Blue sky slowly breaks through long horizontal clouds. Arrowhead balsamroot covers Lamar Canyon. It looks like a huge rock garden. Three elk cows and a calf watch us drive by. The calf has lost its spots.
Vehicles are parked in turnouts throughout Lamar Valley. Everyone is waiting for wolves to appear, but the valley is quiet except for bouncing bison calves and antelope. The Druids are in the trees or at the den and we cannot wait for them this morning. The sun rises early - by 8 a.m. it's been daylight for about 3 hours and some animals have already come and gone.
Slough Creek is quiet too, but down the road the Agate Pack is lying in the trees near 9F's old den in Little America. We can see two gray wolves, tiny faces peeking through the branches. Another gray stands up and quickly lies down. A black shadow moves - another wolf. They are a very small pack of only four wolves now, still traveling back and forth from Antelope Creek. A couple of years ago we saw twelve Agates march down the stagecoach road from Yancy's Hole. This year we looked for them in the shadow of Mt. Washburn, but didn't have any luck. It's good to see them here, now, even as small a pack as they are and with no pups this year. The Agates go on. So many of the northern packs have split, left the park, or just disappeared.
We stop at Wrecker to scan the basalt cliffs. I remember the wolves here yesterday, six Cottonwoods, and try to imagine 527F
feeding by herself. Last night bears were here and wolves in Soda Butte, but the turnouts were too full to get a parking space. That is the beginning of summer in the Park. This morning we have the cliffs to ourselves, and the Yellowstone River rushing by.
We cross the road walking out to the Yellowstone Trail. Chiselers scamper up and down rocks, guiding us toward the river. We've seen bighorn sheep in the meadows here many times, and black bears with cubs, and our first elk calf. Today the sheep are on the rocky slopes with their lambs. A Western Tanager flits through the trees and sings to us. From this point, Yellowstone spreads out before us - Junction Butte and Little America, the Yellowstone River canyon, and in the distance Yancy's Hole and Hellroarin.
Back across the road the bighorn sheep ram is grazing in the tall grass below his rocky throne. His curled horns long and thick and up the hill from Tower Junction the black bear is out on the slopes again, delighting a long line of vehicles. At Elk Creek another black bear sow is leading her cub over deadfall above Yancy's hole. We did not see Rosie this trip. The first bear I ever saw in Yellowstone is a question mark in my mind.
On the way to Mammoth we stop where I can look across miles to the opposite hills of Hellroarin. I am searching for 527's den site. The acres of grass and trees and rocks are so vast it seems impossible to find- unless one knows exactly where to look. I don't.
It begins to rain and suddenly turns much colder. I haven't seen 527 in about three years. The last time was at a carcass with the other Slough Creek wolves near Aspen one rainy October morning. She has puppies now. Four? Five? Ever the illusive one, she is an old fashioned wolf who shuns the crowds, protects her territory and stays away from other packs. I hoped I would see her this time - just once.
On the day I lost my dog, who was half wolf, I put my wolf ring back on, a simple silver band with running wolves carved into it. I wanted to have something to remind me of her. Now I wear the ring for 527F and 640F, my collared wolves, too. Even though I didn't see either, I know they are running over the hills and rocks of Hellroarin and through Pelican Valley, two wolves doing what wolves were meant to do.
Author - Christine Baleshta
Photography - Tim Springer
Wallpaper from this trip here
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