Wednesday, October 3, 2012
Silver Gate, Montana

    It's 27 degrees when we leave Silver Gate about 6:45 a.m., but it doesn't feel that cold. We load up the 4-Runner, me in a sweater, T-shirt and thermal shirt, and I feel perfectly comfortable. A few stars twinkle as we pull out of the cabin drive. We pass Barronnette Peak ever vigilant of wildlife that might leap out onto the road. A cow elk darts out of the forest and quickly reverses, twisting away from the vehicle in front of us. I can see the alarm in her eyes.
   By the time we reach Soda Butte Cone, the wind is blowing and the cold sinks in. Lamar Valley is tranquil with hardly a bison grazing, until we reach Midpoint where cars string out in the turnouts. The Lamar Canyon Pack is in view making tracks across the river. In the group are 6 wolves. I think I see 755M and 754M, two black wolves, and two gray. At first they rest in the grass, play with each other, and then take off in the direction of Amethyst Bench in a diagonal line we've seen so many times. We go east to find the pups, who have been traveling the ledge trail. Parking at Hitching Post, we wait and just miss them. They sneak back to the den site without us catching them. It helps to know where exactly to look in the tangle of trees. The Lamar Canyons have four pups this year: two black and two gray.
   So we head back toward Little America where I hope we'll find yesterday's grizzly. Wolves from the "New Pack," a group made up of wolves from the Mollie Pack and the Blacktail Pack, are on top of Mom's Ridge, bedded near a long stand of aspen.
    Far away, we can see three blacks and at least one gray, tiny figures playing and lounging in the grass. Others have counted eight wolves, four black and four gray. I don't know how many are pups - two? "Puff" of the Blacktail Pack has been seen with this group, and 823F of the Mollie Pack.
   Today we hike the Lava Creek Trail, an unmarked trailhead at the edge of the Blacktail Plateau. A sign a few yards in from the Lava Creek picnic area points one way to Mammoth and the other way to Blacktail. The trail descends to Lava Creek, skirting the slopes of Mt. Everts. The path is rocky and narrow, winding down the slope through sage, juniper trees and tall grass. The creek is broken by Undine Falls and a couple of other water falls. We walk down to a marked primitive campsite, neatly spaced out next to the creek. At the eastern end of the campsite rests an intact skull and antlers of an elk. It leans against a tree, carefully placed there. Scattered about are other elk bones: a spine, a leg bone. Wolf tracks made during the last rain are scattered on the trail, deeply embedded in the sandy soil. The number of prints indicates this is a heavily used trail.
   We are about to turn around when we come across a large group of big horn sheep ewes and lambs grazing peacefully on the hillside. A few jump away, but for the most part they tolerate our presence. They walk up and down the slope to the creek, ignoring us or keeping one eye on us. A few even walk toward us. We continue past the sheep scaring a coyote out of the tall, golden grass. He leaps in the air and runs away, all the while looking back at us. After frightening the coyote, some of the sheep draw closer to us, getting within four feet or so. This is the point we turn around and begin the trek uphill. A bluebird flies in circles and then flutters in place in mid-air. The uphill climb is more challenging, but no less enjoyable giving us views of the Gardiner Bridge and sheep on top of Mt. Everts.
   The Lamar Canyons, at least six of them including 755M and 754M, are curled into balls in what we think is their rendezvous site. We heard that '06 and 820F were in Silver Gate recently. The wolves need to stay within the Park boundaries as the wolf hunt is on and there are people in Cooke City itching to shoot a wolf. It surprises me that people who make a good living from wolf watchers would jeopardize that relationship.

Author - Christine Baleshta
Photography - Tim Springer

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Yellowstone Experiences 2012