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Blue Ridge

“Elevation”

Above the Clouds

This morning began bright and early, though not as early as we’d originally planned.  Weather forced us to push back our sunrise hike and make it a sunrise drive instead.  Islands of mountains appeared over the clouds at the heights of Mt. Pisgah.  Bumblebees and honey bees were waking with us.  We could hear them down in the wildflowers along the side of the mountain. Behind us, ravens kra-a-a-kra-a-acked and hawed as they left their snag, a Canada warbler sang a sunrise song, and a fledging junco landed in the joe pye weed just a few feet away, its parent not far behind. 

We returned to camp and prepped for the day, adventure waiting for us, despite the rain and chill. 

Along the Mountain Trail

We took an easy morning in camp, but prepared for all the things: hikes, journaling, swimming with the salamanders, and dinner in a warm restaurant. Luba later reflected on the challenges of being ready for five changes with one bag and seven minutes to work it out.

Hiking to Skinny Dip Falls, we made our usual educator pace of 0.10 miles per hour. Megan stopped us to show us how to forage cucumberroot. Giving a nod to the People who made good use of the natural world, she explained that early Natives would harvest this tasty tuber in season, eat it raw or add it to other foraged foods.  Meticulously slicing a single inch-long root into more than 12 pieces, she offered everyone who wanted a taste of something sweet, crunchy, and watery, growing wild at our feet. 

Skinny Dip Falls were quite an eye-opener. The falls are virtually gone, washed away and changed in the last major tropical storm to cross the mountains, Fred in 2021. Storms are incredibly powerful and change the landscape quickly and thoroughly. As our climate changes, through both natural and human action, the storm damage increases, impacting humankind both socially (where we live, how we live) and economically (how we spend tax dollars to compete with nature).  As Rich pointed out, nature will always win. It was abundantly clear to everyone in the group that our relationship with this earth must change, because the earth itself will change us whether we are ready for it or not. No one is isolated from the impact of human action on the land.  We are just a small part of the community.

Comparing pictures of the waterfall before and after Fred

In the Mountain Field

Stopping at Graveyard Fields, we took some time to enjoy the sun and sit with the wildflowers.  Each team of three was given the freedom to find a patch to observe and collect data on the pollinators that visited, then represent the data for others in graphs and infographics that seemed to match our goal. In about 20 minutes (yes, Luba, you have 20 minutes to get this done!), each group came up with interesting observations and hypotheses, as well as a visual way to present the information to others through graphs and diagrams.  This simple action of collaboration and quiet was a highlight for many of us.

Some of the data we collected in our nature journals on pollinators

Down the River

We left the Blue Ridge Parkway and headed into the Pisgah National Forest above Brevard.  Sitting in the shade of sycamore trees, we took our delicious box lunch while we waited for Lori Williams from the NC Wildlife Resources Commission to arrive with a very special friend, Rocky the hellbender.  

For many of this, this was our first experience with a two-foot long salamander that has the reputation of a preacher on fire. We learned that the hellbender got its name from enslaved people in Virginia, who saw the creature as a devil bent on returning to hell, and maybe taking a few folks with him. Truth is, Rocky was pretty chill. We all hung out by his kiddie pool and peppered his caretakers with questions about his particular species. Pro tip for hanging with Rocky: he likes his back stroked and his folds scritched.

Finally, our group geared up in double and triple layers to get into the water with Ben the Biologist.  For some of us, this was probably the most challenging part of our trip.  The water would be cold, and we were told this very early in our preparations, way back in March at our orientation meeting. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become less tolerant of the cold and I dreaded getting into the cold water for any real length of time. I’ve given myself permission to tap out when something felt too much, not something I would ever easily do.  But challenging ourselves is has been at least part of the point of this trip, right?

