DAY THREE - Wednesday, December 25

LARRY FINDS THE WOLVES

Iím out at 7AM in 21 degrees. There is frozen snow on my windshield but my heater makes short work of it.

There is a beautiful red fox, trotting right in front of Laurieís. I see its tracks left in the driveway. Merry Christmas, pretty fox!

A light snow is still falling but my Subaru handles it just fine.

As I reach SB midpoint, I learn I am mere moments too late. The un-collared gray was here again this morning.

I am the fourth car here, pulling in just behind Rick. At first he had the wolf in view from Footbridge and was driving back east to get closer look. As he approached the pullout (right when I was about to arrive) he saw the wolf leave the carcass and head up the snow-covered bank.

As I get set up, I notice his tracks but he is already hiding in the forest. This wolf does not tolerate people.

Ah well.

We scope a while, hoping for a glimpse of him further left or right. But I finally give up.

At the confluence, I happily join a small group of visitors who have found otters! Apparently there is some sort of burrow they use, below the road in the rocks just above the river. I see one come out of there and there are several sets of tracks.

If you stand at the western end of the pullout and look straight down, you can see the entrance and all their tracks. I watch both of them go in there, and shortly after, one of the two comes back out. The otter swims upstream for a bit, popping out several times as if to check on his audience. Then he climbs out on the ice and begins to groom his fur.

Bob Landis is set up in perfect position for this with his camera, as if he anticipated this very move (and he well may have, given his thousands of hours photographing these creatures). The otter seems to be performing just for him! He rolls and bites and stares at all of us, then rolls some more and finally dives back into the frigid water.

He pops up once more then swims to the burrow, where he glides out of sight once more.

I donít know if this burrow is new or I just never saw it before. As nice as it is to see otters, I am still wolfless on this trip!

I wish I knew where those darn Junction wolves were. Rick suspects they are in the trough area, which explains why we donít see them.

The snow has stopped and the sky looks much better. Again I see a mousing coyote in the flats south of mid-point.

As I pass Ranch I notice a particularly pretty sky phenomenon. Over Divide Ridge the thick snow clouds end and the open sky below them is a gorgeous color of turquoise, or even robinís egg blue, with thin, purply clouds stretched in ribbons beyond. I donít think Iíve ever seen that combination before. It actually looks like an abstract painting, not even real.

I scope from Aspen and find a coyote sitting on a hill looking downhill fairly intently. I want to know what itís looking at but I never find out. Eventually, the song dog get up and moves away, taking his secret with him.

From Boulder I find a mule deer near the bison ford, as well as elk & bison in the general area, I keep thinking to myself, the wolves are most likely to the west because the elk are there. There seem to be very few elk in Lamar, although they may be to the north or in the forest.

I stop at Elk Creek where I find Rick, Larry and Linda. We see several elk here and then proceed west to Hellroaring. Steve & Robin join us here; Yay! Itís always good to have them in the Park. And we say hello to Ilona & her husband, too.

Kara & Rick have already left for Bozeman. Rick is flying back to Michigan tomorrow AM but Kara will return to Gardiner in time to join us for dinner.

Iíve tried my best to convince Rick to come, too, but he begs off.

We gather again at the Childrenís Fire trail, deciding to try our luck here. The sun has come out, but itís still a normally chilly December day.

As soon as Larry puts up his scope he has wolves, running fast to the left. Whoa! He calls to the rest of us and tries to describe where heís looking. His scope is pointed almost directly south across the road, beyond and just west of the shoulder of South Butte.

There is a line of trees growing out of a snow-covered hill, then a gap, then more trees. The wolves are passing through the gap but we can only see them as they move past trunks and branches.

Finally! Wolves!

We are all watching intently, describing what we see for the benefit of each other. Steve says, they have two bull elk cornered in that area, and it immediately becomes clear that the wolves are indeed harassing these elk. The bulls are healthy, though, and we see them stand their ground. Several times we see them charge or stomp at the wolves, causing the wolves to flee or evade. This goes on for over a half hour. We do manage to help various visitors see them, although the sighting is rather difficult.

Then, quite helpfully, one gray and one black move to the right of the trees and bed down out in the open, which helps us show the wolves to first timers.

We are pretty sure we are watching Eight Mile wolves, but I donít know the individuals very well. Are these the alphas, or are they primarily pups who are still taunting the elk while the others bed?

At one point a black wolf is charged by one of the elk and choses to evade those sharp hooves by running quickly downslope. Once he gets down to the bottom, he seems to lose interest in going back up and proceeds to treat himself to a solo walkabout.

He fully emerges from the trees, making himself much easier to see and follow. He roams around various areas, sometimes wading through deep snow, sometimes seeming to follow a trail that perhaps his own pack made earlier today. He sniffs here and there, then circles around and heads back.

We speculate this black could be a pup.

While he is roaming, the back and forth between the elk and the other wolves continues sporadically. As the walkabout black gets closer to his starting point, the two bedded adults roll over and then get up. They stretch and move back to the group, but then we lose sight of them behind the trees.

For the next hour, the action kinds of fizzles and finally stops. We suspect they all have bedded out of sight. We can see the two elk, still standing, in basically the same place.

Nick has been with us for this sighting and I ask him if heíd like to take a walk up on the near slope of South Butte, to see if we can spot the bedded wolves. Heís game for it and we trudge through the snow. I bring a pole of course! Nick brings lunch. When we reach the crest, we find we do gain a better perspective, and a broader view of the area, but we do not find the wolves. We find instead, an additional bedded bull, further to the east.

After a while, I hike back down while Nick stays and scopes a bit longer. When I get back to the lot, Steve tells me he has one black wolf in view. It takes me a while but I finally find it. But we both discover it is virtually impossible to show it to visitors.

Itís now after 2:30 so I decide to head into Gardiner. I want to pick up some items at the grocery for tonightís dinner and get into my room at the Super 8 to freshen up.

And who should I meet in the hallway butÖBecky & Chloe! They have just arrived. I tell them Iím sure they are welcome at Bobís tonight but they have a Christmas Dinner tradition themselves at the Mammoth hotel and decide to stick with their plans.

Well, Iím glad to see them and I fill them in about the wolves Larry found from the Fire Trail. We make plans to scope from there in the morning.

I head on to Bobís (getting a little lost first). His house is spacious and comfortable. Linda made a great turkey (my favorite meal). Many people made many dishes and everyone helps.

There is an enormous amount of food and even more pie for desert!

Itís wonderful to get to talk to Bob at length for the first time in so many years. We discuss Ronanís arctic wolf film and several other topics. He shows some of us his trophy room and I see his gigantic Emmys. I tell him about my own experience, attending that ceremony several years ago.

Then we all pitch in for the clean-up.

I meet two new people, Umi, a Japanese student interested in wolves, and Rachel, an artist in residence at Bobís studio. Rachel is a photographer/writer who has not yet seen her first wolf. I tell her to look for us and we will help her achieve that milestone. I also volunteer to drive Umi back to her apartment near Jim Halfpennyís in Gardiner.

I feel very privileged to have such wonderful friends and to be part of a group of such open-hearted people. I get back to my snug little room at the Super 8, write my note to Laurie and hit the sack!

Today I saw: bison, coyotes, a mule deer, elk, a fox, two otters and at least 6 Eight Mile wolves (2 grays and 4 blacks) and the spirits of Allison & Richard

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