Most people cannot escape the magical images conjured up by a wolf’s howl.

Here in the mountains of New Mexico it’s a common sound, and anyone who has seen “Dances With Wolves” can feel the Native American spirit associated with them. A road trip to the Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary is not only a chance to visit these amazing creatures of nature and lore, but also an educational experience, too.

The 80-acre wolf sanctuary located on BIA 120 just four miles west of BIA 125 is a journey well worth the trip for young and old alike as well as for individuals, families and school groups. The non-profit sanctuary is home for abused and abandoned wolves and wolf dogs. Since these wolves have no natural experience in the wild, once they are placed in the sanctuary, they can never be released into a wild environment.

James Paulson, outreach coordinator for the wolf sanctuary said, “We currently have 59 wolves in our care. Ideally we like to have only 50 to 55, but the need is there, so we took them in. The problem is epidemic today with people buying these bred wolves and then finding out they are not the best pet, so they call us and other facilities to try to find placement for the animals.”

The wolf sanctuary received 13,000 visitors last year and although many are from New Mexico, others come from overseas as do many of the sanctuary’s volunteers.

“We had one couple from England last year who flew to New York from London and rented motorcycles to tour the country and ended up in San Francisco. When they were there, someone they met mentioned the sanctuary, and they hopped on their motorcycles and made their way here to visit the us,” Paulson said.

Educational programs is another important function of the sanctuary. It provides programs for schools where a sociable wolf visits a classroom or classes tour the sanctuary. During the school year, the sanctuary handles about 10 educational groups a week.

This year, various scout groups are trying to arrange their jamborees around the sanctuary to learn about wolves and in some cases work on the grounds earning merit badges by helping to clean up, learning how to feed the wolves and caring for them.

The problems of abused wolves don’t always have a happy ending either, Paulson said, “Every year in North America there are over 100,000 wolf dogs put to sleep and the problem is only growing.”

In addition to visiting the wolves and learning about them, the sanctuary also has a rustic campground in a wooded area where visitors can enjoy the outdoors and listen to the wolves howl at night.

The sanctuary also has trained guides that help visitors walk with the wolves, but no dancing is allowed. Shutterbugs can also sign up for a private tour inside the fenced in area to get up close and personal with these wonderful and beautiful creatures.