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       Day 6 October 12th, 2015

Monday, Oct 12, 2015
Silver Gate, Montana

   The wind died down today. Pitch black, brights are called for driving curving roads where around any bend a bison, elk or deer can suddenly materialize. A bison tramps along the road in the darkness. By the time we reach Round Prairie, the sun is coming up. It's colder this morning - twenty four degrees - and the Lamar Canyon Pack's signals are in Soda Butte Valley. We turn off the south side of the road and wait. We don't wait long.
   A large black wolf appears moving west in the sage, followed by another, and another. They glide across the bench. A grey, with a collar, follows; soon there are five. They sniff around the sage, walking in circles, lie down, get up, walk some more. Then they pile on top of each other, wagging their tails and howl - a glorious, loud howl that echoes through the valley. There are seven in all with all the adults present. My count means 926F, Twin, Mottled and 965M are all there, and the other three blacks must be Big T and Little T, two yearling females from last year's litter, and Dark Black, a yearling male.
   When the pack gradually moves into the trees on the slopes we quickly drive to Slough Creek to look for the Junction Butte Pack and return to Lamar Valley. Not far from the adults, four pups appear; the fifth pup must be with the adults. The Lamar Canyon pups look like pups - skinny and small. There are two blacks and two greys, but now I only see one black and two greys. Traveling west toward Lamar Valley, they sniff the benches, going back and forth. They start to howl for the adults. One grey crawls on its belly scratching. Mange. Sad to see - it bothers us to watch. I'm ready to move on when the pups begin to howl again, like something big is about to happen. But they just move east toward the adults and bed in the sage.
   We hear there are carcasses at Hell Roaring and Blacktail Ponds. After stopping at both we see nothing. Hell Roaring is a huge expanse of grass and sage slopes with no elk or wolves or carcass. Just bison and space. And a superb suspension bridge over Hell Roaring Creek. There is nothing at Blacktail Ponds either - two deep blue ponds shining in the sun, contrasted by golden grass. Years ago we watched so many wolves here - the Geodes, the Leopolds.
   We hike Yellowstone Picnic Trail today, one of my favorite places, under a clear, blue sky. High above the Yellowstone River Canyon, the river winds through the canyon, rolling over rocks, the canyon walls reaching to Tower Road. Calcite Springs and Tower Falls can both be seen from the trail. Deep azure water contrasts against pale rocky walls, the rich green of conifers and the sandy river bottom. Up here the wind kicks up again, though nothing like yesterday.
   We wind our way back through Little America and Lamar Canyon. Bison spread out in the valleys and cross the road. Fishermen wade in the rocky river bottom of Lamar River. Northern shovelers glide in the bends of the river. At Hitching Post we wait to see the Lamar Canyons again, searching the mountain slopes above Soda Butte Creek. It's then we hear the Junction Butte Pack is visible from the wet end of Lamar Valley. Nineteen wolves.
   Rushing back, we park in the middle of a herd of bison. They are right next to us, grunting. Across the valley on Jasper Bench 19 grey and black wolves travel east down the bench toward the creek. They follow each other single file, sometimes in a pair. There are 12 pups in this pack from this year's litters, 10 grey and 2 black. 970F and 907F have both had litters. It is a sight, 19 wolves walking across the ridge in a line. A group of school children crowd around us at the Institute barn. We attempt to show them the wolves in our scope, but the light fades and the wolves slip behind the ridge. The big worry this evening is that the Junctions are heading toward a clash with the Lamar Canyons, but when Annie moves to the next turnout she sees the Junctions move back west. A relief.
   The bison outside our door is gone tonight, leaving only the sound of Soda Butte Creek rushing by under the bridge. Above us stars glitter in a black sky, the Milky Way stretching out in a blur of light.

Author - Christine Baleshta
Photography - Tim Springer

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