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Return to the Beartooths

The Wolf and the Elephants
by Dan Hartman

Aug. 2, 2014

     Since my great gray nests were officially over, I was eager to get up into the Beartooths.  I had been there a few times this year, but always mid morning or evenings.  To really experience the place one has to be there at dawn.

     So here I am heading out in the pre-dawn, full of anticipation.  Would this be the morning I would come across a wolverine?  A lynx?  Maybe a wolf.  It all seemed possible.  All last year I drove this highway at dawn working on my book, Stranded, and while I saw some cool things I saw no wolverine, no lynx, no wolves.  Why would today be different?

     As I drove through the quiet streets of Cooke City, a fox trotted by on its morning hunt.  On over Cooke Pass, down to Fox Creek, by the old beaver pond and on to where I had spent the spring with the great gray owl family.  I slowed to see if the male was hunting near the road.  Didn't see him.

     I continued the steep climb.  Past the work camp and the road to the fire tower.  The slopes here were painted yellow with arnica.  Bluebells spilled out of the roadside ditches.  I stopped to glass the steep walls of Beartooth Canyon.  Last year I routinely found a billy, nanny and kid.  This morning I spotted a lone billy goat.  

     On my way again I passed by Beartooth Falls, still gushing with run off from snow melt.  At Beartooth Lake I stopped for a reflection photo of Beartooth Butte. I was really thirty minutes late for a still water reflection.  On past Top of the World store, still closed at this hour.  Little Bear Lake, then Long Lake shimmered to my left.  Finally, I passed through the 17 mile gate.

      Now the landscape changed to stunted spruce and scattered boulders.  I was just approaching the first switchback when a dark silhouette drifted across the highway.  My mind went blank for an instant, then quickly restarted.  A wolf!!  A couple seconds and it vanished behind a rock wall to my left.  I gunned the car forward and swung my lens out the window.  The same moment I spotted the wolf, the sun exploded over the cliffs above me, blinding me momentarily.  I fought to find the wolf in my view finder, centered on it and fired the shutter a half a dozen times before she turned and loped away.  My eyes working again I searched the slope.  Nothing.  Then there she was again peering over a rocky rise.  A moment more of curiosity and she was gone.

     I searched for another half hour, even climbing a hill higher up on the mountain that offered a wider view but the wolf was gone.  Who was she?  I say she because thats what it appeared to be.  It was collared and I would guess to be about two years old.  Because of where I was I'd assume it to be from the Beartooth Pack.  Although it could also be a Hoo-Doo.

     Reluctantly, I moved on.

     Marmonts climbed up the rocks to greet the morning sun.  A golden mantled ground squirrel scurried across the highway.  Over West Summit, then on to East Summit.  Just below the ski lift, I spotted a mountain goat nanny with twins.  A yearling grazed nearby.

     From a high point, I glassed the distant cliffs.  I soon located a billy on a grassy ledge.  The buttercups were in full bloom up here, as were forget-me-nots and phlox.  A pica popped out of the rocks, ten feet away.  "Do you remember me?" I asked.  He bleated then moved even closer.

     It was almost 8:30.  Time to start for home.  On my way back over West Summit, I spotted my friend Drew setting up camera traps to photograph pika.   I climbed down to say hi, when a baby weasel appeared to our left carrying a baby pika!  I ran back to my car for a camera but when I returned he had already stached his catch into the rocks.  He gave me a quick look then disappeared.

    Farther down, I stopped near a stream to search for elephant heads.  It took some searching but I finally found a few stalks.  Laying out on the grass, I was getting some nice shots when I realized I was covered with mosquitoes.  Time to go!

     Over all it had been a good return.  With the wolf being the highlight, but for me the pika and goats were just as special.


View slide show

Beartooth Wanderer

Beartooth Reflection





Kidding Up His Heals


Baby Weasel

Elephant Heads