The Wolves Of Yellowstone

M. Sandra Babcock 

© Copyright 2004 by M. Sandra Babcock 


Photo of Sandra at Yellowstone Park.
Wolves have long fascinated me.  Upon turning 50, a boldness came forth, a sense that the adventure
of living must be sought.  And so, I found myself in Yellowstone National Park in search of a kindred
spirit - the Canis lupis.

The elusive Canis lupis – the Gray Wolf - beckoned me to leave my humble abode, cross over the Clark Fork, through the Continental Divide to the 45th Parallel of Latitude on our third visit to Yellowstone National Park in June 2004.

This quest began as an adventure of sorts. Turning 50, children long since left home on adventures of their own, the born to be wild side spewed forth like Old Faithful. Prior visits had us touring the park in ye old family minivan but this time my husband and I rumbled through the park on a Harley Davidson, decked out in biking leathers and fringe flying in the wind.

It was wild, as wild as the compelling reason Yellowstone was on the vacation agenda. This national park, with its magnificent valleys, rivers, geothermal oddities and wildlife also harbors the object of my imaginings that lurk in its pristine meadows and deep valleys. As we rode through the park, I diligently searched tree lines, scanned mountain tops, squinted at clearings and streams seeking that elusive predator that, at home, peers at us from every wall and has majestically yet quietly sat in corners and curio cabinets for years.

Canis lupis – the Gray Wolf – has long fascinated me. I don’t know why. But this wild, uninhibited ancestor to the domestic canine captured my heart years ago after reading The Outermost House by Henry Beston. Beston wrote:

“In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear.”

When I read those words, brimming with simplicity and raw truth, the wolf appeared in my mind’s eye and has haunted my dreams, graced my walls, and howled in my thoughts ever since. I am a definite admirer and now that the wolf again inhabits Yellowstone, it was time to meet my obsession.

In the winters of 1995 and 1996, 31 gray wolves were reintroduced into the park. The first pack was named the Druid Peak pack. Today, approximately 306 wolves inhabit Yellowstone with some trickling into Grand Teton National Park. My goal was simple - to see the wolf as it should be seen – far from the expensive decorum of western frames, statues, blankets and rugs that inundate my house.

I view wolves as the born to be wild of the animal kingdom. They have a decisive ability, know what must be done and do it. They roam free yet there is purpose in each step. There is a hierarchy, a chain of command that’s strictly enforced and obeyed. Gray areas don’t exist in their world and the inherent governing system, with its sometimes ruthless outcome, ensures pack survival. Loyalty among mates, protection of the young as well as the pack, are the cornerstones in their lives. These characteristics hold strong in my own makeup.

So there I was, surveying the landscape and dodging the ever-changing atmospheric conditions, when frustration set in. After two days and no sightings, I knew if the images of the wolves were to step into reality, I had to get serious.

Maps and stories were sprawled across the bed in our hotel room as I attempted to pinpoint their whereabouts. We prepared to ride the next day to Lamar Valley, home of the Druid pack. At o’dark thirty, or there about, our aging peepers struggled to stay alert as we cautiously viewed the mist that shrouded the Gallatin Range and hovered above Yellowstone’s North entrance. Weather was cool as we layered on clothes, slapped down the visors on our helmets and sped out into the brisk wind.

Darn the luck! The binoculars and water to ward off the dreaded high-altitude dehydration sat stoically by the phone in the hotel room. The morning chill seeped through our clothes and leathers as we returned to the hotel and thoughts that this was not my time began to creep in. My husband, however, was the driving force. “We’re going,” he said, teeth chattering. Our reserves were tested but determination won out.