There is an inch or so of powdery snow on the car this morning. Itís 24 degrees and still overcast.
I set off at 6:30, driving through Gardiner in the dark, with a light snow falling. Itís a good way to appreciate the home-style Christmas lights displayed in this small town.
A snowshoe hare crosses the road ahead of me as I wind up the road towards Undine. I see a single car at S Curves and pull in. Itís Susan and Reve!
We have a merry hello and I offer the last of my cookies. We listen for howling and check the carcass area, but nothing is happening. They move on to Hellroaring while I wait for Larry & Linda, scoping the beautiful country as the light grows.
But at 7:20 I decide to move on to Hellroaring myself.
Unfortunately, the snow has become heavier. It pretty much obstructs our visibility from here. There is radio chatter but nothing seems to be going on anywhere. Hmmm.
Larry & Linda arrive. They got a late start this morning. They tell me Steve & Robin are leaving today which I didnít know. I am doubly sorry to have missed them last evening.
After a half hour, the snow lets up a bit and we go back to serious scoping. Rick arrives and we chat a bit. He decides to go further west while the rest of us stay here.
We find lots of bison and a few elk but no wolves. I canít believe Iím gonna be skunked two days in a row! Then a miracle happens and Unit 9 calls from Elk Creek. Heís found the Junctions!
We pack up and head east.
I stop at Elk Creek and Carl gives me directions. I find them bedded on a rounded snow-covered hill, east of Junction Lake. The parking here is precarious and I am pretty certain the wolves can be seen from other pullouts to the west which offer better parking.
I end up by myself at Rickís pullout. I find the rounded hill easily, and realize that this view is a tad closer, too, so I radio that this is good, so that people have options.
The wolves are all bedded but they seem restless. Several are on their haunches and one is up walking around.
This hill is north of the Yellowstone; east of Junction Lake and the two crumbly basalt cliffs and west of the Lamar confluence.
The sky to the west is cloudy but things are brightening up around me. I see several wolves stand up together and walk to the western side of the hill, looking down. They are interested in something, but I canít tell what.
Then more wolves get up and many start to run across the hill and down to the west, while other wolves suddenly rush off east. I count 22 with 6 grays.
I notice a large black wolf below the hill to the west moving towards the hill, and I suppose this animal is what the others saw, perhaps one of their own returning from a jaunt, or arriving late. At the same time, the wolves that ran east are apparently chasing big horn sheep.
Another unit reports that the view is good from Boulder so Rick heads there. A couple drive up and stop, calling out ďdo you see any wolves?Ē
I smile and say ďyesĒ. They say ďwhere?Ē. I say ďright hereĒ and suggest they pull in behind me. They are from Idaho Falls. They decided to spend the day in the Park and are thrilled to see wolves.
At the moment there are few left on the rounded hill. Some are to the east coming back from chasing bighorn, but there are 10 wolves in good view on a lower snowy hill.
These 10 have just greeted the returning black. After a while, most of these, including the returning black go back up to the original hill to bed, joined by others coming back from their sheep-chasing adventure.
Now I see a single black moving west by itself in a fairly casual way, more exploring than travelling. As this single adventurer gets further and further away, other wolves begin to follow, one by one, in the same casual way.
I count six separate wolves following the intrepid black, slowly making their way towards Junction Lake.
Rick comes back from Boulder and sets up here. We watch the group wandering towards Junction Lake, chatting about the state of the world and various other topics.
Bob L drives up and says the group of wolves that were chasing sheep ended up in good view from the bridge. He got some nice footage and several carloads of visitors were very happy to see them, too!
The explorer black reaches the Lake and wanders around the area a while. More and more wolves from the original hill are now following, in a sort of dum de dum way, sniffing here and there. They stop often to sit a while or greet other wolves.
A small group gathers at the east end of the lake and has a mini-rally. Then these move to a little knoll at the west end of the lake. After a bit of meandering around, most of them disappear behind the knoll. I can see heads and ears and an occasional tail. I suspect there could be as many as 10 wolves there.
The adventurous black starts up the sage hill towards the little basalt cliff. I figure the others will follow but when they donít and I lose track of the leader. Itís now 11:30 and Iíve had a wonderful two hours of wolf watching. I think itís time to head back.
I stop at the big lot and say my farewells. Linda gives me a tasty treat for later tonight!
I say goodbye to Allison and head north. On my way through Paradise Valley I see a herd of mule deer where yesterday I had seen elk.
Today I saw: bison, coyotes, mule deer, elk, a snowshoe hare, 22 Junction wolves and the spirits of Allison and Richard.