Friday, November 4, 2011
Silver Gate, Montana

    We get a late start, leaving the cabin at 8:30 a.m. It's 16. Icy patches checkerboard the roads. Meadows, frosted with the snowfall of late October, are empty. As we reach Lamar Valley, bison begin to dot the hillside. In summer or spring, the turnouts would be filled with cars, the road busy. We pass only two trucks and then no one until we are past Hitching Post. We were sure the Lamar Canyon pack would still be here, but there is no one watching. Rounding the bend at the Confluence, people are hiking down the next hill. We have missed the Lamar Canyons - all 11 of them.
   On to Slough Creek to look at the carcass. The Agates are on top of Specimen Ridge, but so far up and in the middle of heat waves, I can't see them. Slough Creek, lovely this time of morning with its icy edges, is quiet except for ravens picking at the carcass. The crowd moves west to Elk Creek where the viewing is no better - at least not for wolves. Elk graze on the slopes of Yancy's Hole while coyotes yip and bark, a lively morning chorus. It is a typical wolf watcher morning - back and forth and back again.
   We return to Lamar Valley to scan the slopes of the fan down to the river and the bench west of Chalcedony Creek. The Lamar Canyons are on top of the bench. I count at 7 wolves, but there are actually nine wolves milling around. They bed near a bison and seem to be watching him closely when they hear something -an unusual howl, muted, soft; not the usual wolf howl. I'm not sure I heard it. The wolves rally and move east, bedding down again behind some trees. There are lots of bison, but no elk in Lamar Valley. I remember coming here and the valley was filled with elk. We watch for a while and then move west again to find a place to hike.
   Behind Petrified Tree, the trail is lightly covered with snow, steep and slippery, but leveling out at the top to a beautiful view of Tower Junction, Junction Butte and Specimen Ridge. The hill climbs above the ranger station and descends into forest. A herd of startled cow elk runs behind us. Off the trail and back in the trees, are two more elk. Suddenly a siren blares, short blasts coming from behind Roosevelt Lodge. Rangers are hazing a bear, though we can't see it. As we walk the road into Yancy's Hole, shots are fired in the distance. It must be a difficult bear.
   The trail is littered with coyote tracks with a few wolf tracks molded into the soft, sandy soil. Bison graze on the hillsides. Suddenly, another coyote chorus breaks out with yipping and barking and howling. Too warmly dressed, the climb up to Elk Creek is brutal, but it's fun following the winding horse trail through this part of Yancy's Hole. Part of an elk leg lies in the middle of the trail, something wolves probably left behind.
   Both hot and cold, we head back toward Lamar Valley. The Lamar Canyon Pack, still 9, has moved to the west side of Jasper Bench. Bedded down, they get up occasionally to stretch or turn around, only to bed again. Finally they rally, jumping on one another, tails wagging. They head down to the river, trotting. 754 is limping and it looks like a black pup is limping as well. Even 06, who leads the pack looks like she's tripping. As they step into the river; the glare of sunlight on the water is blinding. Shadows of wolves dance on the river bank, disappearing to cross the road farther down and travel up Secret Passage.
   The Beartooths glow in the evening light. This time of year in the Park is quiet, peaceful, the emptiness easy to embrace - Yellowstone in its simple beauty. The urgency of wildlife watching is gone. Only the Park is left.

Author - Christine Baleshta
Photography - Tim Springer

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Yellowstone Experiences 2012