DAY ONE - Friday, September 8

UNDER THE RAINBOW

I am off for my first trip to Yellowstone in over 2 months. Itís high noon and very sunny, 71 lovely degrees. We had some rain last night but itís all clear today.

I have an easy drive over the pass with very light traffic. The hillsides along 90 are drying out and turning yellow but in many places the green is hanging on. There is no significant color yet in Bozeman but I suspect the Parkís vegetation, at slightly higher altitudes might be beginning.

The distant mountains look beautiful.

I have few wildlife sightings until I pass by the Gardiner airport, where numerous elk are grazing the hills to the north.

The day has grown warm. Itís already 80 in Gardiner

As I wind up the OGR, I see several pronghorn in the distance. I stop at the high Kite Hill lot to have my visit with Allison. Itís quite windy up here!

I am happy to report that the High Bridge construction is finally finished!

Blacktail Ponds look empty, no longer teeming with water birds. Most of them have migrated. The blue water is now surrounded by golden meadows, and only a few ducks make vís in the water.

As I come down the hill west of Tower, I slow down to look for evidence of the cement truck wreck that happened a couple of weeks ago. Ahh, there! On the north side, opposite the Ranger Station, the inner cylinder of the truck lies abandoned. It looks like a NASA space capsule! I am surprised to see how far from the road it is. Luckily the driver escaped harm.

Work seems to be going well at Yellowstone River Bridge, with even more trucks and several cranes added. Wow, what a job that must have been to get them here.

I pass a small bison herd near Junction Butte. Oh! The calves are all brown! No more little red dogs. They donít stay young very long! Little America looks nice and still quite green.

At Boulder Pond, I see two Ranger cars parked. Hmmm.

Then I see why. Less than 50 feet from the north side of the road I see a freshly dead bison on its side. Bill W is one of the Rangers, so I chat with him a moment. He says they have been keeping tabs on this old fellow because for several days he has been hanging out near the road, apparently sick or injured.

Bill says a front-loader is on its way to haul it off. I am about to go on when he adds that a new bison carcass was found in the Soda Butte Valley, with both wolves and bears on it just this morning.

For a wolf watcher, itís always good news when there is a fresh carcass in view. I thank Bill and bid him adieu.

I have only a short wait at the Lamar Canyon light and soon find myself driving on what will eventually be the paved route. Right now, itís hard-packed mud and gravel but I like it. It goes higher and straighter than the old version. Thank you road crews!

I grin as I enter Lamar, happy to see it still quite green, the result of an unusually wet August and early September.

Lamar proper seems empty for such a gorgeous day but once I reach the Soda Cone, I see lots of cars parked on the south side.

I stop at the jam-packed lot and call to the closest person, a photographer, who is chatting with friends. She says there is nothing on the carcass right now, but a bear left about a half hour ago. She also confirms that wolves were seen earlier but are now out of sight. I thank her and continue east.

I get to Silver Gate, unload my stuff and do my stretches. I call Laurie so she knows Iím here, then check in with Rick.

Around 5:30 I head back out, nervous about finding a spot to park.

There are twice as many cars now, parked all over the place, both north and south, in any spot thatís reasonably flat. I hold out hope for a place in the main lot. And I get super lucky, finding just enough room to squeeze in.

I haul out my scope and quickly spot friends: Gary, Krisztina, Ginny and Celia. We have a happy greeting and they fill me in on what Iíve missed.

Since there is nothing on the carcass right now, they take time to instruct me on the relevant landmarks: the ďperfectĒ tree, the ďalligator treeĒ and the upper right meadow, all places where wolves or bears have been seen.

I also meet a new couple (new to me, not to the Park) Dave and Teresa.

The carcass itself is, as is so often the case, not visible, but hidden in a depression which is itself blocked by thick willow growth. But Iím told to watch for movement on either side, as well as in the areas above.

Just after 6:20 some wolves begin to appear, moving through the trees above and left of the carcass spot. Over the next hour I see at least 10 (perhaps more) including, to my delight, the black pup!

Other individuals are harder to ID, but Iím pretty sure I saw 907F, the alpha male and a collared gray (perhaps 1341F or 1384F). I also see a mottled black and a dark black. All told, five blacks and five gray.

Around 7PM, a grizzly arrives, thrilling the crowd. He goes out of sight quickly but judging from the wolvesí behavior, the bear is feeding on the carcass.

While the bear feeds out of sight, I watch a gray wolf initiate a play session with the pup. Itís very sweet to see. My impression is that this pup is well loved by the rest of the pack and she seems to thrive on the attention.

J and T arrive in time to see the bear. We chat a bit and I am able to confirm that 907F is here. He says he found them here early this morning along with a grizzly. He is pretty sure the carcass is a bison but that it is not known whether the wolves killed it or came upon it already dead. At this time of year, itís common for bison to die from injuries sustained in the rut.

The wind kicks up and we get rained on for about 5 minutes. Once the squall passes, we are treated to a gorgeous rainbow, which tries hard to become a double.

Itís my first day back in over two months and I find myself in beautiful evening light with good friends and wolves in view.

I pack up to go around 7:45, with several wolves still bedded in view.

Today I saw: 1 grizzly bear, bison, sandhill cranes, elk, pronghorn, 10 Junction wolves, including 907, the pup and 8 others (four gray, four black) and the spirits of Allison, Richard and Jeff.


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