This morning I drive in a little ahead of the others so I can stop at Mammoth and spend some time thinking of Allison. I let her know how happy I am to be in the Park and to have had such continued good luck seeing wolves and being able to sharing them with friends.
My water bottle is frozen, the result of having left it in the car overnight. I wonder how long it will take before it thaws? Today is the coldest its been, only 12 degrees! We decide to stop at the Children’s Fire Trail to listen and scope at dawn for Leopolds or Oxbows but see nothing.
Chloe and Becky want to stay but Calvin, Lynette and I head on. I stop again at Hellroaring but find only elk and bison. I continue east, seeing more elk on the way in than in any day previous. Then I hear that the Druids have a kill at Round Prairie. Since it is my last day I am eager for another sight of them so I decide to head straight there. In doing so I miss some unique action that occurs in the vicinity of Hubbard Hill (the rise near Mid-point west of Picnic.) But more on that later.
Allison‘s luck helps me to arrive in time to see the Druids, all 11 of them, lounging and playing just in front of the trees at Round Prairie. Betsy and Colleen are here and we thoroughly enjoy watching them.
The pups are so rowdy they make me laugh - hopping and plunging into deep soft snow like kids playing in a room full of nerf balls. They also jump on each other and wrestle a lot. I think from the number of wolves playing that the alpha female was one of them, playing just as enthusiastically as they were.
The day is overcast and a light snow falls intermittently, making it quite serene. The Druids have a carcass far to the east, attended now by many birds. I see a coyote pacing beyond, trying to decide if its safe yet.
302 seems to be in a more tolerant mood today. Several times one pup or another comes over and jumps on him. He doesn’t snap and even seems to play back. 480 also seems in a benevolent mood, too. It is very, very hard to tell these two adult black wolves apart but I think I have figured it out from their markings - at least in their winter coats. When they start to shed in spring I‘ll be confused all over again!
Meanwhile, back at Hubbard Hill, a new drama is beginning, featuring the Un-collared gray Agate male. Apparently, his decision yesterday resulted in successful contact with the Slough females, or at least two of them. He was observed with Sharp Right and one of the yearling (currently called “Slant”). They may have taken down an elk last night, or early this morning, or they may have simply scavenged on a kill taken by the UCG’s family, the Agates.
In any case, there is a kill visible from the road at mid-point and those three wolves were seen with bloody faces moving up Hubbard Hill, across the road and into the higher hills north of the road. In fact, they were chased off the kill by the rest of the Agate pack. At the same time, an unfortunate coyote took too big a risk at that carcass and the alpha female of the Agates caught it and, alas, killed it.
I learn all this when Calvin and Lynette arrive at Round Prairie to see the Druids. Alas, the Druids have just exited the meadow and are back in the trees at this point so my friends only see a fleeting glimpse of the famous dogs.
I head back west to see if the Agates may still be in view. My luck holds and I pull in to the mid point pullout. It is totally jammed and not easy to find a spot. When I get out I see why - the carcass is really close and affords terrific viewing for scopers and excellent photo ops for the photographers.
I put Layla to work and enjoy seeing five Agates still feeding. There is a lot of howling from the Agates today. Part of the pack has already moved further off toward the river, and the two groups howl to each other off and on. I pick out 113 and 472 right away. 472 seems to be in a flirty mood and she jumps on her husky beau’s back in a sweet display of affection. I also notice a number of elk still resting in the grass to the west of the wolves, closer to the river.
After a while the Agate wolves walk away from the carcass and begin to bed down on a little rise. The adults settle down but the pups continue to play with each other. King of the hill, toss the stick, chasing magpies and ravens, that sort of thing. Then a gray pup decides he’s still hungry and heads back to the carcass. He noses around and then grabs the pelt in his jaws and tries to tug it back toward the pack, like a leopard with a gazelle. But he can’t figure where to put his feet while the pelt is in his mouth. He keeps stepping on the pelt and prevents his own forward movement. It is quite comical because he is so determined to succeed. In the end he settles for a leg bone and trots off to the others with unmistakable pride.
I notice 383 moving toward the pup in a stalking stance, but he is only after birds. 383 beds in the snow and begins to howl, all by himself. He howls and howls and howls and howls. Oh, how I wish I could translate! We can’t help but think he is calling to the wayward UCG. But what is he saying?
Eventually the sun comes out and we warm up considerably. Unfortunately this only makes the roads trickier. There have been so many cars off the road in one place or another. There is a spin-out just up the hill and many people head over to help. A driver must have hit the brakes too hard at the top of the hill and the car whipped around and nearly flew off the road - it now sits in snow up to its wheel wells about 10 feet north of the road.
