Iím out at 5:50 Ė itís 12 degrees. There was frost overnight but my trusty frost blocker blocked it!
Itís a cool and crisp morning, with a fingernail of a moon.
I find Mark & Carol & Rick at Hitching Post. I join them out on the rolling hills. We find a coyote asleep near the carcass. And we find two moose in the willows next to us. You canít see them from the road so itís a nice reward for hiking out.
A lovely sunrise has begun; peach & yellow are featured today, whereas yesterdayís was pink and blue.
We pass Dorothyís and head into Lamar Canyon. But on the other side, my radio crackles. Itís Bob L from Slough. Heís found the Junctions.
We join several cars already here. The Junctions have moved to Specimen! They are in a wide meadow above Crystal Rock just before I locate the wolves I see a fox, which takes off fast to the east.
1229F is leading a group of 15 wolves, including the alphas. With Laurieís help I manage to identify the alphas, 907F and 1048M, 1272M (gray pup), 1275 (black yearling) 1276F (black) and the thin gray pup with mange.
Despite his condition, this gray seems full of vim and vigor.
As the wolves climb, I notice three bull elk watching them from a distance above. The elk stand with their backs to a small stand of trees as if they are trying to hide. From my viewpoint they are quite visible, but I think they are camouflaged from the wolvesí perspective. In any case, the wolves do not seem to notice them, so it looks like the elkís strategy worked.
They stall out and give us a lovely howl session. To our surprise and delight we hear a response coming from the north, in roughly the Southern Round Tree area. I suppose a few Junctions got left behind.
The larger group gets up and continues southeast. Fairly soon we lose them in the forest that leads to upper Crystal drainage. Itís likely theyíll be visible on the Lamar side, so most of us pack up and head east.
Mark is the first to find them from Coyote pullout. I pull in a few moments later. They are at the back of Jasper Bench. It is such a thrill to see so many wolves appear out of the trees on a snowy slope.
They move steadily east in front of the treeline, past the circular aspen forest. 2 year old 1229F is leading (as she often does). She takes a route into the open, and they follow in a long line, crossing the saddle between Jasper and Amethyst. She gets way out ahead and spies a coyote. She starts to chase it but gives up quite quickly. The coyote dashes downslope and escapes. None of the others follow her.
1229F turns around and moves back to the group. They start off again aiming for the forest along the edge of upper Amethyst drainage. We will lose them pretty soon.
Once they go out of sight into the trees we pack up and move again. Some go to the Ranch and some to YES. I choose Mid-point, which proves a lucky choice.
I pick them up again running downhill in deep snow, aiming for the vast white snow of the flats. Oh, man, what a beautiful sight! Fifteen wolves running through untouched snow. A few go all the way to the flats while others stall out on the old river bank. 1229F goes even further.
The alpha female finds time to pin 1276 a bit. The other adults rest while the youngsters begin to plat. 1229 finds a black to pin, displaying her candidacy for future alpha status.
After about 15 minutes of play and exploration, the pack settles down to bedding spots. They rest in two groups, clearly visible to anyone in a pullout from Trash Can to Dorothyís.
Laurie tells me that 1109 seems to still be in the Druid den area. I ask if Mollie 1239 is still about but sheís not.
Since our wolves are likely to be bedded for a while, some of us take a side trip to Hitching Post to look for 1109 in case she is visiting the small carcass. But we find only coyotes.
I get back to mid-point around 11AM, just in time to see the Junctions begin a howl session and then a rally. They start to move east, but donít go far. They simply find new bedding spots and settle down again.
Laurie & I think they know the other wolves are around, and this is a territory check.
We head east for a break. As I pass Picnic, I see a pair of coyotes on the north side. Oh! One of them has a bad hind-leg limp. Aww, poor thing. I am hoping the injury is survivable and glad he/she has a buddy nearby.
I return around 3PM I find the crew set up at the Ranch. The Junctions are still bedded in the same general area, but are now in one large group on a single hilltop.
We lay bets as to when they will get up to move and I pick 4:30. At 4:20 the pups and yearlings get restless and give us a great show. They treat us to more than a half hour of wonderful, varied play. Three gray pups play chase with each other while three black pups do the same. Then the two groups converge, bouncing rambunctiously against each other.
Two rear up and seem to box each other. A different black pup explores on his/her own and ends up catching a vole. Others run and slide in the snow. Itís just joyous to watch.
I notice eternally restless 1229F as she heads downslope. She seems to want to go east. Iíll bet she wants to check out the ďother wolvesĒ smell. She stops, though, because no one is following. In fact, the pups are still playing.
After a minute or two, she seems to give up and she returns to the group.
Around 5PM, 1272M (gray pup) starts to move west and uphill. To my surprise, I realize that a long line of wolves is following him, basically retracing their route back into the trees.
As the long line enters the forest, I look back to the bedding hill. 1048M, the alpha pair and 907F are still there. The alpha female rises and moves over to 907F. She gets up.
Finally, all four set off after the others. 1048M is last in line and 907F is ahead of him. He passes her pretty soon and she becomes trailer.
We move to Dorothyís. Taylor finds them almost immediately, on a snowy slope beyond the trees. They climb a ski-slope flank of Amethyst, going quite high. A single bison is bedded up there. He stands as they approach but they ignore him.
Up, up, up they go, across several shallow drainages, looking like ants, now. They begin to climb a very steep slope that seems to have an overhanging cornice at the top. It turns out that this was just a trick of the light, because the wolves are not deterred at all; in fact, most of them climb the slope at a run!
They each seem to pick their own route, though, rather than following in a line. The slope is indeed very steep but it sure doesnít bother them. When the leaders gain the top, they bolt off even faster, as if pursuing prey.
But not 907F. She stops at the top and beds down for a rest. She turns 8 years old in a month!
The ones that bolted return, so whatever they were chasing got away. They mill around near 907. I am astonished that the majority of them do not seem winded at all from that climb!
This slope is another ski-slope ridge of Amethyst, but itís much wider than the others. Quite a ways below the wolves, on the same slope, is a herd of bison, about 75 strong. I would love to stay a while to see what develops, but the light is fading fast. Itís 6PM and you know I donít like to drive in the dark.
I pack up and head to Silver Gate but I leave my radio on. Sure enough, right as Iím passing Picnic, Joe calls to say the wolves are heading downhill, going for the bison.
Well, perhaps they will be dining on bison steak when I come out in the morning!
Today I saw: bison, coyotes, a bald eagle, elk, a fox, 2 moose, 15 Junction wolves (including alphas, 907F, 1048M, 1229F, 1272M, 1275M,
1276F, and many others, and the spirits of Allison and Richard.