We are up early so we can meet Rick near the Arch at 5AM. Iím a little nervous as Iím the first one out the door. I have seen bears up here and donít want to meet any in the dark.
The night sky is amazing, featuring the Orion constellation. Itís pleasantly cool, at 55 degrees.
On my drive down the gravel road, a rabbit dashes across to the safety of thick sage brush.
We meet Rick and load up our gear. We present our credentials at the gate and head up the new road. Laurie and Dan are kind of amazed at how ďnearly finishedĒ it is.
Itís still dark when we reach Mammoth but we now head east along familiar roads. As we wind up the S Curves to the Blacktail plateau, several deer cross in front of us.
Our first stop is at Elk Creek, where another guide van is already parked.
We set up our scopes and get to work. It takes about 20 minutes but as the light improves, Rick finds a wolf, a single black, down below us in Yancyís Hole. We aim our scopes at the gaps in the line of evergreens.
I see the single black and then more wolves emerge Ė two grays, then two more blacks. These are the 5 month-old Rescue Creek pups, romping and exploring on their own, very charming to see. Lucky for us, they have been using this area as a late-summer rendezvous for the last few days.
Jeremy tells us four pups are male and one of the grays is female.
In between play sessions they find places to bed down. One seems to like the lush grass near the creek. We have them in view for a good hour or so.
One black pup takes a walk up Flat Top hill. He is soon followed by another. Both wolves are looking intently to the north at a small bison herd. They seem to fancy themselves great hunters, when of course, they are way too young to be good at it yet, especially against bison!
Well, they donít know what they donít know, and soon all five are up there, carefully circling a single bison bull. The bullís tail is way up; I think it may excite the pups to see theyíve had this effect on him.
The pups get closer and closer. We feel the bison is being very patient, tolerating their antics. Then the bull jumps forward at the closest pup. Oh, boy, all five of them bolt and scatter in all directions!
We have quite a chuckle at their expense!
After this, the pups make their way back to the flats and start wandering around the corner to the west. All too soon they are out of sight.
We get back in Rickís car and head further east. Laurie and Dan have not seen Little America since June and I never tire of seeing it. There are bison and pronghorn along the way, but alas, no wolves.
Due to the holiday weekend, and the crews being off work, so the Park has extended the mid-day departure window till 1:30 instead of noon. This means we have time to go to Hayden and back.
Soon we are up and over Dunraven. Itís a pretty drive and we stop in a few spots to scope the terrain. But there are no wolves in Hayden for us; only bison and distant elk. Itís gotten very hot, too.
Autumn has arrived in Hayden; the hillsides are covered in golden grass. But so far, we have not seen much fall color on the willows or aspen. We figure it has not been cold enough yet to trigger that change.
We drive back to Mammoth, chatting all the way about this and that. We follow the caravan up and over the top, then down into Gardiner. Rick suggests we visit the History Center to see the 302 exhibit, which features his re-assembled skeleton. Those bones are not nearly as handsome as he was, but the display also includes photos and a summary of his life-story. His healed-over injuries are impressive to me.
We thank Rick and bid him goodbye till tomorrow, then drive back up the dusty road to our temporary home.
Today I saw: bison, mule deer, elk, pronghorn, a rabbit, five Rescue Creek wolves (all pups) and the
spirits of Allison, Richard and Jeff