DAY THREE - Tuesday, December 25

AN ENGLISH CHRISTMAS

Iím up and out at 6:50. Itís colder today, only 10 degrees. We had a bit more snow overnight, but the sky is clear enough to reveal some stars and a bright ďjust-past-fullĒ moon.

I meet up with Rick at the Soda B East pullout. Heís found wolf tracks on the road heading east and we both figure it could be the Lamars. I volunteer to go back as far as Thunderer to for their howling. I do find more tracks at Round Prairie, but hear no howling.

When nothing else develops we both continue west.

There is a big bull moose visible to the south from Footbridge. I watch some photogs start to walk out there for a shot, and of course, the moose sees them and disappears into the trees.

I continue further west, scoping without luck from Boulder, then Hellroaring and finally the Childrenís Fire Trail. While Iím here I talk with a couple who say they saw a wolf in Mammoth. They show me a photo and Iím surprised to see that it is definitely a wolf.

They relay what they saw: it was on the south side of the road, howling, then crossed north, howled some more, then returned south, climbed a hill and was lost to view.

I radio Rick and learn he is already on his way to Mammoth, having gotten the same information from other visitors. I eventually join him, Colleen & Des, along the road just outside the entrance gate. We scope the southern hills. Colleen and Des had heard howling just before I arrived, but the only animals we see are two mule deer.

Rick drives up the Jardine road while we stay here. We hear more howling, and this time itís several voices. Rick radios that heís found them and tells us where to point our scopes. Thanks to him, we find wolves traveling along the old stagecoach road directly south of the entrance gate. I see three blacks and a gray. Rick counted six: three and three. He thinks they are likely an offshoot of the Wapiti pack.

We all notice a large group of elk up above the wolves and wonder if they are interested in them.

The wolves continue along the snow-covered gravel road, moving uphill. Then we notice a man on that same road, a good ways behind them. It looks like the man is not aware of the wolves, perhaps he is just out for a winter hike. The wolves, however, are clearly aware of him, and trying to avoid him. They increase their pace, then leave the road completely, heading straight up towards Kite Hill. Iíll bet Allison is happy to have them up there!

But they soon go out of sight. We discuss where to go where we might catch a glimpse of them again. I decide to try the Mammoth corrals. When I get there I look back towards Kite Hill. I learn a lot about the terrain up here and I do find the elk herd but never find any wolves.

I drive back east as far as the Blacktail ponds and watch bison for a while.

Then I travel out of the Park into Paradise Valley because Iíve been invited to attend a Christmas party at the home of Kirsty & Alan.

As I leave the highway and start up the gravel road to their neighborhood, a snowstorm descends. It becomes quite thick quite fast and I wonder how hard it will be to get back out in the morning!

They have a beautiful house, and are very generous hosts. Iím staying overnight, as are Linda and Larry. Thatís a comfort to me as I know Iíll have companions on the drive in tomorrow.

Dinner is wonderful. Kirsty serves roast turkey, ham, two types of dressing, delicious parsnips, roasted potatoes, brussels sprouts, red cabbage and plum pudding with hard sauce for dessert. Itís really great.

Other guests include Bob Landis, Kara (who is invited to stay over, but chooses to drive back), and Peter & Mary (who also have a Paradise Valley home). We all enjoy their lovely fireplace and many wonderful photos. Itís all quite comfy and very pleasant. The only disappointment is that the snowstorm prevents us from enjoying their usually marvelous view of the Absarokas.

Merry Christmas!

Today I saw: bison, coyotes, mule deer, elk, 1 moose, 4 wolves (Wapiti offshoot; 3 blacks & 1 gray) and the spirits of Allison and Richard

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