DAY FOUR - Sunday, July 8

A JOURNEY SOUTH


Last night I told Rick about our Junction sightings. He told me heíd gone south and saw 13 Wapitiís on a separate bison carcass in the Elk Antler Creek area. He suggests we carpool down there today and I agree.

But this morning, once I get into the Lamar, I see him climbing Exclosure hill. I head to Trash Can, as usual. I see a single grizzly on the carcass but no wolves. Itís quite likely the Junctions headed back to Little America last night after feeding.

In pursuit of this theory, Rick moves to Dorothyís. Shortly thereafter, he finds 3 black wolves on Jasper Bench, heading east.

Missy and Andy remain on Trash Can Hill while Doug has climbed Geriatric. I move to the barn and find the wolves from here. They are 1048, 996 and the un-collared black female. They are quickly approaching Amethyst Bench and soon the other watchers can see them.

But the wolves are not just traveling: they are romping and playing along the way, dashing pell mell, chasing each other, twirling, wheeling and dashing back. 1048 knocks down 996 and both 1048 and the female converge on him while his legs are in the air. They remind me of teenagers happy to have gotten out of school early. Itís all in fun and delightful to watch. I nearly change my mind about going to Hayden.

Now they continue west and bother some alert bison, but it seems to be casual, not serious.

Finally when they settle down and resume their trek to the carcass, I decide to stick with the plan. Rick comes back to the Institute, loads his stuff in my car, and off we go.

The drive over the pass is beautiful but uneventful. Once we get into Hayden, Rick checks in with Melba who tells him there are many bears on the carcass right now, but the wolves have gone out of sight (there had been three in view for a short while at dawn).

I drive south to three panels and we hike out to the spot where I saw Wapiti wolves with Calvin & Lynette in June. Back then, the ďtrailĒ was just a few areas of lightly trampled grass; now it is a clear route; the grass has been thoroughly worn off to bare dirt. This has become a very popular spot!

When I arrive at the ďoverlookĒ there are still 8 different grizzly bears on the carcass. (There had been 13 earlier, including two yearling cubs!)

Itís a lovely cool morning. Kevin is here, Melba and a few others I recognize. But we are too late for the wolves. We do find a herd of elk with calves on a hill to the north.

The bears are all different sizes. Five are on or near the carcass, and I find another walking away to the south, a second in the background, heading towards the forest, and a third in thick sage to the north. I have NEVER seen so many bears in one spot.

Rick and Melba talk about various places where Wapitiís can best be seen and after a good half-hour of watching bears, we travel back north to visit them. One location seems especially promising to me for future visits; a hill on the east side opposite a pullout on the west, low and easy to climb but offering a decent view to the west.

We also stop at Grizzly Overlook but instead of finding wolves, we see a large herd of elk in the river and a pair of swans. The elk are resting or grazing; they seem quite calm.

So we head to Canyon for an ice-cream treat, then back over the pass we go. Just around the curve from the high Antelope Creek pullouts, we see the dreaded bear jam. A long line of barely-inching-forward cars line the road ahead of us, and tellingly, no cars are passing us in the opposite lane. There is no way around it, so we must remain patient.

Itís all for a mama black bear and cub, grazing uphill from the road. One ranger is here, a friend of Rickís, and she is doing her best, making people stay in their cars, encouraging them to take a photo, then move along.

We finally get moving again but when we get to the Tower store, it is busier and more crowded than Iíve ever seen it.

There is another black bear jam above the Yellowstone Bridge, but as this area is wider, with pullouts on both sides, we get through quickly. This one is also for a mama bear. She has two cubs. Very cute.

I drop Rick at the Institute and while he re-loads his gear, I scope Amethyst bench, just in case any more Junctions are making the trek. To my surprise I have a clear view of Fairies Fall as it drops over Amethyst grotto. I tell Rick I once hiked to that spot. Itís very wild, overgrown and marshy, but you can walk behind the waterfall.

On my way east I have to stop quickly as a pronghorn mother and fawn decide to cross the road in front of me.

