The Druids made a kill sometime last night and have a carcass near Soda Butte this morning. We watch two black wolves climb the slopes of Mt. Norris from Footbridge. It looks like 480M and the black wolf called "White Line." 480 is losing his winter coat, shedding strips of fur, making him look thinner than I last remember him. He and White Line head high up on the slopes, both looking back occasionally. Other Druids must be around, but I don't see them. They are bedded in the sage and grass after feeding. I just see two black wolves following an unmarked trail they have traveled many times before, until I can't see them any more. This is their territory. Like 21M and 42F and all the other Druids, this is what they do, where they go.
    Mornings begin cold, in the 30s. Today is a clear, sunny day and we want to make the most of the weather. We hike from a very crowded Artist's Point toward Ribbon Lake. Red and Pink fade into cream colored walls of the canyon. It's been several years since I've stopped to look at the falls and I am awed by the beautiful colors and power of the river. I'm afraid of heights so I keep away from the edges and focus on the colors - red to pink to tan to yellow to cream. Rushing, foaming water below. Pine trees high above, then higher still the alpine meadows. How did I miss this years before, the trail winding through woods up to the top of the canyon and down to a lily pond? In between deadfall a snowshoe hare hops. I catch only white feet joining a gray body.
    We make a loop of sorts in the Park. From Artists Point we travel to Canyon and across Cascade Meadows. I remember driving this way when the Mollie Pack weaved in and out of the trees along the road and make a mental note of all the places I saw them. I hear the echo of their howls. Big wolves, tall black and gray wolves with long legs. The creek beside along Virginia Cascade Meadows Road is running fast. The Hayden Pack used to travel this road often. We drive past a man and his son fishing above the waterfall. The Haydens and Mollies are gone.
    We stop at Indian Creek campground to walk around. A ranger driving out tells us he saw a cinnamon colored bear, but lost it. We spot a very large cow elk lying wedged between two trees. She stands to get a better look at us. Maybe she was the ranger's bear.
    The Mammoth elk herd is scattered with a few cows enjoying the shade near the church on this warm afternoon, one with a calf. He is at least a month old and running around the lawn in between the Park residences. He jumps in the air and circles the cows. A lady with a camera gets too close and frightens the calf. He bleats and runs away, the cows running after him and charging toward the sidewalk. The visitors are getting too close, asking for trouble.
    It's early evening when the sun begins its descent and the hills turn golden. Tall grasses sway in the breeze in Little America. Near Aspen vehicles crowd the turnouts and hug the edge of the road. A young grizzly is deep in the ravine, contemplating crossing the road. He pops up at the edge of the grass about five feet from our car and looks around. He looks about two years old and 200 pounds. The bear doesn't take his time, but lopes across the road and into the sage on the other side, zigzagging up the slope toward Specimen Ridge.
    The Druids are still feeding on the carcass in the Soda Butte while a huge crowd watches from Hitching Post. 480M and a black yearling are tearing at the elk lying in the creek. The wolves are close enough to see their faces in the scope, 480 with his white muzzle and blaze, the yearling all black. Soon three other Druids plunge into the creek from the north side and swim across the water to the carcass. The creek is not deep and they quickly reach the other side and shake themselves off. The yearling is delighted to see them, prancing around. He grabs a huge piece of hide and runs around flinging it from side to side, while the other wolves, 569, 690 and another black tear at the carcass. 480M grabs the carcass and with the help of 569 starts dragging it out of the water onto the shore. It flips over into the grass and the wolves continue to tear pieces off, although the carcass is pretty clean; there is not much left. The wolves pull off what they can and run into the grass with a bone or tidbit and bed down.
    There is a large crowd again tonight. A van has a video camera pointed at the wolves in the creek and we can watch the Druids feeding, live on a computer screen. Such a thing seems out of place, helpful as it is to some people. It adds a circus quality to wildlife viewing. The light is fading rapidly; soon the wolves will disappear into darkness as the sun sets, and no one will see them.

Author - Christine Baleshta
Photography - Tim Springer

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Yellowstone Experiences 2009