“Yellowstone Ready”

By trip leader Melissa Dowland

Right now, twelve educators across North Carolina are wrapping up the school year, submitting grades, packing up their classrooms… and packing zip-off pants, puffy coats, hiking boots, and even hats and gloves for the adventure of a lifetime — the Educators of Excellence Institute to Yellowstone. We’ll meet at RDU at 4 am on Wednesday, June 14 for ten days exploring the ecology and geology of our first national park, learning from experts, and getting ideas and information to bring back to students in North Carolina.

12 head shots of adults in a grid

The Yellowstone Team: Andy, Becqui, Dana, Kimberly, Rachel, Talicia, Eryn, Darryl, Jessie, Scott, Lindsey, and Sharon. Find out more about them on the Meet the Team page!

This incredibly patient group has been waiting more than three years for this opportunity! When they applied to join the Museum’s Yellowstone Institute in winter of 2019–20, little did they know how long it would be before they had the chance to make the trip. As with so many things, our Yellowstone Institute was canceled in 2020 at the height of the pandemic. In 2021, we again put the trip off out of an abundance of caution. 2022 was going to be our year, or so we thought. But on June 13, 2022, just 24 hours before we were set to head to the airport, devastating floods hit the park, washing out roads and closing Yellowstone entirely. Needless to say, we didn’t head into the maelstrom of chaos that descended in the days following the flood. Thankfully, with a lot of hard work, roads have been repaired and Yellowstone is back to welcoming millions of visitors.

Our Yellowstone team is really hoping 2023 is our year! I say “hoping” because we’re not there quite yet, and you better believe I’m knocking on just about every wooden surface in my house as I write this!

Here are a few snippets of the ways folks have been preparing for the trip…


From Becqui Masters:

I’m lying wide awake in bed trying to think of what to write for this blog. The closer the calendar gets to our group of teachers meeting at RDU, the more nervouscited I become. I anticipate our journey to Yellowstone to be a successful 4th attempt. The three year delay has sometimes made me think that we weren’t meant to go. But patience, perseverance and planning by our leaders have hopefully paid off. I’m so elated to be done with school, and we now have 2 months to refresh, renew, and regenerate. What better way than to participate in an educational trek through our country’s first national park! I know that we each have our own reasons for wanting to go on this trip: fifteen different personalities, fifteen different stories to tell, fifteen individuals who will each bring something unique to the table. Friendships and bonds are certain to form. Memories are meant to be made. This morning I finished packing, something that took me weeks to finalize. I took over the empty bedroom belonging to my daughter, who’s away at college. Her bed and floor were covered with all the belongings I overpacked, plus one antsy border collie, who instinctively suspected someone was leaving. I haven’t picked my quote to share with the group yet (one of our homework assignments). I still have the items I prepared for my expert topic last year, but I have to refresh my memory on the actual lesson (our other homework assignment). I’m super excited to see wild bison and elk. But what I’m most looking forward to are the hot springs and geysers. So many mixed feelings about this trip, but I know the rewards will be worth it.

A bed covered with clothes, bags, a backpack, and other gear.

The scene from Becqui’s guest room before fitting everything in a suitcase.


From Sharon Harbaugh:

Just over a year ago, I heard that I was called up from the waiting list for a trip to YELLOWSTONE. Lots of rushing, packing, rescheduling, and figuring out what to do with my classes ensued. And then, the drive to Raleigh. But on the way, BAD NEWS from Melissa — flooding in Yellowstone might affect our trip. And then REALLY BAD NEWS — catastrophic flooding and park closure and the trip was postponed… until the next year. But I continued on my way to Chapel Hill where I was planning on spending the night with my mom before the trip. In typical mom fashion she said, “ That’s such a disappointment. But now you get to look forward to the trip for a whole year.” And so I did …. look forward to the trip for a whole year. And now it’s almost here. I think that I’m ready, despite having spent only two weekends at home in the last three months. I have been getting ready for Yellowstone — reading about wolves, reviewing information on my expert topic: the Yellowstone cutthroat trout, looking at the map, taking each of my five classes to Singletary Lake for 3–4 days apiece, hiking in Massachusetts with a former roommate, enjoying trails in NC and backpacking on the Appalachian Trail with my daughter. My bag is packed. I’m pretty sure that I have forgotten something important even though I have gone over and over the packing list because this year it all fit in a smaller bag than last year. I did not forget my underwear even though it wasn’t on the packing list (thank you, Becqui), but something must be missing. It’s not the excitement or enthusiasm that’s missing. Hopefully, the only thing missing is the new teacher friends and amazing Museum staff — and hopefully they are all packing themselves.

Two women in packs standing in front of a barn with the letters AT on it.

Sharon and her daughter, Katy, have been section hiking the Appalachian Trail since she was 16. This trip was from Tennessee into Damascus, VA, one of the sections they hadn’t yet hiked.


From Talicia Smith:

The view of mountains, bison and bears became a fixed image as I climbed stair after stair on the gym’s stair climber in preparation for my upcoming Yellowstone trip. At work my coworkers were a little concerned as I was all too eager to climb the stairs carrying armfuls of Chromebook computers to our media center after the elevator broke. Anticipation built as I completed each end-of-the-year task. What presented itself as an ending — this school year — also gave birth to a new adventure: Yellowstone. I chuckled to myself as my trainer at the gym asked me to do “bear holds.” Although cute in name, the all-fours position, which is held for what seems like eternity, was not cute, but required strength and endurance, much like the school year that just ended. Nevertheless, the strain of the hold was worth the adventure I would begin. Yellowstone, here I come.

A collage of images of Talicia working out at the gym.

Now we know who’s going to be the fastest hiker on the trip!

Cross your fingers for us that everything goes smoothly in these last couple days leading up to the trip. Then, when we (hopefully!) make it to Yellowstone, follow our adventure and send us questions and comments through this blog!