“Inspired, Rejuvenated, and Amazed”

June 24, 2019

Today is the day that we fly back to North Carolina, and it was an 8 o’clock wake up call. After our full stomachs and sleepy eyes last night, waking up a little later felt good. We ate breakfast and headed to the airport. It was quieter this morning in the vans, many of us in disbelief of how fast this trip went by. Early mornings were difficult when we started, but as we continued on our journey, they allowed us to make so many more memories.

Walking the Upper Geyser Basin boardwalk in the early morning

These memories include the natural wonders of Yellowstone, but also the fast friendships formed over the miles and adventures. There were so many passionate teachers who brought unique gifts on the trip. There was always someone ready to lend a hand. Even as we loaded our bags to head home, many opened their bags for others whose bags were now overweight with souvenirs.

Mandie, Kristen, and Michele take a selfie

As we enter back into our own worlds, we are so thankful that these quotes ring true:

“Friends are the people who make you smile brighter, laugh louder, and live better.” – unknown

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into the trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.”

⁃ John Muir

Flowers bloom in front of the Grand Tetons

Inspired, rejuvenated and amazed. These are three of the countless words that accurately describe our adventure into the mesmerizing Yellowstone National Park. As we sit in the airport and wait to board our flight, we all sit in awe of the “firsts” we have each experienced this week. With three amazing leaders, lots of coffee, and the desire to take in every second of every day, we all come back better, more enriched individuals and educators. It’s going to be great to see our families and hold them tight, but being able to relive and share the experiences of Yellowstone with them and others is going to be a bright spot within us for the rest of our lives. For that, we are forever thankful.

With lots of love we sign off for the last time,

Emily, Mandie, and Kristen

The 2019 Educators of Excellence Yellowstone Institute participants


“Grand Geysers, Phenomenal Paint Pots, and Thumping Thermal Features”

June 23, 2019

Today was a mixture of excitement and sadness as we headed into our last real day in Yellowstone. We started off the morning with a walk through Upper Geyser Basin, just outside the Old Faithful Inn. We were dazzled by the array of different hot spring formations—pools of bubbling blue water, billows of fluffy white steam, rings of red thermophiles, and fountains of water spewing from deep within the earth. A few of our favorite features included the Beehive Geyser (with a cone shaped like—you guessed it—a beehive), Spasmodic Geyser (with water spewing every which way), and the Grand Geyser. The Grand Geyser was particularly spectacular—it erupted high into the sky, up to 180 ft. Water gushed into the sky for about 8 minutes, and just when we thought it was over, it erupted a second time with an even higher column of super-heated water. Afterwards, Ranger Rebecca led us on a tour through Upper Geyser Basin. She explained the various mechanisms of how geysers work, pointed out the bobby sock trees (long dead after absorbing silica), and shared her urgency / passion for environmental conservation.

Ranger Rebecca shares her deep knowledge of the thermal features of the Upper Geyser Basin

From there, we started our long trek back to Bozeman, which included several stops along the way. First, we stopped at Black Sand Pool, locally known as “Thumper.” Megan told us to lay down in the dirt around the pool. Although it sounded like a strange request, we complied and laid in a ring around the bubbling pool. We waited…and waited. At first, nothing. And then, without warning, a thump came from deep within the earth. It felt like a giant was trapped beneath the surface and was knocking to escape. We could feel the thud against our backs and hear the hollow sound reverberate against the rock. Megan explained that these thumps were caused by explosions of super-heated water underground. So cool!!

Lying on the ground, experiencing the thumping of Black Sand Pool

We also stopped at the Fountain Paint Pots. There were several geothermal formations there as well, including geysers, steam vents, and mud pots. The mud pots were an unusual sight—a cesspool of bubbling mud swirled with pinks and yellows. Bacteria and acid play a key role in these formations. Bacteria in the ground produces sulfuric acid, which in turn breaks down the surrounding rocks, producing a mud pool. It was interesting to compare the mud pots to the geysers we saw earlier in the day.

