DAY ONE - Tuesday, December 7


I’m off to Yellowstone to join Laurie & Dan. It’s 10AM, 26 degrees.

The roads are good, and as I top the pass, the sun comes out. It feels like a good omen. The snow levels remain low for this time of year. Some of us are starting to worry if we’ll even manage a white Christmas!

The high peaks in Paradise Valley are nicely covered but the foothills are simply dusted, while the flats are totally bare of snow.

I see a herd of mule deer grazing north of Pray.

Gardiner and Mammoth are nice and quiet, just how I like it! I have my visit with Allison and then continue east.

I read a text from Laurie saying the Junctions were visible early this morning but have gone out of sight to the west of Hellroaring. She and Dan have gone back to Silver Gate already.

Well, shoot.

I check out Blacktail ponds, since I heard a report of a bison carcass here a week or so ago. Hmm, nothing here now. Not even ducks or birds.

My next stop is North Butte, where I scan around a bit with my binocs. I find three bull bison looking very healthy. They are not at all bothered by the lack of snow.

When I get to Hellroaring, I am surprised to see Jeff’s camper. And the crew car. And John W! Clearly, something is going on. Everyone is alert at their scopes.

I get mine out and set up quickly.

The Junctions have a fresh elk carcass, the result of a chase that just ended a short time ago. Half of them have already fed and are bedded on a boulder-strewn knob. The other half are still dining.

The story is that about an hour after Laurie & Dan went east, the Junctions began chasing elk. Jeff says it was excellent viewing in which the Junctions set off after one group of elk after another, each ending in failure. After a short rest, they’d target a different group with the same result.

The chases brought them far enough east to be visible from Hellroaring again. Then, less than an hour ago, they began a fourth try. More chaos like before but during it, one cow made a fatal mistake, running right into three wolves. They had her down and expired in mere minutes.

The wolves have been feeding since then, long enough for half of them to wander away to rest and digest. The carcass itself is difficult to see in thick sage on a hill a bit east of the bedded group.

It’s mostly yearlings and pups still feeding on the carcass. A gray decides to chase a coyote. It’s a half-hearted attempt and the coyote gets away easily, but the movement draws the interest of several other wolves. Two blacks and four grays surround the chaser as if to congratulate him, which evolves into a rally with lots of wagging tails.

A third black joins them, kicking off a delightful play session, with chasing, ambushing and rock hopping. When they run out of steam, I pan back to check on the bedded group which is mostly adults, including the alphas and 1048M. The alpha female briefly pins 907.

1276F then pins 1229F, keeping her down an awfully long time. When she is finally let up, she shakes off as if it’s no big deal. She’s used to it!

My high count for the day is 20, which I think is the current normal, since two more Junctions were recently lost to the Montana hunt.

The pack howls, and we go silent, relishing the sound.

907F gets up and heads towards the creek. Once there, she takes a nice long drink and then comes back. She makes sure she properly greets the alpha female upon her return, which works because there is no follow up pinning!

As always, while we are watching wolves, we notice other critters in the vicinity, namely a bald eagle, a golden and many ravens and magpies.

Around 3PM the pack starts moving west again and eventually goes out of sight. We start to get some sporadic wind gusts which we probably wouldn’t mind if we had wolves in view.

Soon Laurie & Dan and I decide to head back east.

On the way I stop at the big ski lot to check on the black bear. I can only see part of her head with my binocs. She moves just enough for me to confirm she’s in there.

There are lots of sheep near the roadway at Wrecker; rams, ewes and lambs. Several people have stopped, getting great photos.

As I reach Little America I am shocked at the lack of snow. Druid Peak has snow on top but there is nothing mid-slope nor on the foothills. Even Specimen is lacking snow. The spot where I saw the cougar two Christmases ago is bare! There is very little water flowing through Lamar Canyon.

I’m surprised to see so few bison in Little America nor in Lamar proper. It’s not until I reach the Soda Butte Valley that I see a sizeable herd of the wooly beasts.

Laurie’s driveway has only about 2 inches of snow which makes it easier for me to get in and out. The rest of Silver Gate looks a bit more normal, snow-wise.

I unpack and settle into a nice evening with my dear friends.

Today I saw: a black bear, bison, a coyote, mule deer, bald eagle, golden eagle, bighorn sheep, 20 Junction wolves including alphas, 907, 1048, 1228, 1229, 1276, and 13 others (10 black, 10 gray) and the spirits of Allison and Richard.

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