Wolf Watching and Backpacking in Yellowstone National Park

May 23-26, 2008

Photos by Mike Whiteley, story by Deirdre Butler

Crossing the Inge River

Yellowstone is a spectacular place that transcends its more touristy reputation on many levels. John Muir’s quote "If people in general could be got out into the woods, even for once, to hear the trees speak for themselves, all the difficulties in the way of forest preservation would vanish" is a guiding inspiration for Sierra Club Outings. It is Teddy Roosevelt that was given credit for founding and preserving Yellowstone as our first national park, but it was John Muir that helped to talk him in to it. Sierra Club members should feel somewhat proud to be part of this legacy.

As we spent time in the Lamar Valley we were standing in the place of one of the most important and successful environmental victories of the last few decades, the re-introduction of the gray wolf, canis lupus. Seeing wolves run free again touched our souls: Wolves made Yellowstone healthy again, making it the only complete and intact ecosystem left in the lower United States. Although these are great achievements the work is far from done, there are many pressures on this and all other ecosystems that could cause irreparable damage and forever change these places. As members of the Sierra Club it is now up to us to protect what remains, by the way we live our lives and the decisions that we make, we can affect all of the remaining wilderness areas on this planet.

Sadly, wolves in particular, are now in great peril with their removal from the Endangered Species list. The following are some key wolf facts:

Wolf Paw Print

Wolves are shy and elusive creatures and I have heard many accounts of “wolf watching” trips where there was a marked absence of canis lupus. We were blessed - we saw nine. The closest wolf was about 600-800 yards away and the furthest about 1 1/2 miles and were seen through spotting scopes and binoculars. We also saw a grizzly bear - she/he was a lovely golden brown, shiny shaggy fur, very healthy looking and relatively small ~ 3 - 4 foot high at the shoulder. Also bighorn sheep, coyotes, bison and new bison calves, moose, elk, pronghorn antelope, marmot, Uinta ground squirrel, sand-hill crane, ruddy ducks, common goldeye, osprey (complete with a trout in its talons!) and lots of spring flowers. It rained the first couple of days and nights (light rain reminding me of walking on Dartmoor National Park, UK as a child) but then cleared. Most of the time we were hiking next to the Hell Roaring river (aptly named!) and the Yellowstone river - both in full flood with the snow melt. It was glorious. The park had just opened (we were the second group to be given backpack permits) which meant there were hardly any people around and virtually no other people on our trails. It was a magical trip and I know each of us will cherish the memory.

Grizzly bear a bit close for comfort

Moose browsing