Yesterday’s weather report predicted a single digit morning and no new snow. Instead of that, we get another 5 inches of snow and the relatively warm temp of 26!
Strangely, the snow plow has not been by yet today. Perhaps they believed the incorrect weather report!
So I decide to be brave and break trail on the road this AM. Such a workout Arrow is getting. I take my cues from Laurie, and she does not seem worried. First, though, I run the car back & forth several times over the driveway, as she did several days ago, packing it down and testing depth.
I get out of the driveway fine but it’s a crazy, nerve-wracking drive for me. At first I see Rick’s tracks ahead of me but the snow falls so thickly it has already covered them up. At various times I hear snow scraping the undercarriage.
My main worry is what I’ll do if the plow comes along. I have no idea where the edge of the road is! But today, the plow never comes.
I see my first fellow driver at Moose Meadow. It’s Bob Landis heading east. I slow down and say hello. He says the plow turned around at Trout Lake, so driving will be easier after that. He’s looking for moose!
Well, that gives me hope. Bob’s car is much lower to the ground than mine. If he can get through, my trusty Subaru should be fine. I do enjoy how quiet and beautiful it is.
At Pebble there are some bison near the road; their coats look like they’ve been painted with wet, white snow, leaving only dark spots around their eyes.
Driving does improve after Trout Lake but I still cannot see either the white line or the yellow line. Laurie catches up to me and I let her go ahead.
Visibility is not bad in Lamar, which is encouraging, but no wolves have been seen here. The temperature in the valley is a chilly 13 degrees.
We stop at Slough and talk a bit with Rick & Jeremy. He got no signals between Hellroaring and Dorothy’s. Doug is still at Hellroaring. Jeremy thinks the Junctions could be out of range or in the trough.
The consensus is that our best bet is west, so we end up at Elk Creek. It’s clear that a whole lot of snow fell last night in Little America. The whole place is a winter wonderland, very different from the last few days.
Then Doug calls from Lower Hellroaring. He has found some Junction pups!
Yay Doug! When I set up at LH it is still snowing, but luckily, the pup group is fairly close so they are easier to see. They are on a snowy hilltop with sage showing through, a bit east of the spot where I left them bedded yesterday.
I see four, a gray and three blacks. When I move my scope a bit to the west I discover that a foreground tree has been blocking a much better view. My count rises quickly from 4 to 14. Hey, those are not all pups!
Then a dozen of them suddenly begin to rush downhill with tails up high in excitement. What are they after? A coyote? Elk? The Phantom Pack?
Then I notice a single black coming up from the bottom of that hill, tail tucked. Aha! It’s a straggler pups. The rushing pack has become two groups; the leaders reach the pup and greet it, while the pup sinks down as low as it can get, very submissive. Then it continues up the hill to the next running group and submits to them, too.
His tail is wagging like crazy, so it’s clear that all is well. The pack starts milling around every which way on this hill. Eventually they head up to the wind-swept top, where they stop and begin to howl. Oh, it sounds so beautiful!
They settle down and bed on this knob. Well, not all of them. About half of them continue to a slightly higher hill and bed there. Between the two groups I get a full count of 21.
Once they settle, the consensus is that the pack probably got something to eat last night, and are not particularly hungry at the moment.
More snow arrives, making them harder to see. But not impossible. The alpha female is easy to discern due to her high-flying tail. We watch her annoy 907 several times, standing over her and snapping.
Larry & Linda are here (actually they arrived at Hellroaring yesterday). I think everyone in the Park who is interested in wolves is here in this lot. It’s a great view, with plenty of parking, in spite of the nearly constant snow flurries.
Pups are always restless, always exploring or playing, which makes for good viewing. They nap for about an hour, then movement begins. At one point I notice a collared black decides to move east. I am guessing 996. Two other blacks follow him/her. Then a third, then more and more begin to follow. At least 7 remain bedded but the rest are now spread out moving east and uphill, including the beautiful gray yearling.
The bedded wolves do little more than nap and stretch for the next hour. Then the collared wolf returns to the higher hill on which the adult group is bedded.
