As if to celebrate last night's nick-of-time victory, the skies are finally clear!
My first stop is Soda Butte East where I join Rick. He has signals for the Lamar Canyon pack both sides of the road. So I decide to stay right here while he moves west.
Soon after, I notice movement on one of the northern hills across from the Soda Cone. Two gray pups (yearlings) peek over the hill and head down through the snow, stopping about half-way down. They look towards the south with great intent.
One yearling gets up and starts for the road, but just then the snowplow comes by, scaring him back uphill. The other sits on its haunches and I imagine it is laughing at the other one. A third gray appears, followed by a black, larger than these three. All four wolves lift their muzzles and begin to howl, although I cannot hear them.
Instead, I hear a response! There is howling to the south, almost directly across from me. I can't see any animals, but they may be in the forest. But apparently, the group on the hill likes what it hears from the group in the forest, because when the howl is finished, all four wolves move purposefully downhill.
There are some anxious moments as they cross the road. Luckily there is very little traffic for Rick to worry about. I have a great view of them as they reach the high berm, climb up and over, cross the road and climb the berm on the other side.
Laurie & Dan pull in and join me. Together we watch the four wolves move jauntily over the snow-filled flats, past the cone and into the open.
Dan announces he has found the other group just at the edge of the forest. One black and two grays. Yep - it all becomes clear. The alphas and one pup are in the forest, while the remaining 3 pups and uncle 754 are the four I spotted to the north. The group is about to re-unite and I grin, hoping to witness the greeting.
I see them now, moving through the forest to the west while the first group heads towards them, moving east. For once luck is with us, and the wonderful pack greeting occurs in full view of everyone watching from the road, just to the west of a large tree near the river bank.
I watch a joyous pile of wagging tails and eager muzzles. I can see The 06 is still quite pregnant (her due date is next week) but I am delighted to see how lively she is this morning. 754, the pups favorite uncle, is also very playful. He is right in there with them as the four pups jump and carouse with each other. I think it is impossible to be anything but happy while watching a wolf-pack greeting.
After the main greeting, the romping group heads to the tree for more robust play, enjoying life to the fullest. It really feels like this sighting is a reward for all the worry about the shut down. And if that weren't enough, finally seeing Lamar Valley under the sun is a real sight for sore eyes.
The happy family interacts and plays with each other, until Mama reminds them of their business. She heads east, up the old river bank and into the trees.
We have been calling our chums to the west, to encourage them to head east to share this lovely sighting but I hear from Laurie that the reason they are not yet here is because Becky & Chloe have found the Agates! That rarely seen pack is currently in view in Little America. I am very glad my friends saw wolves - if they had to miss this special sighting, at least they had their own.
Once the Lamar Canyon wolves disappear into the trees I decide to push my luck and head west. And sure enough luck is still with me as I arrive in plenty of time to see the Agates.
I join Becky and Chloe along the straightaway in Little America. Six Agate wolves are in view: Cut-tail (the alpha female), 641M, two gray yearling pups and two black yearling pups. One of the black pups is particularly big and gorgeous.
Chloe tells me she found them coming down a slope from the west. She says she is not sure they have a carcass here but something has drawn them to the area. We watch them snif around, reading the "newspaper" wolf-styles. After a while, the adults bed and the pups continue to explore.
Two of them head up a bare slope to a large boulder. They pause near this, sniffing a lot, then begin to dig. They are really into it, and before long we see dirt flying, mixed with snow.
We wonder if they have maybe found a badger den? One of the pups gets so far into the hole you can only see his wagging tail. Everyone with a dog at home has seen this behavior and we chuckle a good deal about it. The group of us become more social than watchful, and soon treats of one kind or another are being passed around. I tell Bceky & Chloe about my morning sighting with the Lamar Canyons and we share our relief that the shut down did not happen after all.
Then the adults get up and begin to move. The alpha female leads them uphill, pausing for a bit near the excavation. Whatever drove the pups to dig that hole has subsided and they are ready for their next adventure.
We lose them in the trees. Many of us have seen them use this route to get back on top of Specimen Ridge and we watch the likely clearings along that route. But they never show.
Calvin and Laurie go west to have a look back from Elk Creek but they do not spot them, either. Becky & Chloe and I decide to head back east in hopes of seeing the Lamars again.
We set up at Soda Butte east again and scan the forest for all we're worth. Champion spotter Chloe takes the prize! She finds a gray, in amongst the trees. Then, we start to see more movement, and eventually find all seven. In fact, they are here on a carcass. It seems to be wedged between two tree trunks.
We move a little to the west for a better view and spend the next two hours watching them feed and chase birds and interact with each other. They are often difficult to see as they move between the tree trunks but it's still much better than the snow-veiled views we've been having!
The aftenoon grows warmer and, alas, the time comes for us to leave. We say our goodbyes and head west. As we pass the Confluence I show Becky & Chloe the bull elk carcass up beneath the cliff. Chloe sees grizzly tracks in the snow by the road! They were huge! Well I guess we know what that bear was doing here!
We see three bighorn ewes at the Yellowstone River Bridge and can't get over how lovely the landscape looks under sun! Every other time we've driven through this part of the Park on this trip, it has been snowing!
We scope from Elk Creek, from Lower Hellroaring and Hellroaring. We stop at the Blacktail carcass from two days ago but find just ribs.
We look for a rumored carcass near Blacktail Ponds, but don't find it. And finally we scope from the big lot for the Quadrants. We see many contented elk and bison and a pronghorn, but no wolves. Today is a high count for us, lucky 13!
I say my goodbyes to Becky & Chloe and to Allison. For the first time in a very long time, I drive over Bozeman Pass in the sunshine!
Today I saw: bison, coyotes, elk, bighorn sheep, 13 wolves (the entire Lamar Canyon Pack, and 6 Agates (Cut Tail, 641 and four pups) and the spirit of Allison