Above me are scattered stars and the bright, clear moon as I make my way down to the valley. The temperature reads 34, about the same as yesterday.
I stop at Round Prairie where I find two cars already here. The moonlight shows me the carcass in the river corridor, but there is nothing on it. The water hums and murmurs quietly.
After about 15 minutes of listening and scanning the dark meadow I decide to move on. I hope the wolves had a nice meal overnight and are now headed back to Slough to bring some to their pups.
I arrive at Slough around 7AM and see numerous folk already out on the Knob, including Rick set up his folding stool. I whisper my good morning to Stacy, Sian and Doug M, as Rick does his telemetry.
I point Layla in the direction the others are watching and as soon as I take the lens cap off I see a black wolf! And a moment later, a second black. Rick confirms they are 755 and 754. They are just bedded in sage above a curve of the stream.
Then we hear howling. Puppy howling! Their high puppy voices try so hard to sound mournful, but they are just too full of sweet young life. In another moment we see them come bounding over a rise further to the south. They are heading straight for the adults.
I see all four of them and quickly pick out the lightest and darkest pup. When they get close to 755 he bolts away from them! I guess he already gave them some dinner. Undaunted, the pups turn to 754, but he shows them his teeth! Oh, those poor males. It must be hard to always be hounded to give up your meal!
Although it's disconcerting to see the males be so un-generous to their own pups, they obviously do not always behave this way. If they did, the pups would have perished long ago!
I then see another gray to the right and realize I'm looking at The 06. Yay, the whole family is here! The pups go to her while the males move across the meadown to the west.
Seeing them together gives me a chance to see how to tell them apart. 754 is burly while 755 is long and lean. 754 also has more smatterings of gray in his coat, but is still a dark black wolf.
Jake shows up and I show him where to look. The blacks are trying to bed again but the pups won't leave them alone. One pup is on his back, all four legs in the air. But the males are not moved and soon the pups are distracted. One of them starts to mouse, cocking his head to one side. So cute!
Two of the pups head to the riverbank. There is always something interesting for a pup near the water. They trot down through the high grass and willows and take a drink. I notice several fishermen working the main channel of Slough Creek. They don't seem to be bothering the wolves at all.
The pups climb back up the bank and then take off running to the west.
I lose them and try to find the 06 again. She is sacked out near a lone tree. It's a long way from Round Prairie! She's hard to see because the grass is so high. I do notice a pretty bird perched in the top branches of the tree but can't identify it other than some sort of small raptor, like a kestrel, maybe? Or a harrier?
The pups come back and pester mom again but finally settle down. So now that they are quiet, Jake and I talk about where to go next. Top of our list is to see what's going on with the Antelope Fire. This is a wildfire that started about a week ago and has burned off an on. It is being closely monitored and when it got dangerously close to the Tower Store, suppression efforts were begun.
I've smelled the burning and have seen the smoke drifting over Specimen Ridge into Lamar and Little America since I got here. The Dunraven road has been closed for several days. Today it looks less active and we decide to see what's going on.
At the Roosevelt Corral, we notice it has been made a staging area for the firefighters. There is a helicopter pad and a helicopter, numerous trucks and equipment, and many rugged-looking men in the area.
When we get to the Tower Store, though, we see the barrier blocking the way, so we cannot drive any closer. We could walk up, I guess, but perhaps the fire crews would not be happy about that. So Jake suggests we climb a hill to see what a view might offer.
But first, breakfast! We boil water for coffee and oatmeal in the nearly deserted lot, and watch some mule deer drama. We see what we think is a buck chasing a doe. The doe crashes through the underbrush and finally comes into view between some trees. That's when we learn it is not a doe but another, smaller buck.
I suppose the first buck, with a larger set of antlers, didn't want the other guy around. The "loser" is a beauty, too, and I am happy to see him escape without injury, trotting up the campground road.
At the Tower store are various fire-fighting preparations. A fat hose like a giant python runs from Tower Creek past the stores picnic tables and curves around the entrance, ready to be hooked up when necessary. There is also a giant orange polyester bucket, about 6 feet wide, full of water, on the terrace in front of the restrooms. At first I think it is what helicopters carry and dump on a fire, but I learn later that it is a reservoir to be used in case the fire again threatens the Store.
Eventually we hike up the hill "behind" the Tower Store. There used to be a footbridge over Tower Creek leading to a trail, but apparently the spring torrent wiped out that bridge - and it has not yet been repaired.
So instead, we scramble up the steep hill above the road it until we find a game trail, which leads us to the regulary trail. From here I can plainly see the service road that Ballpark Frank skis on in winter, along with an impressive view of Tower Creek Canyon.
