out there.

Where hot springs sometimes melt the parking lot and start bubbling up through the asphalt…

img_1989And even in the most hostile environments, life finds a way.

Tomorrow, I’ll share the results of the next day’s search for wolves, my thoughts on driving through mountains with a compact front-wheel drive car in the snow, a terrifying traffic jam, a very brave hike, and some more spinning.

Stay tuned!

3043.8 Miles

I almost don’t know where to begin today.

The last time I sat at my computer was over a week ago (I wrote and scheduled last week’s posts ahead of time) and since then the car’s odometer has ticked away 3043.8 miles, which doesn’t even count the miles added with my feet or the distances viewed with my eyes. It feels like a very long time since I’ve sat here with coffee in hand and tried to organize my thoughts and share a story with you. As is my way and my very special privilege here on the blog, I’ll do my best over the next couple of days — because I can’t possibly cover it all in just one post — to share with you the things I’ve seen & the experiences of those 3043.8 miles.

A little over a week ago we packed up our little car, dressed in new snow tires, with only the necessities. You know what those necessities are — emergency gear, plenty of knitting, books, audiobooks, a spinning wheel, more fiber than I could possibly hope to spin in a month, long underwear, snow pants, heavy boots, hats & mittens, spare hats & mittens, etc. Yes, we just packed the essentials for a very long cold weather drive. In the wee hours of Sunday morning we piled ourselves in (Moose included, of course) and headed West.

I opted to not knit on the smallest project available, but one of the larger. Why? I have no idea except that it was soft & warm.

img_1884-1And by the end of the first day, the body of my Agnes sweater in the luxurious Quince & Co Puffin was almost finished. I’m very fortunate that driving for exceptionally long periods does not phase Mr. Knitting Sarah one bit. We left in the dark and arrived at our first stop, Glendive, Montana in the dark and almost immediately hit the hay. The following morning, however, we were able to enjoy a quick hike in Makoshika State Park. This park contains park of the Hell Creek Formation in which fossils of T. Rex and Triceratops can be found. For our dinosaur loving kids, it was a thrill just to be in this place. For the grown-ups…

It was a worthy hike for the view, reminding us that Montana really is Big Sky Country.

After our hike, we continued on to our final destination, further West toward & into the mountains. Despite some frigid temps, the weather mostly cooperated and we enjoyed picturesque views of the awe-inspiring Rocky Mountains growing ever larger in our windshield. img_1919It was the first time the kids have visited the Rockies and it was very fun to see their disbelief at the sight.

And then there was that section of interstate that had 65mph crosswinds and blowing snow…

img_1929Where the road occasionally disappeared and the big trucks swerved a little precariously in their lanes.

But I mostly didn’t panic and we made it without incident.

And rolling into town while it was still light, the full welcoming committee met us at Yellowstone National Park…

img_2189Bison…

img_2009Coyotes…

img_2161And the ever-present elk.

By the time the sun started to set and we turned in to our hotel in Gardiner, Montana — a little mountain town nestled right at the northwest entrance to the park — I was working on the sleeves of my sweater…

img_2104-1And we’d made a special fiber arts stop…

img_1943Which I’ll share with you tomorrow — complete with the main attraction for our trip!

Stay tuned!