Hearing Haunting Wolf Howls
I couldn’t move the high-powered spotting scope fast enough to track the two wolf pups trotting to keep up with their mother. They were in a wolf pack that was racing across the frozen landscape, as if the alpha male was following the scent of one of the elk grazing in Yellowstone National Park. Lined up on the roadside, everyone in our group was grinning ear to ear, thrilled that we got to see the pups playing with each other before eerie sounding howls from wolves hidden in the woods triggered a mass exodus.
We had started the day before sunrise at a lookout point in the Lamar Valley. Steam from our coffee matched the mist in the air, as the sun crept above the horizon and lit up the hillsides. When the birds started chirping, it was time to move on and look for the wolves. At Yellowstone, the wolf viewing tours start early in the morning because this is often the best time for sightings.
The wolves in Yellowstone were hunted almost to extinction in the early 1900s but are now protected and monitored. At the end of 2008, there were at least 124 wolves in 12 packs living in the park, according to the Forest Service. You can go scouting for wolves yourself, but the chances of actually seeing them are much better during one of the guided wolf tours. In addition to improving your chances of actually seeing wolves, most tours are led by naturalists who give insights into the lives of wolves, other animals in the park from elk to bison, and teach you about Yellowstone’s ecology.
Several times a year, Wolf Discovery and Wolf and Elk Discovery Lodging and Learning programs are offered. Guests stay at the Mammoth Hot Springs lodge in the park and go out daily to see wolves’ habitats and learn more about their behavior and the Park’s conservation efforts. The hikes or drives, depending upon the season, are led by a Yellowstone Institute naturalist.
People who desire a more intensive introduction should take one of the Yellowstone Organization’s field seminars that offer a comprehensive overview of wolf evolution, behavior, and communication. Guests stay in cabins at Lamar Buffalo Ranch (see below), while learning about Yellowstone wolf restoration, how wolves relate to prey species, scavengers, and other animals. Participants go out in the field to observe wolves and visit the carcass of an animal killed by wolves.
Yellowstone National Park ( 307/344-7381; www.nps.gov/yell).
Tour: Wolf Lodging and Learning programs and Field Seminars at Yellowstone Association Institute ( 307/344-2293; www.yellowstoneassociation.org).
When to Go: Spring, fall, or winter.
Jackson Hole, WY (56 miles/90km), or Bozeman, MT (87 miles/140km).
The lodging and learning programs and the field seminars include lodging at park properties.