Day Six - Thursday, September 29


In spite of my real-estate worries, I do get a good night’s sleep. And when I wake up I remember what always helped Scarlet O’Hara stay worry-free: “I’ll think about that tomorrow!“ Hah!

Last night I had a bull elk on the east side of the high bridge, and this morning I have a bull bison on the west side. I stop and wait, hoping he’ll move right or left but he decides instead to walk across the bridge. Once he reaches the other side I ease onto the bridge. He moves out of my lane to the left, which I take as a sign that I can pass. As I do, he gives me a sidelong glance but makes no aggressive move.

News of a carcass near the road at Blacktail Ponds has certainly spread, as I see I’m not the first to arrive. Besides my Loon friends from last night, there are nearly a dozen other observers. It is still too dark to see but I set up Layla anyway. Finally I detect movement on the carcass but it’s not wolves but coyotes. Two at first, then three then four then five then six. As each new coyote comes in, the other ones turn and growl horribly at it. They exhibit classic aggression posture, arched back and tucked tail, and mouth open wide in a toothy grimace. They squabble and growl but in the end everyone gets a turn. It is fascinating to watch. And there are two bald eagles in a snag on the hillside above, awaiting theirs.

I wonder where the poor limping black wolf is and whether he had a chance to eat last night?

Just as I am wondering this, a howling session begins behind us. First one voice, then several, then a pause, followed by a very large chorus, further away. This wolf chorus goes on several minutes and we discern several high-pitched pup voices. Gotta be the Leopold Pack! Nice way to start the morning.

It feels cold this morning. More people arrive. I wait around hoping for some wolf action but there are so many cars and people here I can’t imagine any wolves will come down to feed. It’s just too close to the road. So I head east into a glorious sunrise.

As I pass the big pullout beyond the Petrified Tree I see a hawk in a snag. And as I reach Tower I see a bull elk trotting along the trail that Frank and Pat and I hiked last May. I decide to head up Dunraven since it will probably be too late for any wolf action in Lamar. I stop at my favorite spot and have this gorgeous country all to myself. I find bugling elk, some bison and two coyotes mousing. One of them jumps straight up with all four feet extended, like he is on a trampoline! He gets his mouse, too.

I meet up with John and Pauline and give them news of their radio. Pauline offers me some hot coffee from her thermos. Mmmm! Delicious! We see the wolf-observer plane flying overhead and wonder if its noise may flush the Agates into view. We watch but see no Agates. The plane does, however, flush the Sloughs into view, which we hear about over the radio. They had been in the open on Jasper Bench and are now rushing to the safety of the trees.

I scope with Pauline a while longer, then head for Lamar. At Curve pullout there are many bison on both sides of the road. A group of happy photographers are again at Aspen, where two cooperative pronghorn seem content to pose for them. When I arrive at Dorothy’s I see Anne who tells me that the Sloughs are no longer visible unless one climbs the hill behind me - known as Cardiac Hill. Jan and Bill hike up there regularly but I have yet to try it. It’s mighty daunting, but I decide, why not?

Welp, it is aptly named. I take my time and enjoy the views. When I get to the top I try my best to see the Sloughs but have to settle for two sets of twitching ears. The Sloughs are hiding from the wolf-plane in a forest above Jasper Bench; it’s a kind of marshy area with a lot of blow-down and high grass. Now bedded, they are nearly impossible to see. Jan and Bill watched the whole pack go in there, including the alphas.

Between moments of straining to see more than ears, I scan the rest of the valley and find very little other than some running antelope. Then I see a bull bison lying down flat with birds flitting all over him. His only movement is a small flick of his tail every once in a while. I wonder for a moment if he might be sick or dying, but then he rolls over and stands up, looking healthy as can be.

There are a number of people in the Park today who have come for a celebration of the 10 year anniversary of re-introduction. There is going to be a dinner in Mammoth this evening or some kind of event. Jan and Bill are planning to go so they won’t be in the valley tonight. I meet another wolfer couple, Frank and Kay, who have come from Texas to attend the celebration. Someone mentions lunch and soon we are heading down the hill to our cars. Anne joins us and we all head up to Cooke City for a yummy lunch and interesting conversation.

