The Wolfe pack is back.
When Karen Wolfe got word that a Yellowstone wolf pack’s den was visible from a road, she scheduled an “emergency trip” from her Phoenix home located 17 hours and more than 1,000 miles to the south.
She also called her sister, Virginia Wolfe, who lives in Vashon, Wash. — 13 hours and almost 800 miles to the west of Yellowstone National Park — to meet her in the Lamar Valley.
“We love wolves,” Karen said. “They’re beautiful — beautiful and mysterious.”
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Earlier this month, Karen was bundled against a cold spring breeze in a knee-length blue parka with fake fur trim around the hood. Next to a large, flat boulder placed at the edge of a parking area along Slough Creek, Karen had set up her tripod and spotting scope to zoom in on the wolf den about a mile and a half away. In a purple notebook with a wolf illustration on the cover, she took notes of what she saw.
Her sister, Virginia, had her tripod and spotting scope set up next to Karen’s, and together they took turns allowing tourists to look through their high-powered magnifying lenses to see wolves in the wild while also repeatedly answering the same questions about the wolf pack.
The center of attention was on a hillside to the northwest. There, barely visible even with the intense magnification, were two adult members of the 10-member Junction Butte pack resting in the shade of pine trees. Behind the trees, on a steep hillside covered only with sagebrush, was the dark opening to a den. At about 5 p.m., four black pups exited, one with a bright white blaze on its chest.
The pups were just a portion of two litters using the den, five black and three gray, according to Doug Smith, Yellowstone wolf biologist.
This is what they had been waiting so long to see.
“Woo hoo!” shouted an excited Jim Smith as he saw the wolf pups at the entrance to the den through Karen’s spotting scope. He literally jumped for joy.
Smith had driven from his home in Tampa, Fla., on a tour of parks around the nation. At age 60 he said there was no better time to take such an extensive excursion, which had also taken him to national parks in Arizona and Utah.
He called the wolves a symbol of wilderness, along with mountain lions and grizzly bears.
“Shouldn’t we save a little something that is wild and beautiful in us?” he said. “Now it has become a bit of a challenge to find these beautiful creatures.”
Karen seemed almost as excited by Smith’s response to seeing the wolves as to spotting them herself.
“You see this reaction?’ ” she said, pointing to Smith, a smile lighting her face. “You don’t get to see this all of the time. The reactions of people is marvelous, especially the reactions of kids. They are so excited to see a wolf.”
Becoming a Yellowstone wolf groupie was far from Karen’s mind when she worked as an economist for a utility company in Arizona, a job that she said gave her all of her gray hair — well, that and her son. Then on a May trip to Yellowstone in 2011 — following “a very, very snowy winter” — Karen saw her first wolf in the Hayden Valley and someone let her look through their spotting scope. On the same trip she later saw a famed female wolf on a bison kill in the Lamar Valley.
“I had never seen anything like that,” she recalled, wide-eyed. “And now I come here to relax and see the wild.”
Karen later brought her sister to Yellowstone and nurtured her infatuation with the park’s wild wolves. Virginia, 55, took a leave of absence from her job this year. Next, Karen wants to bring her 9-year-old granddaughter to view the wildlife and incredible natural setting of mountains, forests and streams.
“I kind of feel young,” said Karen, now 69 and retired. “My head feels young, but not my knees.”
100 years of national parks
The U.S. National Park Service will turn 100 years old Aug. 25 — setting up a summer centennial celebration. The service now claims 407 national parks, although many of them aren’t named that way. The parks cover 84 million acres.
Some national parks in the region and their distance from Downtown Boise (via Google Maps):
- Grand Teton (Wyoming): 372 miles
- Crater Lake (Oregon): 400
- Mount Rainier (Washington): 430
- Yellowstone (Wyoming/Montana/Idaho): 437
- Great Basin (Nevada): 455
- Lassen Volcanic (California): 502
- Glacier (Montana): 503
- Arches/Bryce Canyon/Capitol Reef/Canyonlands/Zion (Utah): 550-650
- North Cascades National Park (Washington): 553
National Park Service properties in Idaho include:
- City of Rocks National Reserve (Almo)
- Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve (Arco)
- Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument (Hagerman)
- Minidoka National Historic Site (Hagerman)
- Nez Perce National Historical Park (a string of 38 sites across Idaho, Oregon, Washington and Montana; Idaho sites are in North Idaho)