DAY ONE - Saturday, December 5

A HOWLING HELLO

I leave Bozeman at 11:30 where itís a pleasant 31 degrees.

There is a nice topping of snow on the craggy peaks through Paradise Valley but the lower slopes are bare and golden.

I see a few mule deer in a field near Jackieís old driveway.

By the time I reach Gardiner itís warmed up to 41. The corner where the fire happened has now been levelled to an empty lot with fencing all around.

The main gate is still under construction. It looks like the main entry kiosk will be twice the size of the old one, plus there will be two additional smaller gates.

I have a nice visit with Allison. There is a bit more snow in Mammoth than I expected and the campground is partly full. I even see some tents!

The Blacktail ponds are iced over and covered with snow. There are tracks on top and I see a single coyote out there with the bison.

At Hellroaring I see lots of cars so I pull in. I greet Laurie & Dan, Scott W and Jeff M. I also say hello to the winter study crew; Jeremy and Maddie. Taylor is also on the crew but she is off today.

As I set up my scope I listen to the tale of the day. The Junctions are still in view, bedded to the northeast near Little Buffalo. I can make out nine individuals, six black and 3 gray. They successfully hunted a bison up there, early this morning.

Additional wolves (6) were also seen earlier, which are now somewhere to the west having only recently moved out of sight. It is not known whether these wolves are Carnelians or Eight Mile. The color combination suggests Carnelian.

After a good look at the Junctions, I decide to try looking for the other wolves from a spot further west. When I park and turn off the engine I hear howling. Several voices, and judging from the direction, likely coming from the group of 6.

Itís a beautiful sound, especially since there is no one else around. But then I get a surprise. There is an answering howl, and this group is huge, lots and lots of voices. But itís not the Junctions - this answering howl comes from the southwest! Oh, itís gorgeous! The responses go back and forth, over and over I am just thrilled to listen to them.

I suspect the return howl is coming from the Eight Mile pack. This gorgeous lupine conversation goes on for almost 15 minutes! Itís utterly magical and a GREAT way to start my trip! I even record some of it.

I drive further west, trying to find the howlers but I come up empty. So, I return to Hellroaring where I discover that the large chorus is the Eight Miles pack. But the group of six has now moved enough for Jeremy to get signals and now we know they are also Eight Miles, just bedded on the opposite side of the road from the rest of the pack.

The light is now beginning to fade so Laurie & Dan and I head east. Jeff heads west back to Gardiner but when he gets to Christmas Bear he calls over the radio. The Eight Miles are howling again and in view!

So we turn around and go back.

Unfortunately by the time I get to Christmas Bear, several other cars have stopped and some of their occupants dashed up a close hill in an attempt to see the wolves better. Their doing so only succeeded in stopping the wolvesí progress towards the road. They Eight Miles have now retreated to the treeline and are out of sight.

Some of the people are very apologetic, not realizing that their choice ended up ruining the sighting. Iím glad they understand now, though, and will perhaps think twice next time.

I now head back east.

A pretty sunset begins. At Floating Island Lake several elk are in view, and a sweet coyote crosses the road near Curve lot.

At Round Prairie a bit of fog appears, which is both a little spooky and a little nice.

I arrive in Silver Gate in the dark (itís just 6PM). It seems to take me forever to unload but once Iím inside Dan makes a fire and we all have a nice visit.

Today I saw: bison, coyotes, mule deer, elk, 9 Junction wolves (plus lots of Eight Mile howling) and the spirits of Allison and Richard.

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