Yesterday I picked up Laurie & Dan at the airport and served them a turkey dinner with stuffing and yams and other fixings. The candles were lit and we had a very pleasant evening in my cozy home.
This morning we sleep in and take our time packing the cars. Around 11 AM I head to the Park while my friends head to Costco and Smiths to do some shopping.
I have bright sunny skies and a chilly 14 degrees.
The roads are mostly dry and travel is easy. The skies continue to be crystal clear, and the mountains look gorgeous. I see mulies at Pray, elk in the flats before Yankee Jim and there are bison and bighorn grazing close to the road.
I make a quick stop at Colleenís to drop off a package for her, then on to the Park. Iím inside at 1:30 and find myself behind a slow line of cars creeping up Gardiner Canyon. At first I thought there was sheep jam, but no, itís just visitors driving slowly. The reduced speed gives me a chance to enjoy the Gardiner River, which is steaming beautifully. The sun on the snow makes everything glitter.
I stop opposite Mammoth campground and have my visit with Allison. Then I stop at the heated bathroom to change into my bulky, warm clothes.
I have elk at the eastern end of Phantom Lake and many bison at Christmas Bear. There is a nice base cover of snow on the Blacktail. Itís not a lot, but honestly, a bit more than I had expected. The roads are flat-packed snow, with a few icy patches here and there, but easy enough to negotiate if you go slowly.
But it is quite cold. At 3:30PM, my car temp reads zero degrees!
I head into Little America, unable to suppress my happy grin at being back here, seeing my favorite landscape once again. I have been told of a carcass, several days old now, at the Lamar Bridge. I pull over to check it out and find Kara and her scope here already. She says the carcass is pretty much finished; there is only one coyote on it, which is easy to see right from the road.
Kara catches me up on the dayís sightings and soon we are heading east to Round Prairie, where we have a chance to see the Lamar Canyon pack on their recent carcass.
I love seeing Lamar Valley Ė itís as stunningly beautiful as ever. There is a spooky mist rising from the meandering curves of Rose Creek. At first I think the mist is bison breath but, no, itís a trick physics: cold air drawing the warmer water up from the creek.
And it has become even colder! At the confluence, the gauge reads minus 9. At this section of the river, the mist rising from the open water is so thick it even wafts across the road.
There are bison all around and the willows look orange and red and purple against the snow.
I see a coyote mousing just west of Hitching Post
At Round Prairie I see Rick and return his greeting. Kara and I set up our scopes. Itís one degree above zero at 4:30.
There are no wolves in sight at the moment but Rick shows me the carcass area Ė itís at a forested bend in the frozen river where a fallen log juts out. I can see the top of an antler. We start yakking. For a long while we donít see anything moving. Then the mist begins to rise and I say ďthat canít be good for usĒ. Just then a shadowy shape appears - itís a gray pup. Oh, the poor thing. His mange is quite bad. He tugs and tugs, tearing off small morsels of needed sustenance.
Then I think I see another wolf shape moving in the trees behind the pup. The mist makes it hard to find and Iím not sure I actually saw anything. Then when I glance back towards the carcass, the gray has disappeared.
I keep scanning then area until Kara call out that she has Twin! (the alpha male). Heís bedded way to the left, in the flats. I get my scope on him. Despite the wafting mist, he is easily visible in the snow, in front of several bison. Yay!
Heís just sitting there with his front paws stretched in front of him. Itís so nice to see him; I think he is an especially attractive wolf. He sits a while, then gets up and begins to move through the snow to the east. Then he stops, and turns around, heading back west. Hmm, whatís he looking at?
I pan to the right and see another wolf, a black, standing in the woods, partially visible between tree trunks. This black wolf is looking right at Twin and could be the one I saw moving before. Now Twin heads towards the black. The black moves a bit and starts wagging her tail. Aha! Itís ďLittle TĒ, a yearling female, daughter of 926F, grand-daughter of the 06 Female. She stands with a perky head and perky ears. She looks very happy that handsome Twin is looking at her.
Twin continues toward her and she moves to him. They greet in a very affectionate way. She flirts with him Ė itís unmistakable. Although he is her motherís mate, he is not her father. She clearly finds him adorable. She is so excited, she jumps on him and then he jumps on her. She mounts him and when he moves off, she chases him through the snow and the woods. Two gorgeous wolves running through powdery snow is great to see.
They run all around the base of the hump feature, out by the edge of the trees. Then we lose them in the mist.
Kara promptly finds another wolf Ė another black - in the flats. This one has a collar. It howls and I can tell by its very low voice that itís a male, in fact, itís Dark Black, newly collared as 993M. He is also a handsome wolf. He disappears into the mist along the river, but we hear him howl. It sounds really cool coming out of the mist like that. I think Dark Black may have been bedded in the flats near Twin and I just hadnít seen him.
Rick believes the rest of the pack is headed west so he goes that way to see if he can find them. I stay here, which was a lucky break, because Twin shows up again.
Now Laurie & Dan arrive. They hop out in the cold to take a quick look at Twin. But they are not dressed for below-zero weather so they get back in their car and continue east. I take one last look at Twin and head east myself.
We unpack the groceries and warm up the turkey and stuffing from last night. Yum!
TODAY I SAW: bison, coyote, mule deer, elk, big horn sheep, 4 wolves from the Lamar Canyon Pack (including Twin 992, Dark Black 993, Little T and one mangy gray pup) and the spirit of Allison.