I am up early for my last full day. There is wispy fog on the road again.
The bison herd is in the road west of Trout Lake again, but they are much less problematic this morning. I'm able to weave slowly through them with only momentary stopping.
I realize that 859 is likely to be on the carcass this morning, so I start to drive that way, but I hear a promising call from Laurie so I turn around. I join her and Dan at Soda Butte East. A visitor told Laurie he saw a black wolf on the ridge opposite the Soda cone a little while ago.
We scope in vain for about 15 minutes, and I am about to head west again when three women in an east-bound stop in front of us. One of them points out her window and says "isnt that a wolf?"
My eyes go wide and sure enough it is. In fact it's TWO wolves, a black and a gray, fairly high on the north hill directly opposite us. We had been looking too far west!
The wolves parallel the road to the east. It's Middle Gray and the Black Female. They continue east, staying fairly high, and thanks to the sharp eyes of those two visitors, we are able to show many people their first wolves.
As the sister wolves near Trout Lake they move down lower on the slope and then disappear completely in some sort of gully.
Laurie says this is one of their usual routes to Trout Lake and we will probably not see them again for a while. I guess the carcass yesterday was just not enough, and they need to continue to hunt for more food.
After about a half hour of fruitless looking, we head west. We are delayed quite a while due to all the bison on the road, but I just can't let it bother me. 8~) While I'm waiting, I notice that Soda Butte Creek is running clear again.
Once I finally get through the bison, I end up at the Institute again. In almost an exact repeat of yesterday. 859M is again in view bedded in the high grass above the small carcass.
He gnaws and chews, chews and gnaws. After a little while he gets up and retreats towards the big fan. He spooks some pronghorn which run east, then they circle around and pass him, going west, then circle again, passing him going east. They do this twice. The third time they pass him he gives chase. It's very unusual and makes some of us wonder if the pronghorn are trying to distract him from something - like perhaps their fawns?
Whatever their motivation is, seeing pronghorn on the run is always cool.
859 reaches the treeline and disappears. No coyotes bother him today.
I hear a report of further wolf activity to the east, so off I go.
I stop at western curve (just beyond the eastern end of Footbridge). Others go to the eastern curve. Middle Gray is in plain view, walking along the edge of the road, with cars both in front of and behind her. She is looking for ground squirrels.
I see her grab a tiny carcass and carry it south into the sage where she stops to gobble it down. Then back on the road she goes, crossing and re-crossing. She is definitely looking for road kill, not handouts. This is what the Black Female was doing the other day, too.
But of course, a wolf in the road creates a big traffic jam, so Rick and Ranger Bill have their hands full. One of the offenders should really know better - he's the driver of a bright yellow old-fashioned Tour Bus. He follows Middle Gray at a snail's pace, stopping frequently (in the no-stopping zone) to snap photos of her. I hope he gets bawled out.
Middle Gray finally gives up her search and crosses north, heading back towards the den hills. I see no sign of the Black Female.
I drive back to Hitching Post, thinking I will catch sight of her up in the hills from there, but before I can pull out my scope, I see people running towards the western end of the pullout. Middle Gray is here already, but she's down on the road.
I stay close to my car and watch. Rick deals with traffic while some of us try our best to keep him appraised of her movements. Eventually she heads north up 21's crossing.
I am determined for one last view of those puppies, so out to the rolling hills I go. But despite another hour of diligent scoping, I'm skunked.
Kathie and Ranger Bill have been talking about a hike out the Lamar River trail and I think I may go with them. One last try to find the pups, I say to myself. But the day is growing warm and it seems to take me forever to get ready.
Once we get to Footbridge, a new issue arises. Bison. While the bulk of the herd is well east of here, there is still a chance they will move into the area and block our access to the road. But Bill and Kathie do not seem that worried and they are far more experienced than I.
I hike across the bridge with them but no sooner do we get out in the flats when the radio crackes with the report of another wolf sighting, which I presume is the Black Female.
Given the prevalence of bison, the blazing sun and a wolf in view, I decide to bag the hike.
I make my apologies to Bill & Kathie, wish them good hiking, and head back to the pullout.
Once I get to the eastern curve lot, I discover it's not the Black Female but poor, hungry Middle Gray again. She is now on the south side of the road, approaching the creek. There are bison on the other side, but she crosses anyway. She sniffs here and there, then promptly turns around and comes back. She moves right toward the willow where the month-old bison carcass is.
She settles down to gnaw on the bones. This is about the closest I've seen her in a long while. Her coloring is so similar to a coyote - she has the same orange on her ears that coyotes do, and she is small overall. But her legs and face and overall demeanor prove she's a wolf.
After a short, pitiful snack on the old bones, Middle Gray gets up again and journeys further west, paralleling the creek. There are hardly any fishermen in the creek today, despite the fact that the water is clear again. Which convinces me that it is more likely the bison that kept most fishermen away.
I lose my wolf, then find her again, then suddenly she is approaching the road again. Cars are stopped all over. I hear Ray on the radio trying to reach Rick. Middle Gray stays close to the road but she is not really causing trouble, just making many tourists happy with their photo ops.
Finally she gets across and I see her headed back to the den hills.
The sun is relentless today and I need to get out of it, so I pack up and seek shelter at Lauries.
Just before dinnertime Laurie gets a phone call from Ranger Bill. Poor Kathie had an accident on the hike and hurt her knee quite badly. It became very painful and swollen and when some outfitters came riding out, they asked for help. One of the outfitters gallantly offered his horse to Kathie. Bill was able to radio for assistance and an ambulance picked her up from Footbridge and took her to the Mammoth Clinic.
Note: At this writing, Kathie has recovered somewhat - she walked well enough to continue watching wolves through most of August. She is back home now. Get well soon, my friend!
I spend my final evening out on the rolling hills. I meet some nice folk from Michigan who tell me they saw a cougar in the road around 4:30 in the morning on their way to Lamar from Gardiner. The area they descibe sounds like the upper switchbacks just west of the Undine pullout. They show me a blurry photo, and it's defintely a cougar!
Well, it's a pleasant evening and I'm among dear friends, but we do not see any wolves tonight.
I linger by myself for a while at Footbridge, breathing the clean air, listening to the sounds and watching the beautiful world.
On my drive up to Silver Gate, so many bugs hit my windshield that it sounds like it's raining!
TODAY I SAW: bison, a chipmunk, a moose, pronghorn, 3 wolves (including Lamar Canyon pack 859M, Middle Gray and the Black Female) and the spirit of Allison.