“Traveling south”

June 20, 2019

We’ve become accustomed to early mornings but today was special: we were allowed to decide between sleeping in or wildlife watching at 5 o’clock. While many of us gained some well deserved sleep, a few elected to end our northern Yellowstone adventure with a wildlife watch. Kali, Emily, Angie, Casey, Caroline and our fearless leaders, Christy, Chris and Megan, set off on the final watching excursion.

It was cold, far colder than it had been in the days before. The wind whipped and our fingers felt like ice. We were off before the sunrise and we stopped to see the grizzly mom and cubs. They were in the meadow where we left them the night before, snuggled in the sagebrush. One of the cubs tried many times to get up but, much like us, mom patted her baby and snuggled until he went back to sleep. We noted a few wandering black bears as we drove along, but what we were really after was a glimpse of the apex predators within the park. We traveled further into the valley and pulled off on the road to see the sunrise. We had our field breakfast and watched. Pronghorn. Bison. No grizzly, no wolves, no luck. We decided to move to the next pull-off in hopes of making our last day in Lamar Valley extra special. As we rounded the corner, cars were lined up on the side of the road. This was a good sign.

We ended our morning watching two grizzlies and four wolves in all their glory. We witnessed the full power of a grizzly sprinting downhill. Toward what, we’re not sure but we definitely wouldn’t want to be on the end of that charge. We saw the Junction Butte wolf pack devouring an early morning meal and interacting with each other. Despite the amazing views, we reluctantly left the valley and returned to load our bags and crew. The full group headed south.

We traveled through the park up and down winding mountain roads, and pulled off to see the valley we left behind. While viewing a great horned owl’s nest, a curious and determined coyote came into view. He hadn’t shed all of this winter’s coat and he was colored a very fluffy, dirty blonde. He quickly drew the attention of many park patrons and we all watched him slink near the road. He quickly crossed, ears up, then down, bouncing up to a rotting log. That’s when we saw it: he had been hunting his next meal, a Uinta ground squirrel. The hunt was short and effective, and witnessing this was nothing short of amazing. We continued on.

A young coyote eats a morning snack of a Uinta ground squirrel

Next, we ventured to the edge of the caldera of Yellowstone and observed the aftermath of a volcanic eruption that occurred approximately 640,000 years ago. We started off on a trail covered in snow with the wind whistling past our frigid cheeks. Looking out at the caldera, we took part in a group activity creating a timeline of sedimentary, igneous and metamorphic rocks and the 3 caldera-forming volcanic eruptions, and learned several facts about Yellowstone’s geology. It’s indescribable to be looking out into millions of years of history. It’s even more amazing to experience it with like-minded educators who desire to take in this adventure and go back and relive this experience with their students. Adventure, stepping out of comfort zones, and newly formed friendships – what better real-world lessons could we bring into our classrooms to begin inspiring our future leaders?

We caught glimpses of the beauty of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, but nothing prepared us for Artist’s Point. Casey did a great presentation on Thomas Moran, a painter who traveled with a geological survey in 1871. His work was very influential in convincing the federal government for the need for a national park and advocating for resources to protect this beautiful land. Spellbound, we took some time to channel Moran’s spirit and sketched the spectacular turquoise waterfall that helped to carve out the canyon. Inspired by the scenery, Angie wrote, “The sun casts iridescent sparkles upon the falls of Yellowstone. The power and majesty of the sheer image and beauty of the falls brings tears to the soul.”

Katie and Caroline channel their inner Thomas Moran at Artist point

Reflections from Artist Point

As we drove on from the falls, we entered our first area of active thermal activity. The Mud Volcano was just what we imagined… and more. The smell greeted us first: imagine sulfur steam wafting out of the bubbling ground. It looked to be boiling, but the team tasked with testing measurements recorded temperatures at only 73 degrees. The bubbles were hydrogen sulfide gas making its way through the muddy water. Dragon’s Mouth, a cave with steam billowing from the opening, and the sound of crashing waves in its pool, measured 128 degrees. We thought about what we might have thought of this area had we been the early explorers. As we were admiring the mud volcano, graupel (a type of snow that forms when water freezes very quickly) started to fall! What a strange way to end our day, at features so hot with weather so cool!

We continued to Lake Hotel and cabins and to our surprise we entered a lodge in a winter wonderland. The wind blowing off the lake was white with snow and we huddled around the fire after dinner for a meeting recapping our adventures. We are eager to continue our journey and see the iconic Old Faithful tomorrow.


Mandie, Kristen, and Emily