The alarm summons us at 6am. The sky is black. The earth is white - with four to six inches of wet packing snow, and it is still coming down. In our former, pampered existence, we'd have snuggled back under the covers, but no, we are intrepid adventurers now, and everybody knows that wolves are best spotted at "first light". My grumpy, cynical self is thinking "First light? There's not going to be ANY light this morning" but then I see W the Dauntless, wrapped in 15 layers of down and polartec, gamely scraping off the windshield. She's also made us coffee and instant oatmeal. So I guess we're going.
W promises not to take any chances - beyond driving a deserted snow-covered highway in the wilderness without cell phone service in the dark (!) and we hit the road. Her plan is to catch up with a man she knows who has a radio that picks up signals from the wolves wearing sensing collars. If any of the beasts are in the area, he will know.
Encouragingly, within about a half hour, a snowplow truck passes us. I remind myself that we're no longer in Ohio and that other parts of the country have actually learned to function when it snows. Unexpectedly, the day actually dawns. The park is exquisitely beautiful in the snow. Inexplicably, we are also not the only folks in the park. Many "wolfers" are gathered, at various prime pullouts, with their spotting telescopes and binoculars and cameras, sharing news. "Seen anything?" "Nope" But they're still HAPPY! (Now I know why they call themselves "The Loons"!)
W has a first-rate telescope by the way, and it is amazing what she is able to find. We meet up with other wolf enthusiast and W asks "Any wolf sightings?" "No" he tells us, but "there is a fresh kill up ahead" !
So we head for the next pull-out and W sets up her scope. The snow has let up and we see an amazing number of animals. There are herds of buffalo high on the hills. There is another grizzly bear (our third, I think), lumbering across the river valley. There are pronghorn antelope. And in the same area - another pronghorn antelope - well that red stain and the lump on the right- that used to be a pronghorn antelope. Surrounding it are a dozen or more coyotes - and lots of ravens. It was grimly fascinating - the coyotes galloping across the field in threes and fours, challenging each other, frightening off the ravens, tearing into their breakfast. We could hear them howling. Everyone was speculating - had wolves brought down the antelope or had the coyotes made the kill themselves?
But there would be no wolf sightings this day, so we had to content ourselves with coyotes. I can just imagine those wolves, Alpha-M cosying up to his lady in their den, saying "What the hell is WRONG with these people? Don't they have DENS to snuggle up in when it snows like this?" W told us later that even the main wolf researcher had gone wolf-less today.
And so we began our final trek homeward. The weather improved but it remained damp and foggy. We spotted a golden eagle soaring overhead as we left the park. The Dauntless one was at long last rattled by a final challenge - driving on the expressway!
As we rounded the final mountain pass and once again approached Bozeman, I heard a strange jingling emanating from my purse. It was my cell phone, a text message from our daughter, our first contact with the outside world in over four days!
What a remarkable trip it has been! We couldn't have done it without W's guidance and encouragement. We have to go back someday, of course, because we think she guaranteed us wolves!