Family Road Trip Part 7: Yellowstone


Yellowstone is lovely, no doubt, with its geothermal activity, hot springs, waterfalls, conifer trees and jagged peaks. But we didn’t travel 937 miles for pretty greenery.

Kai wanted to see wolves. He had studied these creatures for his roadschooling project, reading books about these canines and ultimately writing his own manifesto about why wolves are good for the environment. Kai was obsessed. So when he read about the Yellowstone wolf project, we made decided to take a field trip to see them.

After watching a documentary about the wolves of Yellowstone, Kai spent a day writing questions to Doug Smith the wolf biologist responsible for bringing these magnificent creatures to Wyoming. Smith responded immediately, telling us that we needed to spend our time in the park at Lamar Valley.

So that’s what we did. Our first day in the park was spent driving from Madison Campground to Lamar Valley, so we could hang out for the afternoon, evening and at dusk to try and spot wolves. From our perch over this epic valley, populated with bison and elk and pronghorns, we waited to see wolves.

People with scopes would stop, set up their gear and scan the edges of the valley for grizzlies and other carnivores. Everyone we met said they had seen wolves that day, and to wait. So I cooked dinner, the boys made friends, and we stood over the valley squinting into the distance to find these wild dogs.

Let me admit that we didn’t come prepared. We didn’t have a scope, hell we didn’t even have binoculars. We were quickly pinpointed as novices. And kind people with scopes would point out finds–a grizzly mama and two cubs, a fox in the parking lot, a baby bison. But as the sun delivered a stunning sunset over the valley, we traveled back towards the campground bummed but not defeated.

Since we hoped a change might bring us luck, we spent the next day at Hayden Valley. A group of wolf watchers had set up scopes at an overlook and quickly Kai made friends, talking about the various wolves that he knew about like the infamous 06 Female.

One of the guys whooped, “I see one!” And we all crowded around him as he narrated that this white wolf was poking out of the trees, saying that this was nothing like the show up in Lamar yesterday (how we missed that is beyond me), when a wolf took down a bull elk. When we finally got the chance to look through the scope, the wolf was gone.

But these salty characters were so enchanted by Kai that they told us who to find the next day at Lamar Valley, adding that we should get there by 5am, meaning we should leave the campsite by 3:30am…not!

We did end up spending the entire next day in the Lamar Valley. We found the wolf biologist; Kai got to tune the radar to connect with the radio transmitters on the collared wolves, we knew they were close. As we waited, we got up close with a mama bear and her three cubs, and could almost touch a bull elk. But we did not see a wolf.

The next morning, when Kai woke up at 8am, he realized that we had missed our chance to see wolves in the wild, for now. This was a life lesson that I could not have made a syllabus for, could not have realized he needed, or could get, a walk into the world of disappointment. To say it broke my heart is an understatement. And of course, I did make sure to take him to a wolf sanctuary in West Yellowstone to at least see a wolf. But we all knew it was not the same.


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