I stop again at Baronette, where I find two goats. They are both shedding profusely, but they are fun to watch as they climb and jump over death-defying gaps on the steep mountain sides.

After my afternoon nap I head back in. Tonight I am determined to scope from the rolling hills to try to find Lamar pups. Itís a very pleasant 75 degrees. I hike out from the Hitching Post lot but immediately find it pretty buggy.

Still, I manage to scope all the usual places and find nothing moving. Then Dorothy, Andy and Missy come out to join me. I am happy for the company!

We scan the rendezvous from this different angle. We cannot see the actual carcass from here, either, but we think we are looking in the right spot and would certainly see an animal if it were on it.

We do see some pronghorn and at least two fawns. But the black flies are nasty here, so we decide to move to Trash Can in hopes of more of a breeze.

Itís Missy and Andyís last night so we hope to have a nice farewell wolf sighting for them. As I am packing up in the Trash Can lot, I see several families looking towards the rendezvous. I ask ďhave you seen any wolves?Ē A teenage girl answers that she hasnít but other people say they have.

So up the hill I go, and as soon as I get set up I have wolves in my scope. I call down to the girl and her family and wave them up.

I see three blacks; in fact, the same three from this morning. 1048, 996 and the un-collared black female.

All three feed at the carcass until several bison move in and push them off. No matter, their bellies are quite full.

They move slowly to the west and treat the crowd to a great, long-lasting view, relatively close. At first I worry that they are going to disappear into the forest, butÖthey donít! They continue to travel west, in full view of the road, stopping frequently.

When they move out of the tall sage and into the shorter grass, many people leave the hill to go back down to their cars. Newcomers watch from there. Around 8:30 we notice we four have the hill to ourselves.

I like to share my scope and show other people wolves, but I wonít deny that it is also a treat to scope with friends, unimpeded.

For a long while the three wolves trot along with their tongues hanging out.

A group of pronghorn bunch up as they get close. Then the antelope begin to run. The wolves cannot help giving chase, although itís half-hearted and over quite soon. Shortly after this, the female gets distracted by something, and the males continue without her.

As they males continue their trek, the setting sun casts the whole valley in a gorgeous golden light. The river is glistening beautifully. The wolves approach a bend in the river and lower their heads to quench their thirst. They splash a bit through the shallows, which is particularly nice in this National Geographic Special setting. Two cranes silhouetted against the shore, with the wolves walking in the river beyond them. Then they leave the river and disappear into very deep grass.

I swing my scope back to the female and find her wandering about on her own. A group of bison are headed her way. They bunch up, raise their tails and charge her. She seeks safety on higher ground. We see her sniffing the ground, trying to scent trail the males, but that is not the route they took.

She seems eager to find her buddies again and walks by herself along the top of the old river bank. She walks to the end of a promontory and we think she howls (we canít hear her but her nose is up). She stops right on the edge, looking down into the area by the river where we saw the males take their drink.

After this rather forlorn pause, the female descends into the lush green grass. Suddenly from the right, the two males come streaking towards her in an all-out run. The next five minutes are a delightful repeat of this morning, with the three of them chasing each other, rolling, twirling, and jumping, and even splashing through the water.

Itís just this burst of light-hearted play, so endearing to watch.

And it all takes place in the most beautiful sunset light you can imagine.

Finally the play session ends and you can see how happy they are to be reunited. The three continue west and we lose them around a bend near Amethyst grotto.

We can see cars lining the road, indicating that many visitors are following their progress. We know we could drive further west and keep them in sight, but it has been such a lovely, satisfying evening, we decide to call it a night.

I slowly descend the hill and stow my gear in my car, then say goodbye to Missy & Andy.

As I reach Silver Gate, I notice people at the new rental house just west of Grizzly Lodge having a campfire. Itís a large fire-pit with nice benches all around. It looks so nice and fun I almost want to invite myself!

Today I saw: 10 grizzly bears, bison, coyote, cranes, mule deer, elk, pronghorn (including two fawns), 2 mountain goats, 3 wolves of the Junction pack (1048, 996 and the un-collared female), and the spirits of Allison and Richard.

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