Itís surprisingly warm today at 58 degrees. I set out towards Hayden from Canyon campground at 5:20 in a light drizzle.
The cloud cover makes it darker than usual. I arrive at Alum north at 5:45. So far Iíve seen only elk, and a gorgeous sunrise.
Around 6:30 two black pups appear, on a hillside much further to the right than I expected them to be. Thanks to a sharp-eyed visitor and her teen daughter who found them with binoculars!
The pups climb up towards the right end of the skyline forest. Alas, they are not in sight very long before they disappear into the thick trees.
I have my breakfast and coffee, hoping they might come back into view. By now itís time for me to drive over Dunraven so I can be at the barricade by 8AM.
There are many less wildflowers left on the high slopes but I still enjoy the ones hanging on. The day remains cool, which is just how I like it.
I arrive at the barricade early, and I'm delighted when the Ranger waves me through!
Little America here I come! I actually get tears in my eyes; it feels so good to finally be headed this way. The green is stronger here than up high Ė it has been a well-watered summer so far.
Oh, it does my heart good to see this area. I see many pronghorn and a few ground squirrels. Several of the small ponds look nicely full for this time of year.
Every hill and knoll holds memories for me, which flood into my heart. Iím so happy to be here, I almost donít care if I see a wolf!
I reach Slough and see the barricade beyond, blocking further access to Lamar. But I know the crews are working hard. I have to be patient!
I follow the Slough Campground road. Itís in very good shape because so few cars have been driving on it! I see a group with a guide assembled on Bobís Knob, watching bison below.
I pull into the lower lot, where I can see many bison in the creek flats, in full rutting season display. The males are grunting loudly and incessantly, pestering and following the females.
I get out and scope the den area, finding a fair number of elk above the cliff. I also scope Specimen to the south. More elk, and bison. And I find sheep on the rocky knob.
I notice several closure signs posted to the east, which I suppose are meant to discourage hikers from going into the Lamar.
I take a long look at Slough Creek itself, finding many more log piles, scoured banks and standing water, all signs of the earlier flood. And I find two great blue herons fishing the quiet pools.
I drive back to the paved road and scope Divide Ridge, hope-scoping for Junctions. I find elk, a hawk and a kestrel. I am almost completely alone. Itís a gift, I know, but itís also very strange and melancholy too.
And boy, is it beautiful!
I stop at Crystal and notice the Specimen Ridge trail is closed in another effort, I suppose, to discourage people from hiking into Lamar.
I scope from Aspen, Long, Boulder Pond and Boulder, seeing beauty, bison and pronghorn.
Itís still kind of early, so I decide to head to Elk Creek to try scoping from there. But at the barricade I see Ranger Bill has joined the other ranger manning this gate.
We have a nice chat. Then I hear Rick on the radio, suggesting I come to Hellroaring. Bill understands and wishes me good luck.
I find Rick at the high overlook. He says he was in Hayden and had no wolves but ran into Jeremy who suggested he try from here on his way back to Mammoth.
We set up but find no wolves. I tell him about my early glimpse of the two pups, and that Iíd so far seen no wolves in Little America.
Itís 10:30 and the day has warmed to 70. A few people stop but donít stay long. I say itís probably too late in the day to have any luck with wolves. But we stay a while, anyway. Just long enough for a gray wolf to walk right into my scope!
ďIíve got one!Ē I cry. Rick looks through my scope and says ďgreatĒ. He finds it in no time and adds ďThatís a Rescue pupĒ. Itís a beautiful animal, and looks to me exactly like a shorter-legged version of the beautiful alpha male of this pack. I am so happy to see him!
The wolf trots casually west, nose down, as if scent trailing. Way too soon, he goes out of sight into thick trees. We search everywhere for others but donít find any.
We are very happy and congratulate each other. He needs to head back to Mammoth to make the noon caravan back to Gardiner, but says heíll be out tomorrow, too. We agree to stay in touch by radio.
I go back to Tower and see a blue grouse on the roadside. I talk to Bill a while longer, listening to his flood stories. He was trapped in Silver Gate for a few days before the Park re-assigned him to Gardiner and helped him move.
He has some amazing photos and video of the swollen Soda Butte Creek that he took on the Sunday evening before everything was shut down.
I complain to him that the 8AM pass doesnít get me inside soon enough to maximize my wolf-spotting chances, since the best viewing is right at dawn. He agrees, then says that the guides have been entering at dawn, so as long as I have a reservation, I can too. This is great news!
But the day is now officially hot (82!) so I bid farewell to Ranger Bill and head back over Dunraven. On the way I find a few wildflowers still hanging on, some pink fireweed, yellow daisies and some un-identified white ones.
I drive through Hayden, finding it nearly bison-free all the way to Gull Point drive, where I find my new favorite napping spot. After a chat with Laurie and some lunch, I lower my seat back for a nap.
After this I drive through Hayden once more, again seeing very few bison other than the herd at 3 panel. I take a shower at Canyon and then head back to Alum North.
Itís a really nice evening, but I never find any wolves. Instead, I watch a small band of elk with calves on the river side of the road. One of the adult eagles visits the nest to check on the remaining fledgling. I also see sandhills, geese and a pair of mule deer.
I spend the last hour at Grizzly Overlook, seeing elk and a few bison, and talking with visitors about the flood and how best to see wolves.
And I settle in for another sleep under the stars.
Today I saw: bison (including calves), sandhill cranes, 2 bald eagles, elk (including calves),
geese, a grouse, a hawk, 2 blue herons, a kestrel, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, ground squirrels,
3 wolf pups (including 2 Wapitis and 1 Rescue Creek) and the spirits of Allison, Richard and Jeff.