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The Sound that Steals Your Breath

Updated: Dec 7, 2020

Spotting scopes out, pointed the same direction. “Do you see her? Is the scope still focused on her?” People clutter the road and bustle around spotting scopes and binoculars to glimpse the black wolf trotting above the frosty river. Cars drive slowly past us and the people inside stare out across the valley. The guide in me watches the cars, watches my people to make sure they don’t get hit by distracted drivers. The most dangerous of wildlife in this park.

Visitors head out to Lamar Valley early, hoping to hear the howl of a wolf.
A frosty morn for wolf watching in Yellowstone

But I am drawn in by the magic of the moment when for a few seconds, all cars are far away and the female wolf stops and howls. Her sound steals the breath from every living thing in the valley, and all is eerily silent except her lifted voice. She stops and trots forwards a few steps. In my binoculars I can see her head tilt back again.

“Shh! Shh!” I hush everyone excitedly. The sound takes a moment to reach our ears. This universal sound of wilderness echoes across Soda Butte Valley. Astonished and frozen faces of visitors turn to wide grins and laughs as people from all over the world feel the reverberation in their souls. This feeling, this moment: this is why I love being a Yellowstone Tour Guide! Being able to help people see wolves for the first time. Eyes fly back to scopes as spouses and friends murmur excitedly. “This is what we came here for!” “Alright! We can go home now!” “Howling! She’s howling-I saw her do it!”

First time visitors and seasoned locals are caught up in the high of watching a wild wolf travel her territory and call for her mate. The wolf sits down and resumes howling, speaking not to us watchers and intruders, but to another wild soul somewhere nearby.

This is the type of education one can only get through experience. So many things can be learned about the wild from watching these creatures move through the landscape and communicate with each other. So many things can be learned about ourselves and how humans fit into this ecosystem from watching how one relatively free of us functions.

Maybe this is what is so captivating about wolves. There is something inside of each of us that understands them. Even without any training, we can interpret and read the basics of their behavior. Perhaps through thousands of years of association with dogs, and also perhaps because of a longing in ourselves to join them. These things allow us to connect to the wild wolf.

Winter in Lamar Valley is truly the best time and place in the world to see and hear these creatures. Yes, you have to get up in the early mornings when it is still cold and dark. But seeing the life all around you makes it worth it! Naturalists with Walking Shadow Ecology Tours have watched these wolves and other animals for years, and know the best places to go to see them. With access to high-powered spotting scopes and our expertise, your tour with us will introduce you to the wild winters of Yellowstone!

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