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Red Lodge, MT to Yellowstone National Park   07/08/06 (Day 74)

Meet the Wolf Geeks


Charles Kuralt, a truly great American road tripper, called the Beartooth Highway "America’s most beautiful highway." Who are we to argue?

The 68 mile long route between Red Lodge, Montana and Cooke City, Wyoming is exactly the kind of road they had in mind when they made mountains: windy and steep enough to get the heart pumping with views that do the same. It’s been designated an All-American Road and a Scenic Byway and it cuts through Custer, Shoshone, and Gallatin National Forests as it crosses in and out of Montana and Wyoming.

It’s on this amazing mountain road that we reach our highest elevation on the drive yet: 10,947' Beartooth Pass. 

We’ve both been to Yellowstone National Park before, but it’s an exciting arrival every time because the park is so enormous that there’s always a new nook or cranny to explore. This visit, we choose to focus on the West side and the animal-rich Lamar Valley as opposed to the South side and its thermal features.

As we enter the park (flashing our annual National Parks Pass proudly), the ranger tells us that there’s been a pack of 11 wolves sighted most mornings and evenings in the valley. Even though it’s peak tourist season, we find a camp site at the Pebble Creek Campground, just a few miles inside the park and less than half a mile from where the wolves have been rendezvousing regularly.

With camp set up and, with evening approaching, we drive down the road to see what we can see. Almost immediately we spot three bison and a black bear all happily eating away in their own separate areas of the Lamar Valley. Well before dusk, a group of vehicles parks along the road that runs along the valley and the drivers begin setting up obviously expensive spotting scopes. Yellowstone’s wolf geeks have arrived.

One of them tells us he’s been camped in the park for a month doing precious little other than watching wolves. A lot of wolves.  Over the years, the wolf geeks have even become an important part of the park’s own wolf monitoring, sharing sightings and other information with rangers and naturalists.

Happily, they are just as willing to share their knowledge (and their scopes) with us. It turns out the ranger at the entrance had the facts slightly wrong. There was a pack in the valley. But the group moved off a day or two ago, leaving behind one errant pup. What the obviously concerned wolf geeks are hoping for tonight is just some sign (a sighting or a yelp) to prove that the pup is still alive.

We wait with them, straining our eyes and ears, until just before sunset. But, with hope fading and spirits dropping fast, we return to camp around 7:30. The next day we hear that the pup showed himself, briefly, about 20 minutes after we left, but he was still alone and still in a tremendous amount of danger.


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