| Sarah Rudeen

Meeting Wolves with New Eyes: STRIVE Prep-Sunnyside

DSC03974It was a clear, sunny day when twelve STRIVE Prep – Sunnyside students embarked on a journey into the Sangre de Cristo mountains. They had one clear mission: to meet and learn about wolves in the remote mountain sanctuary aptly named Mission: Wolf. The group had bountiful energy and enthusiasm; their four hour drive to the site was rewarded with the presence of a live lynx crossing the road just as they approached Mission: Wolf.

The group was greeted warmly by the Mission: Wolf staff, whose volunteer hours make it possible for the rescued wolves to have a home. The group had arrived just in time for the “big feed,” which only happens twice a week. They got to watch as the wolves “wolfed down” sixteen pounds of raw meat in only two minutes! Having been inspired by that sight, the group listened intently as they were given a tour of the wolf sanctuary and its four-legged residents. They learned how to tell a wolf from a dog; the different types of wolves; and how they fit into a healthy ecosystem in the trophic cascade. They also got to see how the facilities there are 100% off-the-grid and sustainable. The students set up camp relatively far from the wolves in order to give them peace and quiet. They spent the rest of the evening learning the basics of camping (many of the students were camping for the first time), playing running games, and enjoying a short hike using only the light of the full moon.  

Thrilled with the prospects of the day, many the students were up as early as the sun the following morning. After a quick breakfast, they headed back up to the wolves to give back to the sanctuary for all of the time and energy they had given to the group. They headed to “carcass canyon,” where Mission: Wolf leaves the remains of the animals (mostly old horses donated by nearby ranchers) that they butcher to give to the wolves. The STRIVE students helped to bury some of the horse heads so that they could decompose faster, then spent the rest of the morning exploring the canyon and playing a game of predators and prey: Camouflage. After lunch they returned with all of their youthful energy to the sanctuary, where they made light work of many hands and unloaded a large truck full of firewood in only ten minutes. They returned to camp and split into groups to learn some more challenging wilderness skills. One group split off to learn about tracking animals and how to identify different footprints. The other group had the chance to practice making a fire using a bow-drill. The dry wind had created conditions for a fire ban, but they practiced with the intention to not actually start a fire. Some of the students were even able to produce smoke, which is quite a feat for their first time trying a friction fire!


After an early dinner and more Camouflage, the students had a chance to do what they’d been waiting for the entire trip: meet the wolves. The owner and founder of Mission: Wolf, Kent, sat the group down for a detailed lesson about how wolves interact with each other, and with humans, and how to maintain a leadership role in the pack when you meet them. The STRIVE students strode into the wolf pen together with confidence and one-by-one the wolves ventured up to greet them. Each of the students had the chance to pet the wolves and some of them even received a traditional wolf greeting – a kiss on the lips! Once the wolves had greeted them and gotten a little bored, the group stayed around a little bit longer, basking in the glow of the meeting and admiring the wolves from outside the wolf pen. Energized by the wolves and by s’mores roasted over the camp stove, the group had the change to let loose, explore, and play Ninja that evening. Finally, when the sun set, they got to sleep soundly after a fun-filled day.

The following morning was consumed with the task of packing up camp. Many of the students didn’t want to leave and were sad to be saying goodbye. They ventured back up to say goodbye to the wolves and did their final reflection near them. The students were captured by how the wolves behaved and what it was like to look into their eyes. They also expressed gratitude to get to know their classmates better, gratitude for the Cottonwood Institute staff and the STRIVE teacher that made it possible, and gratitude for the experience of enjoying nature without cell phones or other modern distractions. After the reflection, all thirty of the wolves let out a long, heartfelt howl, almost as if to say goodbye to the group. It was truly an unforgettable weekend of learning and fun for the students of STRIVE Prep – Sunnyside Middle School.  

Written by: CI Instructor, Sandra Chervenak

Want to see more photos from this trip to Mission: Wolf? Visit our Shutterfly share site! Click Here.


Categories: Cottonwood Institute News, Mission: Wolf, STRIVE Prep

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