Itís a chilly but normal 19 degrees at 6AM this morning. Just a bit of frost overnight.
I drive in hoping the Junctions will still be visible in Lamar.
When I get to Round Prairie, however, I find fog and then it begins to snow. It continues all through Soda Butte Valley. At the Confluence it begins to dissipate and by the time I pass Trash Can, it has stopped altogether.
I find no crew here, though, until I get to Fishermanís.
I pull in and join the group. All scopes are pointed northeast. The Junctions are bedded on the top of Cardiac Hill, a few hilltops west of where we left them last evening.
They are all bedded and it seems that many of them are pretending to be rocks.
The crew has counted all 15 but I only see 8. Around 7AM they give us a very nice howl.
Itís not a great sighting because they are so far away but Iíll take it! The crew believes they likely made a kill last night and are sleeping off their meal.
While watching bedded wolves we also find two groups of coyotes near the shale forest, howling back and forth to each other, and a single elk on skyline, standing in the same spot for over an hour, staring at the wolves.
After a couple of hours, I decide to take a side trip to Tower for gas and to try to find the other Junction group or perhaps 1154ís group.
Driving through Little America I notice how low the snow level is, with sage poking through all over. This is turning out to be a very low snow year.
I stop at Elk Creek and both Lower & Upper Hellroaring. I find no wolves but at Lower I notice a small group of bison. They are running, as if escaping something. Of course I hope itís wolves but it turns out to be the cluster crew on skis.
Belatedly I notice the white government pickup again, confirming my guess.
I return to Fishermanís and ask Jeremy to quiz me on the most recently collared Junctions. He helps me figure out how to remember who is who, and clears up which former Junctions tend to stay with Gray Male and 1154ís group. Some of them, all young, are fairly casual about pack loyalty and spend time with both groups.
We have a lively conversation about several topics. I have always enjoyed the company of bright young people and this group is very bright.
I take my usual Silver Gate break, then head back for the evening. Itís cloudy but not snowing. I arrive at Coyote around 3:30 and find the Junctions have already moved.
Not only that, but 1109 was seen again, near the shale forest.
The best place to see the Junctions at the moment is between Coyote and Fishermanís, which is problematic since there is nowhere to put cars. About a dozen people, most with cameras, have walked down the road and set up in the snow-covered meadow to the north.
They are safe and legal but their presence causes ever other car to stop and most stay there, trying to see what the group sees. This keeps the crew busy directing traffic instead of gathering data. The Nat Geo truck keeps driving back and forth.
I try to help the crew by remaining in the lot and accepting the fact that I will see fewer wolves as a result.
The Junctions are testing bison. I can see from the bisonís behavior that there are wolves on various sides of them. My view of those wolves is blocked by a hill, but I can infer what they are doing by watching the bison.
Every once in a while a wolf will bolt into view to the west, as if avoiding the charge of a bison.
Eventually the wolves emerge beyond the hill that blocks me. They start moving west, led by 1229F. She is always eager to get going.
I now have a great view as they cross the sage/snow going uphill. I see all 15 (10 blacks, 5 grays). They stop on skyline as if deliberately giving us a photo op view. Several of them (including 907F and 1048M) bed down but a few youngsters start a chase-me game into a little gully.
After this bit of play they move back to skyline.
Itís possible some of the Junctions caught 1109ís scent because they start to move as a group, one by one going over the top.
I follow the crew back east and we set up at Picnic. Dylan finds them. Itís a very L O N G view, but you can see areas above the shale forest that cannot be seen from anywhere else. I get my scope on them and count five blacks. Then I see the others uphill of these five, further north.
The pack climbs higher and higher until they finally disappear. Laurie says they are probably 5 miles away! Then a snow squall arrives, blowing icy snow crystals into our faces.
Time to pack up! On our way we see a fox at Round Prairie. Amphitheatre mountain looks haunted, shrouded in fog and mist.
Today I saw: bison, coyotes, elk, a fox, a grouse, 15 Junction wolves (including the alphas, 907F, 1048M, 1229F, 1276F, plus many others)
and the spirits of Allison and Richard.