The ice cream cones were super-sized, and my two young daughters’ faces lit up as they held them in their hands. We walked out the door of the Old Faithful Lodge and headed down the paved path to the official viewing area. About 1,000 people had gotten there before us and were now sitting and standing six-deep in a huge semi-circle around the geyser.
Our old and faithful friend was scheduled to pop at 4:23
pm, but it was now 4:30 and the natives were getting restless. Arms
were tiring of holding camcorders, people were looking at their
watches and grimacing, cell phone calls were lengthening. The
Japanese tourists who had arrived by the busloads were staring,
But then, she blew. Applause, and a roar from
the crowd. Mist and steam flying. Camcorders whirring. Cell phones
calling out. And a minute later, the crowd walked away from Old
Faithful, a nice big splash well-timed and planned with a routinely
calculated ending — nature’s best-selling romance
Two days later, my 10-year-old daughter pried me
out of my sleeping bag at dawn. "Dad," she pleaded, "we have to go
see the wolves again."
"OK," I responded, groggy. We had
been camping in the Pebble Creek Campground at the east end of the
Lamar Valley. For two days we’d been visiting the
wolf-watching sites, hoping to catch a glimpse. So far, we’d
seen two sleeping black wolves from several hundred yards away, not
exactly what my daughters had in mind.
As we arrived at
the wolf-watching area on this crisp Yellowstone morning and
climbed the hill overlooking the Druid Pack’s rendezvous
site, I heard an excited conversation over the radio held by the
Park Service volunteer manning the station.
the radio said, "heading your way." In response, my family and the
Park Service volunteer — a sum total of five people awake and
watching on this beautiful, sunny morning — grabbed
As our vision telescoped across the valley,
we saw two huge bull elk standing, literally, atop the mounded dirt
of the wolf pack’s rendezvous site. Then, as if on cue, about
a thousand yards away to the east, six wolves — two grays and
four blacks — loped out of the river bottom and up onto the
sagebrush steppe. They seemed headed for the same mound of dirt.
The Park Service volunteer, an older, bearded man, said
in the most subdued of tones, "Well, we just might see something
spectacular this morning."
At about 400 yards of
separation, both the wolves and the elk got wind of each other. The
wolves stopped and stuck their noses in the air; the elk quit
grazing and held their heads high. The wolves advanced 50 yards,
and in response the two bull elk turned nervously to the south. The
wolves stopped. The elk stopped. And then another advance by the
wolves, more nervous walking by the elk.
At about 100
yards between wolves and elk, I could feel the tension. Our group
of five watchers was dead quiet. I pulled my eyes out of my
binoculars and looked over at my two daughters. Their eyes were
intent and glued to the binoculars.
A second later, the
Park Service volunteer called out, "Chase!" And so it was, the two
lead wolves in full run, the bull elk racing away, the four other
wolves following in the back.
After about 200 yards, the
bull elk distanced themselves from the gray and black wolves in the
lead. Another 100 yards, and the four wolves in the back turned
around and started trotting back to the rendezvous site. After yet
another 100 yards of chasing, the distance between the elk and the
two lead wolves grew wider, and then slowly, the two wolves turned
around and pranced back with the pack.
scene of life, and almost death. The fine nuance of predator and
prey, extemporaneous and unique — nature’s poetry.
As we were leaving the park later the next day, we drove
by the Old Faithful site and I said to the girls in the back of the
minivan, "You want to stop and see Old Faithful again?"
They answered with a question, "Can we get ice cream?"
"No," I said. "Not today."
"Then we don’t want to
A few seconds later, my daughter asked, "Can we go
see the wolves again?"
"Next fall," I answered, "maybe
we’ll come back."