This marks the fifth day I have driven through the gorgeous Lamar Valley and found it empty of wolves. Of course, in hindsight, I wish I had lingered here this last morning, because Middle Gray was probably in the area somewhere.
I stop at Dorothy's to drink in the quiet, then stop briefly at Slough, at Boulder, and at Tower. Then I hear a report from Doug M - he has a family of black bears visible from Elk Creek. I head there to join him but alas, I'm too late.
Doug tells me that the Canyons have not been seen. Perhaps they have gone back south already. (Note: as it turns out, some of them stayed. They roamed towards Wraith Falls and ended up killing old Elk #10 two weeks later.)
He also shows me where the bears were, because they might come out again, and he mentions that the Junction Butte might be visible from Boulder. So I head back east.
I scope by myself on the little hill, content to have so much open country to myself for one last time. I find lots of elk - in fact it looks like the migration I saw yesterday from Hellroaring has made it here. They are congregated in the hills above the big basalt cliff. I also find many bighorn sheep, as well as sandhills and geese.
Rick stops and calls to me. He recommends I head west. Apparently, the plane crew saw 755M and a gray on a carcass in the Blacktail area, north of the S curves. Several watchers are already there.
So off I go. I stop again at Elk Creek and sure enough the bears are out! Yay! I see Mama and her two yearling cubs. Mama is dark black and her cubs are brown. I realize I saw this family last year, when the cubs were "toddlers". They were rolling down the hill among the deadfall and fireweed. It's great to see them again, my first bear cubs of 2013.
I continue on past Hellroaring to Blacktail. The sky is fully overcast today, unlike the mild sunny days I've had on the rest of my trip. I am not complaining! It's still far warmer and dryer than I ever expected.
I have to stop for some pronghorn in the road just above the S curves. They are on their way east and will likely be in Lamar Valley before too long.
At S Curves I check in with Becky & Chloe, Kathie and Sian. They can see the carcass and the birds, but have not seen either wolf.
Many of us re-assemble at the Children's Fire trail, hoping that the view from here might be better. But it's not. The carcass is a folded-hills area, well below the Painted Hill (a colorful feature to which Ballpark Frank and I hiked years ago).
It's seems likely that the wolves are bedded somewhere in sight of their carcass, but they seem to have picked a spot that is hidden from the view of the road - which is not surprising to us, given the report of the gray's shyness of people.
The good news is that 755 and his new lady-love are together, and it's a good sign they are sharing a meal.
Rick seems eager to find a higher vantage point, and encourages others to come with him. Kathie and Laurie and Becky and Chloe and I follow him, along with a few others. We leave the boardwalk trail, bushwack through slushy snow and deadfall across a gulch, up a hill and out across a windy sage-meadow.
But once we get there we still do not find them. Hah!
We overhear a conversation Rick has with the plane crew. Yes, they are still there, bedded fairly close together. (yay!). We also hear that they have spotted the Junction Butte wolves near the confluence of Agate Creek and the Yellowstone. So that explains why no one has seen them today - the confluence is not visible from the road.
We discuss the photos we've seen of 755's new female. She is a light gray with a dark "necklace". She has a bit of mange, but that is not worrisome this late in the year. Laurie does not recognize her but thinks it's most likely she is a Blacktail.
Well, sorry to say it, but the time has come for me to head back to Bozeman, so I say my goodbyes and begin my hike back to the car.
I stop once more at Blacktail ponds - the bison carcass is just bones now. It's amazing to me how many critters that poor bison ended up feeding - and she offered close-up wildlife watching to hundreds, perhaps thousands of visitors.
At Wraith, another blue bird soars across the road in a fitting farewell.
I see numerous pronghorn, bison and elk on my way to Mammoth, where I stop to say goodbye to Allison, then change out of my heavy clothes for the drive home.
On the lawn of the Yellowstone Village Inn is a very large herd of elk, having their photos taken by a delighted father and son.
On the drive back I think about the future of wolves in Yellowstone. Seeing 755 and his new gray female is a very hopeful sign. And the Canyon alpha female is pregnant, and perhaps so is 889 (or even Ragged Tail?) Where there's life, there's hope, they say. I will hope for pups.
Today I saw: a blue bird, bison, three black bears (including two yearling cubs) coyotes, sandhill cranes, elk, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, and the spirit of Allison.