The long lazy days of summer has just begun, but a group of 12 West Denver Prep Lake Campus students decided to give up a few of these lazy days for an adventure at Mission:Wolf (MW) this past June. MW is located near the beautiful Sangre de Cristo mountain range just outside of Westcliffe, Colorado. It is a wolf sanctuary housing up to 40 wolves at one time, relying on staff, volunteers, and groups to help maintain the property, feed the wolves, and of course, give them special attention.
After packing up all the gear and food, we piled into the van, and with snacks and cold beverages at hand for our 4 hour drive, we were off. It only took about 2 hours to hear the dreaded, “Are we there yet?” but thanks to the tunes, the giggles, and the wonders of air-conditioning, we made it up the steep hill and into MW, bright blue sky, blazing sun, and all.
We were all excited to meet the wolves, but there was even more excitement to help feed them when we started hearing whispers that we were going to help butcher a cow that had recently died. (Local ranchers donate their deceased horses and cows to help the costly expense of feeding the wolves.) This excitement held strong the entire 4 days we were there, even while setting up tents, basecamp, and creating our outdoor kitchen. These kids were far from done for the day, so we set out on a short hike to Carcass Canyon to explore the variety of bones leftover from the many wolf feedings, played a game of camo in the waning daylight, and then hiked back to base camp for some good old fashioned hot dogs. Still not worn out, with the stars lighting our way, we headed out into the night for another hike, where we became familiar with our surroundings by using nature awareness skills and night senses.
Morning came a bit too early for all of us, but the howls of the wolves were our alarm clock and after a hearty breakfast of eggs and sausages, it was time to hike up the hill where we helped feed the wolves and setup the groundwork for a new horse fence. After lunch we managed to motivate this young group of city slickers into creating some amazing debris shelters and even had them participating in and understanding the importance of a sit-spot. One student even went so far as to say, ‘That was the most relaxing thing ever.” Never doubt the importance of a sit spot. But our day was far from over. The kids heard the rumors that the cow was about to be butchered, and we spent the next two hours being both thrilled and disgusted watching this intricate, bloody, yet necessary task. This was both the highlight and lowlight (the smell was awful) of the trip for most of the kids. Although it is quite rough to watch, it is an amazing opportunity to experience first hand the full cycle of life and food and while the kids may not fully comprehend that yet, they will never forget it.
Our last full day was spent helping out around MW, feeding the wolves, playing games, making journals, reading stories, and more importantly, finally meeting the wolves. While wolf kisses were limited, smiles were not. No matter how hot it is or how tired you may be, it is always an uplifting experience to walk into the wolf enclosures, sit down, and be face to face with an actual wolf. We ended our final day with another night hike longer than the first and with a great deal more excitement. While it is uplifting to meet a wolf, it is even more uplifting hanging out with 12 year olds who do not camp and who turn down the outdoors to watch tv or play video games on a regular basis, but will go excitedly on a night hike without flashlights; laughing, singing, hot chocolate-filled city kids having the time of their life in the middle of no where, having only stars and their voices guiding the way. Amazing!
Due to the heat of the day, late nights, and kids who are not used to the outdoors, motivation was lacking at times. But once these kids tried something new, many were genuinely interested and when given a chance and encouragement, they worked hard and listened attentively. But wait, we had one last hurrah on the drive out of MW. “Look! Way off in the distance! Is it a dog, is it a fox? No, It’s a BEAR!” Lessons learned from this trip: put yourself in the right place at the right time and always try something new!
As always a great big thanks to Mission:Wolf for hosting us and giving the kids rides up that long, steep hill. They loved it!
Click here for a slideshow of the adventures!