In Yellowstone’s quiet northeast corner—an area often overlooked by visitors—a valley suddenly emerges from hiding, as if the surrounding peaks and ridges finally consent to share the secret paradise they guard. Bison and elk graze contentedly on the plentiful grass, and bald eagles and other raptors soar overhead scanning for prey. The music of the wolf, once described by Aldo Leopold as an “outburst of wild defiant sorrow,” often accompanies this pastoral scene. This idyllic setting caught the attention of an early mountain man, Osborne Russell, who deemed it “The Secluded Valley.”
Today, visitors to Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley can delight in “the wild romantic scenery” that has remained relatively unchanged since Russell first viewed it in 1835. Lamar Valley also boasts a remarkable story behind its scenery: it has been the site of two of the most significant wildlife conservation projects of our time: the restoration of the wild bison and the returning of the wolf to Yellowstone. In 1907, the park built the Lamar Buffalo Ranch to save the last 23 wild bison in North America. And in 1995, a captive wolf bounded from its pen into Lamar Valley—and into the environmental history books.
Given the sublime setting and conservation legacy, Lamar Valley provides the perfect setting for an outdoor classroom. The Yellowstone Association, a nonprofit dedicated to educating park visitors, offers a wonderful selection of field courses in Lamar. From sunrise to sunset, students witness a variety of what John Muir called “a thousand Yellowstone wonders.” Early risers have often been rewarded with the sight of a wolf loping across the landscape, while evening dinner companions may include a bison herd grazing in a nearby meadow.
This winter, the Association is offering an unprecedented opportunity—a chance to volunteer with Yellowstone’s Wolf Project to help with an important study. In the course “Food For the Masses: Researching How Yellowstone’s Wolves Affect Scavengers” participants will travel through the park’s rugged Northern Range in search of wolf activity. Four different sessions will be held in November and December this year. For anyone who has dreamed about viewing Yellowstone’s magnificent wolves in the wild, this is a chance to make it come true—and also contribute to vital research.
This story first appeared in Examiner.com Billings on August 11, 2009