DAY EIGHT - Friday, July 20, 2012


This morning I start where I left off last night, at the Eastern Curve. There are clouds in the sky today, delaying first light. I hear howling from the den forest!

How nice!

Shortly after this, three wolves appear heading downhill. They bed and we quickly ID them as 820 and her two black siblings. One of the blacks sees a pronghorn and drops into a stalk posture.

She sneaks along the hill and gives half-hearteded chase, but quickly gives up. There is a report of a wolf being seen from Dorothy's so I folllow Laurie & Dan to the Institite. Bill H is here. It was his report. He saw a lone black up on Jasper while he was looking for bears.

We are too late, to see it, but we scope for a while anyway.

Then we head back east, and I am told I have just missed 820. She crossed the road to the south. I am not too late, though, to see 754. He is on the far bank of the creek on the south side of the road, meandering along the bank.

A bull bison appears on the south side of the road, fairly close. And two more bulls appear on the north side, one from the east and one from the west. The bull closest to us seems to want to join the other two on the north side, so we all take cover in or near our cars and let him go where he wants.

All three bison pick up speed and we wonder if we are about to see a fight. The three similarly sized bulls come together, nose to nose, in a type of bison stand-off. It is tense but apparently they seem to decide that none really has the will to fight, so after much snorting, they lower their heads and begin to graze. Eventually they move away from each other and go their separate ways!

Someone suggests they may even be related and were just saying hello after an absence!

I resume watching 754. He is sniffing here and then and all too soon heads up into the the trees east of DPH. A light rain begins and we pull on our hoods and cover our scopes.

But I am going hiking today so I soon head off towards Hellroaring to meet my buds.

I have time for some coffee before Lori & Cathy arrive. We discuss whether we want to delay due to the rain, but decide to drive to the trailhead anyway.

By the time we get there the rain tapers off and the day begins to clear. We set off from the western end of Phantom Lake around 10:40, crossing the road into an area with which I've always been intrigued, ever since I saw a black bear disappear into it years ago.

We start out trudging through high grass, slowed down by bracken and downed logs, and eventually start to climb.

I get warm fast and peel off several layers. We slowly make our way up a steep scrabbly hillside and into an open plateau. There is a nice view of the Yellowstone River corridor and a welcome breeze, but I'm surprised when we cannot see Hellroaring Mountain. We are ultimately looking for an old road that we suspect parallels the river.

I am happy to see more of this Leopold/Blacktail territory than I have ever seen. it was nice to think of 302 roaming these meadows, both as a yearling with his natal Leopold pack and as the alpha-founder of the Blacktail Pack. Although we do not see elk or mule deer on this warm July day, it is the type of terrain that I think elk would love in the winter months, as the wind would help blow the snow and keep the underlying grasses within easy grazing reach.

We find all sorts of fascinating things up here, various scat to decipher, cool rocks, including agates, rabbit and badger holes. We stop fror lunch in a little hollow, under a big Douglass fir, out of the sun and wind. A pair of western tanagers entertain us in the boughs above - wow, they are such beautiful birds! We also see (and hear) a woodpecker.

We see lots of evidence of other critters but few actual critters.

The views remain great, though, and it is an envigorating and interesting hike with excellent company. Although we are well away from the road, we are roughly paralleling it, heading towards Hellroaring. I find myself recognizing various hilltops and vistas that I know from the road, here seen from a different angle.

At one point we must make a decision about whether to drop down into the Yellowstone River corridor, or stay high. I feel strongly that we should stay high and we do. An hour later we are all glad we did because Cathy confides that she has twisted her ankle! She did it a while back and has been bravely enduring it with silence.

As we stop to discuss our next move and listen to an eagle crying.

We abandon our further plans for Cathy's sake and aim to find the quickest way back to the road. It takes us a while, but I am pleased to report that we do find our way back, and come out just east of "Christmas Bear". This may seem to suggest we didn't walk far, but I assure you, we did. There is a LOT of country back there.

Once we reach the pavement, we flag down a car and ask the driver if he will take Cathy and her sore ankle to her car down at Phantom Lake. The driver, Terry, agrees and insists we all come.

We learn that he is on his way to Glacier, having just driven through Yellowstone via the Beartooth. We give him some tips for his journey and thank him over and over.

Once at our cars, we get Cathy out of her boots. Her ankle is swollen but she says she's ok to drive. I get into my Tevas and splash water on my hot feet. I give Lori a lift back to her car at Hellroaring. She unloads her stuff and I suggest we all have a meal at Roosevelt where Cathy can elevate her leg. Lori says thanks but no - as she has to work tomorrow and needs to get back to Bozeman.

So we say goodbye to Lori and the two of us head to Roosevelt. Alas, we are too late for lunch and too early for dinner, so while Cathy sits in a rocker, elevating and icing her poor foot on the railing, I get her a lemonade.

I feel bad for her but I know she is brave and resourcefull. She assures me she will be fine. After a while she heads back to Canyon and I go back to Lamar.

Later on I meet up with my wolf-watcher buds at the eastern curve, where we are keeping another hopeful pup vigil. We scope from 6PM till nearly 9 without a single wolf sighting.

But we do notice an odd occurence. Tom and Chris see a group of people roaming around on DPH. After a while we realize they are picking up antlers off the ground. Uh oh. That is not kosher! The people walk downhill carrying those antlers. There are three adults and two kids. It's the three adults who are carrying the elk shed - the man carries an entire rack with skull attached.

The Rangers are made aware and are waiting in the pullout when the people hike back to their cars. Jeff suggests that the people are most likely foreigners, unaware of natural resources rules common in an American National Park.

We watch from afar as the Rangers have a chat; we see the antlers being laid down, and we see the Rangers carry them back out to Dead Puppy to be re-scattered.

Later we find out that our speculation is correct, that the people are from Europe, and had no idea they were breaking the rules. They receive a warning and a lecture but not a ticket, and drive off to the west.

Excitement over, Chris and I are chatting quitely, casually looking south through our binoculars, when a wolf walks right into my view! It's dear old 754, who has suddenly appeared, coming out of the same trees into which he disappeared this morning.

The banter stops and everyone snaps to attention, to watch our only wolf of the evening. 754 putters around in the creek a bit and takes a sort of withered look at us. Initially he seems discouraged by our presence, then seems to change his mind.

He splashes into the creek and stops in the middle. He lowers his head and opens his jaws, shovelling in four big gulps of water. Then he heads with clear determination for the road. No looking back, no hesitation, no hurry, he just does it.

One at the road he walks along the pavement a bit, then heads up the hill to home. We hope hope hope for pups, once more, but no.

Well, my long vigil has paid off with a nice, close sighting of one of my favorite wolves. Little did I know then how important this sighting would be to me a mere four months later.

Night descends and we pack up and say our goodbyes. Tomorrow is my last day. Waaa!

On my drive back, around Pebble Creek, I see two coyotes close to the road - one of them is yelping and barking in a warning way; the other crosses the road in front of me. I learn later that these coyotes were "escorting" the uncollared gray yearling out of their territory.

TODAY I SAW: 1 grizzly bear, bison, 2 coyotes, elk, pronghorn, hawks, an eagle, a mated pair of Western Tanagers, a woodpecker, 4 wolves (all of the Lamar Canyon pack including 820, 754 and two black yearlings) and the spirit of Allison.

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