DAY TWO - Friday, February 19

PRODIGAL DAUGHTER

Iím out at 6:15 and find a bit of snow on the car. Itís easy to get off, though, and the car warms up as I load my gear. Itís 16 degrees.

At the Mammoth carcass there are only 3 cars, but a gold van is so poorly parked no one else can get in. I continue east hoping to meet up with Susan and Reve. Instead, I see Jeremy parked at Floating Island Lake so I hop out and get the morningís scoop. Wapiti are in the area, to the south. Jeremy knows about the bison carcass at Elk Creek, and believes they have fed on it.

As we continue east all the pullouts anywhere near Elk Creek are jammed full of cars. The Wapitis always draw a crowd, and this carcass is unusually close to the road. I recognize Julie A and stop to say hello and ask her for news. She says a single black was seen before dawn and has already left. Despite all the cars and watchers, nothing is on the carcass right now.

Nevertheless, the Wapitis are likely still somewhere to the south, so I join others at Ski Lot to help search for them.

After about a half hour, Rick gets a report of ďsomethingĒ at Boulder. I do not catch the details but decide to just follow him. There is no one at Boulder but I start to see cars in the lots ahead. Boulder Pond looks full so I grab a spot just west of it.

I hop out and follow the line of scopes and find what the people are seeing: a collared gray, bedded in the snowy sage about half way between the road and the Peregrine Hills. To my great delight, this wolf turns out to be 1228F, who has been away from her pack (Junction Butte) for almost two months. It is generally assumed she was looking for a mate.

I know from the daily reports that less than a week ago she was seen on the Blacktail, injured. So, I am not alone in being glad to see her back in her home territory.

Apparently, a visitor saw two grays this morning near Tower Junction, traveling east. The second gray already moved behind Peregrine Hill by the time I arrived.

I canít help but wonder if these are the same two grays I saw briefly yesterday. I think itís quite likely that they are.

1228F remains bedded in view for over an hour. Around 9:00AM she gets up and begins to move north. This offers us all a good chance to assess her condition. I see a mark on her left flank but no blood. And she seems to move just fine, no limp or hesitation. Taylor has set up near me and she agrees. We are very relieved and begin to entertain a hope that she will find the rest of the Junctions and re-join them.

She goes out of sight on the west flank of the Peregrines. I drive back west and stop at Boulder, hoping to find the second gray. As soon as Iím out of the car I hear a lone wolf howl coming from the north. Itís too far west to be 1228F so my guess is that itís coming from her companion.

I scope a while longer but donít hear the howl again and never find the wolf. I pack up, intending to go back west in hopes of seeing Wapitis. But then the radio crackles with unexpected news. Yellowstone guide Emil has found the Junctions!

I turn back east and head for Dorothyís.

Happily, I arrive in time. They are up on Specimen Ridge, one level down from skyline on a triangle-shaped snowy slope. When I first catch movement, the wolves are traveling down the left side of the triangle. Some have already stopped to bed and others begin to join them. They are well above Jasper Bench.

I count 15 and suspect there are more.

The day has turned clear and sunny, which is so welcome!

Rick arrives and I am able to help him locate the pack. The pullout fills up with happy wolf-watchers and we enjoy the sighting. The pack is now bedded but there are so many pups and yearlings, several are bound to be restless, so there is usually movement of some kind to watch.

I spend the next two hours happily watching with Jeremy, Dylan, Taylor and Rick. Around 11:15 they have a rally that morphs into a bigger one, then an even bigger one. They head downhill, with one of my current favorites, black wolf 1229F, leading the way.

Taylor and I especially enjoy some really gorgeous views of them moving through deep snow on the knife edge of a ridge, kicking up a delicate snow spray which the wind curls over their heads.

Thanks to their traveling in a nice long line, I get a high count of 25, moving steadily east. (Jeremy counted 27) They stall out for a while near a double trunked tree, then continue. They seem to be aiming for the forested slopes on the ďbackĒ side of Amethyst, which means we are about to lose them.

I change my location to the Ranch to try to find them again, but I donít. I think if I had tried Mid-Point I might have found them but it would only have been a brief glimpse. They have now disappeared.

Itís just 11:45 so I continue east to see more of Lamar.

I drive all the way to Round Prairie where I turn around. No moose up here but itís awfully pretty. There are many big horns grazing the slopes opposite Hitching Post.

I stop at Dorothyís again, but the Junctions are not in sight.

Eventually I continue west and stop again at the big Ski Lot, where I intended to look for Wapitis. Instead, I end up dozing off! Once I wake up I go back to Boulder and scope from there a while. Unbeknownst to me, Taylor returned to Lamar around 3:45 and found the Junctions again.

A light snow begins to fall so I head back west.

At 5:42 the temp starts to drop. My last sighting of the day is several mule deer in the Mammoth campground.

I get to the Super 8 at 6PM and hit the hay.

Today I saw: bison, coyotes, mule deer, elk, four bighorn rams, 26 Junction wolves including 1228F, 1229F (and many others), and the spirits of Allison and Richard.

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