DAY ONE - Wednesday, September 22, 2010


I arrive in Bozeman on Friday, September 17. My plan is to head to the Park on Monday, but complications arise that cause a delay, involving broken refrigerators, missing furniture and other annoyances. I check in with my office and beg to extend my trip for two more days, so that I can have a proper visit. My fellow staffers graciously agree, and finally, on Wednesday, by about 2:30, each issue has been resolved enough for me to leave. I load the last item into "Mr. Eko" (a Chevy Equinox) and head south.

September 22 is a perfect day to begin an adventure, as any fan of Tolkien knows. The sky is mostly cloudy and there is a hint of rain. The temperature is delightful at about 50 degrees. The fall color in Bozeman is well under way but not yet at peak.

I reach Livingston in record time and start the gorgeous drive along the Yellowstone.

The river is low, but that is normal for this time of year. I see mulies, many horses, and of course, cows. I am under the Arch at 4PM exactly. Remembering a past trip in which wolves were seen chasing elk on the western slopes of Mt. Everts, I stop to glass for them just inside the gate. I see no wolves but do hear an elk bugle. The sound comes from the direction of Mammoth, so I move on.

My first wildlife sighting is of a large herd of bighorn on the dry slopes to the north, just before a bridge crossing. I count 20 animals, including 6 lambs, most likely the very same ones that entertained my sisters and me on our way out of the Park in June.

There had been some sprinkles of rain while I was on the highway, but now that I'm here, the sun has come out. Isn't that just perfect!

I stop at the big lot across from the campground and have my visit with Allison. I have this notion that during my last two trips, my much-too-rushed attempt to commune with my dear departed friend caused the lessening of my wolf-sighting luck, so this time I make sure I spend a nice long time remembering and celebrating Allison in the place she loved so much.

While I'm visiting I hear another elk bugle, or perhaps the same one. And then one appears, magnificent, on the skyline - just below Kite Hill!

I drive on to Mammoth and see many more elk: cows, calves and a different bull. I notice quite a few orange-vested volunteers, patrolling the area, hoping to keep novice visitors from getting too close to the hormonally-distracted animals.

But the Northern Range beckons and soon I am across the High Bridge, enjoying the richer colors of fall all through the Blacktail Plateau. I stop at Hellroaring and scope from here, finding bison and a herd of wary elk. I watch them carefully, intent on learning the reason for their alertness, hoping for you-know-what to show itself. Eventually I come to believe these elk are just reacting to the big bull in their midst.

My next stop is Slough Creek. I see about a dozen people out on Bob's Knob, so I park and haul my scope out there. I've had advance word that the 4-5 month old pups of the Lamar Canyon Pack have been seen from here the last few days, romping around the flats below their former den area, using it as a rendezvous site.

I am hopeful that pattern will continue while I'm here. Once I get out to the blunt edge of the ridge, I meet Sian, a lovely English woman who has stationed herself here each day for the last several days. She nods and smiles, yes, they're in view! With her help I locate the pups and slowly get to know the various landmarks in the rendezvous area - the fat willow and its skinny partner, the slide tree, the long log and the little pyramid.

The pups I see are all gray, like their mother, the famous "06 female". She was first called that when she was part of the Agate pack. It was to distinguish her from a female sibling born in 07. She has never been collared and the regulars just refer to her as "The 06".

The four pups look completely interchangeable to my first-day eyes but those who have seen them frequently can distinguish the "lightest" and the "darkest" and eventually other differences will be noted. I don't think it is yet known which are male or female.

I am very happy to have wolves in view this quickly and easily on my first day. (Thanks, Allison!)

This is not the most dynamic of sightings, but I do get to watch them wander and mouse and romp and bed. After a solid year of sad and sadder news about the demise of the Druids, it is particularly comforting to see healthy, growing puppies enjoying their youth.

As the day wanes, more and more visitors swell our group on the Knob, drawn, no doubt, by the sight of people with scopes as well as advance word of this location. Very few of the later arrivals have scopes or binoculars with them, so those of us who came prepared spend most of our time happily helping the others see the wolves. One who does come prepared is my friend Gerry from Scotland. We have a nice time catching up and getting re-acquainted.

Around 7:00 I pack up and head further east. My favorite valley is its beautiful self and it warms my heart to see it again in its late-September gold. I stop at the Footbridge - and for about a while it's just me and the quiet evening, and the river and the woods.

I reach Silver Gate about 8:30 and find Laurie on the phone with her husband. I hear concern in her voice. Well, she went up to Cooke City to pick up her mail, and on her way back had a collision with a deer. She says it just leapt out of the woods right onto her car. She is alright, and the deer ran off.

There is no fur or blood on her car, and a report has been made, so the main trouble is that she can't open the hood. Part of the grill is bent, blocking the latch, so it's impossible to inspect the radiator. The temperature gauge on the dashboard indicates no problem, but ya never know.

I tell her she can drive with me tomorrow or that I will follow her to a car-repair shop in Livingston if she needs me to, but in the end we head back upstairs, delaying any decision till tomorrow, when we might find more definitive evidence. We have a lovely chat, then it's off to slumber-land.

Today I saw: bison, 1 coyote, mule deer, elk, pronghorn, bighorn sheep (including lambs), 4 wolves (all pups of the Lamar Canyon Pack), and the spirit of Allison

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