DAY FOUR - Monday, September 11


I sleep in a bit today since I don’t need to snag myself a parking spot in the dark!

All is quiet in the Soda Butte Valley, so I continue on through the Confluence area.

As I reach Trash Can, Ginny radios that she just heard howling to the south. I pull in and climb Trash Can hill. Soon we have a black in view heading west past the line of Cottonwoods.

As the light grows, we notice the black has a collar and noticeable gray in her body. I say she because she demonstrated to us that she is female.

This wolf begins moving slowly west, stopping to mouse a while. Then she kicks into a ground-eating trot.

I move to Hubbard and find her again about half-way across the big fan. Gary and others are watching from Dorothy’s. Gary happens to look far to the east and spots more wolves in the Old Druid rendezvous. He says they are moving west. Aha!

This larger group of wolves includes the alpha male, 1276F and at least 7 others with 907F bringing up the rear, as she does these days. I don’t remember seeing the pup in this group, but perhaps she and her bodyguard gray have already arrived at Jasper Bench.

We all suspect the Jasper rendezvous is their eventual destination.

Some charming play behavior erupts among the youngsters. They chase, romp and play a bit of “keep away” with a piece of hide. Someone notices a single black far to the right of this traveling group, darker than the first one we saw, and uncollared.

The single black stops, looking back at the approaching group. Some of them sink down into a stalking pose, creeping closer to the single black. But I think they are just pretending. They soon realize the black is family, and suddenly rush towards the black, then treating us to joyous greeting.

After this the group continues west, heading up the slope towards Amethyst drainage.

I keep checking on 907, who is still way behind. But of course, she knows the way by heart and has no need to “hurry”. She may be slow, but she looks good to me.

The leaders reach the drainage and disappear in the forest for a bit, then re-appear on the west side by the braided bison trails.

I move on to the Ranch, while others continue to Dorothy’s. From my new position I find 907 again plus two gray stragglers. I watch them all cross the drainage and head up the higher slope, disappearing in the usual spot behind the ridge.

My total today is now 13.

A little after this, Michelle, Wolf Tracker, calls from Confluence. She and her group have just spotted a collared gray in the river bottoms, heading west. I head there and climb up Geriatric.

I follow the sound of howling and find what I think is the same wolf (a collared gray) now at the eastern end of the Old Druid rendezvous. This wolf continues to howl as it travels west. I guess this one missed the train when the pack moved.

When I lose sight of this wolf, I climb down and drive Dorothy’s, telling Gary that one more collared gray might be coming this way.

But we don’t have to wait for the straggler because Gary has just found the Junctions again, climbing up above the back of the bench.

It’s a long look, but great to see them traveling together, weaving through the gold and sage hillsides, often in a zig-zag line, following the switchback trail. They go steadily up, higher and higher. The pack finally tops out, still heading west. This time my count is 14 and I do see the pup.

Some people drive towards Slough in hopes of seeing them from there. I decide to go back east to try to find the collared gray straggler. Before I get very far, Michael radios that he just spotted a collared gray near the double foothill.

I look from Trash Can hill but I’m unable to find it.

The day has warmed to 55 and it’s turned hazy as I head east.

After a nice break and an even nicer nap, I drive back in again around 4:30. It’s now incredibly warm, 72!

At Hitching Post, a group of horse-packers are starting out.

At Dorothy’s I find Celia, Krisztina and Gary. We scope a while from here, finding the usual pronghorn and sandhills. I suggest we head to Elk Creek and scope Specimen Ridge in case the Junctions are visible up there.

Gary stays here hoping to spot a bear or two, while Celia and Krisztina go west. We get stuck in a bison jam in Little America but are soon passing Tower. A few mule deer cross the road ahead of us.

We find Elk Creek pullout empty and fit all our cars in, with room for Dave and Teresa, too. It’s a lovely warm evening and we enjoy being here by ourselves. Then it gets even better.

Right around t 6:30 Dave and I both see a “black something” way out there. I think it’s a bear at first but then Teresa says “Look at the knob to the left”.

We do, and suddenly we have wolves! A dozen at least all over that knob! My “bear” was a black wolf way out ahead of the others.

This has to be the Junctions. It’s so far away, they are really “ant wolves” but we are thrilled to have found them. They come rushing down the knob in a line and then spread out in the golden meadow above the “U-shaped” forest.

I remember seeing Junctions once upon a time at the bottom of that “U” from this lot. This time they are aiming for the top of the left side of the “U”. They make their way to those trees, cross the open area and approach the right side of the “U”.

It’s just wonderful watching them, even though it’s such a long view. They are taking a route that will likely lead them to the cliffs above the Yellowstone.

My high count is 12 but I think there are more.

Around 7:30 I call it a night to avoid driving east in the dark. The others stay longer. I find out later that they watched a few of the younger wolves briefly chase a pronghorn and that their high count was 18.

Today I saw: bison, 4 coyotes, elk, a fox, 15 Junction wolves (including the alpha male, 1276F, 907F, the pup, and 11 others) and the spirits of Allison, Richard and Jeff.

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