I had a pleasant Christmas Eve last night in my sweet little condo in Bozeman. And yesterday I picked up Laurie & Dan from the airport and made them Christmas dinner.
After breakfast this morning, I finish my packing and head south around 9AM. Laurie & Dan are still at my place. They will shop for groceries and then head south themselves.
We had 6 beautiful inches of snow on Christmas Day and this morning it is still coming down, lightly. Itís fairly cold, at 28 degrees. The highway is not quite clear; there are patches of snow and ice, the kind of conditions that make me very nervous. I almost get off at Trail Creek but since there is so little traffic I decide to brave the pass and just go slow.
By the time I get to Livingston the roads are clear, but seems colder. From Emigrant to the Park I have a fair amount of precipitation and a cold mist plays peek-a-boo with the high peaks. There is a fair amount of snow on the ground in Paradise Valley. A coyote crosses the road in front of me just outside of Gardiner.
The temp now reads 12 degrees. I check in at the Super 8 and head into the Park around 12:15. There are many bighorn visible from the big lot at Rescue Creek and when I get up across from Mammoth Campground I have my chat with Allison.
Further east I go Ė there are elk at Phantom Lake and itís getting steadily colder. At 1PM the car temp reads 6 degrees!
I stop at Hellroaring where I find my friends Richard & Jeff M, trying to find some Prospect Peak Pack wolves. We chat and catch up and I put on my warmer clothes. But there are no wolves in sight, so after a while, I start to pack up. Thatís when we hear howling. Boy, it sounds really close, so where the heck are they?
I set back up, but all we find are bison, elk and 2 coyotes.
As soon as I put my scope in the car we hear more howling! So of course I set up a third time. We all agree the howling seems to be coming from an open spot as there is not much echo. We continue scoping and finally Jeff finds them, right smack in front of us, out in the open!!!!
We suspect they were there the whole time, bedded, looking like rocks! Hah! At first we see 8 of them, then 10 and finally 14. I see at least 7 blacks (there are 8 total, with 6 grays in this pack). Slowly they start to get up, but we arenít sure if they are just re-bedding or heading out somewhere.
I watch a black walk over to a gray, standing over it a while. Then 2 other blacks begin heading uphill. Aha. They are moving out. One by one the others follow. We watch them stop twice to rally, and I really enjoy their enthusiastic tail-wagging and body slams.
Then they head uphill and to the west, on a medium-intensity mission. They check out some bison, take a run at a mom with a calf. But the bison escape into the safety of the herd. Then one bold black goes further uphill to check out a lone bull bison. This bison is ultra-cool. He does not even raise its tail (hmm, maybe it doesnít have a tail?).
No matter, the bold black gets the message that this bison isnít having any funny business and so he retreats and joins the pack. The pack heads further uphill and enters the forest. We see them pass between trees and open spaces for a while but then it starts snowing and they are shrouded from our sight.
But we spread the word, and because of Jeffís spotting skills, Larry & Linda, Kirsty & Alan and Kara got to see them, too. When the Prospects are out of sight I head east to Lamar. I find it shrouded in snow-fog. Iím kind of surprised by the level of snow here. It looks good and healthy.
Itís now 4:20 and a cold 6 degrees. There are a lot of cars at Picnic so I pull over and join the waters here. They are watching the Lamar alpha male, 925M. He is to the north about half-way up the hill, gnawing on a bone from an old carcass. How nice to see him on my first day!
He is really going at it, turning around numerous times, head down, tugging. He is accompanied by many interested magpies and ravens. I am accompanied by nice local people. One man, Dan from Butte, says he has wolves in his neighborhood and doesnít mind them at all. He said he likes to hear them howl.
He says he is a hunter but has no problem tolerating wolves. What a breath of fresh air to hear this! There is a little boy here with his parents named Cody. I lower my scope and let Cody see 925, his first wild wolf!
As I head back west to Gardiner, I see bison, elk and mule deer.
Today I saw: bison, 3 coyotes, mule deer, elk, 30 bighorn sheep, 15 wolves from two packs (all 14 Prospects & 925M of Lamar Canyon) and the spirit of Allison