I renew my acquaintance with Jan, who runs Beds & Buns, and meet her son Josh. She encourages me to stay in Cooke City next trip. I also meet Joan, who bakes those delicious pies I’ve eaten on trips past. After lunch everyone goes their separate ways and I head to Dan Hartman’s “Wildlife of the Rockies” photo gallery. I order a few photos and have a great chat with Dan, who is always full of wildlife news.

I stop at Barronette and find, to my delight, three mountain goats - two nannies and a kid. There is almost no snow on these mountains. I drive back to Lamar and stop at the Footbridge. After watching bison and antelope a while, the heat of the day gets to me and I take a nice long nap.

I wake up refreshed and head to Dorothy’s to see if the Sloughs have been spotted. There are many people here but no-one has seen the wolves. I begin to wonder if they have moved through the Crystal Creek drainage back toward their home turf, so I head to Slough Creek. I scope the den site area for old times’ sake, then turn Layla on Specimen Ridge. Nothing. Helene and Rene pull in and we chat a bit and then I see Dylan and his dad, Paul. Dylan convinces me to hike up Cardiac Hill by offering to carry my tripod for me. How can I refuse?

Ah, to be 12 years old again! Once we are parked at Dorothy’s, Dylan fairly gallops up the hill. He sets up my tripod and gallops back down to where I have stopped, huffing and puffing, and offers to carry my backpack the rest of the way. Yes! Please do! I pant. When I arrive at the top he has everything set up and has Layla focused on the spot where the Sloughs were seen this morning. Alas, nothing is moving.

Dylan remembers that Jan and Bill had said there may be a carcass up there because they had seen bird activity. He remembers where that spot is and shows me through the scope. We keep looking and looking, and yet, see nothing. A gorgeous sunset begins that Paul calls a “stereo sunset” since the sky is equally gorgeous both east and west. I wonder if this is our consolation prize and we are about to be skunked. I hear Emily on the radio saying that signals indicate 490 is still up there. That gives me a shred of hope.

Dylan is on the scope while I use my binoculars. I keep switching from the marshy area to the hillside “where the carcass is”. And suddenly I see a black wolf! It’s bounding down a hillside ABOVE the marshy area, big and bold and bouncy! I yell to Dylan and help him put the scope on the spot! He sees it too! Then another black wolf, and another! Then a fourth. Three blacks and a gray! Wow! We found the Sloughs!

I call it in to Emily and we continue to report on their progress. This elicits quite a reaction from the crowd below us in the pullout, but alas, they can’t see the action from there any better than we could this morning. The four wolves join together and then move in a line rapidly from east to west, aiming for the hillside “where the carcass is”. There is a man who had been scoping by himself on the hill behind us and was on his way down just as we spotted the wolves. I think he is one of the bear guys. We offer him a look through Layla and he sees them, which seems to please him very much.

The wolves move quickly up the next hill and promptly disappear. There is little light left anyway so I suggest we head down. When we are a third of the way down we hear howling! Twice we hear a lone voice and three times we hear a full chorus. It goes on like this for over ten minutes, the entire time it takes to get down the hill.

When we reach the pullout we are greeted with calls of “Yay! You found the wolves!”, which is sweet and makes us feel like heroes (LOL). Anne introduces me to Emily and Mike, who are very nice and appreciative of our efforts climbing the hill. Spirits are high, because Doug Smith will be in the valley tomorrow, along with many wolf supporters, and everyone is eager for it to be a good wolf-watching day. Everyone considers this a good omen.

I say goodnight to Anne and thank Dylan again for carrying my stuff, then bid him and Paul goodnight.

When I come down Blacktail I experience a favorite phenomenon in Yellowstone, the Second Helping sunset. This happens quite frequently, and I enjoy it every time. Even though I’ve been driving in the dark for a half hour, when I pass the Children’s Fire Trail, the light increases as if it has lingered over this vast open area.

I slow down as I near Blacktail Ponds and the elk carcass and sure enough I see a coyote in the road, heading for a snack. When I arrive in Mammoth it is dark again, except for a trillion stars. That reminds me of Allison so I stop to say goodnight to her. Oh, what a view!

Today I saw: antelope, bison, 9 coyotes, mule deer, elk, 3 mountain goats, 4 Slough wolves (and two sets of ears), 4 Loons, and the spirit of Allison

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