Webcam Watchers Go Nuts As Yellowstone Wolves Play Near Old Faithful

A pack of at least 12 wolves wandered into the Upper Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park Thursday morning, and hundreds of people watched them via webcam as they played near Old Faithful.

AR
Andrew Rossi

February 23, 20246 min read

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Lovers of Yellowstone National Park and wolves lit up Thursday morning watching live webcam feeds of a pack of wolves running along the boardwalks through the Upper Geyser Basin near Old Faithful.

Kathy Schmidt is one of a dozen volunteers who operate the Old Faithful webcam, a remotely operated high-definition camera that captures and livestreams anything interesting going on in the Upper Geyser Basin.

Schmidt was operating the camera from her East Coast home at about 8 a.m. Mountain Time on Thursday morning when she spotted wolves wandering into the camera’s field of view. She counted at least 12 of the predators, but there may have been more.

“They came in from the direction of the road,” she told Cowboy State Daily. “Not directly across from Biscuit Basin.”

Once they entered the Upper Geyser Basin, the wolves didn’t spread out across the barren terrain. They formed a single-file line and walked along the snow-covered boardwalk.

“They traveled all along the boardwalk,” she said. “And when they got up into what we call The Hill where Old Faithful, Beehive Geyser and Lion Geyser are, they just hung out on the boardwalk, and a couple of them laid down.”

Schmidt watched a “rally” of five wolves gathered close together wagging their tails in greeting. Otherwise, the pack was in no rush to cut their Yellowstone visit short.

Within 30 minutes of their appearance, the wolves started moving again and disappeared into the pine forests. For a self-described “avid wolf lover” like Schmidt, it was wonderful to witness through the webcam.

“I love wolves, and it's always exciting to see them,” she said. “Oftentimes, we'll send a text out to a bunch of people, like an alert system that we can tell them. People come popping on (the webcam), and they love it.”

Territorial Trekkers

According to the 2022 Yellowstone Wolf Project Annual Report, the Upper Geyser Basin is within the territory of the Wapiti Lake and Firehole River packs. Based on her experience, Schmidt believes the wolves captured on the webcam were from the Wapiti Lake pack.

While seeing wolves on the Old Faithful webcam is always exciting, Schmidt said it’s not unusual. It’s not even the first time she’s seen wolves on the webcam this year.

Retired federal ecologist Chuck Neal wasn’t surprised the wolves wandered into the park's most popular area early on a Thursday morning in winter. If the Upper Geyser Basin weren’t so busy in summer, wolves would probably visit then, too.

“It's unusual in the grand scheme of things,” he said. “But in and of itself, on a given day in winter, it would not be unusual for a pack to be loitering on the boardwalk or even in the middle of the road.”

Like many Wyomingites, wolves tend to avoid crowds. That’s why seeing 12 wolves on the Old Faithful boardwalk in July or August would be very unusual and incredibly unlikely.

In the absence of vehicles and tourists, Neal describes wolves as having a “blasé” attitude in the park's developed areas.

“I've seen them lay in the middle of Lamar Valley Road in winter when the traffic is minimal,” he said. “If people weren't there, they’d trot through Mammoth Hot Springs. But if crowds of people show up, they won't persist in that behavior. They're going to stay away from those crowds.”

Talk Quietly And Back Away

Every year, there are a handful of incidents where unfortunate Yellowstone visitors run afoul of grizzlies, usually while exploring the park’s backcountry, that can turn violent or even fatal. Wolf-human encounters, by comparison, are extremely rare.

Neal has encountered both in Yellowstone’s backcountry. But while grizzles can get confrontational, wolves tend to be skittish and curious.

“I got within 20 yards of a wolf, who sat down on her haunches and looked at me,” he said. “I stopped where I was and was already talking to them. And then, as soon as I inadvertently moved, they immediately left.”

Neal’s advice for an unexpected wolf encounter is to stop moving, speak softly and avoid aggressive displays. But in the improbable event that a wolf gets aggressive, it may be called bear spray, but Neal said it works just as well on wolves.

Being vocal before, during and after an encounter is also essential. However, even with grizzles, Neal doesn’t think shouting is necessary in a predator encounter.

“I just talk to them softly and tell them who I am and who I am,” he said. “I apologize for intruding on their privacy, and it's yours, and I'll never do it again, et cetera, et cetera. Sometimes they charge me, and sometimes they don't. But at any rate, it has always worked to keep myself safe.”

On Camera

Schmidt enjoyed watching the wolves in the Upper Geyser Basin, but Thursday morning’s sighting didn’t reach the top of her list of the most exciting things she’s seen while operating the Old Faithful webcam.

“The most amazing thing I saw on the webcam was Giantess Geyser go,” she said. “It doesn't go very often. That was a very, very amazing thing. And last year, we watched a bison carcass in the basin. It just died in the wintertime, so we watched grizzly bears and wolves on the carcass. And it was all on the webcam.”

Schmidt is a lifelong Yellowstone enthusiast who decided to spend part of her retirement volunteering to operate the Old Faithful webcam. It’s her chance to spend more time in the park and give other distant Yellowstone enthusiasts an intimate and exciting experience.

“'It’s a great window for people all around the world,” she said. “And I'm telling you, millions of people watch that webcam. And there's probably only about 12 cam operators. We split up our time, and it's all volunteer work because we all love it.”

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Andrew Rossi can be reached at arossi@cowboystatedaily.com.

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Andrew Rossi

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