DAY THREE - Thursday, October 29


More frost on the windshield this morning and a bit of wispy fog on the way down.

There is more fog in Lamar; in fact a long thick cloud hovers above the flats between the Ranch and Dorothys.

I continue to Slough and set up next to Doug in the current favorite spot. We have howling right away. Doug soon finds a black and a gray on what we call Rendezvous Hill.

A second gray (the gray male) appears from the south and joins the other two. They greet him with enthusiasm, so I figure they are both pups.

Doug grins and says that seeing the Junctions so regularly during the last few months makes him feel like the old days are back again! And I agree!

Jeremy and Taylor join us. I ask about the rest of the pack. J says they are likely up on Specimen, perhaps in the upper Tower area. He thinks it might be hard to find them today. I tell him about Dale & Faye’s sighting last night.

He agrees that all fits. He adds that another of the collared elk he is tracking has died, so he and Taylor will have to go find it in order to “process it”.

Dan and Laurie radio from Elk Creek. Larry & Linda are there, and Larry has found the Junctions.

We all pack up and migrate there. Along the way I pass a maintenance crews putting in snow poles along the road. Those are so helpful during bad weather and deep snow, I call out my thanks to them.

The Elk Creek lot is already full so I go on to the upper lot and hike back. Luckily, I am not too late. But the wolves are on Specimen and the sun has just risen, which makes it an almost impossible spot.

It’s also approximately five miles away, so that is a really l o n g look!

But I do see tiny black specs moving across the snowy landscape. Laurie says they have a carcass, lower down the slope than the moving dots, in a section of snow-covered sage. I can see a dark smudge there.

As my eyes become accustomed to the difficult view I see movement near the smudge and eventually recognize two wolf shapes, each standing broadside with their heads rising and falling as they feed on opposite sides of the smudge.

As the sun climbs, the view gets better and better. I now see two additional wolves walking up the snowy hill above the sage. Above these two I see more wolf shapes bedded in a messy horizontal line.

After a bit of patient scanning, my count climbs to 15. Larry had 18 total.

Soon I notice two additional wolves, both gray, in an area to the left of the others. These grays are walking in and out of a gully lined with willows or small shrubs. They seem interested in something in this gully. It looks like they are feeding, so I ask if perhaps they have a second carcass here? No one really knows but I propose that perhaps this is the location of an old carcass of theirs, one that still has tasty tidbits.

Then I see a grizzly! Woo hoo! Larry says there were two earlier. This one is on the sage carcass, atop the “smudge”, head down, feeding.

Wow. I find it fascinating that we are STILL seeing grizzlies hanging around these wolves. It makes complete sense that certain bears have learned to follow the wolves to get free meals. But it’s still new to me and I’m happy to see them.

The activity slows a bit and I scan around to familiarize myself with the area. I discover a spot that I recognize as one I’ve seen from the road in Little America. Chloe calls it “The Cut”. Jeremy prefers the term “The Pass”, since to him, the “Cut” is a different spot visible from Antelope.

It’s directly south of Straightaway pullout. It’s a V-shaped indentation in the skyline of Specimen Ridge, used by various species as a route up to the top. I have seen various trails going up through that indentation.

From the top of “The Pass”, the landscape seems fairly flat, like a mesa. And it’s quite open and snow-covered.

I pan back and forth across the area, getting to know this new piece of wolf territory. It’s another addition to my list of “where I have seen wolves before”.

Mark and Carol continue to report from Dave’s Hill while we keep them informed from here. They still have the same Junction threesome in the Slough area, two grays and a black.

A small band of elk emerges near The Pass and a few young wolves decide to chase them. The elk outrun them easily. Mark and Carol have been scanning Specimen from Daves and get a glimpse of these running wolves from their position.

They see 7 wolves which makes sense from our angle. Once the wolves give up on the elk I watch them return, each at their own speed. They certainly seem to be enjoying the sunshiny day.

I hear coyotes howling to the west. It takes little effort to find them because they are close to the road, at the base of a tree. They seem to be gnawing on something here. Oh! I remember that spot! That’s where a road-killed elk ended up. It was fresh two weeks ago when I headed out at the end of my trip. I bet coyotes visit old carcasses just like wolves do.

Around 10:45 the Junctions begin a group howl of their own. Alas, we can’t hear it but we do see their noses pointed to the sky.

Mark and Carol report that they hear it from Slough! They also report an answering howl, a lone voice, not from the threesome but coming from further west, perhaps in the Boulder area. Carol says the Slough threesome seem to hear it, too.

Perhaps a pup got stuck on the north side of the road when the pack crossed last evening?

Shortly after this lone howl is heard, Carol reports that the Slough threesome rouse themselves and head west, in the direction of the lone howler. Of course, I hope the gray male will find the lost pup and lead them all to the others.

Around 11AM and the activity slows down and the Junctions on Specimen are mostly bedded. Even the bear has bedded – on top of the carcass! I suggest to Laurie that we go to Boulder to help find the lone howler.

Once we get to Boulder, it’s easy to find the poor lost pup because he keeps howling and howling. It’s just west of Buffalo Ford, one of the black pups. He trots a few dozen feet, then stops and howls. Then he goes a few dozen more feet, stops and howls again. Then he turns and goes the opposite direction, howling yet again.