Our snazzy snorkeling duds

Into the drink with Ben we all went.  We quickly discarded the high tech gear meant to locate tagged hellbenders for an underwater search with flashlights and snorkels. Soon we spotted blueish eyes below a rock, then a tail below another, and another. Crayfish as big as a hand scuttled backward and a small school of stonerollers floated together in a pool of fast-moving water, surprised at their human visitor.  A fingerling trout or two and some sculpins here and there made it seem as if we were in another world, a secret place below the surface of the river where the water is the atmosphere, the rocks a new earth. It was fascinating, exciting, and the cold was forgotten. 

Ben Dalton in the river with a device to locate hellbenders with tags

Rich took some time out to educate some curious tubers who wondered what we were up to.  Moments like this are important to educators.  It seems a gift to have the opportunity to feed another’s curiosity and perhaps help them to see their world less singularly. 

As for my personal challenge, I think I beat it for the time being.  I left the water earlier than many others, but not because of the cold.  I’m certain I would have stayed much longer.  Rather I felt that I had seen what I had come to see. The fish, crayfish, and hellbenders had tolerated us long enough.  We were guests in their world and I felt that I was beginning to overstay my welcome.  

I’ve had that sense a few times on this trip.  Though I am hungry for all knowledge of natural things, there are times that I feel I am invading a place that is not mine to haunt. I think this is one of the great challenges of educators and naturalists.  How do we walk the balance between action and interaction in the face of the great changes coming our way? Yet, if we do not learn the secret stories of the earth, speak them to the tubers who wonder and the stackers of rocks who don’t understand the world they are disrupting, tell these tales in classrooms and hallways… who will pass them on to others? If not us, who? 

Under the Table

Supper was in Brevard, a warm and welcoming place where we could reflect and relax with good food and new friends. Dolly’s ice cream was the cherry on top before we drove back to camp.  It had been pouring rain solidly for nearly an hour while we dined, the kind of rain that makes you really glad you are not in a tent. We thought we had escaped a sound drenching in camp, and we clambered back into our vans and spiraled up the roadway toward a good night’s sleep. Rounding a corner, we came to a slow halt behind several other vehicles. A tree had fallen across the road, blocking traffic in both directions.  Our team piled out to see how we could help. Perhaps a group effort could move trees, not just mountains?

A young man already had his chainsaw out, but he was struggling in the drizzle to get it running.  Suddenly, Rich, the Fixer, strode up with his little  10-inch trail saw, the kind that folds up like a pocket knife.  He got to work on the lower branches, taking the occasional turn with a fellow traveler, a strapping guy who cheered Rich on. In under ten minutes the pair had three branches the size of your thigh sawed off the base of the trunk.  With seven or eight people on each, the branches were tossed over the guardrail, creating a one-way passage around the trunk, still tilted and sloping down the mountain and over the other lane. We left that part for DOT and climbed back into the vans, grateful for a glimmer of the best of humans. 

Rich sawing the log across the highway

May it be that we ever remain hopeful and helpful to one another. 

Blue Ridge

“Rain, Writing, and Resources”

Our Thursday morning started early but thankfully dry! We packed up camp and then had breakfast. We then headed down the Blue Ridge Parkway through the fog. We stopped at an overlook and took in some great morning mountain views. We also made a quick stop at the Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center. While there, we observed several species of flowers, including Ironweed, Common Milkweed, and Blazing Star. We then continued our drive to the North Carolina Arboretum. Thankfully, the sun came out and we were able to lay out all of our very wet tents and gear in the sun to dry.

Fortunately, the Arboretum didn’t mind our mess for a little while!

At the NC Arboretum, we first met with Shannon Bodeau, the Project Explore Coordinator. He talked about and explained the Project Explore program. Project Explore coordinates with teachers in getting their students outside and doing hands-on data collection and reporting. Shannon led us in some science activities that we can take back to use with our students.  We examined leaves and sharpened our observation skills. We also took some quiet time to use our senses of sight and hearing to observe birds.  Lastly, we practiced our math skills by measuring the diameter of trees and then used the information to calculate the age, growth rate, and amount of carbon sequestered by the tree. Shannon also shared many valuable resources from the NC Arboretum and Project Explore.