Once we get to the "top" we go straight out to a rocky overlook that juts out over the road below, offering an even more fantastic view of the bend in the Yellowstone familiar from the pullouts. While we are looking and talking, we hear some rustling to the north. Jake goes to investigate and finds we have accidentally spooked some bighorns.
We move from the ledge further up the hill, trying to get a better view of the fire. Eventually we are able to see just how close the fire came to the Store, and all the blackened hillsides and burnt trunks. There are still thin plumes of smoke rising from hot spots higher on the hill to the east. At the very highest point we can see, the ground is barest of all and sports an orange coloration that I don't think is seasonal. I think it's flame-retardant.
It's good to get the exercise and good to shoot the breeze with Jake, and we find several oddments: some petrified wood, some old glass fragments, and a mysterious pipe fixed deep in the ground.
Once we get back to our cars some visitors ask if we have seen the mountain goats, right on the road? We figure they probably mean the bighorn ewes and lambs that often hang out here, perhaps even the ones we spooked.
We drive west about two pullouts and sure enough there they are. We stop to watch them a bit. I do love seeing the lambs.
On we go, heading west. We find Rainy Lake with a good deal of rain in it. The day has warmed to about 60, but we find it a bit cooler at the always-shaded Hellroaring pullout.
We spend two restful hours at Hellroaring, scoping all over. We find bison, a red tail hawk and more bighorns, and chat with several groups of visitors. One of the ladies finds a string of horses moving north along a trail. We watch their progress a while, and Jake speculates the men are setting up a hunters camp outside the park. We see two riders and eight horses; all loaded down with supplies.
Eventually Jake heads off for a nap and I take the Blacktail Drive. I find some really gorgeous aspen, some both orange and yellow as well as many lovely willows. The day gets more and more windy.
As I approach the switchback section I get another view of the Antelope Fire and I can see that the wind has kicked it back up. There is a great deal of smoke.
I head back to Little America, and see numerous pronghorn moving on both sides of the road. Then I see a big jam up ahead. Grizzly, I say to myself! I park and climb the low slope, setting up Layla next to a few other visitors and sure enough, there is the bear, his brown back just visible above a patch of brush.
I bet he's eating berries! He is certainly content to stay in that area, and I don't see any birds that would indicate a carcass. The bushes grow out of a shallow depression, the type of spot where berry bushes would grow.
Big John and another ranger are up here on the hill. They have just spotted some hikers up on the trail above the bear. At first it looks like the hikers do not see the bear but finally they stop.
Even if they don't see the bear, they would see the cars and the people and hopefully would figure it out. And, they do. After taking a few photos, the hikers walk away from the bear.
The bear never seems to react to them at all.
But I leave the bear jam in favor of stopping at Slough. I find Bob's Knob fairly deserted and I wonder if the Lamar Canyon Pack has moved elsewhere? I check in with Laurie and find she is on her way back from Livingston, having decided to get her car fixed today after all.
Without any regulars to confer with, I ask other visitors to please let me know if they see any wolves. Luckily for me, there are several eagle-eyed and friendly folk in the group.
After about 15 minutes, a young woman sees a black wolf running and points to the area, quite a bit west of where we had them this morning. It takes a while, but soon we all find them. First, I find the two males (black wolves are always easier to see!). They are loping up sage hill west of the den area. With them I find four grays, and I am pretty sure they are all pups. I don't think I saw the 06, most likely because she would likely be in front of the males.
We are treated to three howling sessions, which are a big hit with the crowd. Laurie stops by on her way back from Livingston and watches with me for a while, then heads east.
Jake returns and wants to find elk. He says (sarcastically) he is sure the wolves have killed them all. Then he finds a lone bull elk up on Specimen. So at least one still lives.
I say good night to the wolves and follow Jake to Dorothy's, where he finds a few more elk way up on the Specimen skyline, as well as a coyotes on Park Ranger mountain. We notice a lot more smoke coming over Specimen Ridge from the re-juvenated Antelope Fire and it makes a hazy but lovely sunset.
Our last stop is at the Confluence, where we find an actual elk herd on the slopes of Norris, probably two dozen, the most we have seen so far. Of course, the bison are plentiful all over the valley.
The light begins to wane and it's time to call it another great day. The enormous moon pops out above Warm Creek, and I see a bright star that I believe may be Jupiter.
My last sighting of the night is mule deer at the Entrance gate.
Today I saw: 1 grizzly bear, bison, coyotes, mule deer, elk, bighorn sheep, 7 wolves (the Lamar Canyon Pack; the 06 female, 755 and 754 and 4 pups, 1 Loon, and the spirit of Allison