DAY TWO - Wednesday, September 20

LUCKY LAMAR MOOSE

Iím up and out at 5:30. Itís 35 degrees and very wet. The rain fell all night and my defroster is melting a thin layer of ice on my windshield.

My first stop is at Exclosure Hill. Itís still dark but several people are already up here. I hike up, hoping to hear howling. But none comes.

I set up with Maureen, Rick and Celia. They fill me in about an old bison carcass out there which has drawn both wolves and bears over the last few days.

A bear is in view right now. No one has seen any wolves yet, but itís thought that they could be bedded somewhere nearby.

Ginny spots a second bear that is now heading east behind the line of cottonwoods. Once that bear goes out of sight, I turn back to the first one. It seems to have finished eating and is now ambling slowly east towards the apex of Chalcedony fan.

Laurie & Dan arrive, but before they can join us, someone calls that wolves are in view from further west, descending Amethyst bench.

We go down to the cars and head west.

I set up at Hubbard with Celia and we quickly find two wolves, a black and a gray just as they reach the flat. The black wanders a bit, moving towards the old riverbank. It mouses a bit, sniffing here and there.

The gray beds down while the black continues to the east end of the big fan.

Guide Evan and his clients are scoping from the western end of Hubbard. He radios that two wolves are chasing a bull moose towards Amethyst drainage from Jasper! Iím not able to get my scope on it, but Celia does. She says a third black joined the chase but that they all disappeared into the thick trees.

Many first-time visitors on this hill with us are concerned that the moose is done for. But I have faith in the moose. I reason that there are only a few wolves involved and that the moose sought refuge in the forest, which shows he has a good idea how best to defend itself.

About a half hour later, the moose appears near the bottom of the drainage, just east of the grotto-waterfall that I explored it years ago.

Mr. Moose looks ok at first glance, with no visible injuries. More importantly, there donít seem to be any wolves near him or after him. The moose moves quickly down the bank to the river. Suddenly he disappears and it looks like he has fallen. Laurie is further west of me. She says she can see his legs in the air. We are all on edge, there are still no reports of any wolves nearby.

The moose appears once more and I see all four of his legs moving normally. Then he goes down again, but I am pretty sure itís because he just entered the river. I remember how surprisingly deep the central channel was when I crossed it with Jake and Leslie in 2001.

We begin to speculate that perhaps he lost his footing in mud, or even got stuck for a bit. Or maybe he was just cooling off in the water? That chase must have made him hot.

For the next few moments, our view of him is blocked by the line of cottonwoods. But what I do see confirms he does not seem injured. People are watching this drama from Trash Can to Dorothy's.

In the gap between two cottonwoods he appears again, trotting through the water, creating lots of splashes. Oh, he is a beautiful animal, a young, healthy bull. Judging by the size of his paddles, we figure maybe 3?

I see no blood, no wounds, no limping nor even any hesitation whatsoever in his step.

He emerges from the river onto dry land and kicks into a fast, confident, ground-eating trot. He reminds me of a trotter, the kind of race-horse that draws a small buggy behind it around a track.

He passes directly south of us, crossing several braids of the river like they are nothing. He passes over constantly changing terrain: grass, sand, gravel, water and sagebrush, never breaking stride. His mouth is open, and he pants. His dew-lap sways back and forth. His coat is sleek and wet.

His supple muscles just glisten in the sun and I have to see he is the picture of health, though perhaps a bit shaken by the chase. His panting shows he is hot. We all try to make sense of the moment when he seemed to fall. Maybe he just got to mud or water and just sat or rolled in in to cool down?

I am delighted at this beautiful and unusual sight. Honestly, Iím happy the wolves were unsuccessful.

I joke to Celia that he is likely repeating to himself over and over that he will NEVER, EVER go back to Amethyst drainage again.

Mr. Moose is now closing in on the trees south of Picnic, still following the river corridor. He goes out of sight for us as he nears the treeline (and the river) but Rick radios from Cardiac Hill that the moose is swimming the Lamar, up to his neck.

In no time he is out and in view again, continuing that speedy trot through the gravel areas. Now he hooks a left and heads straight for the road just a few hundred feet north.

There are tons of people stopped there, in pullouts and just on the road. No cars are moving because the people in them can clearly see this large, gorgeous, dark animal.

He is across the road in an instant, still not breaking stride. He streaks up the north side, continuing upslope towards the fall-colored aspens inside the Exclosure fence north of Picnic.

He goes out of sight for me at this point but those at Picnic follow him all the way to the shoulder of Druid Peak. There is ample forest up there for him to hide in. I joke to Dan that at the rate heís going, heíll likely get all the way to Trout Lake!

Heís now out of sight for everyone, and we all relax, grinning from ear to ear. My favorite part was seeing him effortlessly splashed through the braided shallows of the Lamar. Itís a picture in my mind Iíll always carry.

Most of us turn back to scan for wolves. Dan finds a black heading west to Jasper and I find a gray in that same area for a split second. They both go quickly out of sight.

Then someone finds a gray moving across the lower part of Amethyst bench, west of where the moose-chase started. Itís mousing and seems to have caught something. I watch it dig a bit and then gobbles up something.

Now the gray turns and sets off east. A couple of pronghorn have been chasing each other back and forth, but when they notice the wolf they stop. The two speedsters move towards the wolf as if to tease it. The wolf takes the bait and chases one of them for a while. The pronghorn just runs in circles, easily outpacing the predator.

The wolf soon gives up and continues east towards the big fan. Then at the deep gully, the wolf veers uphill and heads to the treeline.

I realize I have not heard a sandhill call all morning. I guess they have migrated out.

I leave Hubbard and follow Laurie & Dan to Dorothyís. Rick is still high on Cardiac Hill with a few wolves still in sight.

Weíve had a lovely morning and itís nearly 11AM, so I decide to head east. I stop at Baronette where I see Ranger Bill. We chat a bit, then I continue east.

After a nice break, we all go out again around 5:45, despite the fact that the weather has turned cold and rainy.

I see mule deer at the entrance gate and more at Baronette. Then I have a fox at Thunderer.

By the time we get to Lamar, the sun has poked out again, although itís still hazy and mostly overcast.

We climb up and scope from Exclosure but find no wolves tonight. We try the Ranch but nothing there, either. We settle for a nice sunset and, head back home.

Today I saw: 2 grizzly bears, bison, mule deer, elk, a fox, a moose, pronghorn, 2 Junction wolves (a gray and a black) and the spirits of Allison, Richard and Jeff.

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