You’re about to have a close encounter of the wolf kind! In the pine dotted hills of the high desert 90 minutes from LA, lies Shadowland Foundation, a facility dedicated to the preservation and re-population of the wolf species.  This is a one-of-a-kind educational experience for kids, families and everyone who loves the wolves. You’ll be ready to join the pack of ten Alaskan timber wolves and have a whole new understanding of animal conservation after a visit to the foundation.

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Skip Saturday Morning Cartoons
Tours are currently held at 10 a.m. on Saturdays only. This is due to protecting the eerily beautiful nocturnal eyes of the wolf. Founders and “wolf parents” Paul and Collette Pondella are using donations to complete work on their barn—once that opens they can host meet and greets year round.

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Sit Tight, Learning First
Your session begins with a seated presentation inside a warm, in construction yet still gorgeous, sprawling, red barn. Collette presents a thorough and interesting round up of everything you never knew about how important wolves are to our ecosystem and how they have been systematically targeted for eradication. You’ll see a short documentary called Freedom of the Pack created by Thomas Durant (famous for “The Deadliest Catch”) who was inspired by a visit to Shadowland. The presentation takes about an hour and a half and questions are welcomed. While Collette speaks you can hear the wolf pack piping in like impatient children saying “Come on! Come meet us! We’re waaaiitttttinnnng!”

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Meet the Pups
Once the presentation concludes, purses and bags are stashed, and there’s time for a bathroom break. If there’s a large group, it’s split up into two where one group goes with half the pack and vice versa. Everyone is instructed on safety and how to meet the wolves (fingers tucked in, offering the back of your hand to smell). Then you’ll be led into a staging area (a.k.a. Paul and Collette’s side porch of their ranch house) where you’ll sit down and let the pack meet them/sniff and get to know you.

girl-with-wolf-shadowlandInside the wolf enclosure, the pack (Shadow, Wahkahn, Takoda, Freedom, Alaska, Tehya, Cochise, Chenoa, Keme, Kachina, Ogin) all know what to do. They hop up on a viewing platform and wait for the awe-filled attention. Like children, they all have different personalities. Some are shy, some are affectionate, and some—like Wahkahn, who even as a puppy towers over some of the full grown adult wolves—are feisty and playful.

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Swap Spit!
You’ll have plenty of time to get to know each wolf, with Collete and Paul constantly teaching as you do. Perhaps the funnest part of the meet and greet is the opportunity to feed them. You’ll hold little bits of kielbasa sausage and be shown exactly how to offer it up for a nibble. Wolf spit is shockingly thicker than a dog’s. Wipes are ready for you after the saliva-fest.

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If you aren’t eating your packed lunch there on the pretty grounds, stop by the Heart and Soul Café for howlin’ good (couldn’t resist that joke!) burgers, macaroni & cheese and a homemade chocolate chip ice cream sandwich on your way back down the hill.

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What to Know Before You Go (And we’re not “crying wolf!” Sorry, last pun.)

  • Wear closed-toe shoes and jeans or pants that you don’t mind getting hair and wolf slobber on.
  • Be prepared for 20 degrees chillier (and windier) weather than in LA.
  • Park to the left of the red barn and head inside to be checked in.
  • Empty your pockets before meeting the wolves; anything sticking out is fair game for a nibble!
  • Bring lunch to enjoy with your group afterwards on Shadowland’s lovely grounds.
  • While there are no age restrictions and the wolves have met everyone from newborns to 100 year olds, it’s recommended for 6 & up.
  • Tours of groups over 10 must donate ahead of time to secure their tour date. Recommended donations are $35 per adult and $20 per child. Tours book up well in advance, so call a month or so before you’d like to go.

Shadowland Foundation
18832 Pine Canyon Rd.
Lake Hughes
818-766-1825
Online: shadowlandfoundation.org

Have you had an up close encounter with normally wild creatures (your kids don’t count!)?  We’d love to hear about it.

—written and photos by Shannon Guyton

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