Day 6.

Lamar Valley…Part 1…

June 7, 2022

I had a really early morning wake up since we wanted to get over to Lamar Valley (the best place to view wolves in the world!) around sunrise. I had woken up at 2:10am and jumped up into the front seat to begin the drive. As there were two different routes that we could take to get up to Lamar Valley I checked the app to make sure there were no road closures. No road closures woohoo! So I decided to do the drive with the least amount of mileage since this would also be a new route. I decided to head toward Canyon Junction and stop to go to the bathroom and also brush my teeth.

After getting back on the road to now head up to Tower Junction and then over to Lamar Valley I noticed that there was a roadblock that said ROAD CLOSED. I felt defeated at this point it was probably about 3:30/4 in the morning and I had just driven all the way here to now have to turn around and drive up the other way. So that is exactly what I did, I headed back towards Madison Junction and continued the drive. To try to keep my mind occupied on anything but the fact that the app wasn’t updated I decided to keep a list of every wildlife species that we passed. On our way to Lamar Valley I spotted a snowshoe hare, bison, bull elk, cow elk, a NEON truck (not an animal but we had learned about NEON at a seminar I went to), pronghorn, and more bison.

You might be asking why I was so excited to see Lamar Valley. Well, I had the pleasure of taking Dr. Kelly Dunning’s (the PI of this lab) Conservation Planning course. In this course we learned how conservation plans are made and specifically used a case study to learn and identify all of these aspects. Our case study for this class was Yellowstone, where we looked at wolf reintroduction and the benefits it brought back to the landscape. To solidify these concepts we learned we also read “American Wolf” by Nate Blakeslee. This book highlights the wolf reintroduction and everything that came along with it. One of the main characters in the book was Rick McIntyre, one of Yellowstone’s wolf biologists.

For a bit of background, Rick is known as the person who has spent the most time observing and documenting wild wolves and has spent more than 40 years watching them. It has been stated that Rick had a streak of 892 days in a row of spotting wolves. Although now retired, Rick still visits the park (I assume daily!) in attempts to spot wolves. I had hopes of meeting and seeing Rick, but I wasn’t really sure if I was going to. 

Back to my trip….so as we arrived at the start of Lamar Valley I knew I had to have a plan in mind. I figured we would drive through Lamar Valley to try to spot Rick McIntyre’s yellow Nissan Xterra and see if he was spotting any wolves. To my surprise, there was no yellow Nissan Xterra, BUT I was not driven into Slough Creek Campground so I figured we would turn around and try to find him. As I turned towards Pebble Creek I noticed 4 moose up on the hill, I pulled over to get a good look at them. There were two cows up on the hill along with two bulls who were in velvet.

Moose by Pebble Creek.

We arrived at Pebble Creek and I got out of the car to go look at the river that was running through it. I took some photos and enjoyed the brisk morning air as it was the coldest day so far. As I turned to head back to the car I noticed some movement and off in the tree line there was a bison. I ran back to the car and jumped in. I knew I was at a safe distance but for some reason I was really scared of the bison.

We headed back to try to find Rick’s car I pulled off at the Lamar River Trailhead and took in the view. The morning dew was rising and the clouds were moving. This was such a beautiful spot and I decided to take a time lapse to show my friends back at home how this looked. I mean just check this out:

Catherine at Lamar Valley with Auburn School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences shirt.

We got back in the car and headed towards the ranger station I noticed there were a bunch of people up on the hill with spotting scopes. We pulled off again and headed up towards the hill. Some really nice lady called us over immediately and told us we could see the wolves feasting through her spotting scope. Luckily she had an attachment where you could see the spotting scope image on her phone and let us watch. What an unreal experience. Everyone had told us we missed the wolves killing the bison calf but maybe 2 minutes. Disappointing but I really enjoyed being able to see the wolves. I walked around and looked at the other views from the hill before heading off to see if we could see Rick’s car.

To my surprise I heard this man (I later found out it was Doug Smith) go “Rick’s at the other hill watching from over there.” I looked my friend dead in the eyes and was looking at her like hey we need to get the heck out of here and over toward the other hill NOW. Before we even took a step Rick started to head up toward our hill. I stayed put and watched as Rick climbed up our hill and placed his spotting scope right in front of us. He pulled out a recorded and recorded how many wolves were there (4 gray and 4 black, 1 juvenile) and what they were doing (feasting on a bison calf). I sat there for a minute in amazement when Rick turned around to me and said “hey do you want to grab a look.”

I think my jaw hit the floor. I explained to him who I was and that it was such an honor to meet him. I explained my class that I took and asked if we could take a photo together so I could send it to Kelly. As we turned to take a picture he did the below totally UNPROMPTED:

Catherine and Rick McIntyre.

I yelled at my friend to get that on video as I needed that for the rest of my life. We took a photo together and then I looked through his scope. Rick explained to me about the Junction Butte Pack and all of the drama that was currently occurring. There was an old alpha and a new alpha and they were bickering about who was going to be the current alpha. The new alpha was a bad alpha as she was young and the other wolves thought she was too bossy and was not helpful towards the pack. Rick explain that the old alpha would likely be in power again soon. He also told us about the big drama with the rest of the pack that was going on. There was one male that went around and impregnated ALL of the females of this pack—a really big no-no.  Now the old den site at Slough Creek was not large enough for all of the pups, thus the pack split up to try to accommodate. 

Other than those conservations, Rick and I chatted about my research and some funny stories he had. As I already said, it was such an honor to meet Rick. I am so blessed to have been able to hear about the wolves from the wolf expert himself (and from Doug too!). I thanked Rick for our conservation and told him we were headed to go do the Slough Creek hike. As I turned Rick yelled for us to come back quickly…there was a bear coming out of the tree lines now approaching where the wolves were. We viewed the black bear coming out of the woods and it was such a cool experience seeing it. After this we headed off to go and complete the hike….oh and it was only 8am at this point.

View behind hill we were on.

Links to all the blogs:

Day 1. Salt Lake City

Day 2. Salt Lake City to Jackson.

Day 3. Grand Teton Race.

Day 4. Grand Teton.

Day 5. Grand Teton to Yellowstone.

Day 6. Part 1. Lamar Valley.

Day 6. Part 2. Lamar Valley and West Yellowstone.

Day 7. Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.

Day 8. Yellowstone to Grand Teton.

Day 9. Jenny Lake, Grand Teton.

Day 10. Grand Teton to Salt Lake City.