It was already warm at 7:30am when the group started to trickle into the parking lot of Casa de la Esperanza for our adventure. Sleepiness mixed with excitement as we piled into the van for the four hour trip. Skyscrapers and billboards gave way to mountains and desert sage until we finally reached our destination: Mission: Wolf (MW)! We ate a gratifying lunch and set up camp. Then we got to hike down the dirt road to greet the wolves.
We were greeted by three young volunteers who had been living in the dusty high desert for over six weeks, just to get the chance to connect with wolves. They painted a picture of how the first European settlers had brought the North American wolf population from one million down to just 300. What they hadn’t foreseen is that without this large predator to keep the elk moving, elk started decimating plant populations, which in turn caused rivers to flow wider and shallower, leaving no place for fish to swim. Biologists began to reintroduce these apex predators to Yellowstone National Park, but they still only exist in captivity in Colorado. MW got its name from Mission:Impossible when the founder, Kent Weber, began taking in wolves that had been raised in captivity and were unable to survive in the wild. We were given a tour of Mission:Wolf where we could see the massive paws of the arctic wolf and see wolves with the mates that they chose for life. We learned the wolves’ sad stories of being bred in captivity and abused or neglected for not being obedient like domesticated dogs. Also, we got to see the aquaponic systems in greenhouses and solar panels that help keep the land sustainable.
Finally, Kent gave us a highly engaging briefing on wolf behavior, and how to best interact with the wolves. Using his advice, we strutted right into a wolf pen with the “ambassador” wolves that were raised to be comfortable with humans. We had a seat and waited as the wolves went up and down the lines of visitors, looking them in the eyes and licking their teeth in greeting. It was such a profound experience to look in to the golden eyes of such a powerful and wise creature. After a while the alpha male wolf began to get jealous of the attention that other wolves were getting, and we got to watch them playfully wrestle it out from mere feet away. Then, the most magical thing happened: all of the wolves began to howl at once. We got to raise our heads and let out a long, loud howl becoming part of the pack!
When our visit with the wolves finally came to an end, MW was kind enough to let us cook our dinner near the wolves so that we wouldn’t miss the “big feed”. Some of us got to watch the wolves “wolf down” 80 lbs. of raw meat in under three seconds. Those wolves need to be able to eat quick when they travel in a pack in the wild! As the sun set, some of the group took a short hike under the mountain stars. From a nearby knoll, we could see the blaze of the wildfire that burned 30 miles to the south and smell the smoke as it filled the sky. Little did we know, the following morning we would be doing meaningful work to help Mission:Wolf prepare for the possibility of the fire reaching them.
After working, we spent the hot afternoon playing camouflage, making rope out of yucca leaves, whittling, and learning how to make a bow drill fire (while being careful to not actually start a fire). The group was starting to feel like a very cohesive team. With this feeling, we went back up to the wolves after dinner just to say goodbye and were pleased to find that Kent was willing to take us in to visit with the ambassador wolves one more time. What a wonderful closure to our very extraordinary time with the wolves. It was a bittersweet goodbye as we packed up, reflected on our amazing time, and shared appreciation for people in the group and at MW. While everyone was excited to go home to a shower, everyone was sad to say goodbye to the wolves, the people and the life at MW.
Thank you to our friends at Mission: Wolf for their continued partnership!
See more photos from the trip here.
Finally, this trip was made possible through a generous donation from The People, Inc., a local nonprofit in Denver, CO, through their annual golf tournament called The People Open 2018.
Written by CI Field Instructor Sandy Chervenak.