The spirit of the wolf is powerful, particularly to the Native Americans, and there are very few places in the United States where you can see them up close.
At the California Wolf Center, north of San Diego not far from the tiny town of Julian, the mission to educate, conserve and research comes alive in a very personal way. Both Mexican Gray Wolves and Alaskan Gray Wolves are kept in large enough enclosures (over two acres) to allow them to behave somewhat naturally.
The Mexican Gray Wolves are the most endangered of the wolves and one of the rarest land animals on earth. In the mid 1970s only seven Mexican wolves were known to exist. Today, there are 220 of them in 41 captive facilities around the United States and Mexico and approximately 60 of them living in the wild.
The California Wolf Center has played an integral role in breeding and reintroducing Mexican grays to their natural habitat. In addition to the public tour living areas, there are off-exhibit enclosures where packs include breeding pairs that are removed from human contact and retain natural survival skills. This is the third largest breeding and host facility for Mexican wolves in the United States.
The Center is an active participant in the Mexican Wolf Species Survival Plan, a consortium that works together to breed captive animals for reintroduction into the southwestern United States. Some of the Mexican Grays born here are now roaming free, primarily in the Gila Wilderness along the border of Arizona and New Mexico. Another pack, made up of pups born here in 2008, may be released into the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area later this year.
All the public tours offered at the California Wolf Center are held on weekends and advance reservations are required. “Wolves of North America” is a one-hour tour that includes an educational presentation and guided observation of the Alaska gray wolf pack. “Saving El Lobo” is approximately two hours, and includes guided observation of both the Mexican Gray and Alaska Gray packs.
The small visitor center on site contains many educational tools and an area for slide shows and presentations. Private tours are available Monday through Friday by appointment, there is a Wolf Encounters field trip for youth groups and students, and special events are held at different times throughout the year.
Visitors are not allowed to enter the center unescorted, and even with reservations you must wait outside Center boundaries for a volunteer to escort your party into the viewing areas.
The California Wolf Center is situated right off Highway 79, but there is no roadside signage. Turn east on KQ Ranch Drive, drive towards the campground and look for the California Wolf Center sign on your right.