One pup stands in the center of the bedded group, next to a gray on his back with legs in the air. Now the alpha female gets up. She and a gray start downhill.
I notice a coyote running to the left below the wolves. I don’t think the wolves even saw it. There is a wide gully with a single tree between the knob and the “original” snow/sage hill. The alpha female now moves through this gully, followed by the gray.
Many more wolves now get up, stretch and follow the alpha, aiming for the gully. Three are still bedded. Probably pups!
After another 15 minutes a total of 16 wolves have now left the “post-howl” bedding spot and are moving east with some determination. The ones in the back run to catch up.
There are still two blacks and one gray bedded on the knob.
A bunch of pups stop at a large, snow-covered boulder and proceed to play king of the hill. So cute. One of the black pups looks smaller than the others. But he’s full of vigor. There are five black pups on the rock and one gray. Then the smallish black pup jumps up on the rock, which makes all the others jump off. They dash off through the sage following the leaders.
Now only one black remains bedded on the knob.
I see some wolves running through sage – oh, they’re chasing two coyotes through yellow grass. The coyotes escape but then suddenly, in a gap between two hills more wolves streak into view…they are chasing elk! The herd splits and I see one elk yearling running alone with at least five wolves after it. The yearling tops the same hill where the pups had just given up chasing coyotes. The elk runs down the other side; the wolves are getting close but the elk puts on a spurt of speed as it heads downhill and the wolves lose ground.
The pups on the hill are too slow to grasp the chase situation and are no help at all. They could have knocked the elk down but they just stand there, staring. The adult wolves stop at the bottom of the hill. The elk gets away.
Lots of wolves sit on their haunches on the snow/sage hill looking down as if in disappointment. The chasers turn around and trudge back up.
Now we have most of the wolves back on the “original” snow/sage hill. Those that are not already bedded are choosing their spots.
Another squall arrives so I take a break and head to Tower. When I get back, the sun has broken through and we have rare glimpse of blue sky.
The wolves are still bedded on the original snow/sage hill, in two groups, but I count all 21.
With little going on, I pan back to the bare knob to see if any wolves are still bedded there. Nope. But when I pan back, to my surprise I find a bear!
It’s a grizzly, roaming around in the gully. He wanders back to the gap between the hills and follows the exact route taken by the elk and wolves during the chase. That’s a bear’s nose for you. Then we realize he is probably going to come up on the hill where the wolves are now bedded.
And that’s just what he does!
We see several wolf heads lift up and a few get to their feet. And there is the bear right at the top of the hill! The bear is quickly surrounded. A few wolves lunge his way for a nip. The bear wheels and swipes, but my impression is that these individuals are quite familiar with each other.
The bear continues following the path of the chase down the hill and two or three wolves escort him for a short while. One of the wolves nips the bear again and he swirls around with another no-contact swipe. Then the wolves stand still and the bear continues on his way, taking his time.
For the next hour, the wolves sleep while the bear entertains us by roaming here and there. Eventually he ends up back on the hill the wolves are on. This time none of the wolves give him more than a passing glance. The bear even beds down on the hill for a while, maybe 10 feet away!
After another half hour, another squall arrives. The bear gets up and leaves the hill, heading northwest. People who arrive during this half hour do not believe that the larger lump on the hill full of wolves was a bear until he gets up and proves it. I see some wide-eyed visitors when that happens.
I finally call it a day around 2PM. Yet another snow squall has arrived. I am just tickled with the performance of my brave little car in all this snow.
As I reach Lamar, the sun breaks through. Oh! It makes everything stunningly gorgeous!
I see the same two bison at Pebble that I saw this morning, but they’ve lost their white paint and are brown again.
I see two more coyotes on the way back; one at Tower and one right at the edge of Silver Gate.
It’s our last evening so Laurie & I do a lot of cleaning & packing, while we talk about what we saw today.
Today I saw: 1 grizzly bear, bison, 5 coyotes, elk, 1 moose, 21 Junctions wolves and the spirits of Allison and Richard