I wake up in Laurie's warm and cozy guest room and start my day. When I make it outside I have to scrape frost off the windshield. It's 25 degrees at 6:30AM
The roads are dry and it's very dark. We know there is a full moon but the clouds are covering it.
My first stop of the day is at Dorothys. Laurie and I pack up to hike Cardiac Hill. Mark and Carol are already up there. I stop about 1/3 of the way up to catch my breath and hear over the radio that someone sees wolves on the west end of Crystal Bench. I hear Calvin's voice talking about a grizzly, too.
We start down so that we can head west. Next stop is the pullout just west of the Lamar River Bridge. I set up Layla and follow Rick's line of sight. Aha! There they are! I have 7 wolves, 6 black and one gray. The Sloughs. I immediately do a Slough dance, even though there is not a Loon or a wolfer to see it.
I eventually get the 7th black so that is the whole pack, at least in its current form. 490M and 380F the alphas, distinctive gray "Sharp Right", 526F, 527F and the three black yearlings. All these wolves, except alpha male 490, are female. There is wolfer speculation as to whether 490 has a very good deal or a very bad one.
The pack is heading west, patrolling their vast territory. They gather and treat us to a fine morning howl session. One skinny black yearling sits on her haunches apart from the group as the howl begins but eventually she moves closer. Their tails go up and the wagging begins! They are so glad to be wolves. This was a Slough Creek pack pep rally!
There are three visitors in this pullout with a scope and I help them find the wolves. One woman in the group is beaming. "That's my first wolf!" she says, grinning from ear to ear, mindless of the cold. The wolves move all over the hillside; some head up into the trees, others head downhill, romping through the light snow cover.
It is nice to see these wolves, the remaining vestige of what once were The Mighty Sloughs. They still have the run of the two valleys - the Soda Butte/Lamar and the Slough Creek/Lamar but they no longer seem to be the Slaughtering Sloughs. They seem a bit disjointed.
I watch three of the Sloughs moving through the snow, in and out of the trunks of small aspen grove. I don't know what it is about this image, but I love seeing black wolves walk past white aspen trunks. I wish I could have a loop tape of this. I'd watch it day and night.
A little later I head further west and hook up with Jan and Bill. The wolves have stopped for a while and some of them now disappear into a trough, darkened by the shade of conifers. We begin to wonder out loud if they want to cross the road. We worry that the number of people trying to see them might be preventing them from crossing. It's hard to know what to do, to stay put or to move further east of them? I know one of their favorite crossing spots is near Long pullout - just west of us. If there is a big group of cars and scopes there, it may be enough to intimidate them.
I ask Jan if she thinks the Sloughs are trying to rouse Parenthesis - the lone Unknown Pack wolf that they chased a while back. Jan says she hasn't been seen for over a week. She thinks the Sloughs howled because they know the Hellroaring pack is somewhere nearby. Then Jan finds a large bird in a tree. First we think hawk but it actually looks bigger. A golden? Maybe an immature bald?
It's still mighty cold and the wolves are out of sight for the time being so I decide to head west. When I pass Long pullout I am relieved to see no crowd there, only one car. If they wanted to cross, they could. But as I move west I see Calvin and Laurie on Boulder hill (this is not Boulder Pond, but the other Boulder pullout). Those scopes are facing the hill north of Junction Butte so they must be looking at other wolves, not the Sloughs at all.
Up the hill I go and to my great delight, I soon see three black wolves running along the top of a balsaltic cliff. I invent a Hellroaring Pack dance on the spot. I watch these three romping wolves and then see a whole bunch more coming up from below. Wow! It's a Hellroaring Pack reunion. I see nine wolves total (the pack is supposed to have 14 in all). Most are black but there is a gray/black and a very light gray as well (really more beige/brown, like Sharp Right)
Behind me, people are still seeing the Sloughs off and on. It's a Two-Pack day, which I feel is only fair, since I was skunked yesterday! 8~)
When all the Hellroaring wolves are together on the cliff top they begin a howl. They mill around with tails a-wagging. And now we have answering howls from the Sloughs!!! I say to Calvin that I think the Sloughs want to cross the road and kick this pack out of the west end of their territory. Calvin isn't so sure. He thinks the Sloughs have eaten and want to head up higher to take a nap.
Above the Hellroaring pack I notice a herd of cow elk, tended by two bulls. This may be the same herd I saw from Elk Creek yesterday,now with an additional bull. The wolves know the elk are there and begin to head uphill, very nonchalant, they don't seem hungry in the least. They bed one by one, in the snow-dusted sage.
The Sloughs are still howling so we look back east. Suddenly there are wolves on our side of the road. Three, then four. It's Sharp Right, two blacks and 490M. 490M is right at the edge of the excoslure fence while the other three are already nearing the river bank. He keeps looking back across the road, howling. He looks a bit agitated to me.
