Recently, I had one of those great rare days with the wolves.
In the morning, driving in the dark, there were many wolf tracks on the snow covered road and I followed them for many miles. Basically Hell Roaring to Elk Creek where they disappeared.
After driving back and forth for awhile, scanning and such, I went down to Tower where one car sat and folks were looking through a scope to the north. I scanned and saw a large herd of elk bundled up, but no wolves.
These lucky visitors had stopped at Hell Roaring to watch wolves but felt too out of place and not exactly welcomed by the few who were there and so left. They came across the Wapiti Lake pack close to the road and it was just them and the wolves! What a great story. I was very happy for our visitors.
I set to looking for the wolves and eventually found them, way, way out, bedded above some elk and doing a lot of moving around. People, by this time, had heard that the Wapitis were around and were talking about it, unable to locate them, while I sat happily watching all by myself.
I watched the wolves until they got up and disappeared to the west and then took a hike out to the confluence of the Yellowstone and Lamar – this is one of my favorite places.
After the hike I went to a special place to have lunch and just sort of watch for wolves. Just as I had finished eating and decided to maybe just go on home, I spied a black wolf way below, traveling across a low meadow. I grabbed the scope and two more were coming along. I had found the wolves!
At this point I figured that the wolves might head back towards Tower but could not find them again. After looking and listening for a long time, I decided to take another walk, this time on what I now call “Wapiti Hill,” after all of the amazing experiences with these wolves. In Yellowstone, locations and animals are not typically named after humans, and as visitors in our national park, we are free to call a place or animal whatever we want. Named after a person, the hill feels like it is owned and it feels inaccessible, as if we have no right there. Named after the wolves, it belongs to the park. That is my feeling anyway. The Wapitis have given me some amazing wintertime experiences in this location and have never once been disturbed by anything I have done.
When I walked out to stand under a tree that I’ve deemed as a safe place to look from, due to its height and other trees around, and not being on a game trail, is where I saw the black ball of fur.
When I look at the image of the single black ball of fur, cropped of course, the ear is clear but I honestly couldn’t tell at the time.
I continued my walk, determined to finally fulfill my desire to walk across the entire hill and back, though not venturing down lower towards thick new growth trees that could conceal wolves.
Satisfied, I turned to walk back and noticed that a herd of bison that had been down on the floor of the valley, were going up the hill and wondered if the wolves had pushed them up there.
I watched the bison, trying to decide if they were moving away quickly and thought they were but was unsure. Unless the wolves can find a straggler or one that is weak, they will usually leave the bison alone. A herd of bison can turn on wolves quickly an run much faster than you think.
As I continued along, the bison didn’t waste time getting up the hill, soon becoming small dots in the distance.
I began looking for the black ball of fur and didn’t see it immediately and thought it had left. Then, suddenly, I realized that there were wolves milling about and preparing to bed. I’ve seen wolves bedding way too many times and with it always comes a small lump of disappointment because that means that the action will be done for awhile. I crouched beside a treat and took some quick shots, getting excited each time a wolf would walk by or heads would go up.
Suddenly, my hand was on fire. I looked down and there was a bright orange spot in the snow and it covered my hand. The bear spray had erupted. Why was I carrying the stuff anyway, all of the bears are sleeping. No, the bears are not all sleeping, according to tracks I found in the area a few days later.
So, I grab snow with my other hand and try to wash the spray off and cool the burn. It wasn’t long before I touched my nose with that other hand, which, by then, had spray on it as well. And, I was choking and coughing. This is the exact reason I don’t carry a lethal weapon, ever! Cameras are enough for me to take care of and bear spray, as awful as it is, is the lessor of the evils.
I moved over to “my” tree, the one I had designated as safe, and took some more shots. And, also just sat still to enjoy the moments. Moments like these make everything worthwhile and it is as good as it gets.
Over the past several years, I’ve had the Wapitis to myself, when they were unaware of my presence, a few times. There is this peace that few will ever know, of just being, as if a tree with its needles gently moving in a breeze. Except on this day the wind was blowing at the top of that hill. Blowing hard.
A black pup raised its head and was looking in my direction, or so it seemed. Over the years, I’ve made it my practice to always leave, if possible, when animals notice me, so as to not disturb them. I’ve noticed that they relax if I walk away, most of the time. In this case, I don’t know if the pup was looking at me, or just gazing off – it never changed position. I got up and left, taking a few last shots of the way, wanting to capture the mound of mama sleeping off to the right.
I waited at the road for a long time, thinking that they might get up and come in that direction, or go to Tower, but they never showed and it was getting late. I looked for them at Elk Creek and all looked like they were sacked out, not moving at all.
A few days later, when I went skiing in Yancy’s Hole and tracked the movement of the Wapitis from that day, I learned that they had moved off towards Tower when they left. Amazingly, given the wind when I was out there, many of the tracks were still quite good. And, where they had bedded told a lot of stories.
Here are a few of the images I took – all handheld with a Nikon D500 and a 200 – 500 lens. All images are cropped. Estimated distance was about 300 yards.
As I walked off, all wolves were sleeping away, in harmony with the universe at that moment.