Group with Shannon Bodeau in the quilt garden

During a delicious lunch from Bent Creek Bistro, we met with Jonathan Bennett, Park Ranger with the Blue Ridge Parkway. Part of his role is organizing the Bear Volunteer Patrol which recruits community members to promote bear safety practices. He explained some of the issues that have arisen lately with bears becoming too comfortable around people. The Bear Volunteer Patrol helps educate the public about how to keep both humans and bears safe. 

Group doing out best bear impressions with NPS Ranger Jonathan Bennett (right) and author and UNC-A professor Jennifer McGaha (left front)

After lunch we met with Jennifer McGaha, professor at UNC Asheville. She is also the  author of several books including “Flat Broke with Two Goats”, “Bushwhacking”, and a new book “The Joy Document,” which will come out this fall. She led us in a mini-writers workshop.  We looked at examples of creative non-fiction and then, with the help of writing prompts, composed our own flash non-fiction pieces focusing on a memorable nature experience.

Cool-looking compost fly on Jennifer’s book “Bushwhacking”

Then we travelled to Mount Pisgah Campground and made a mad dash to set up the tents before the torrential rain came.  We ate dinner from Pisgah Inn while being serenaded by the sounds of wind and rain which cancelled our evening hike. However, we took the opportunity to get creative and do a print making craft instead. An early bedtime was planned in anticipation of an early morning sunrise hike.

Blue Ridge

“From Winter to Summer”

After an evening of storms, rain and yes….you know it…salamanders, we rose early for breakfast and headed out on our adventures! On our travels, we stopped to view the behemoth ridgeline from a Blue Ridge Parkway overlook and watched the clouds gather, crest and envelop the peaks of the Black Mountains. It was awe inspiring. 

Our adventures today started with a visit to the highest point east of the Mississippi at Mount Mitchell with an elevation of 6684ft.

Each group member pointing to where they’re from on the map of NC at the top of Mount Mitchell

At the top, we were immersed in a climate similar to the forests of Nova Scotia, rather than the Southern Appalachians.  Our hike down from the summit was through a forest that at times seemed prehistoric. 

Lush spruce-fir forest at the top of Mount Mitchell

As we walked, we encountered numerous salamanders, including a Carolina Mountain Dusky guarding her eggs in a crack in the rock cliff.

In the forest of Mt. Mitchell we used the powerful technique of compare and contrast to learn about the dominant tree species here in the highest elevations— Spruce and Fir. We stopped amongst the mist-soaked moss to talk about the Spruce Fir Moss Spider, which is a miniature tarantula that lives in the mossy carpet that covers the forest floor. This tiny species of spider is on the endangered species list as its habitat is the sky islands of high elevations that stand isolated from each other in the Southern Appalachia. As development, climate change, acid rain and the infamous and deadly Balsam Wooly adelgid wreak havoc upon the isolated sky islands, this precious spider’s population is suffering. The SFM spider has become a “spokesperson” for the conservation efforts of preserving the Spruce Fir habitats. There’s even wrote a song about this moss dweller! (insert QR code here)

The icing on the cake was observing a wide array of colorful mushrooms that seem like they belong in German fairy tales.

After a delicious lunch on top of the highest mountain on the east coast, we transitioned from windy, cool, and misty conditions of autumn to hot, humid, and sunny summer conditions of NC.  The afternoon was spent at the South Toe River with non-game fisheries biologists from Wildlife Resource Commission, TR Russ and Mike Hutchison.  These amazing experts introduced us to the native species of the river using electrofishing techniques.  We observed Tennessee, Mirror, and Warpaint shiners, River Chubs, Greenfin and the Gilt darters, Central Stonerollers, and Sculpin.  Donning our snorkels, we submerged ourselves in the cool, crystal waters of the river to observe the fish in their natural setting. Folks, this is a must do on anyone’s list of adventures!  After a quick ice cream interlude, we headed back to camp.