Sharp Right and her two blacks continue north and a bit west and we lose them behind the hills. 490 seems stuck. We hear a report that 380 and the other three blacks are still on the south side of the road, perhaps unable to cross due to cars. Hmmmm. Eventually 490 sticks with his mate, and soon re-crosses the road south and those five head up Specimen. They cross the Specimen Ridge trail, detouring around a lone hiker who probably never even knew they were there.
We continue to watch the Hellroaring wolves and in my view, they get the message from the Sloughs. Instead of heading east to face them, they move steadily uphill, north and west. Then suddenly Sharp Right and her two black companions appear right in front of us - well not close, but on a line of sight directly ahead of us. We can see them following a trail out of the rolling hills and into flats. They move with noses to the ground, no doubt smelling the Hellroaring wolves. I think, boy, Sharp Right is brave, heading towards this large group of rivals, with only two companions, both probably yearlings.
These three wolves move steadily toward the hill the rival pack is on, and then abruptly stop. They seem to do a lot of sniffing in one spot. One of the yearlings finds an old carcass nearby and rolls in it. Another one picks up a bone and begins to play keep away. Shortly after this, Sharp Right changes direction and heads back east, climbing the low slope of Mom's Ridge. The blacks wander after her, generally taking the same route, but she is the definitive leader.
At this point we have lost sight of the Hellroaring wolves. They may still be bedded up there in sage, but I think they have sneaked over the top and are now bedded out of sight. The elk on the top are still visible and it looks like the two bulls are well matched and may continue to argue over possession of the harem for a while.With all the wolves temporarily out of sight I take a break to head to Tower. I am always amazed how I can absolutely ignore my natural needs while I have wolves in my scope! 8~)
At Tower I run into Jackson John who has been on bear management patrol all summer and still is. He shows me a few photos of a memorable occasion. A grizzly that he thought was going to cross the road peaceably away from him but then it suddenly turned and headed straight for him and the huge group of visitors he was "protecting". It turned out all right though. The bear turned again, climbed the guard rail and headed away from them.
He is always great fun to talk to and hasn't lost an ounce of his enthusiasm for the Park or its critters.
I drive back to Slough and find Rick and Laurie here, looking up toward the Crystal drainage, trying to find where the alpha group of Sloughs ended up. I ask how I can help and Laurie suggests I head down the campground road to look toward the old den area for Sharp Right's group. I do so, wondering if there is anything to worry about since I am all by myself. But I remember that the campground is open and the chance of coming upon a bear unawares is extremely slim.
I stop at the first pullout and set up. I scope the areas around the den where I have always seen them in the past but find nothing. I decide to be methodical, to start in the flats and scope gradually uphill, level by level. As soon as I put my scope on the flats I see a running black wolf!
Right after that I see Sharp Right and the second black. I call it in and Rick and Laurie join me. We have a nice long un-interrupted sighting of these three wolves. I notice several things - first, how Sharp Right got her "name" - her tail is sharply bent to the right about half-way down. Her lower tail is very feathery and blonde/beige. One of the blacks has very light sides (graying) and is the huskier of the two. The other "skinny" yearling has a pronounced white "stripe" on her shoulder.
There is a northern harrier flitting about the flats. Wow, now that I can recognize that bird I seem to be seeing it everywhere. Or I suppose it could be the same individual that I saw yesterday. There are also a couple of magpies who seem to be shadowing the wolves. When they get to the rocky ridge west of the den area they climb up in those rocks and bed. Then some fishermen begin to walk along the edge of Slough Creek (still about a half-mile away) and the wolves respond by climbing up higher in the rocks. They bed again. Some visitors stop by with two little boys so I lower Layla's long legs and show them their first wolf sightings.
Then a pick up truck drives up and guess who is inside! Tonya! It's great to see her. I catch up with her life and hear her news. It's a brief visit as she is on duty, but very nice. Rick and Laurie head home for the day and I drive over to Dorothy's to see if I can spot the Sloughs. My thought is that they might come out on this side. I don't find them but I do see quite a few elk and plenty of bison. The elk are still high, but I didn't see any here yesterday. I wonder if the cooler temps are driving them down to the valleys?
I also see two bull elk on Jasper grazing contentedly together. Looks like for them, the rut is over.
For the second afternoon in a row I feel I have the park entirely to myself. The wolf watchers are all at home or at lunch and only a handful of cars pass by, one at a time, spaced far apart. I marvel at my luck to be here at all, to enjoy this immense space and beauty at my leisure.
Today is very different from yesterday. It's nearly 1PM and already 38 degrees. The sun finally broke through the haze of cloud around noon and the land is responding quickly. Snow is melting so fast it's practically vanishing before my eyes. The roads already are totally dry. The sky is a pale blue - not the traditional blue of Montana/Wyoming but I feel a warm trend beginning.
