DAY SIX - Friday, December 30

AN ETHEREAL CHOIR


It's warm again this morning, in fact, it's nearly a repeat of yesterday.

There is a very light rain falling which turns to snow when we reach Mammoth. We stop again at the Nature Trail where we scope yet again, in vain.

I look all around the House Rock area where I saw the Blacktails last night, but they are gone. Becka arrives and tells us her telemetry confirms they are not nearby.

So we head east and re-assemble at Hellroaring Overlook. Almost immediately we are serenaded by coyotes. We can't see them but we hear their lovely voices, echoing through the softly falling snow.

Then, surprisingly, the snow-veil lifts and gives us a lovely view. We set up and find lots of bison and elk. About an hour passes and we still have no wolves.

Becka has not passed us on her way east so we begin to suspect that she is still looking west of us. I volunteer to drive back to see what's up. I find her at the Perch. She tells me the Blacktails have been trying to cross the road from south to north, but they are being prevented from doing so by several over-eager visitors.

I tell her I will go back to Hellroaring and stay out of their way. Hopefully they will cross and we will soon see them from our vantage point.

Back at Hellroaring, when I relay this news, Calvin suggests we head further east and try looking back from the big skier's lot. We follow his lead, but alas, the weather does not cooperate.

The snow comes down heavily, shrouding everything in a thick soup. We can just make out the shapes of numerous elk in the mist on the high hills and we watch as they start to move downhill but we never see any other shapes behind them.

Then a visitor stops and tells us he saw 8 wolves cross the road about 4 miles back. He has photos and Calvin recognizes the Blacktails. We find out later that this visitor was one of those who pushed the wolves the most. Not from ill will; he was just excited, trying to get photos.

We head back to Hellroaring. Visibility is in and out but we do our best to find them. At least the wind is less problematic here.

We hear from Laurie that nothing is being seen in Little America. There was some howling in the early morning and one lone gray was spotted on the Mollie's carcass from yesterday, but the snow and wind has prevented any other sightings.

After about a half hour of fruitless searching we let our guard down. An impromptu tailgate party begins as we each bring forth the holiday treats we have, to share with each other.

So, when the comraderie and laughter is at its peak, Rick pulls in. We suddenly feel like third graders who have been caught by the teacher!

Well, Rick's telemetry shows the Blacktail alphas are in the area so we get down to business and back to scoping.

About 10 minutes later Richard calls "got 'em".

He sees three grays through the snowfall, moving from east to west towards a curve in Hellroaring Creek. For the life of me, I can't find them, and I take some comfort in the fact that several other great spotters are having trouble, too. Chloe let's me look in her scope and I see one of them. But when I try to get my scope on that spot I find nothing but falling snow.

For the next half hour, these grays are seen for a moment or two, then lost, by various individuals. Visitors pull in and want to see, and everyone makes a valiant effort to show them, but this is one of the most impossible and frustrating sightings I've ever had.

I think I move my scope five times, trying to get a clearer view. Because the wolves are not in the open, the branches of the foreground trees wreak havoc with my sightlines.

Eventually the wolves move toward the confluence of Hellroaring Creek and the Yellowstone River, a spot where Rick says they will be impossible to see.

Oh well. We did try!

After a little while we hear howling. It echoes all around and seems to be coming from the very place they were last seen. We try to make out how many voices. It could be three or it could be just two.

The sound is so lovely.

Then it stops and we scope like mad, figuring they are now moving. A few minutes later they howl again. This time it seems to be right below us, right below the center point of the cliff. The sound reverberates eerily and beautifully, like choir singing does in a gothic cathedral. It is gorgeous.

Then silence again. They are looking for someone, we figure, perhaps those that crossed earlier? We scope like mad. Again we hear howling, and this time it is slightly to the right and seems closer than ever.

Steve is scoping behind me. Suddenly he calls "there they are!". I look where he points and YES! In a tiny V of snow between the tops of high connifers I see two gray wolves, both collared, muzzles in the air, still howling!

I am able to return the favor to Chloe as she takes a look in my scope. They don't stay long. Once they finish howling, I see the larger wolf (778) turn and look behind him. 693 looks that way, too. Then he trots down the hill and out of sight. She follows him and now I see only the V-shaped patch of snow.

We wonder if they just now found whomever they were seeking?

After this I decide to head east. Becky and Chloe want to stay for the time being, so I tell them I'll check in with them later. At first as I drive east, visibility seems to get a little better.

But by the time I reach Tower, the weather deteriorates. It's now raining and it's not just falling gently, it's falling in buckets. And the wind blows it in gusts across the road at times.

It's the kind of weather that keeps you in your car!

So I try to find something to watch that is close to the road. Aha! Bison! At Boulder pond I find a small herd fairly close by. What catches my attention, though is the behavior of two young bulls.

They are engaged in a head-butting contest. Pushing each other a few steps this way, then a few steps that way. They seem to be an evenly matched pair.

After a while, young bull #1 seems to get bored. He stands for a while, then begins to fold his legs beneath him, to bed down. But young bull #2 takes advantage and rushes forward, slamming into bull #1 in what looks to me to be a very unfair move. Bull #1 thinks so, too. He looks pissed. He rises back to his feet, lowers his head, and pushes his rival backwards about three times as far as either of them had done before, unfortunately right into a group of cows and calves that were just minding their own business.

The herd scatters and the bulls continue to butt heads.

Well. this gets the attention of the referrees, two older looking bulls who come walking over to the younger males. They stand there, as if saying "ok now, let's all settle down before someone loses an eye". The young bulls get the message and separate, one going east the other going west. The big bulls stand there, a moment, then they start grazing. Peace has been restored to bison town.

Well ok. It's time for me to admit it. This weather sucks!

For the first time in many visits, I am driven out of the Park by weather. I accept that some days are just no good for watching critters and this is one of them.

I turn around and head west, pretty much the only driver in the whole Park.

It's so strange to arrive in Mammoth when it's still light! On my way down the Gardner Canyon I see that Boiling Springs is jam packed with cars.

As come through the gate I see numerous elk on the mogul hills.

When I get to the motel I check in with Becky and Chloe and we make a plan to go to the Mine for a nice dinner and great conversation.

And I get to bed extra early for once!

Today I saw: bison, coyotes, elk, 3 wolves (778M, 693F and one other, all Blacktails), 13 wolf-watchers and the spirit of Allison.




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