Group in the South Toe River checking the seine for fish

While we worked in our journals or hiked the beautiful trails around our camp, our 3 chefs crafted an amazing dinner of burritos. The finest burritos in the Appalachians! We reflected and shared our experiences of the day in the refreshingly cool evening. ..Sorry folks, but this is where this post ends…we are off in search of nighttime salamanders!

Spotting a red salamander on the campground road
Lydia with a Yonahlossee salamander
Blue Ridge

“Breaking Camp—Wet, Wet Day”

Chris: This morning dawned clear after the previous evening’s rain.  We shook ourselves off and grabbed coffee, tea, and breakfast, then packed under a deadline.  Wisely, our illustrious leaders told us we needed to be ready NO LATER than 7:30 AM so we were all ready, of course, by 7:44—a minute ahead of the actual schedule! 

Something popped its head out of the water as we were packing up: Beaver, otter? It gave us just a quick look over its shoulder before it resubmerged and bid us adieu.

Kate: Our first adventure of the day was an easy quarter mile hike to observe a great feat for finishing the Blue Ridge Parkway— The Linn Cove Viaduct. In what might have been a short hike for the average person, we spent most of the morning identifying plants! White bergamot mixed in with umbrella leaf and bee balm were such a delight to see for all.

A sea of umbrella leaf and bee balm

Seriously, 12 nature geeks cannot cover .25 miles in less than an hour! Too many birds…so many plants…and Megan spotted not one, but two dusky salamanders! (She is the salamander whisperer!)

Rich:  Next up was a short hike along the Mountains to Sea Trail from the Blue Ridge Parkway up to Beacon Heights.  What an awesome view, complemented by a couple of showy cedar waxwing birds.

Rich is an avid hiker and helps maintain trails, so he told us all about the Mountains to Sea Trail

My highlight was getting to listen to Olivia, a National Park Service and Blue Ridge Parkway ranger.  She is very engaging and did a great job giving us the history and details of the Blue Ridge Parkway.  The Blue Ridge Parkway is not just a road, by the way.  She showed us a diagram that detailed just one mile of the Parkway: each tree, each fence has been carefully planned.  Great job, Olivia!

Learning from Ranger Olivia

Chris: The next leg of our journey saw us hitting the road briefly to hike another short trail, this one up to the upper falls at Linville Gorge. Taking way longer than we needed to, we stopped many times along the trail to identify and confirm the identity of birds and flora.  No one gets impatient to move…we are all content to take our time and enjoy the journey, not just the destination.  But, oh, the destination!  The falls are beautiful and inspire wonder.  The end of the trail took us quite near the edge, where we looked for salamanders and appreciated the geography.  We listened to two separate “expert talks”.  That is to say, we have all taken on a subject to become the “Five Minute Expert” on, and two of us were able to give our talks at the falls. Lydia told us all about the galax, a very common but important plant that is prevalent in the higher elevations.  Lydia really helped us to better understand the history of the plant and I can now identify a new plant in our mountains.  Thanks, Lydia! 

Kate: Up next was learning about mudpuppies from Chris! Chris took her expert topic to the next level by showing off her life size needle-felted mudpuppy!  After that, we finished our hike and drove to our new home- Briar Bottom Campground at the base of Mount Mitchell.  

Chris teaching us with her illustrations and felted mudpuppy

Rich:  Did Kate mention that it may have rained?!  But what’s a little rain?  We have great tents and great teamwork to make sure everyone is going to have a dry night’s sleep.  Tomorrow: the highest point in North Carolina and east of the Mississippi – Mount Mitchell.

We had to move a few tents out of puddles, but the team pulled together to do it quickly!
Blue Ridge

“A Grand Day at Grandfather Mountain”

What would get educators on summer vacation out of bed at 4:30 a.m.?  Bird banding, of course!  We had the amazing opportunity to set up bird-catching nets with John Gerwin, Curator of Ornithology at the Museum. We assisted him with setting up the nets and anxiously awaited the birds! We were so excited to catch a junco! After we observed, measured, and tagged the bird, we released him back into the wild safe and sound.

