DAY FIVE - Monday, March 20

JUNCTIONS IN LAMAR

Itís 13 above zero today at 6:45. Thatís more like it!

I stop at Soda Butte East to listen for howling but hear none.

Every day as I drive through Lamar, I have a constant daydream that just around the corner Iíll spot a wolf, or Iíll see someone who has already spotted one for me. It rarely happens, but I keep wanting it.

Today as I approach Coyote pullout, that daydream comes true. I see two cars there, Rick plus Laurie & Dan. Their scopes are pointed south. And they have wolves in view! Woo hoo!

I set up quickly and follow their directions, training Sashaís big eye on a snowy slope above the back of Jasper Bench, just below a thick forest.

A black wolf stands broadside, looking down. The wolf starts to lope through deep snow down towards the trees-filled gully at the back of the bench. A second black follows the first one.

Now two more wolves appear, both grays, and repeat the same action. Hmm, perhaps they have a carcass down below? I scan the area at the back of the bench and catch movement of a black wolf running through the trees down there. It disappears quickly into another gully.

I hear howling, many voices. I follow the sound of the howl to the right end of the thick forest. Aha! There they are! Many wolves; 4, 7, 8! Including the first four, Iím up to 12 which means it must be Junctions.

More and more people arrive and we help them locate the wolves. Luckily there is ample parking here.

The 8 wolves have a rally. Afterwards, some bed down, while others sit on their haunches. One or two roam around. A collared black starts to climb up the slope from below. Iím pretty sure this is 1276F, judging by her build, her coloring and her high-flying tail.

She reaches the larger group and is greeted by many. But then 907 stands up and 1276 drops to accept a pinning. After thatís done, she goes to find a wolf that SHE can pin, to make herself feel better!

907F is distinctive for her largish shape, slow movement and slightly drooping belly. I notice another pinning going on. Ah, itís the alpha male but I canít tell who he is pinning. The body of that wolf is hidden in a little depression.

More wolves begin to come up from below, this time a scattered group of four. Hmm, this raises my count to 13.

I hear a single voice howling from a spot further east, and the pack replies. Oh, itís a gorgeous sound!

While scanning for the howler, I find a red fox. The smaller canid is aiming for the wolves but stops abruptly. He changes his mind, turns and disappears into the forest.

Two wolves from the rally group come to the edge of the hillside. At first I think they are interested in the fox. But no, they are looking further downslope, as they do when watching other wolves. Indeed, moments after this, a gray appears, likely the lone howler.

The gray comes up and is greeted by the group, bringing my count to 14.

I now notice the sky has been growing darker instead of lighter. A cloud of snow has already enveloped the highest peaks of Specimen Ridge, above the bedded wolves.

Far too quickly, the snow cloud sinks lower and lower, reaching the area where the wolves are. Their distinct shapes become fuzzy, shrouded, then invisible.

Ah well. Itís been a great morning!

As itís almost 10AM, I decide to pack up now and head back to Bozeman.

I make my goodbyes to all but one of my friends. Jeff is not here because his camper broke down on the way. Heís still stuck just west of Slough, and is waiting there for his tow truck to arrive.

So, I head his way, reaching him just as two Rangers arrive. They confer with him, then place orange cones behind his disabled vehicle. Jeff is in good spirits, despite his predicament. He says he had to find a special heavy duty tow-truck which is now on its way from Livingston.

We chat and commiserate for a bit and I give him extra chocolate. He says Sian will be able to bring him into the Park over the next several days while he waits for repair.

I bid him good luck and farewell.

On my way through Little America, I pass a very skinny bison walking the road. I feel bad for this one. The winter has been very hard on the ungulates.

Mammoth is beginning to lose its snow. Everts especially has lots of bare ground.

When I am half-way down the old/new road, I see Jeffís big tow truck, so I send word to him that it wonít be long now!

On the highway beyond Gardiner I see quite a few elk, bison and mule deer, just like I did in February. All in all, itís an easy drive back to Bozeman.

Today I saw: bison, coyotes, mule deer, elk, a fox, 13 Junction wolves (including 907F, alpha male, 1276F, and 10 others) and the spirits of Allison, Richard and Jeff.

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