He stops and stares to the east. It looks like he hears (or smells) something that interests him. Then he sets off to the east with purpose. As he goes behind a hill, I pan ahead to guess where he might come out again. I see two bull bison on the next knob, grazing peacefully. The young wolf appears behind and slightly above the big bulls. He seems to notice them and moves a few feet closer, behind a large boulder as if to take a closer look at them.

As the pup emerges in front of the boulder the bison suddenly bolt away downhill, as if Godzilla were after them. The pup dashes off in the opposite direction! After a bit he stops and looks back as if asking “what just happened?”.

The bison have regrouped, and honestly they look a bit embarrassed, realizing they were fooled by the likes of a lone pup. The wolf stares at them, too, then heads east again.

I joke to Laurie that once this pup finds his family again, he is gonna tell them how he scared the #&%@ out of these two big bulls, leaving out the part about scaring himself!

I track the pup as he continues east, back towards Slough but he goes out of sight all too soon.

Jeremy and Taylor arrive, having found and processed the dead elk. They were a bit nervous when they found the animal because it was only half consumed. They were on their toes the whole time, hoping neither a lion nor a bear was nearby.

There were cat tracks all over the area. And when they came down the trail they met some people who had hiked earlier today and saw a cougar run across the path.

I am very glad they managed to do their work and get back safely.

A few of us gather (distanced) in the lot while Jeremy does a presentation. He shows us the elk leg, complete with hide and hoof, a section of bone with marrow inside, and the elk’s collar.

Next, he pulls out a wolf pelt, complete with feet and toes, while answering many questions. He seems to especially enjoy this part of his job.

The day has turned quite warm and we have no more wolves in view so it’s time to head back east.

As I pass the Ranch I spy a coyote mousing in the flats to the south.

I also notice that the sage is beginning to poke through the snow. The sun is strong out here.

On the north side of Round Prairie, I spot a bull moose in the tall willows. He thinks he’s hiding but I can see him!

Then I see a pretty red fox mousing in a meadow to the south just before Thunderer, so I get my three-dog day!

I have a break and a rest in Silver Gate. Laurie & Dan decide to stay in tonight but Kathie and I decide to meet at Elk Creek at 5PM.

I leave around 4PM. On my way west I see a squirrel dash across the road and I have a pair of coyotes mousing near Trash Can.

At Elk Creek Kathie and I get right to work. We are soon joined by a friendly newbie named John, who has very good eyes. And we find the Junctions, right where we left them.

I see the same dark smudge in the sage that I now know is the carcass. Above it, on the open snow slope, a single black wolf is playing by itself, tossing something in the air repeatedly as he bounds down the hill.

Above the playful wolf is a line of rocks and that we are 90% sure are bedded wolves. I am about to ask Kathie if she remembers a line of rocks from this morning when…one of the rocks sits up and becomes a wolf.

A few minutes later, every single one of those rocks turns into a wolf! Even more wolves begin to emerge from the right of the big boulder.

And here comes a grizzly!

4 or 5 wolves gather around the bear to escort him down the hill middle of the hill. One or two manage a quick butt nip to hurry him on his way.

The bear doesn’t like that and sits down. I think this is “friend bear” who thinks he is part of the pack. Despite the nips, the bear doesn’t leave. He sticks around, moving just enough to avoid the nips.

The wolves eventually lose interest in the bear and start to wander around and explore. Then the howling begins and several of the explorers rush back up hill to join a rally, full of wagging tails and body slamming.

My high count is 22 including 6 grays. After the rally, some wolves begin to escort friend bear further down and to the west. Then I notice movement near the “smudge”. Well, it’s the second bear. I think it just got up, that it was sacked out on top of the carcass all afternoon.

Around 6PM we check in by radio with Mark & Carol who are up on Daves Hill again. They report that the threesome has been replaced by a lone black wolf, howling its head off. Oh no! It’s probably the same pup we saw howling from Boulder earlier today. Poor thing. Looks like the gray male did not find him after all.

Some of the wolves on Specimen begin to run towards the pass and we think they might be heading downhill. Carol can see them from Dave’s. She and Mark count at least nine running down the trail, but then they stall out.

I see several wolves re-emerge from the pass, romping playfully across the slope. They aim for the carcass where smudge-bear is still eating. They surround the big bruin but cannot dislodge him.

So, they give and start to explore to the south. There are still several wolves higher than this group, roaming in and out of the gully. It’s a pretty active sighting.

But I don’t like to drive in the dark so I pack up and drive back east. I am still hoping to find the threesome or the lone pup in Little America. As I round the corner by Rick’s pullout, I am amazed at the rising Halloween moon, looming huge and bright in the east. Wow, it looks fantastic!

I look for wolves at Boulder and at Straightaway but I don’t find them, nor do I hear any howling. Instead I get some great photos of the spectacular moon.

Today I saw: 2 grizzlies, bison, coyotes, elk, a fox, a moose, a squirrel, 22 wolves of the Junction Pack and the spirits of Allison & Richard.

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