Last night it sounded as though Silver Gate had its own version of Sandy - we had a hard rain and the wind was blowing like crazy.
But today is the first partly-clear morning since I've been here. Let's hope it's a good sign for me, here in the Park and also for New York.
The temperature feels much warmer, too. And best of all, I see the bright full moon and even several stars peeking out from behind the high peaks.
There are two foxes in the willows across the road from Laurie's as I pull out and head west. They romp in and out of sight, first one, then the other. Under the moon and my headlights, they look BEAUTIFUL!
First light comes a bit sooner today and is most welcome. I join Rick and a few the others on Exclosure hill and instantly have Lamar wolves in sight.
But they are not at the carcass as I expected. They are further out, in the high sage. I've been here three days and this is my first view of the home team!
At first I see two, then three turns to five, six and eventually I see all thirteen although that only happens once they emerge from the sage. I recognize the 06 of course, as well as 755M, 754M and 820F, the overly-serious gray yearling.
Once I can observe some interaction between the others, I recognize beta female 776 (who lost her collar) and her litter-mate, Middle Gray. 776's dominance shows as Middle Gray is subservient to her.
I am delighted to see the two black yearlings, whose rambunctious play won my heart this summer. They are as vivacious as ever and there is still a noticeable size difference between the two. Although in July it was still thought the larger yearling was a male, she has been outed as a female - she's just big-boned!
And I suddenly realize that I am FINALLY looking at the four pups of 2012 - who remained elusive during my entire summer visit. These youngest members of the pack are nearly as big as the yearlings, and full of energy themselves.
The whole pack comes together near one of the eroded areas and have a stirring, wonderfull rally.
I watch beta 754 nuzzle his love, the 06, and I see her pump handle tail start to whirl. She has always had a soft spot for him. But soon 755 comes over and she assures him that he is still her main man.
The "leaping yearling" begins her adorable practice of jumping on backs of her family - instigating play among the whole group. It sure looks like they love each other very much.
But the 06 has a mission today, and once again they are moving east. We head down to our cars and drive east to the next good spot.
I stop at Trash Can and climb the little hill for a better view. Almost everybody else goes further, to Picnic or to Mid-point. Laurie guesses correctly that they will visit their favorite spot, the August 1st bison carcass just south of Hubbard Hill.
I have an unobstructed view in the ever-brightening day and thoroughly enjoy the sight. Now all 13 wolves spread out in a line, making them easy to count and distinguish, well, except the pups, who are constantly playing and shifting position. I notice 754 do a scent-mark over the 06's spot, which 755 also notices. 755 doubles back and scent marks over both of theirs. As a result, 754 lowers his head in submission to 755. 755 accepts this and continues on. It's as if 754 says "er, sorry bro, don't know what came over me!" and 755 says "right".
They all look healthy and happy.
Four gorgeous bull elk step out from the trees and watch the wolves proceed across the valley. They do not seem too bothered and the wolves are not distracted.
When they get to the site of the bison carcass, many of them drop down to roll in the remaining smell. Some go completely over, with all four legs in the air. The pups find this irresistable and soon another bout of rambunctious play begins, even the 06 and the two males join in.
But Mama still has an agenda today so she leads them up above the old carcass, where they take a breather. Some sit on their haunches and stare north for a while, perhaps looking at the people watching them from Hubbard Hill, just as our Native American teachers said they would.
I notice that 754 takes the opportunity to lay down completely.
Two wolves, 820 and 776, leave the group to investigate what's left of the Hubbard carcass. But they don't stay long and soon re-join their family on the hillock.
But the 06 does seem to have a plan for the day (when doesn't she?) and soon I am watching her lead them up Amethyst bench.
Laurie and I move to Dorothy's and she finds them quickly. They have moved higher on that same slope and they quickly go out of sight again into the forest.
It's now 9AM, still overcast but quite pleasant as there is very little wind today.
A coyote howl is heard - and Doug M finds the animal, bedded on a rock on Jasper Bench, looking to the east. We are fairly certain that the coyote is howling curses in the wolves' direction, which tells us that the wolves are still in that area.
I realize that I now have a "three-dog" day!
The group of us is earnestly scanning every which way, each hoping to be the one who first finds the Lamar wolves again. I hear Joyce say "oh, look at those elk on skyline" so I train my scope a bit to the west, where she is looking.
I see three bull elk on the distant bald knob of Specimen above Crystal Creek, silhouetted beautifully on the skyline. But then I see some small things moving below those elk, and some on skyline to the right.
Hey - what are those?