Besides sight-seeing, we also had some final group-bonding moments. A few days ago, we decorated our vans. Amidst all of our excursions across Yellowstone, both of our white vans have accumulated a thick layer of mud and dust. Of course we could have figured out a way to wash it off, but instead we decided to write a tally of all the wildlife we’d seen. Our vans were a hit with the tourists! We caught several groups today pointing at our vans and taking pictures, gawking at the collection of wildlife we’d seen.

Our wildlife talley on one of the vans

At lunch, we played a competitive (and hilarious) Yellowstone-themed game of charades. We rolled with laughter as various teammates acted out “badger hunting uinta,” “pika,” “Grand Prismatic,” “Megan,” and “rock snot.” We ended the day with our final team meeting, where we shared out highlights and appreciations from the trip. Needless to say, we ended the day with heavy hearts that our adventure is coming to a close. However, at the same time, we could not say enough to express the joy, appreciation, and inspiration we’ve experienced on this trip. It has been truly remarkable and awe-inspiring—a trip we will never forget!!

Johnny performing during charades


“Badgers, Bison, and Beers”

June 17, 2019

“Between every 2 pines there is a doorway to a new world” ~John Muir

Our ”new world” started with a hearty breakfast at the Log Cabin Cafe. The coffee was flowing and the eggs were frying to finish our stay at the Grizzly Lodge. We left for Lamar Valley to try our luck at sighting more wolves, but to no avail.

Today’s creature of the day is the Pika (not a Pikachu)- a small animal kin to rabbits. Ranger Matt and Ranger Michael talked to us about a citizen science project that helps collect data to study the impact of climate change on pika presence and absence in various parts of the park. Pika are a great indicator species for monitoring climate change— the pika’s normal body temperature is about 104° F but if they are exposed to temps above 80° for more than 2 hours it will raise their body temperature into a deadly range. Pika live on talus slopes, which are rocky slopes often formed by eroding old lava flows. When it gets too hot, they hide under the rocks to find cooler temperatures. Our job involved helping the rangers collect data by searching for pika sightings, looking for scat (poop) and “haystacks” (their caches of food) under the rocks, and taking temperature readings around the rocks to monitor the environmental conditions under which they can be found. During our survey we successfully saw pika, scat, and haystacks! Our hike to the pika survey site ended with two unique firsts: the Y-e-l-l-o-w-s-t-o-n-e picture and Kali’s discovery of a set of elk antler sheds.

Group surveying for pika

The group surveying for pika

Group spelling out YellowstoneOur group, spelling out Yellowstone

Early in the afternoon we took the Howard Eaton Trail to view the upper Mammoth Terrace Hot Springs. Although it was mostly uphill (and we were breathing heavily) it was well worth the journey to view the Upper Terrace. The rain held off long enough for us to make it through the boardwalk and view the different colors of the hot springs. Emily gave a great presentation of her expert topic on bioprospecting. We learned that the presence of archaea – “thermophiles”- is what causes the different colors in thermal areas. After the Terrace hike, we had some down time to eat and walk around the Mammoth Hot Springs area.

Mammoth Terraces

On our drive to the “Hitching Post” (hoping for more wolf sightings), we stopped at a pond to observe ducks enjoying the sunshine. There were ringnecks, ruddy ducks and the good ole American coot enjoying an afternoon swim. We were thrilled when Casey spotted a badger scurrying along the pond. Badgers are known for being quite vicious and will fight predators such as bears and wolves. While we did not observe an encounter with a predator, we did see the badger enjoying his supper, a tasty Uinta ground squirrel. Luckily, everyone was able to see it!

Badger with a uninta ground squirrel it caught

Badger with the Uinta ground squirrel it ate.

A double bear sighting was a good way to finish up our day of wildlife observations. We saw what folks out here call a “cinnamon bear” (a brown colored black bear) VERY close to the road and a black bear hiking up the side of the Yellowstone River were seen within 5 minutes of each other!

With luck on our side, we get to finish up the night early at the Roosevelt Rough Rider cabins. This day has been nothing short of badgers, bears, and beers.

Till next time,

Kali, Casey, Michele


Poo-pourri makes a great air freshener for the car!