June 19, 2019
“All stories are about wolves. All worth repeating, that is.”~ Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin
There is nothing like early morning in Lamar Valley… bison grazing quietly in the valley or sauntering across the road causing a traffic jam, pronghorn quietly munching on green grass, birds frolicking in the river and, if you are lucky, wolves. Today, we were lucky. Not only did we see three black wolves playing and traveling across the emerald grassy slopes along the base of Speciman’s Ridge, but just a short while later while stopped to use the toilets at Hitching Post, we saw three more gray wolves scouting a herd of bison for breakfast. The bison had several calves, “red dawgs”, and the adults circled around the calves to protect them from the wolves. The wolves eventually headed across the ridge empty-handed and disappeared from view once more. All before 9am!
On the day our group first met in April, we were given a copy of American Wolf by Nate Blakeslee, which follows the life of Yellowstone’s most famous wolf, O-Six. Blakeslee used notes by the grandfather of wolf watchers, Rick McIntyre, to flesh out details of O-Six’s life. After a lovely brunch at Log Cabin Cafe (and checking out their “stress free zone” meditation room) our group visited the general store across the road. When finished, most of the group was lounging around on the picnic tables like marmots in the sun, before heading out to our next adventure when our leader, Megan, ran into none other than Rick McIntyre! Meeting Rick, talking to him, and getting him to sign our American Wolf books was definitely an unexpected highlight of our day!
Our blog would be incomplete without mentioning our morning hike to Trout Lake. We were greeted by a magnificent bull moose crossing the crest of the hill. While enjoying the breathtaking sight of the lake nestled into the mountainside, we observed spawning Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout and spent some time on a wildflower observation and identification activity with our groups. The proud moose bade farewell to us right before our departure.
As the day went on, other sightings made this a day we will never forget. We had our second “Octo-Ungulate” day, which included a pronghorn mom with her baby (it was nursing!). We also saw our first Yellowstone red fox, an osprey nesting 2 chicks, and multiple black bears—2 of them with cubs! One cub was climbing a fallen tree. We laughed with joy when he looked right up at us (from a safe distance). Hoping for a grizzly to complete “Ursula Day” or a coyote to finish up “Three Dog Day,” we “glassed” Lamar Valley near Fisherman’s Beach. All was quiet until we heard Casey say he saw a black wolf! We tracked the lone wolf—which we identified as #1109, a female of the Junction Butte pack—as she swam across the river, paused briefly to shake the water from her fur, and then literally sprinted across the valley. To our delight, she ran parallel to the road (keeping pace with us driving 35mph!), ultimately crossing the pavement right in front of our van! She was so beautiful and powerful!! What an awesome way to end our time in Lamar Valley!
The #1109 female sprints across the road in front of us!
BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE !!!!!!
We wrapped up our day with a group meeting. Everyone circled up in an empty field and shared the day’s highlights. Although we had many “highs” to share, you couldn’t help but notice what was left unsaid—everyone had really hoped for an Ursula day or a three-dog day.** We especially wanted to see a grizzly. All day, everyone (especially Kali & Casey) furiously scanned the hilltops for a grizzly, but with no luck. Kali had even bought a grizzly charm for good luck. After our group meeting, as we loaded into the vans to head back to the cabins, Kali passed around the bear charm and we all took turns rubbing it to summon some we’re-desperate-to-see-a-grizzly-PLEASE-let-us-see-a-grizzly juju. All fell quiet in the van. Suddenly, Casey said, “My ‘spide-y’ senses are tingling. Something’s about to happen.” We turn the next corner to see lines of cars along the road. THERE WAS A GRIZZLY !! And not only a grizzly, but a MOTHER WITH TWO CUBS !!! We couldn’t believe it! We marveled at the size of mom’s massive neck (who we named Juju) and laughed as her cubs jumped on the rocks. And just when we thought we couldn’t get any luckier, we suddenly heard coyotes yapping in the distance! We hit the trifecta—an octo ungulate / Ursula / 3 dog day—something that even our trip leaders had never experienced before!! From this point forward, you best believe that we’ll start every wildlife trek by rubbing the juju bear charm.
**A “three-dog day” means we saw all 3 Yellowstone dog species—a wolf, a coyote, and a fox. An “Ursula day” means we saw both bear species—a black bear and a grizzly. The genus name for bears is “Ursus,” and we thought “Ursula day” was more fun than “Ursus day.”