All photos by
Tim Springer
Christine Baleshta

   The last time I saw 21M he was swimming across a narrow S-shaped bend in the Lamar River below Amethyst Peak. On the other side is a carcass where other Druid Peak Pack members wait. I follow his head and wet grey fur pushing through the water and watch him step out onto a sandy bank where he shakes the river off, muscles rippling. I don't remember him feeding on the carcass long. Instead, he climbs the bank and lies down near 286F and washes himself. His head is smeared with blood. The Druids killed an elk and there was blood on its flank, and I wonder if the alpha was injured during the hunt. I look carefully for signs of distress and there are none. The cold fog which blocked our view of the wolves at sunrise this morning has lifted to reveal a sky the color of mountain bluebirds. It's our last morning in Yellowstone.

The beginning of May is denning season, a time for wild babies. The major responsibility of each wolf pack with pups is to provide food for the young and the mother. In past years we've been limited to seeing the Druids cross the road as they go back and forth from the den. Watchers wait before daylight at the Hitching Post hoping to see a wolf or two swim across Soda Butte Creek, then cross the road and climb the hills shielding the den and disappear into the trees. And they wait again in the evening just before sunset for sightings that are sporadic and spaced far apart.

But this year is different. We arrive in Bozeman a little after noon and by 3:30 p.m. we are watching a Druid subordinate feed on a kill near the Soda Butte cone. Someone notices it's a female, a black wolf with dark brown and golden highlights. Her face is black, her body a rich chocolate brown. Later we will know her as 375F. The wolves are shedding their winter coats and changing color, making it more difficult to identify individuals.

At Hellroaring turnout we hear about a den site west of the pullout. We hike up the steep winding trail to the top of a deserted hill and perch on rocks to gaze down into the meadows. The wind is strong and cold, making it difficult to stand and keep our balance. The rolling hills are quiet, with only the sound of the blustery wind. Then Tim spots two uncollared wolves, a black and a smaller very light grey, almost white, lying next to a stream in the meadow below. They have probably been there all along, appearing content in the long grass, escaping our eyes. Neither seems to know we're there, watching from about 100 yards away. The black rises and stretches, walking in circles and zigzags, sniffing around the stream. He heads slowly across the meadow in no obvious direction, the light grey following in its own unplanned pattern. Now the black is behind the grey as they make their way unhurried along a ridge and disappear behind it. It's hard to say who these wolves are since they're uncollared. We've seen no den, but in this part of the park, they could be part of the Geode pack or an uncollared pack that has been spotted in the area. It's a gift sighting, a reward for getting off the road and climbing a hill while nearly being blown away.

On the way back to Soda Butte we stop in Little America to check out U-Black's den site. U-Black is one of the daughters of 21 M who has split off from the Druids. Her mate is 194M, a large grey wolf, whose brother is the alpha male of the Molly Pack. There is a third wolf in their little pack, another grey, perhaps a nephew of 194M. The den is off in the trees on the edge of a small, triangular clearing. In the shadow of some evergreens bordering the clearing, we can barely see a grey wolf lying on its side. We've heard there are pups, but no one has been able to confirm how many.

The sun is starting to set as we continue east. On the road to Silver Gate, a young bull moose grazes the hillsides near Pebble Creek campground. A black bear forages off the road near Round Prairie. 375 F is still on the carcass at Soda Butte.

Author - Christine Baleshta
Photography - Tim Springer

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Yellowstone Experiences 2004