John Gerwin showing us how to band a junco

We heard and observed several other birds such as the towhee, the red-breasted nuthatch and an entire family of wild turkeys. We also met Rachel and Ryan, who both work for Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation. Rachel work with the animals and their habitats, as well as in education and Ryan is on the resource management team. 

After bird banding, we had a chance to visit the Mile High Swinging Bridge. Erin and Anita conquered their fear of heights and made it across the bridge and back! (Group pic on the bridge here!) We got to take in some amazing views while enjoying cooler temperatures. While up on the bridge we also saw two peregrine falcons. These birds nest in the craggy rocks on the mountain.

Group on the Mile High Swinging Bridge

Our group then walked along a trail under the bridge to observe and learn about the geology of the rock formations at Grandfather Mountains and across North Carolina.  (Any pictures of the geology observations here!) Lastly, Elizabeth, a naturalist at Grandfather, led discussions on stewardship of native and invasive plants. Everyone got to practice our observation skills again, and we got to see what happens when you rehydrate very dry lichen. Check out our Instagram reel to see a time-lapse of how a dull gray lichen turned bright green with just a little bit of water!

Looking at the rocks with our magnifiers

After dinner, we hiked to Rough Ridge to take in the gorgeous 360 degree views! We’re all excited for a good night’s sleep and all the adventures tomorrow will bring!

Rough Ridge at sunset
Blue Ridge

“I Notice, I Wonder…”

Though we didn’t have signal to post last night, we’ve arrived at Julian Price Park and set up camp! Some of us for the first time! We re-introduced ourselves with our “I Am From” poems, which follow a specific format but are filled with tidbits of our personal histories. What an incredible way to get to know each other and our myriad stories.

Preparing for the week ahead, we launched into observational activities to develop skills we will need to document our natural experiences. Some of the various strategies included using all of our 5 senses, shifting our perspective, or using the sentence starter prompts of “I notice… or I wonder… or “it reminds me of…” to spark better observations and reflections. The process allows us to dig deeper into our experience and perception of our surroundings.

Though it is definitely cooler than the Piedmont or the Coastal plain today, at 87 degrees F, it is quite warm for the mountains, and so we took a quick excursion to a refreshing creek to soak our feet (or our bodies), and to look for salamanders and macroinvertebrates. We concluded our first day with a picnic dinner at the Raven Rocks overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway to catch the most spectacular sunset ever!  We are off to a phenomenal start!

Blue Ridge

“How to Prep for a 8-night Group Camping Adventure!?!”

First, find a group of amazing educators that are willing to travel and camp with a bunch of strangers for 9 days. No camping experience required, just enthusiasm for exploring the nature world! Then, gather them for a meeting to go over the trip details and get to know one another. Finally, give them a thorough packing list and see what happens…

Here’s how our group has been preparing for our Blue Ridge Institute!

Chris Keffer: “I’m getting excited for our trip.  Well, I’ve been excited for our trip, but it’s time to get serious now. I’ve been going through last minute needs: What do I have vs. what I need vs. what I’d like to have.  I’ve found I don’t need to purchase many things, but the purchases I have made will be useful to me beyond our adventure, so that’s okay. The best investment?  Waterproofing!  Seems strange right now because we are in a drought, but I’ve noticed a trend of storms and showers, anywhere but over my garden.  I look forward to some cooling rain, but getting wet and staying wet is not my idea of a good time.”

