The morning is cold and cloudy. A single bull elk stands below Baronnette Peak as we pass by. A flutter of wings rises from the road several times. Robins hunting in the early morning. Near Soda Butte cone a large dark shape rummages in the tall grass. A bear. From Soda Butte cone we see what appears to be a large black bear, his silvery shading confusing us. Later, looking at photos, we realize it was a grizzly, with its dished-in face.
    Suddenly coyotes begin howling in a chaotic whirl of sound. It's difficult to pinpoint where it's coming from. Not far from the bear a coyote moves west and sits down in the grass. All is quiet once again. Last May a pair of coyotes raised their litter of five across the road. I wonder if those pups have been singing to me now.
    The Lamar Valley is quiet again. Bison are scattered everywhere. A gray wolf with dark back and light belly trots west of Amethyst Bench at a quick rate, clutching something in his mouth, probably a bone. We follow him into a stand of fir trees and lose him, only to find him again with four other wolves on top of Amethyst Bench. Three pups, all black, and an adult wrestle in the sage. They are very high up and impossible to see from the road, so we hike up to level two of Cardiac Hill where we are able to watch the wolves playing for two hours.
    From the hill they are small, but we can see them wagging tails, stretch, dig holes, explore. The three black pups are the survivors of the Slough Creek Pack's spring litter. In May they numbered 14 or 15 and now there are only three. Wolf enthusiasts watched as they weakened and died of parvovirus, a disease which struck other packs as well. These three pups were afflicted also, but managed to survive.
    The day warms up a little and we hike along the Yellowstone River under the threat of storm clouds. Late afternoon finds us back at Buffalo Ranch watching a herd of at least 50 buffalo - cows, bulls and calves. Most of the calves have grown the rich dark brown fur of their parents, but a few smaller calves still retain a reddish/brown color. It is a mark of their age. Calves do not lose their red-brown fur until they are two months old. We stand there, totally absorbed by these huge animals grazing on the Ranger's front lawn when they suddenly stampede across the road and jump into the meadows south of the Ranch. We have no idea what disturbed them.
    Almost at the same time, we notice a string of wolves moving east on the far side of the Lamar River right below Amethyst Bench. The Sloughs are on the move again and they seem to be hunting. They pass by grazing bison slowly and seem to be checking them out. A large bison challenges them to come closer. The bison face the string of seven wolves and push them back. The Sloughs have taken up hunting bison successfully and are now a serious threat. The wolves seem to be circling the bison, but back off when challenged, and pass by, looking back.

Author - Christine Baleshta
Photography - Tim Springer

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Yellowstone Experiences 2006