I head back to Slough and park in the first pullout. I pull out my chair and my laptop and type a few days worth of notes. I get out my stove and make lunch. I sit and look at Mom's Ridge and breathe in the glorious scent of sage.
After about a half hour, Calvin pulls up. He gets out his chair and we scope together. We both find dots that we think are wolves but when they don't move after a half hour we laugh and realize we are looking at rocks!
I suggest we try to find the Hellroaring pack so we set off. The car temperature now reads a toasty 44! Our first stop is Wrecker. We scope the basalt-cliff that the wolves were on this morning but find none. Even the elk are gone. All we find are bison. Then we go to Elk Creek and try from there. I am still trying to teach myself to recognize which hills are which and I am slowly getting a handle on that. Calvin says he didn't realize how much of the flip side (the inner side) of Specimen that could be seen from here. These are the same hillsides that he can see from Antelope, although from a different angle.
From here we see quite a few more groups of elk, harems tended by bulls. There are also groups of bison - 30-40 animals, and then Calvin notices a very skinny cow bison below us and to the west. She is clearly not long for the world. The bulges of her ribs are visible and she can barely lift a rear leg to scratch behind her ear. It's sad to see. We hope she meets a quick and merciful end.
I tell Calvin that when I passed Tower junction I noticed that the barricade that had been placed yesterday at the Roosevelt Corrals was not there today. I wonder if they have re-opened the Dunraven road? That is more than enough to get him interested so Calvin takes off to check it out. Alas, he reports that there is still a barricade at the campground exit but he also sees a large herd of young bighorns right on the road at Calcite.
I decide I will have to check that out another day.
I stop at Rick's pullout and scope around. I see two bull elk fighting. I also see shapes that I think are wolves in the general area where the Hellroarings ought to be, but none of the shapes moves in the slightest, so I don't want to call it in. Plus, the elk seem to be really close to all these shapes and none of them even lifted a head. A little later, some bison move into the area, running at one point, and when even this fails to rouse even one of the sleeping shapes I decide for sure that I am only looking at rocks.
I stop at Boulder again and find a brand new group of elk, 37 in all, with 16 calves and a big bull in charge. He bugles every once in a while and it sounds great.
Calvin and I hook up again at Dorothy's and find more and more elk appearing on the hillsides above the valley, both single bulls and small harems. Then I spot a grizzly on one of the southwest-facing ski-slope hills east of Jasper. Calvin doesn't believe me at first. There is a lone bison up there and he thinks I'm seeing that. But my "bison" has a bear's face and a bear's legs. It walks toward the bison and now Calvin believes me!
We watch it roam around a bit and then watch it disappear into the trees. We hear a report from the folks on Exclosure hill that they have a bear in sight, too but theirs is in the flats and farther east. We have a devil of a time finding it but we finally do. That's a grizzly too!
Then up comes Auwingwalker (Frank W) so I have another Loon sighting. We catch up and chat a bit while scoping the area. He suggests we do a hike on Thursday up to the Druid's old den area. We make a plan and exchange contact numbers.
Eventually I move west to Slough. Anne and Laurie are further down the road and Carol and Mark are up on Daves. They have Sharp Right and the two blacks in view higher on the rocky hilltop where we left them this afternoon. Jim is very helpful to me in locating them as I am having all kinds of trouble. I finally find them and show them to Auwingwalker.
These three begin to howl. We expect an answering howl from the remainder of the pack still on Specimen but hear none. There are many newbie visitors in the lot tonight and we are able to help quite a few of them see their first wolf. After the howl these three do a waggy-tail rally and jump around on each other, looking very cute. One of the blacks heads downhill toward the flats.
Rick is further west and eventually reports that he has found all 9 of the Hellroaring wolves that we saw this morning, in roughly the same area where we saw them this morning. I decide against going down to join him as the light is dying fast. I keep Sharp Right in view as long as I can and finally give up at 7:15.
I bid goodnight to Frank W. Near the Dead Zone I have a bunch of bison in the road. When I get to Hellroaring I notice all the snow from yesterday is gone as if it never fell at all! Above the S curves I smile when I see the return of the light phenomenon. And I feel more than see the presence of the Big Boys at Lava Creek.
There are dozens of elk on the lawns of Mammoth and a cow in the road who seems unwilling to move. As I approach the gate I have a coyote in the road.
I pull into the Yellowstone Village Inn and find that John has put me in the Wolf Room again! Yay! Thanks John. I try to post some reports but have trouble connecting and can't figure out what I'm doing wrong.
I get a call from Frank - he and Roadie are having an adventure in Swan Lake Flats tomorrow and I am invited to join them. We make plans and then I hit the hay.
Today I saw: antelope, 2 grizzly bears, bison, 3 coyotes, elk, magpies, a northern harrier, a big raptor (hawk/eagle), ravens, 17 wolves (including 8 Sloughs and 9 Hellroarings) 17 wolfers, 3 Loons and the spirit of Allison.