Lamar Canyon Pack Inception
However I felt compelled to write this in light of recent events...
In February of 2009, on one of many trips to Yellowstone to photograph wolves, I had a very rare opportunity to photograph a gray wolf under unique circumstances. Shortly afterwards I would learn this wolf was the '06 Female.
She was sleeping on top of a hill in Elk Creek just west of the Petrified Tree road. At the time my buddy Dave Collins and I thought she just happen to be there resting, so we photographed her for about two hours. When she would raise her head or move, we would grab some shots. Eventually she rolled over, stretched, and got up. She had looked at us many times in that two hours, and knew we were there. What she did next was unexpected. She started walking down the hill toward us! We were on an adjacent hill by the Petrified Tree road with a gully between and were shooting the entire time. When she got to the base of the hill, she was on ski tracks left by crosscountry skiers. The tracks ran laterally in front of us from right to left in the bottom of the gully. At this point she started to walk along these tracks all the while looking in our direction. First she walked right to left and when we thought she was going to keep going and leave she turned around and walked left to right again in front of us. This was like shooting a model on a runway! All the time still looking toward us... As if this wasn't good enough, she then left the ski tracks and was coming straight at us. This seemed strange because we were in plain sight and she had been looking right at us! We were the only people there. She appeared to be looking for something and was getting closer to the base of the hill we were on. If she came any closer we would lose sight of her, (we were set back from the edge). Just then I saw something in front of her that looked like it might be the edge of a large rock. My view was blocked by the edge of the hill so I stepped around my camera to take a look and could see the rock was instead an elk carcass she was about to open. She was the only wolf around and still had blood on her fur from taking down this elk on her own. This was the first documented account of a skill that would become part of her legacy. I was able to get more shots of her than all my other wolf shots combined. This was also only the first or second day of our trip! I could have gone home right then a happy man! This had been my first encounter with her. At the time I didn't know there would be more to come...
Fast forward: February 2010.
By this time the famous Druid Peak pack was in bad shape and all but disbanded. The alpha female was dead and the alpha male had dispersed due to the fact the only females left in the pack were his daughters. Two male wolves, 755m and his brother 754m who had joined the pack after the alpha male left were trying to mate with the remaining females who were in poor health with severe mange. The '06 Female was once again out on her own and was trying to lure these males away from the Druid females. This had been going on for weeks before I arrived. The males would keep going back and forth between the Druid females, and the '06 Female. During this time, she was the only wolf that was making any kills. One of the Druid females (Thin Line) was attacked by the Blacktail pack when she was trying to feed from a kill they had been feeding on. She was found dead the next morning. I helped drag her body from Bob's Knob to the Slough entrance parking lot. Yet another Druid was found dead later in the week. The Druids would not last much longer. In that same week, an elk carcass was discovered in the Lamar Canyon. It was up on the north side. This was an '06 Female kill. The two Druid males who had been with the remaining Druids the day before were now with her and they returned to the kill in the evening. When they did, they came from the top of the canyon and appeared on a rock between two trees. I had joked that all we needed was for them to come back to the kill and show up on top of that rock and howl in unison... They didn't howl, but they did show up on that rock! I had spent eight hours in eight degrees photographing the many visitors to that kill before the wolves showed up. When they did, it was the icing on the day long cake. This would also be the day the two males would decide to stay with the '06 Female and go on to form the Lamar Canyon Pack, and I happened to be there to witness it. Again, I got another photo session with this very special wolf... Just days before, I had taken a candid shot of her watching wolfwatchers, who were watching the Druid females. By this time she had developed quite a following, and to me, like many others, she was my favorite. I felt a special connection with her. I still had more shots of her than any other wolf.
For almost three years after that, she would go on to become the "Reigning Queen Of The Wolfwatching World", mother three litters of pups, and I would get more shots of her. With her leadership the Lamar Canyon pack would take over The American Serengeti and wolfwatchers from around the globe would come to Yellowstone to spend money and time just to get a glimse of her. That would all come to an end on 12/06/12.
When she was killed I recieved multiple calls from around the globe for interviews, among them was a call from Nate Schweber of The New York Times. Of all the people who have photographed and watched her, I was being interviewed about her being shot. This was another chapter in her life that somehow I had been pulled into. When I told Nate "She is the most famous wolf in the world", I didn't know the impact that would have in bringing attention to the tragic way she died. At the time of her death, I also happend to have a half page photo of her published in the then current issue of American Scientist Magazine. It was the one of her standing on the rock between the two trees. It may have been the only photograph of her in a periodical at that time. Ever since I first photographed her in Elk Creek I have felt a special bond with her. Not that she knew I existed,... but from my end.
Since her death, the National Wolfwatcher Coalition has released a commemorative sweatshirt for a fundraising effort in her name. The logo of her on the shirt was made from one of my shots from that first encounter... Renowned guitarist John Sheldon wrote a tribute piece "Wolf 06" in her memory and has partnered with me to share it with all those who loved this wolf. Even as I write this, I have a youtube tribute project being released with singer, songwriter, musician, Matt Stone, titled "Spirit of The Wolf" that has stemmed from this connection to her.
When I look back on the unique opportunities I have had with her, to be interviewed when she was killed, and to have played a part in letting people know she was indeed "The Most Famous Wolf in The World". I can't help but to think my favor with her was "Uncanny".
If that's not enough, the day she was shot, 12/06/12, is also my birthday...