Hayden Valley Yellowstone
As a child I used to be sung to sleep in a cabin by Fish Creek in The Tetons by the wolves howling in the distant mountains. I was quite sad to hear they had all been annihilated and hopeful when the wolves were reintroduced to their home territory in 1995. I can now testify that THE WOLVES RULE THE NIGHT IN YELLOWSTONE ONCE AGAIN!
We asked a ranger where the best wildlife viewing options were in Yellowstone and she advised us to get to the HaydenValley just before dusk, as wolves were active in the area, and had made a recent kill. We left around 6pm. En-route we saw a lone wolf resting by a herd of about 300 buffalo, including calves. The wolf was resting, biding his time, waiting.
We arrived at HaydenValley just before sunset and very quickly spotted three resting wolves, one grey and two black. The wolves were strategically positioned around a largish herd of elk that were already highly alerted and terrified. The bucks were on land trying to protect the herd, blowing and warning. Most of the rest of the herd around 50 or so were tightly clustered on a shoal in the center of the Yellowstone River. Scattered mothers with calves were standing in the middle of the river clearly terrified.
The wolves were resting, biding their time, waiting. Letting the herd agitate and get cold.
Most likely this had been going on long before we arrived. Very soon after the sunset, the wolves started to rouse. They stood up. Stretched like dogs, and began to move, slowly at first, in a walk, than a slow trot.
This caused blowing and bellowing from the bulls.
All of a sudden all three wolves were at a full run, streaking like bullets in unison, and precise formation, at INCREDIBLE speed, from their three different locations, fanning out after the herd.
The herd starting screaming and running, helter-skelter, in blind terror.
Watching with binoculars, we saw the three wolves converge on the racing elk. We saw one bull hit, several times by the wolves, but not taken down. The entire elk herd were screaming now at full volume. Running in total pandemonium. The wolves pursued the elk into and out of the river. Several elk who broke from the herd escaped towards us and many other elk escaped up-river in the water. But the hunt continued after it became completely dark and the wolves communicated by howling to each other as darkness fell and the hunt continued.
It was incredible. I have never experienced the panic of the hunted as immediately and personally as I did for these elk. The challenge for the wolves seeming so daunting, that I was rooting for both victim and prey simultaneously. We left driving carefully back to the lodge in the dark, just pumped up with adrenalin that took quite awhile to subside.
We also saw another grizzly on a back country hike earlier the same day, but he was father away and we had our pepper spray. Lots of Buffalo on the road as well, and of course scenic Yellowstone in the fall.
But nothing compared to the wolves.
Yellowstone Lake Hotel where we stayed is near HaydenValley and closes in a week. I think this is one of the best times to visit Yellowstone as the animals are clustering in preparation for winter and the crowds of humans have thinned markedly.
There are an estimated 98 wolves in Yellowstone now, in ten packs. They are ruling once again!