I’m up and out at 6AM. It’s 28 with a bit of snow on the car.
I am happily shocked to see the plow arrive moments later. I hope this is a good sign for snow season to come!
It’s one of those dark and spooky mornings, which means it’s cloudy. I see footprints in the snow-dusted road ahead – probably the Baronette fox.
I barely recognize the section of road in the Soda Butte Picnic area anymore. It will likely take a while before my brain re-learns this area instead of remembering the original.
Around 7:15 I arrive at Lower Hellroaring, finding Paul, Dale & Faye already here. The wolves are not where we left them last evening. People at Upper have nothing there, either.
I go looking for Jeremy and find him behind me as I pull into Upper Hellroaring. He says signals here are good, so we set about finding them. A howl at 7:45 is all Jeremy needs. I radio the folks at Lower to “come to Upper”.
First, I see two groups of bunched elk. Then two black wolves move from behind a hill just left of the elk. Other wolves appear, further left, roaming here and there.
A group of pups are playing in their charming, carefree way. One gray pup runs with a tucked tail every which way, looking like he/she enjoys being chased. Other pups climb on rocks only to jump down onto their siblings.
I see numerous birds in the area, including a bald and a golden. Hmm, looks like the Junctions have a fresh carcass.
After about an hour, a group of wolves climbs up from below. They stall out for a while, then continue up and slightly east. More and more wolves join this traveling group. I count 21, while others get 23.
Jeremy tells me he considers 30 to be the high count of this pack.
After a bit, the Junctions begin to travel in kind of a scattered way, spreading out over the hill rather than in a tidy line. They approach a small group of bison. Some individual wolves seem interested for a while, but then move on.
There is a large boulder along this route that the pups just cannot resist. One climbs up, then another and another until five of them are up there, jostling each other. The others circle the boulder, looking up at their siblings.
The pack treats us to several howl sessions, which we all enjoy.
After a brief rest, the wolves continue across Hellroaring slope and into the Little Buffalo drainage. They are in sight a bit longer, in and out of trees, then I lose them for good.
It’s 33 now as I head towards Elk Creek. I hope they’ll be visible again and not go into the dreaded Trough. When we don’t find them here, Maureen and Rick come with me to the Ski Lot.
For whatever reason, none of us have ever tried scoping the Little Buffalo area from here. We discover we can see a lot of country that includes portions of the “usual” high route wolves tend to take from Hellroaring to points east.
I find a bison with its tail up and then see a single black passing below the bison. I only see this one wolf, and it disappears before anyone else can locate it.
Several others arrive but no one finds additional wolves, nor the one I saw. I start to doubt myself. Stacy believes me. He thinks I saw the last in line and the rest are already further east.
Before we leave, we take a peek at the black bear den that was dug last year. Sure enough, a black bear is just inside, napping. We think it’s a different bear, though, and no cubs this time.
I set up on Boulder hill but we do not find the Junctions. They must have stopped somewhere along the way or went into the Trough. Maybe into the river corridor.
Jeremy is frowning. The signals have dropped off.
We hang on a while longer, driving back and forth from Elk Creek to Boulder but never find the Junctions again.
Time to try Round Prairie for moose.
As I approach Trout Lake, I see the crews have been hard at work. This section now has two paved lanes. The dark black surface is smooth as silk, with bright yellow and white lines.
The west bound lane abuts a steeply sloped hill, lined with rows of burlap “rolls” which I think are meant to anchor the hill. I remember seeing these rolls placed along Dunraven when they widened that road.
We don’t find moose but we do find some sheep up on the cliffs above Round Prairie. Then around 1PM a light snow starts to fall, so I head in.
We tidy up in preparation for Laurie & Dan’s arrival. We welcome our generous hosts and have a nice evening.
Today I saw: a black bear, bison, a bald eagle, a golden eagle, elk, bighorn sheep, 21 Junction
wolves and the spirits of Allison, Richard and Jeff.