Erin Quinlan: “My excitement is growing along with the pile of stuff for packing.  Princess Rainbow Sparkles has already claimed the pile as her own.  Unfortunately, she hasn’t even started packing…”

Holly Kolarova: “I am really excited for the trip!  I am looking forward to challenging myself, learning about our wonderful state, and sharing adventures with my fellow teachers.  I have been hiking every day, sometimes twice a day, to build up stamina. I took a trip up Big Glassy at Carl Sandburg National  Park Site when I was breaking in my new hiking boots.  I recently requested and received a bilingual book about the state parks (and I have copies to share)! I can’t wait to use the books and my experiences from the trip with my students.”

Abby Goodson: “I am so excited for the trip to begin! This weekend, I started pulling together the gear I’ll need to take with me. Porter and Luna were very curious about it and a little sad to hear they are not on the packing list for next week!”

Rich Bowerman: “I prepared by getting out there and camping!  Pictured above is my set up at Goose Creek State Park near Washington, NC in the coastal plain, which is a totally different ecosystem than we will experience along the Blue Ridge in July. I bicycled and hiked the 14.3 miles of the Mountains to Sea Trail that runs along the beach on Ocracoke Island.  The Mountains to Sea Trail runs for over 1,175 miles starting at Kuwohi in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and ending at Jockey’s Ridge State Park in the Outer Banks. I attended a teacher workshop at the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching (NCCAT) on Ocracoke Island.  The 5-day workshop was North Carolina History Unfolded Inquiry-Based Project.  Very interesting! Finally, I’ve returned to Henderson County in the mountains to wrap up my preparations for the Blue Ridge Institute adventure!”

Luba Tyer: “I’m beyond excited to dive into the Appalachians in just 5 days. I’ve been brainstorming a presentation on the “Turk’s Cap Lily,” my expert topic for the trip. I’m figuring out the ways to create paper flowers in 5 minutes!”

Kate Keller: “The check list that Melissa and Megan provided has been awesome!  This week, I have been getting my things together and laying it all out in our spare room. Before I pack things in a bag, I like to have everything in sight. I have a list and I am checking it twice. I have a lot of precious fur or feather pets at home. I’m spending any extra time with my animals and working on getting all my farm chores completed before I leave on this amazing trip! I’m excited to have the opportunity to learn from so many experts about the place that I call home! I am really excited to be a part of this cohort and look forward to coming back with more knowledge and ideas to support our programming at our state forests.”

Almost forgot the last step in our preparations: asking y’all to cross your fingers and toes for good weather during our travels! And please wish us well or ask questions while we’re on the road by leaving comments on the blog.

Yellowstone

“It Was a Journey for a Lifetime”

They say that all good things must come to an end, but that doesn’t mean that our group was ready to let our trip end without another 5 am Lamar Valley wildlife viewing.

The wildlife must have sensed our heavy hearts and greeted us in abundance, with the bison seemingly leading the parade. Our first sighting was a black bear within inches of our van eagerly looking for an early morning snack, and he opened the floodgates for the animals to come: a wolf pup, a cinnamon-colored black bear, cliff swallows looking curiously out of their nests, a mountain goat with her kid, a red-tailed hawk, a coyote jogging along, a bald eagle, and our very own mosquito party at the pit toilets.

a brown-colored bear among a field of flowers and sagebrush
A cinnamon-colored black bear the group spotted from the car on our last morning in the park.

We turned around and circled back for another look at an active wolf den and found a family of wolves with some playful pups. The two scopes came out and we decided that there was no better place to have our last breakfast picnic. With our impending departure on our minds, all rules for a proper breakfast flew out the window and the pringles and nutella came out earlier than usual, much to our delight.

Taking in the views at Slough Creek for the last time, it was a bit quieter than normal as we all took time to process what the last 10 days have meant to us.

Emerson Hough, an early journalist who reported on Yellowstone, wrote that, “It was a journey for a lifetime.” Upon leaving Yellowstone, we’d be inclined to say that anyone who has the opportunity to experience Yellowstone’s magic is destined to wholeheartedly agree.