Well, it's wolves, of course! But not the Lamar wolves. It's the Junction Pack! I see five of them. Just then Calvin calls out that he's found the Lamars.
I whip my scope back to the south and see them myself. The Lamars have moved west of their last position, and are climbing the hilll behind Jasper Bench, heading up to what we call Divide Ridge. They are moving in the direction of the Junction Pack but they are still several drainages apart.
For the next half hour I scope back and forth between the two packs. The Junction Pack gives up their attempt on the elk and head back downhill. Some watchers drive west to Slough to see them. I stay here to watch the Lamars.
It's an easy choice for me. I have a clear view and it's my first sight of them in three months. I watch them ascend the steep hill, marveling at how easy they make it seem. I would be huffing and puffing and stopping every 10 steps!
There are various trails visible on this mountainside and several wolves use one of the other, but quite a few wolves do not use a trail at all. Once at the top, the adults stop for a break, sitting on their haunches, looking about. I'll bet it's a great view.
There is a horizontal line of snow left on this ridge from a prior snowfall and the young wolves just can't resist it. A long bout of wonderful romping play breaks out, with the adults joining in every once in a while, including the queen herself, 06. It is absolutely delightful to watch.
They race, collide, roll on each other, pile on each other, play tag and leap-frog. The leaping black does not disappoint. Back and forth she goes along the snow belt.
Finally around 11AM, the play winds down and the youngsters join the oldsters for a nice long nap. Once things are settled down like this, I pack up and head to Slough.
The Junction Pack still visible, bedded in oval lumps under a particularly large Douglas fir. I see four grays and four blacks but I am told there are at least 11. Still, it's a good count for the day!
Then Calvin shows me that the bedded Lamar wolves can be seen from this spot as well, which I never would have guessed had he not shown me.
I try to fix in my memory how the terrain looks from this angle so I will recognize it from the more familar angle at Dorothy's. I have always heard Rick refer to Divide Ridge and realize now that I had the wrong spot. Now I see that it actually offers views of both valleys.
The group of us has a great time, showing the wolves to any visitors that stop, eating some lunch, sharing treats.
After a while, some of the Lamars move their bedding spots and I cannot see them as well, so I drive back to Lamar. I set up at Coyote Overlook and relax when I find them again.
Some of them did move a bit to the east, but they are basically in the same spot.
I watch them sleep for about 3 hours. Then, around 4 I notice the pups are beginning to stir. You can always count on the young ones to get restless.
At first they engage in a bit of light play, then do a bit of exploring and wandering about. But one of them is smart enough to go bother the 06 and now she is up.
You can just tell from her body language, that she has decided it's time to go.
Now they all start to get up, stretching, rolling, yawning. And now the whole pack moves east in a slow diagonal from their ridge top napping spot into the trees of Amethyst drainage.
I lose them for a long time, but everyone is still hopefull and Rick still has signals, so we keep looking. Of course it's Calvin who finds them again!
They are at skyline. The sun is setting, and we are looking directly into its fiery orb and I am glad of my special sun-shield glass. A few minutes later the sun sinks far enough down to relieve us, leaving a gorgeous backdrop.
Above the wolves, higher on skyline is a magnificent bull elk beautifully back-lit. The Lamar wolves approach the elk from below, back lit themselves. Two more elk appear with the first specimen, all strong and healthy-looking. The 06 leads them in several attempts to scare them into running but these elk don't fall for it.
Laurie tells me she has never seen the Lamars up this high before.
Something below them seems to interest them and they stop, looking down.
Everyone remarks on what a spectacular sight this is, with elk and wolves silhouetted like this. One moment is burnt into my memory - 8 wolves, some posed on jutting rocks like competing rin-tin-tins, staring down hill while a golden eagle soars above them riding thermals.
Then, one by one, they drop out of sight and disappear.
I had no idea that this would be the very last time I ever saw the 06, or 754, or the pups, or the leaping yearlings.
I am so grateful for such a gorgeous and unforgettable last view of these wolves being wolves.
As the light wanes, we begin our caravan back east.
I see a grizzly out in the big fan, heading across the flats towards the Hubbard carcass. There is no one else around so I stop in the road to watch him a while.
And as I pass the Soda Butte Cone, the setting sun turns the peaks to glowing peach.
Today I saw: a grizzly bear, bison, 4 coyotes, a bald eagle, elk, 21 wolves, including all 13 Lamar Canyon wolves (06, 755, 754, 820, Middle Gray, 776, the two black yearlings, the gray uncollared yearling, two black pups and two gray pups) and 8 members of the Junction Pack (four blacks and four grays) and the spirit of Allison.