Watching For the Wolves of Yellowstone

Watching for wolves in the Lamar Valley, Yellowstone National Park
Watching for wolves in the Lamar Valley, Yellowstone National Park (photo by M. Lukens)

Planning to visit Yellowstone National Park with some members of my family, I was looking forward to a chance to spot some of the nearly 100 wolves that now populate the park. Since wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone 17 years ago, they have settled in the Lamar Valley, a little-visited area in the northwest corner of the park. Or I should say, “formerly little-visited.”

The wolves have given rise to another pack — wolf groupies, whom we quickly dubbed “wolfies.” And just as quickly, we joined them. We had a borrowed spotting scope and a few pairs of binoculars in the car. Driving through the Lamar Valley, we paused to admire the groups of bison munching grass (I could hear one of them graze from the open car window) while keeping our eyes peeled for any sign of the packs of wolves.

We spotted a sign of them — in the form of the wolfies gathered at a pull-out, scopes trained on a far hillside. One of the wolf-watchers explained that a pack had gone into a gully to the east and they were watching to see if the pack emerged to the west. They could pop out at any minute, or they might decide to bed down and rest a while, keeping up waiting in the cold and occasional snow flurry.

After 20 minutes of peering into the leafless aspens on the ridge and the sage-covered hillside, something happened. A distinct howl coming from somewhere within the gully. Then from behind us we spotted a lone black wolf, a pup, the experienced wolfies agreed. They reported the sighting via two-way radio to other spotters and rangers unseen. Through the scope I caught a brief glimpse of the young wolf as he (she?) trotted, stopped to scratch, then backed into a clumsy sit in a motion that would be familiar to anyone who has ever spent time with a puppy.

The surmise of the wolf-watchers was that the pup had become separated from the pack on the other side of the highway, and we heard them calling to one another in an attempt to reunite. Soon a large grey wolf came into view far across the valley, almost impossible to pick out against the silver-grey sage.

Wolf-watching involves a lot of waiting between sightings. Our wait was rewarded with the sight and the sounds of two of Yellowstone’s wolves.

In our sped-up daily life, are we still willing to wait for things we need or want? Is there something you’re waiting for?

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