A group of people sitting in seats on a plane
On our way back to North Carolina after a race through the airport to make our connecting flight!
Yellowstone

“Great Geyser Gazing”

We headed out to the geyser basin early this morning to avoid the crowds. Luckily, we got to see Old Faithful erupt and basically had it all to ourselves. After watching that, we headed over to Sawmill and Tardy Geysers, which weren’t as tall, but still really interesting to watch. We then decided to book it over to Grand, Vent and Turban geysers to see if we could catch them erupting. We were lucky to get to talk with two of the “Geyser Gazers”, people who spend their days watching and recording the various eruptions. It was interesting to speak with people really passionate about the geology of geysers. We learned that Grand Geyser emits about 1 million gallons at each eruption and is taller than Old Faithful! We booked it over to Daisy Geyser, which is unique in that it erupts at an angle and sounds like a chugging train at the end. It was fascinating to see the various types of eruptions and learn about what causes them all. At Morning Glory Pool, we talked about the fact that the geysers and other areas in Yellowstone need to be protected from humans so that they continue to amaze us and do what they do. It’s important that we do everything we can to leave no trace!

Old Faithful
Morning Glory pool

We visited the Tribal Heritage Center, where some of us talked to the artist in residence from Standing Rock Reservation. She’s there as part of a program that brings artists from the 27 tribes associated with Yellowstone for one week residencies in the park. The artists get to display their art and they talk with visitors about their work and their tribe. She had beautiful beadwork, clothing, and paintings. We felt really lucky to get to talk with her for so long and learn about her art and experiences.

On our way north back to Mammoth, we stopped by Swan Lake where we had the great, good fortune to see two trumpeter swans with their five cygnets. It’s becoming rarer to see them because of the influx of Canadian Geese, so we all enjoyed the moment and knew we were lucky to see them today.

Taking pictures of a baby owl after our final group meeting

Serendipity, joy and curiosity have been the themes of our trip. We’ve all been so fortunate to experience this place. In the words of Olaus Murie, a naturalist and biologist who lived in Grand Teton: “I know that when I have stood in Nature’s domain, rapt in wonder, in the presence of some manifestation of her charm, perhaps a sunset, a mighty unfolding of mountain ranges to the horizon, or the soft hooting of an owl at dusk, at such times I have had my greatest peace. At such times I can harbor no ill will toward my fellow man.”

We’re all leaving here having experienced great peace, joy, awe, and amazement.

Group at the Roosevelt Arch at the North Entrance to Yellowstone
Yellowstone

“Grounding in the Tetons”

From a distance, the sharp spires loom large. Majesty unparalleled. A blue abyss reflects the awesomeness of nature, snaking its way through the mountain passes. Otherworldly comes to mind. As we continue the approach, the jagged geography grows and grows, never losing its novelty. The glacier of Mt. Moran shines bright white in the morning sun, beckoning visitors and whispering tales of long, long ago.

Group at Grand Teton National Park

We hike to Taggart Lake. The aspen trees, grouse and butterflies set the stage for a beautiful outdoor day. The stream’s melody greets us along our way. A pine forest reminiscent of Narnia brings peace and nostalgia. Changing, ever-changing, are these mountain paths. The challenging terrain is the work before the reward. The lake’s crystal blues and greens sing a siren song, that lure one of our own into its refreshing waters.

Liz wading in Taggart Lake

Birds singing and aspens rustling in the wind embrace you at Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve. The minimalist landscape and eco-friendly visitor center embody the tranquil beauty of the Tetons. Trails meander through lush green thickets and creeks are wild and loud. A waterfall lulls you into oblivion before the lake refreshes the soul.

The entrance to the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve

Mother Nature puts on yet another show as we depart Grand Teton and witness true symbols of the wild—-BEARS!—-a grizzly and her three cubs, a cinnamon black bear and a grizzly bear.

These experiences allowed connection to self, each other and the awesomeness of the outdoors.

“Mindful of different ways of being, our awareness as a species shifts — We recognize the soul of the land as our own.”
Terry Tempest Williams