DAY 11 - Sunday, May 29

1228F APPEARS

I come out this morning and find the rain turned to snow last night. There is a substantial covering of slush on the car and I get pretty soaked trying to scrape it off!

As I wind down the road, I notice fog ahead and a fresh coat of snow on the mountains. At Pebble, the snow switches to a light drizzle.

The rain persists into Soda Butte Valley, creating poor visibility. Itís even worse in Lamar. I shake my head, realizing that once again the weather will prevent me from seeing whatever wolf or bear activity might be happening on the bison carcass. Oh well.

It looks cool, though, from an atmospheric point of view (!) and as I always say, the Park needs the rain!

I drive on to Crystal, and find it happily fog-free, despite the persistent drizzle. I spend a good hour here watching the south den. We have 907, 1048 and at least two other adults.

The pups are very playful this morning, bouncing here and there. 1341 appears from behind a thick clump of sage. She re-beds near 907. At one point the two of them are mobbed by pups and 907 nurses some of them.

Laurie & Dan went to the north den this morning but alas, the visibility is too foggy for sightings. Around 7:30 we both decide to give Lamar another try.

We find Amethyst still fogged in, but then we hear about activity further east. I catch up to Laurie on Hubbard Hill. She has Junctions wolves in view to the south, where the fog is thinner. Itís the alpha male and three yearlings. They have been traveling through the flats hunting bison calves. So far, they have not been successful.

Laurie theorizes that maybe a bear is on the carcass (no one can be sure due to poor visibility). It would explain why the wolves are out here. The alpha male beds down in thick green grass while the yearlings continue east. The alpha seems unsettled, and soon gets up and travels back west across Amethyst drainage towards Jasper Bench.

Our attention now goes to the yearlings, who have begun to play together. Oh, they are having such fun! Laurie says they look like dogs in a dog park, bouncing, running, jumping on each other. Their carefree antics delight us all. Itís the ďskinnyĒ gray and the two ďcocoaĒ yearlings, away from the burden of pup tending, enjoying the cool weather and each otherís company.

They continue romping past the Western Foothills, perhaps on their way to Cache.

We get a call from Michael, saying he has a gray in view. We meet him at Footbridge where I am thrilled to learn his ďgrayĒ is 1228F. He saw her in the Middle Flats from Hitching Post, heading east.

We all scope as hard as we can and finally Michael spots her. Sheís following the old riverbank, approaching the trail to the west of Dead Puppy Hill.

I see her! She is a beautiful wolf, collared, with a no-nonsense manner. The rain mercifully lets up for a bit, giving us a decent, extended view of her.

You can see missing fur on her belly, a sign sheís been nursing. She stops here and there, sniffing one thing or another but mostly continues steadily east. I think of how many times over the years Iíve seen wolves in this very spot: Druids, Sloughs, Mollies, Lamar Canyons, Prospects, Junctions. What memories!

At the eastern end of the hill, she stops to investigate something. Hmm, she finds this very interesting, whatever it is. She angles upslope into the rolling hills, then enters the forest. All too soon she is out of sight.

We continue scoping for a while, hoping she will re-emerge but I find only pronghorn and a lone elk.

I am heading back to Bozeman today, so I feel very lucky to have finally seen one of my favorite wolves.

We go back to Crystal and sit in the cars a while, hoping the rain will let up. But at 9:30 I tell Laurie Iím just gonna go. Iíll be back Friday for the weekend. They say theyíre gonna wait out the rain a bit longer so we say our farewells.

The rain stays with me for my entire drive. I feel bad for visitors who came to Yellowstone for the holiday weekend, having to deal with such steady downpours! On & off drizzle is one thing, but this is all day rain.

At Tower I notice that the Park has added a 4 way-stop. Yay! The intersection has needed this for quite a while. To me, it is evidence of how popular Lamar Valley has become as a destination for wolf-watching.

As I cruise through the Blacktail, I see pockets of last nightís snow. Silver Gate wasnít the only spot to get a dumping!

A beautiful bull elk grazes the slope above Phantom Lake. And I notice several small rockslides in the steep-windy section between the Lake and the entrance to the 6-Mile road.

I remember one Memorial Day weekend when a landslide in this area closed the road for two days! Then I remember Laurie telling me that Doug M was blocked early this morning by a landslide covering the road just west of Undine Falls. He turned around and went back to Mammoth to ask that they send Maintenance to clear it.

I am grateful to find itís re-opened but I can see plenty of remaining debris on both sides of the road. All this rain is having an effect!

Just past Chinese Gardens, I see something in the road and move left to avoid it. Itís the lower leg of a bighorn sheep; hoof plus joint plus about 4 inches. I guess a canid had been carrying it and dropped it?

The color of the Gardiner River is cafť au lait and the water is rip-roaring. I notice all the aspens have leafed out, sporting a gorgeous yellow-green early-spring color. The grass is thick in lower Gardiner Canyon!

Itís REALLY nice to see this area so green and wet, as so often itís dry and brown down here.

I say goodbye to Allison and leave the Park. As I round the curve at the northern end of Yankee Jim I find sun and blue sky ahead. The rain is finally behind me.

The Yellowstone River looks really full and all the aspens are in spring glory. Just beautiful!

Today I saw: bison, elk, pronghorn, 19 wolves (including Junctions Alpha male, 907, 1048, 1229, 1276, 1341, New Mom, three yearlings, 8 pups plus former Junction 1228F) and the spirits of Allison and Richard

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