I leave a little early this morning because I want to snag a parking space in the tiny Soda Butte East pullout. As I head out I notice fox tracks in the driveway.
Itís unusually cold today; only 5 above zero. My front windows are frozen shut and I have to use my de-icer spray.
At Soda Butte East I luck out with a spot next to Rick. He says he has not seen any wolves yet. A visitor named Tom says he stayed late last night and that around 6:30 several wolves come down the hill to feed.
Laurie & Dan get the last space in the lot. Just after they arrive, 1109F appears, moving uphill from the hollow. She looks both pregnant AND really full. She disappears almost immediately into the forest.
But then she then emerges on a hill to the west, posing very nicely for us against the snow and flocked trees. She howls. I donít hear a response but I think she does, because she begins moving in a very determined way, heading west, back along the clear trail she was on yesterday.
I track her in my scope for a long while as she disappears and reappears along the tree line. Once she gets due north of SB Midpoint, the trail leads up into thick trees and I lose her.
As she is traveling, three more black wolves emerge, one at a time, from the hollow. Each of these look like pups to me; one kind of mocha, one dark black and husky and the third is the collared black female pup, 1229. As they reach the top of the hill, they each begin to follow 1109ís trail, noses down all the way, scent trailing.
The last to emerge, 1229, spies a coyote and charges after it as she heads up the hill. But she doesnít pursue it and the coyote gets away. Laurie believes these three could be 1109ís pups. In the fall, three black pups were seen with her regularly for about a month, hanging out in the Druid R-V while the rest of the pack roamed elsewhere. 1109 has a habit of staying apart from the main pack to avoid being pinned and dominated all the time.
The three pups are easy to follow because they are black against the snow and using a clear trail, so itís easy to predict where they will disappear and reappear again. There are three distinct open slopes on this route that offer great viewing from here.
The mocha pup is the first one to head west. When he reaches the third open slope, he begins to run. Next the dark, husky pup begins to run from his position in the second opening. At this point I pack up and drive west for a better view at a bigger pullout.
When I get here, the mocha pup is already out of sight and the husky pup is running quite fast across the third opening. The collared female has just started to run across the first opening. These two are really hustling. It looks to me like they know their pack is already far ahead of them and they already know what it is to be left behind.
It appears that the rest of the pack has already left the area and that 1109 and her pups were the last to feed. I think about this as I watch the collared female pup disappear into the forest, where the others have already gone.
Laurie & Dan and I move to Footbridge hoping they will remain on the well-established route from east to west through the old Druid Den area. Itís just a guess on our part, but if they use that route, we might see them again.
Around 9:30 we hear howling, many voices, from the old Druid/Lamar Canyon den forest, so itís clear that the Pack is up there. Itís just wonderful to hear and brings back many memories of other sightings. Despite people searching from various lookouts, no one catches any movement.
After an hour I give up and go further west. I drive slowly through the Confluence area, hoping for otter. I see lots of tracks along the ice but none are made by otters. These are geese and coyote tracks.
On the steep confluence hill, instead of the usual bighorn rams, it's covered with bison!
The heat of the sun makes the wet road start steaming again. I find myself driving through wisps of thin fog, like Iím in a movie approaching a haunted house. Even this late in the day there are lingering wisps along the river.
I stop at Picnic and look to the north, at the western end of the ledge trail, hoping to spy the Junctions. I donít find wolves but I see Druid Peak ringed in cloud, which is entirely appropriate. There is amazing beauty all around, everywhere I look.
I go as far as Tower and fill up my car. On the way back I scope from every pullout, mostly looking north, hoping to find the Junctions again. They are certainly somewhere, but apparently, not in view.
Around 1PM I return to the Soda Butte East lot. A bald eagle is perched imperiously in a tall snag. Coyotes and ravens come and go, having their turn at the carcass.
A fox, perhaps the same one we saw yesterday, crosses the road from the south, aiming straight for the hollow, thrilling some photographers.
Welp, Iíve had another great day with the Junction wolves, and a three-dog day at that.
I decide to head in early and drive back to Silver Gate.
Today I saw: bison, coyotes, a fox, 4 Junction wolves (1109F, 1229F, a husky pup and a mocha pup) and the spirits of Allison & Richard