My last morning for a while is a cold one, at 15 degrees.
One good thing about cold temperatures is that I see bright diamond dust twinkling in my headlights along the drive.
I stop at Pebble, Footbridge and Picnic in the dark, listening for howling or whatever else might occur. All is quiet.
I see Doug M at Dorothyís. I know heíll call if he sees something, so I continue west.
The moon makes things a little brighter and soon a pretty, pink sunrise has begun.
Unit 5ís car is parked as usual at Slough but the radio is quiet, so I continue.
The crew is again at Boulder, scoping from the lot. I check in and find the situation is the same as the last three days. 1048M and 1228F are heard faintly, which most likely means they are still in the trough.
Stalwart Jeff is scoping from Elk Creek. He reports howling from the north which would make sense if the Junctions are still in the trough. But today the plane will be flying, so Laurie & Dan and I go to Rickís pullout, hoping to learn better where they are by watching where it circles. Better yet, perhaps the sound of the plane will flush them into view.
The plane circles right over the trough, confirming the unpleasant news.
But shortly after this, the radio crackles to life. Iím not sure who it is, but they are at Slough, hearing howling nearby howling.
Thatís enough to get me driving east, as does pretty much everyone else.
Some people hike up Daveís Hill but I decide to set up at Lamar Canyon West.
I find Jeff here, already in place, so I join him. As I fuss with my scope, I start to bemoan the frustrating day so far, but he says ďcome on Wendy, letís find a wolf!Ē
And just that quickly, he does!
Heís found a bedded black, between a group of bison and the southern round tree. With Jeffís excellent directions I find it, too. Huzzah! He finds a second wolf, walking to the right of the bedded one. I find that one, too and then we see more. Weíre now up to six wolves, all in the general vicinity of the southern round tree.
Jeff puts the good news on the radio and people start arriving. The wolves remain tricky to see because the sage here is very tall, but the nearby bison herd offers us a helpful marker to assist other visitors.
Laurie identifies both 1229F and 1228F in this group. The rest are likely yearlings and pups. Both sisters look to me like they want to cross the road. We avoid saying so over the radio, though, because we donít want to encourage people to line the road and prevent them from crossing.
Our count grows to 8, with four grays and four blacks. There is some howling off and on. Several wolves make repeated attempts to cross but turn back three times due to the human presence.
One black wolf seems to give up and travels north. Soon I see it even further away, climbing the hill behind the Marge Simpson tree.
The crew drives down to the crowd on the roadside, hoping to convince them to keep their distance so the wolves can cross safely. Although the crowd is not large, maybe 8 people, itís enough to worry the wolves Ė which is actually a good thing for their long-term survival.
Around 10:30, the crew succeeds in creating enough space that the two sisters, along with a bold black pup, cross safely to the south. I hear a chorus of dismayed coyote voices erupt from the Crystal area shortly after they cross.
The two sisters are quite alike in that both have shown an independent streak from the very beginning. They also both have shown leadership tendencies. What I have NOT seen in them is much stress or competition between the two Ė they seem to treat each other as equals. It sure would not surprise me for one or both to become alphas someday.
The group still near the southern round tree moves about in the sage, getting close to the bison herd. In fact, a few of them start to tease the herd, drawing a few short charges and several raised tails, but it never gets serious.
Unfortunately, I need to leave this active sighting in order to get back to Bozeman before dark. I first have to go to Silver Gate to pack and clean, so I say my goodbyes and thanks and head east.
Once my tasks are complete, I set off west, only to stop at the Northeast gate when I see Laurie & Dan coming through.
Laurie says the three Junctions that crossed are now in the Lamar, two on the north and one on the south. I say my final thanks to them and off I go.
I see a pretty fox at The Thunderer pullout, giving me a three-dog day.
And sure enough, I find Jeff and the crew scoping from Trash Can hill. I join them and quickly locate 1229F, bedded in the old Druid rendezvous.
Jeremy says the threesome spent a minute at the dark spot that once was a bison carcass but soon continued east up the valley. All three crossed north at Mid-Point but 1229F turned around soon after and re-crossed to the south.
After a pleasant half hour, I say my final goodbyes and head off.
The roads are clear through the Blacktail and I make good time. Paradise Valley has a lot more snow than it had on the way in. Itís not the normal depth but the mountains still look spectacular.
I make it home with about an hour of light left.
Today I saw: bison, coyotes, elk, a fox, 8 Junctions (including 1228F, 1229F, three more grays and
three more blacks, including at least one pup, and the spirits of Allison and Richard.