No one is hurt, just shook up and the driver is embarrassed. But help is here already. A black pick-up truck, surely a local driver, has already stopped and is getting his tow rope out. While some other folk go west to warn any approaching traffic, the cowboy driver gets the car hooked up. He then revs his pick-up on the solid ice of the road. How will he get enough traction to pull the guy out of deep snow? Well, first try doesn’t work, but the second one does. The SVU is back on the road and only a few sage plants lost their lives.
The cowboy hero unhooks the car and is promptly on his way. We all line up and give them applause and cheers. We get smiles and a tip of the hat in return. The pickup just saved that driver a couple hundred in tow fees.
I remember Roadie warning me right before I came that the roads in Lamar were worse than she’d ever seen them. From Slough Creek to Cooke City they are solid ice all the way. You CAN drive on it but you gotta go slow. Really slow. Coyotes are popping out all over the place and hitting the brakes just doesn’t result in stopping. I have never seen so many cars off the road - all the way off I mean - sitting in deep snow. The Tow Truck was in the Valley nearly all day.
But the main talk in the valley today is about the un-collared gray of the Agates being seen with two Slough females - Sharp Right and a yearling currently referred to as “Slant”. This could be significant (or not!) in the days ahead. What I find fascinating today is the amount of howling the Agates do while they are in this spot. First I hear the usual rally-type howl but after that several individual wolves continue to howl on and off. Most poignantly, 113 and 383 each howl a great deal. Are they speaking to the wandering gray? Are they asking him to come back or wishing him well on his exploits? And where, oh where is 490?
Time will tell.
Most of us are reluctant to leave such a close sighting so we stay in this pullout for hours. The sun comes out full and we shed our heavy gear, share oranges, cheese, crackers and Christmas cookies. Ball Park Frank shows up and we scope together a while, finding a juvenile bald eagle in a cottonwood tree.
Then we hear the Druids have come back out of the trees toward their carcass so we head up east again. I get there in time to see all eight pups in full blown play-mode again - this time it is Ring Around The Fir Tree, Tug o’ War (or Wish-Bone) and, for the pup whose playmates have tired, Toss The Hide-Scrap. One black pup is quite engrossed in this game. Over and over he flings the scrap over his head and then lunges to catch it, falling backwards into the snow, again and again. It’s delightful.
But all good things come to an end and we start to have a thermal rising from the river which makes the black wolves look gray. A light, mysterious fog begins to rise, We decide to head back for one last glimpse of the Agates. Frank and I have a deadline of 7PM to get to Chico to meet Roadie, Frank A and Gulo Gulo and J so we are in the lead. The others stop at the Torreylet.
As I am approaching mid-point I am stopped by a Ranger because, guess what, another car is off the road and the Tow Truck has just arrived. Frank and I are stuck here while the Ranger keeps things safe up ahead. I radio Chloe and Becky to warn them to go slow and find out they have stopped at the Confluence because the otters are out! Chloe says they are so close you can hear fish bones crack as they eat!
By the time the Ranger waves us on and I pull in to mid point, it is too late to wait for my other wolfer friends to join us to have a proper farewell. I don’t want to drag them away from their otters and it would take too much time if I drove to them. I take a quick last look at the Agates, bedded in two groups on the snowy bank high above the river. I say goodbye to them over the radio and then Frank and I start the long drive to Chico.
We have a coyote in the road and lots of icy patches, but when I finally get across the high bridge the roads are dry. Then, just past the stop sign at Mammoth two cars flash lights and pull ahead of me. It’s Chloe & Becky and Calvin & Lynette! They’ve caught up with us! So we have a proper goodbye with many hugs. I look up at Kite Hill and smile at Allison. I just know she arranged it!
Frank and I make it to Chico where we all have a great dinner and a short but sweet visit with our Loon friends. Then I leave them to have a nice soak in the hot pool while I finish the drive to 90 and then have a fairly harrowing drive over Bozeman Pass. I hate this road so I stay in the right lane at 45mph with my flashers on.
When I reach my Bozeman exit, I am delighted to see that the half moon is bright enough to illuminate the snow on the mountains. It’s quite lovely and another reason I love it here.
Ah me, another great trip is behind me, full of wolves and wonderful friends. I will rest easy in my Bozeman home tonight and head back East tomorrow.
Today I saw: bison, 6 coyotes, a juvenile bald eagle, elk, magpies and ravens, 23 wolves (Druids and Agates) 5 Loons, 9 wolfers and the spirit of Allison.