When the high school students of Colorado Academy signed up for the “Endangered Wolves” end of the year interim trip during the last few week of May, they weren’t completely sure what to expect. What they got was an adventure and learning experience that won’t soon be forgotten.
After the long ride to Mission: Wolf, a wolf sanctuary in southern Colorado, they were rewarded with a thorough tour of the premises. They got to meet each wolf and hear their stories, as well as learn about all of the creative, sustainable structures that make up the sanctuary. On the second day, they jumped right in with a vivid anatomy lesson, as they tackled the task of butchering a full-grown draft horse. With almost all of the students pitching in and working together, they were able to butcher the entire animal in only two hours, and learn how much work goes into feeding thirty wolves. Before they fed the wolves, they were able to go inside the wolf pens and actually meet the “ambassador wolves”. These five wolves have grown up near humans, and curiously sniffed, licked, and played with the students. Petting a wolf, looking in to its eyes, and letting it lick your teeth is a truly remarkable experience, which the students will surely never forget. After that, the students got to feed the wolves, and witness the awe-inspiring capacity of a wolf to devour sixty pounds of meat in less than two minutes.
The students worked extraordinarily well together, helping each other out, and tackling service projects with optimism and boundless energy. As an entirely volunteer-based non-profit, Mission: Wolf gratefully accepted help each of the three days that the students were there, in maintenance and caretaking. On their final day at the sanctuary, the students helped clean out some horse stalls, and as a reward, they got the chance to work with a former wild mustang, and witness how the trainers approach communication with both the horses and the wolves. By mimicking them and gently guiding them, the trainers are able to get on the same level as the horse or wolf, and energetically calm and communicate with the animal. Each night, after a long days work, the students had inspiring experiences bonding over a fire that they made themselves, or in an impromptu drum circle, or simply spreading out and taking a moment to soak in the beauty of the stunning Sangre de Cristo Mountains in solitude.
The final two days of the trip were what really challenged the students, and helped them to see all that they could accomplish. On the fourth day, the students woke up early to pack up and leave Mission: Wolf with a backpack holding everything they would need for two days and a night in the wilderness. The students embarked on the five mile backpacking trip with enthusiasm, as they snaked through aspen groves and over flower-speckled fields. Their backpacking trip culminated at the gorgeous Blue Lakes Campground the next day at lunch. To end the trip they reflected on the highlights and challenges of the experience at the foot of 12,300 foot Greenhorn mountain, with a breathtaking view of the snow-capped peaks of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The students returned home gratefully, and with a new confidence in their ability to survive and thrive.
Thank you to Colorado Academy teachers and students, Mission: Wolf volunteers, and Cottonwood Institute instructors for such an amazing experience! View and download pictures from Colorado Academy’s adventures with Cottonwood Institute at the Shutterfly Picture Share Site.
Written by Sandy Chervenak, Cottonwood Institute Instructor
Edited by Katie Craig