DAY ONE - Thursday, September 3

SEPTEMBER SERENITY

Itís a hazy day today as I set off for Yellowstone.

My goal is to see wolves, in particular the Junction puppies, which are now nearly 6 months old.

My friends Barb, Missy & Andy are already in the Park; I hope to be watching wolves with them later this evening.

I have not driven the Pass since June when everything was bright green so itís a very different view that greets me. There is some nice fall color and some hills are already fully golden.

I decide to take Trail Creek for the sake of variety. Itís a bit rutted but not too bad, and the gorgeous scenery makes it completely worth it. There are lots of horses along the way, including a beautiful appaloosa.

In Gardiner I get my first look at the devastating fire that broke out in mid-July. Oh, itís so sad! There is a fence around the destroyed buildings. There is a lot of rubble and a few remaining parts of a wall. And to add to the mess, the Park has started a major construction project here at the North Gate. Looks like they are adding several kiosks. So, right now, itís all very unsightly.

At Rescue creek I see several cars and people stopped to admire some elk. A big bull is the main attraction. Heís fit and gorgeous. As I drive through Gardiner canyon I am flooded with memories of long ago September trips. These beautiful golden meadows fill me with nostalgia.

Mammoth campground is FULL of RVs. I donít see a single tent. In usual times, Iíd say itís about half & half. Not this year!

I have my visit with Allison and then head east. The day has already warmed up to 79 degrees!

I head into Little America and see a limping bison following a herd. And there is one ďnewĒ bison calf, a very late arrival.

As I travel through this beautiful country, I reflect on what Iíve been through since June. The dread of the early days of Covid; the constant, daily (in fact hourly) stress, the impending doom, knowing I would have to close for good Ė all that is finally starting to fade. Yellowstone has always been healing for me.

I check the osprey nest in Lamar Canyon. I see a single juvenile but donít find the parents.

I enjoy the welcome beauty of the Lamar and Soda Butte Valleys all the way to Silver Gate. I unload and relax for a bit. Ahhhhh! Around 5:30 I head back to the Park, aiming for Slough and hopefully some puppy viewing.

I set up on Bobís Knob and follow Missyís advice to check the flats on either side of Marge. And I find a wolf! In fact, three of them, all pups; one gray and two blacks.

Wow, they are so much bigger than when I saw them last!

We scope together but far enough apart, assigning names to certain features so we can reference them to each other: a big clump of willows, a fallen log, etc.

After a while more wolves appear from behind the willows, where perhaps they were bedded. Our count rises to 5, then 7. They are not doing much, just wandering here and there.

Itís nice to have wolves in relatively close view and the area offers a great deal of wild beauty but one problem with this spot in the evening is that you are looking right into the setting sun. So unless the day is cloudy, itís a bit tricky. And tonight we have haze to deal with, too.

But we manage, because we love to watch wolves!

They remain bedded for a while but then suddenly all 7 jump up and rush toward the willows. A collared gray (907F) arrives and is swarmed by the puppies. She lowers her head and gives them a feeding.

Once she leaves, I watch three black puppies tug on the same morsel.

A bull bison wanders through the flats and the pups give him a wide berth.

Then suddenly more wolves appear, raising our count to 10. They are all wary of the bull, and itís good they are, because he seems to be deliberately antagonizing them. The wolves step aside and let him pass.

We notice that numerous folk (including some without binoculars) walk out from the knob into the rolling hills to get closer. Missy says this happens in the morning, too, but that a Ranger told her they are not really as close to the wolves as they look. Hmmm, I know itís not illegal to do this; just ill-advised. But there is not much that can be done. And, in truth, the wolves donít seem to react to the people being there.

A little later, I notice 4 pups near the fallen tree looking intently into the willows. Then they all rush forward. A minute later a large black wolf emerges from those willows and the rest of the pups run his way. He lowers his head and gives another feeding.

Happy pups!

Itís still quite warm at 70 degrees. Iím in Tevas and a light shirt. We smile at each other, declaring ourselves very happy with this viewing.

At around 8:30 we call it a night. As I drive east, I am struck by the long, steady stream of headlights heading west as I go east. We have to stop a few times for bison jams, but thatís normal.

Today I saw: bison, elk, an osprey chick, 11 Junction wolves including 907, a large black adult and at least 9 pups (7/2) and the spirits of Allison and Richard.

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