The fourth annual STRIVE Prep — Sunnyside Mission:Wolf trip may have easily been the best yet. Twelve EXCEPTIONAL middle school students, two teacher chaperones, and two Cottonwood instructors ventured down early Friday morning for a three-day course and a date with the sanctuary’s rescued wolves. Students were excited to take the trip, some joining for the second time as older and wiser 7th and 8th graders, and some citing the need to “get away and unplug.” The weather was clear and the drive was smooth on the four-hour journey south.
Getting to the campsite in the afternoon meant the group had plenty of time to set up a great camp. Sunnyside students have seen their fair share of rain, lightning, and wind on past trips, so getting tents and tarps in place was key.
For those that have never been to Mission:Wolf, it can be hard to know what to expect when you hear promises of real wolves, a backcountry experience, and the promise of no bathroom facility. That all becomes a reality when you look around and then gaze up the hill, following the sound of howls as the sun starts to drop. Volunteers from Mission:Wolf were the first sign that the group was, indeed, expected and in the right place—a great opportunity for students to share their knowledge and wonderings about wolves and imagine just what meeting this fascinating keystone species would be like.
The skies stayed clear into the evening for dinner around the fire, sharing stories and occasionally wondering just how cold it might get as the hours wore on. Having had an amazing day traveling and setting up our camp life, everyone headed to bed ready to rest before the adventurous day ahead.
The next day woke to gray skies. Winter, it turns out, was still here on May 18th as snow moved slowly East toward camp. The snow wouldn’t satisfy wolf appetites, however, and the group went about touring the actual wolf enclosures and preparing to meet the wolves before the big feed in the afternoon. Plenty of things filled the time, and getting to talk about wolf ecology, feel the power of a sit spot, and eat lunch all prepared the eager students for the excitement.
Students quickly learned the meaning of ‘wolf time’ as Kent rushed the group to the fire pit outside the ambassador wolf enclosure. After a descriptive talk about how to interact with the wolves, they were escorted into the enclosure for a great enrichment with Zeb, Abraham, and Nashira. The wolves were eager to meet the newcomers! The experience was well worth a little May snow flurry.
Afterward, the group got warm by touring the new visitor center and helping organize building supplies around the property. After the service project, the intrepid campers headed back to check on camp and make sure we were well fed for the cold night ahead. Another fire meant good bonding, passionate talks about anime fan facts, and a pretty sweet spot to watch the full moon rise over the hills. Here were 16 people listening to the howls of wolves as the full moon climbed in the sky – what an incredible experience!
The next day, everyone was up and packed early in order to head up the hill one final time to say goodbye and reflect on the trip. On the way home, the instructors took an alternate route through Westcliffe and everyone enjoyed the incredibly scenic drive. Everyone shared some final reflections in a great park by the Arkansas River that gave them a chance to gather one last time in nature before arriving back to school. Meeting the ambassador wolves certainly took the prize for what rocked most. It was a wonderful way to end the school year, and we were thankful for the many memories, friendships, and moments we experienced!
Written by instructor Jenny Brown
See more photos from the trip here!