DAY SIX - Sunday, January 29

SUN DOG DAY

We knew last night that today was bringing very cold temps but it is still a shock to walk out to minus 22 degrees!

The good news is that we may be done with snow for a while. I can see stars in a clear sky overhead.

The road is clear. I have never felt so appreciative of the work done by the NPS snowplow drivers. I have sent a written note of thanks to Superintendent Sholly to pass along to them.

The news today is not snow but cold. I notice much more fog today, at Pebble Creek and all along the Soda Butte. Itís beautiful.

At Footbridge my car gauge reads minus 31, which is awfully close to my ďrecordĒ of minus 37. And it gets even colder, minus 34 at the Ranch.

Our first stop today is where we were yesterday, at Longs. Someone has found the Junctions moving back up towards the top of Specimen Ridge. They are traveling through thick forest to the right of the ďski slopeĒ hill.

A very kind visitor points me to a small clearing in that forest, where I see a line of wolves passing a snow-covered log. I see three grays and three blacks pass this spot, walking slowly and deliberately through thick snow.

Like yesterday, I donít have them very long, but Iím still happy to see them.

At Rickís suggestion, we move to Lamar Canyon West. Others go to Slough. Since the wolves are headed up hill, chances are good they will come back into view.

Rick finds a pair of coyotes on skyline and I spot several bighorn sheep on the nearby cliffs.

A few minutes later, Rick finds the Junctions. They emerge from the trees onto an open, snowy slope below and east of the sheep cliffs, moving in their signature line.

We start counting, silently. They zig zag a bit which helps. I get 22. A big car full of enthusiastic first time visitors from Spain pulls in. One of them is a wildlife biologist. I help them see the Junctions and they thank me profusely. The biologist even tears up.

The pack climbs up to the high crest of the hill and begins to seek bedding spots.

I hear footsteps behind me which I think is one of the Spaniards. When I turn around, I find a huge bison walking in the center of the road, less than 10 feet away!

I grab my scope and hide behind my car. The bison just minds his own business, not giving me another thought!

I feel the sun peeking over the mountain and glance towards it. I see a rainbow forming to the right of the sun, then a second one on the left. It slowly dawns on me that this is a sundog! Only the second one Iíve ever seen. Later, Doug Mac takes a really great photo of this phenomenon from further away in Little America.

I turn back to the wolves. Because there are so many pups in this pack, they continue to romp and explore well after the adults are ready for their nap. Several adults wander over the top to bed, reducing the number of wolves currently in view.

Despite bright blue skies, the day has not warmed much. Itís still minus 25. The only saving grace is the lack of wind.

Laurie and Dan head to Coyote to check that angle. I need a warm up so I follow.

The drive into Lamar is gorgeous. Bright sun on fresh snow always looks great.

At Coyote we find more wolves in view than we saw from Canyon West. I count 22 again, bedded in three groups. A few pups remain restless, moving here and there.

Around 11 we head east, enjoying the sunny day views. Steam rises from Rose Creek, wafting here and there. I notice very little sagebrush poking out above the snow. The rolling hills northeast of the ranch look particularly nice, all pure white.

Despite the extreme cold itís worth it to see such beauty.

After a break in SG, I head out again in hopes of seeing more wolf activity. The day has ďwarmedĒ to 1 degree above zero.

I find Luke and his clients back at Lamar Canyon West. A few of the Junctions are still bedded but the majority are up and active. Pups are playing and chasing each other. A black begins to move to the south and disappears from view. Alas, several wolves begin to follow, eventually taking the whole group out of sight.

We move to Slough. As soon as I put up my scope, a wolf pokes up above skyline. Then a second. Aha! I tell Laurie they are on Middle Ridge.

She finds more wolves to the left of these. I see a bunched-up bison herd above the first two and lots of other wolves coming into view from behind the herd. After a few defensive lunges from the bison, the wolves lose interest.

A few puppies take time to play. Many wolves sit on their haunches at the top of the slope, looking down below. We canít figure out what theyíre seeing but my guess is more pups playing.

A collared black appears from the west (right of the herd) as if belatedly joining the pack. A few wolves run towards that wolf as if to greet it, but I lose sight of them and the arriving wolf behind a knoll.

The next thing I see is a line of wolves start to travel east and downslope from the knoll. At the same time, a single collared black (likely the late-arrival) rushes away in the opposite direction, downslope and west. It looks like this black is trying to get away from the pack.

Laurie and I believed at the time that this was the former alpha female but now think it could have been New Mom (newly collared 1386F) instead. The reason we question our first guess is that we learn later that information from 1382Fís collar places her in the Hellroaring area for the last several days.

The line of wolves continues downslope, following the contour of the ridge, zig-zagging a bit, and allowing for a count of 22. With the collared black, that makes 23.

Later, I see an uncollared gray arriving on Middle Ridge from a spot left of the bison, the same place the collared black came from. The gray joins the pack with minimal greeting fuss, so that makes a total of 24.

I look back at the easy-to-see trail made by the solo collared black. It stretches in a straight diagonal line down to a hill with scattered trees. It looks to me like the wolf continued behind that hill. She could be at the Crystal drainage by now.

Some of the wolves stop to pose in front of some beautifully flocked conifers, striking both Laurie and me as a particularly pretty view.

Pups continue their play, with one of them tobogganing down the slope in the soft snow, face planting. Others play chase, clearly enjoying themselves. They pass a tree with a rock near its trunk. The pups canít resist hopping up on this rock, seeing how many of them can fit.

Eventually the pack changes direction, crossing the front of the Ridge to the west, about a third of the way below skyline. They continue downslope, aiming for the lower hill with scattered trees, behind which the collared black disappeared.

We eventually lose them in a direction that would take them towards the upper part of Crystal drainage.

Itís been a really nice evening sighting but my toes are really aching. Reluctantly we pack up and head east.

On the drive back I enjoy the rosy glow of the setting sun on the high eastern peaks.

Today I saw: bison, 4 coyotes, elk, bighorn sheep, 24 Junction wolves and the spirits of Allison, Richard and Jeff.

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