Sunday, August 26, 2007

Lake Superior Circle Tour -- Day 11

Waking on Tuesday morning in Ely meant we needed to check out of our half-cabin, find a place to eat breakfast, and perhaps the most anticipated stop on the entire Circle Tour trip, we were gonna see some wolves!

The International Wolf Center is a place I've wanted to visit for years! I've been everywhere on their website, I've read all the wolf logs, watched the videos, and spent ample time ogling their live webcams for many, many months. We were going to see the wolf celebrities I'd gotten to know online! I could not have been more excited.

When we arrived and paid our admission, the cashier said that if we get to the viewing area and the wolves aren't around, someone will go out and call them so that they come down by the windows. I was pumped! No matter what, we'd see wolves today!

We took our time reading the exhibits, learning about wolf behavior, and then made our way to the windows.

Nothing. People were sitting on benches yawning.

Someone was kind enough to point out that one of the wolves's snouts was visible above the den, but you had to look closely. Oh yes. That is a wolf snout! In fact, I can see the whole head!

In fact, I think that's Maya!

As soon as we noticed her, she got up, stretched, yawned, walked around the den, went inside, and a large puff of dirt shot out the opening as she swished about with her feet, and then she was all but invisible.

Hours went by. B.E. sprawled out on a bench with his hat over his face and took a nap. I paced. I searched shadows. I tried to call to them with my mind! No wolves showed up.

They taught two classes in the time we sat there waiting for a wolf to show, and I spent about 45 minutes in the gift shop too, and missed nothing. During the second class, the instructor said that if the wolves did not make an appearance during the class, she'd call them down. The class was an hour long. It was such a long hour!

Finally, about 20 minutes after the class ended, one of the staff members went outside and called to the wolves, each one of them by name.

Sleepily, they started trotting out of the woods. First Shadow, the alpha male, drowsily walked down, stretching and yawning all the way, then the other three, Grizzer, Malik and Maya appeared. They went straight for the gates and seemed to each receive a snack for their kind showing. These were the sleepiest wolves I'd ever seen. (Not that I've seen many. These were my first.)

I cannot tell the arctic wolves apart very well. One has a spot on his tail, and that might be Malik. I think Shadow has some spots on his snout, but I'm not sure. They say Shadow is much larger, but it is too hard to tell unless they're next to one another. Maya and Grizzer are easier to distinguish. Maya has more brown on her snout. No matter what, they're gorgeous.

And, they struck me as leaner and smaller than I imagined wolves would be. Even the males. According to the information provided, they eat once a week on Sundays, so two days later they should be full and happy still. I was thinking they looked like they needed a second helping. Or maybe, because I think this is Malik, the lowest ranking male, maybe he doesn't get as much to eat. Those legs look so scrawny!

Shadow was the first down, but I was caught off guard and didn't get a good shot of him approaching. He was also the first to leave the gated area and lay down at the foot of a young tree while the others socialized at the gate. He clearly was in charge because when they'd all gotten their snacks and began relaxing near him, he tilted his head up and sniffed the air, as if he was getting a scented signal from afar. The other wolves did the same, sniffing the air. He stood up suddenly and and led them back to the woods, and they disappeared as quickly as they had appeared.

This is Shadow, casually waiting for the other wolves to join him.

Maya looked a little scruffy, like she had bed-head, only all over.

Grizzer looked tough, even when he's yawning.

Malik hung around the gate the longest, probably looking for more hand-outs, and when he finally joined Shadow lounging in the sun, the group was ready to move on.

Maya was the last to leave the area, and she not only strolled right in front of the windows, but she first went into the den, then went out the back, rubbed all along the far gate, plopped down on the dirt near the top of the den, and then finally joined the others hidden in the woods. She seems to be the most independent of the pack. You go girl!

This is Malik, craning his neck to smell the air, which carried some invisible scent indicating that they needed to go back into the woods. Totally wild.

While I really loved the opportunity and I know that wolves don't like the heat, I was thoroughly disappointed that we had a 15-second visit by the wolves, after hours and hours of patiently waiting. Then again, I guess we were lucky to get that. It's just that the highlight of the trip was only a few seconds long and over far too quick. I guess I'd have to find another highlight of the trip.

Not to insult the great wolf encounter, but I was hoping for more. It really was cool and next year they're going to be getting pups, so that should be a really great addition to the exhibit. It was just bad timing on our part. A woman who had been there since it opened said she got to see all of them romping around, howling and having a grand time at about 9 that morning, and they'd only disappeared around when I arrived. Figures! Maybe next time.

From there we drove back down the horrible logger roads to Silver Bay, and though it was late afternoon and the sun was setting, there were no moose to be seen. There was much pouting on my part, but whenever I felt disappointed, I thought of Ted at the North American Bear Center and the trip was so worth it!

We stayed at the Mariner Motel again that night and were upgraded to a suite for no extra charge! We had dinner delivered, and although the food was mediocre at best, it was good to be back by the lake again, where we belonged.

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