Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Hanging With The Wolf Watchers

I’m really trying to bring these blog posts back to geology topics. I was doing so well at the beginning! Since my arrival in Yellowstone Park back in mid–May, I’ve written about as many geyser basins and thermal features as I could manage to visit on my days off.  I even have a few geologic adventures up my sleeve that are waiting to be written up. However, it’s crystal clear that I’ve been markedly distracted over these past few weeks. There is a lot of wildlife out there in the park, and I’m not talking about Uinta ground squirrels.

I simply had to try and see some wolves.

So last Thursday before my Utah visitors showed up, I arose at 5:20AM (on my day off!), inhaled a bowl of cold cereal, packed some snacks, my camera, binoculars and a camp chair, and with the sun hard in my eyes drove about 30 miles northward to Hayden Valley. By 7:00AM I had parked my car at Grizzly Overlook and was pretty much settled in for the long haul (or at least for the rest of the morning). This is prime wildlife–watching territory, and several hospitable wolf–watchers were already out and about with their spotting scopes and cheerful chit–chat. Many of these folks come year after year to watch the wolves in Yellowstone, often staying for weeks at a time and frequently returning later in the summer or even in the winter. They are not in the least interested in trying to approach close enough to the wolves for any sort of photograph but are content to use their scopes and binoculars from a mile and a half away. They recognize the packs from these distances, the alpha females and alpha males, their histories and their young pups. There is a wildlife ethic here among these wolf watchers that is palpable.

Hayden Valley fog

Hayden Valley early morning
We sat quietly in our camp chairs as the morning fog drifted along the Yellowstone River. Our murmured conversation was muffled across the thin morning air, as if not to disturb the enchantment of such a quiet time of day. The occasional motor home rumbled past, its occupants glancing out a window but not interested enough to stop and see what we were all about. Other park visitors and cars moved in and out of the periphery of our little core of wolf–watchers, some pausing to linger, and learn from the stories.

Watching for wolves
An hour passed. The fog gradually lifted and clouds shape–shifted, but not a wolf came into sight. I picked up my camera and binoculars and went for a walk atop a hillside across the highway. The wildflowers were just coming into blooming profusion, and I wondered idly if I might perhaps see a bear.

Hayden Valley at Grizzly Overlook

Mountain Dandelion(a)
Mountain dandelion

Silvery lupine

I slowly made my way back to the overlook where I had staked out a little nest with my camp chair and tripod. I like my nifty little point and shoot camera, a Canon PowerShot SX10, and I know it doesn’t take spectacular photos from any sort of distance. None of that mattered. I am content to just know the wolves are there.

And then I thought I saw something moving. It seemed to steadily travel left to right, now visible, now hidden, up and down between the sagebrush–covered ridges and swales of the far side of Hayden Valley. “I think I see something. The sagebrush is moving.”

“Where?” they all asked excitedly, peering through their scopes.

“Between that sparse row of trees on the far left side of the river.”

And then we all soon saw the one, then a second, then a third gray wolf, all in a line, heading left to right towards what is known as Rendezvous Point far across Yellowstone River and Hayden Valley, where the dark tree line fades into the pale sagebrush flats and where the Canyon Pack does indeed often rendezvous. We watched them through binoculars and spotting scopes, threading their way to disappear behind the tree line.

For the next few moments I could only gaze into the distance where these wolves of Yellowstone had passed. A bit later someone noticed five wolves as they passed from right to left, away from Rendezvous Point, closer to the river’s edge this time but still riding the waves of pale dusky sagebrush. This was the Canyon Pack without its three new pups. I forgot to ask if the pups would have stayed by themselves while their mother went out hunting for dinner. Perhaps the pups were there with the rest of the pack all the time, hidden from sight by the thick sagebrush cover. I don’t know.

For the next two hours we sat and watched, but no more wolves made their presence known to us. I was meeting my friends from Utah that afternoon, and so around noon I headed back to Grant Village, the sun no longer hard in my eyes but my spirit content with a morning’s sightings of the Canyon Pack.


1 comment:

  1. Always nice to hang out with the ones who know. I'd consider it an honor to see wolves. Certainly worth getting up early for on a day off. I feel like I haven't gotten out to play at all this summer.