Iím out a little early today, a little bit sad because itís my last day. It feels warm but the car says 20, so I guess thatís pretty normal.
I stop at S curves. Itís too dark to scope so I just listen. Itís quiet and wonderful. I head a bit further up to the Nature Trail lot. One other car here. Still nothing. Calvin & Lynette arrive and I get out to start scoping.
We are set up about 10 minutes with no wolves in view when a snow squall comes in. A big squall, too. In another 5 minutes we lose all visibility. We look at each other. No point scoping, really. Then Calvin relays some info he just got. The crew says the 8 Miles headed south, towards Mt. Cook, so they would barely be dots even if we COULD see through the snow.
He also learns that the Junction Crew has their wolves in the Hellroaring area. Not in view but signals are good.
We gather again at Lower Hellroaring and for the next two hours we scope in lousy visibility. Kirsty & Alan join us, as do a few other folks I have come to know.
We are told to look generally to the northwest, above the Tornado drainage At times, we can make out shapes through the snow and fog, and when that happens, we find birds perched in trees, a few bull elk and some bison. But all the ungulates look calm so we are pretty sure there are no wolves nearby.
At 9:45 I have to take a break and go to Tower. On my way past Elk Creek I see photographers looking intently downhill, so I stop to ask if they are seeing a coyote or maybe a fox. One lady responds ďelkĒ and adds ďwe think they heard the wolvesĒ. My ears perk up and I ask ďwhat wolves?Ē She says there were wolves howling just a bit ago and points north.
I go on to Tower and report my conversation. Kirsty, Alan, Calvin & Lynette all agree we should go back to Elk Creek so we do. Kirsty checks in with the Junction Crew and learns that signals have become weak at Hellroaring and the Junction Crew is headed east.
We are all set up, looking north. I notice the Crew pull in to the upper pull out. I aim my scope over the top of the flat top hill and scan the slope directly north of it. Just then two canids walk into my scope! I am totally hesitant to call out because of my coyote mistake yesterday, but then I see more and more to the left, and most of them are black. When my count rises to seven, I finally say I HAVE THEM!
At the very same time the crew calls it over the radio. Rick pulls in and we show him. For the first (and probably only) time in my life, I show CALVIN wolves. Itís very exciting.
Like most wolf watchers, itís always a thrill to be the one who finds them first. But since I hang with some of the very best wolf watchers in the world, itís pretty rare for me. Everyone is appreciative and we are all so happy to see them after 3 hours of trying.
Itís Junction of course. They are casually moving east, looking for whatever opportunity might present itself. They come close to a lone bison near a group of trees and the bison decides to leave. They worry it a bit but do not seriously pursue him.
We watch them as they move from one island of trees to the next, then dip down into a drainage and back up the other side. During this sighting I am able to count all 11 three different times. They all look healthy and happy. And Iíd predict they are heading home to Slough Creek.
They enter a thick forest and I lose sight of them. Most likely I wonít see them again from this spot. Other folk talk about heading to Boulder but I see itís nearly 10:30 so I decide to leave on a high note. I say my goodbyes and head west to Bozeman.
Itís a fairly uneventful drive until I get to Chinese Gardens, where I stop just to listen to the river. I spot a lone mule deer emerging from the sage on the river side of the road, wanting to cross. In my rear-view mirror I see a sno- mo trailer heading too fast down the road. I close my eyes and put my head down anticipating a horrible accident but nothing happens.
When I look up I see the mule deer on the north side, leaping uphill through the snow-covered sage, safe. I drive on and wag my finger at her, telling her she must be more careful!
On the drive back I am surprised to see not one but two large herds of elk; one near Dome Mountain ranch, maybe 500-600. The next herd is closer to Pray. It could be nearly 1000. Both herds are great to see but I wonder if they do much damage to the ranches. I also wonder if they are drawing wolves out of the Park?
The day has turned sunny and the roads are good going back. I am home by 2PM
Today I saw: bison, coyotes, mule deer, elk, all 11 Junction wolves and the spirits of Allison & Richard.