“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!


“A Lesson in Safe Selfies”

June 16, 2019

“For the strength of the wolf is the pack, and the strength of the pack is the wolf.”

Today was incredible. Our first full day of adventure began at 5am this morning. Our first sighting was a young, but large bull moose who hadn’t yet started regrowing his freshly shed antlers. While mesmerized in our “moose moment” we heard someone say, ‘Bear!’ and after quickly turning around we saw a black bear rounding up its morning breakfast. As some of us watched the bear, and the moose, we also simultaneously saw mountain goats grazing on the side of steep cliffs above us! Needless to say, the first 30 minutes of the day was full of exciting, extraordinary nature. Many of us believed that our trip couldn’t possibly get better than this.

Boy, were we wrong.

As we’ve continued on our travels, we have become increasingly good at identifying contrasting colors on the landscape through our wildlife watching. This is a skill perfected by the professionals and one admired by many. Because, let’s be honest, when you’re as excited as we are, traveling in the park looking for critters- everything (rocks, bushes, shadows) looks like something. But, good news! As the sun rose over the mountainside, we peered into the breathtaking Lamar Valley. We observed playful “red dogs”, as the baby bison are called out here, their stocky parents, sandhill cranes and pronghorn. The beauty here is breathtaking, and each landscape is different, making you forget that you began your day this morning at 4am.

Late morning, we sighted a wolf den and also saw a grizzly feverishly digging for grubs after his long hibernation. Around 8 o’clock we met with Kira Cassidy, a wolf biologist at the park. She holds an important and somewhat envious position in Yellowstone, researching the behavioral aspects and overall influences of the various wolf packs on the park. With Kira, we hiked down to a cluster of wolf collar points to see if we could determine why these canines spent time in the area. Unfortunately with the recent rainfall, the water level in the creek nearby was too high, and we weren’t able to reach what was likely the remains of an elk carcass. But Kira entertained us with wolf stories – including the tale of wolves that were helping to care for pups but if they couldn’t find any food to bring back to the den, would instead find and bring back humorous souvenirs such as sticks to chew on, lost tourists hats and even a traffic cone for the new pups to play with! How funny!

Kira told us an interesting story about two female wolves who keep trading roles as alpha female in the Junction Butte pack. Both wolves denned at the same time and the beta wolf, the alpha’s sister, and other subordinates attacked the alpha and her pups. Kira states that this is only the 10th or 11th time this has occurred over the last 24 years. However, the alpha then went on to raise the beta’s pups, as if nothing had ever happened! The politics of the wolf hierarchy far surpass anything originally thought.

Wetland walk

Walking through the beautiful Slough Creek drainage with wolf biologist, Kira Cassidy

After our big wolf excursion, we continued observing wildlife and went round-trip to Mammoth where we saw some amazing and disturbing things. And here we’d like to take a moment to discuss taking ‘safe-selfies’ as a much needed (based on today’s observations) public service announcement….When you next vacation to Yellowstone, or anywhere you might see wildlife, especially the wildlife that is faster and larger than you (i.e. wolves, elk, bison, bears, large birds of prey, etc.) do not get within 75 to 100 feet. Be aware of how fast things can change when these animals become stressed. They do not not want you there, the selfie isn’t worth it. Please get out and experience nature, conserve and educate others about it. But, be safe doing it.

Person standing too close to an elk.

What NOT to do.

To end our day, we drove to the Lamar Valley hitching post pull-off for our evening group meeting. As we unloaded for our short walk to a better view, a car of five unloaded and began jogging very quickly towards us. We stopped to look around, ‘They’re here, right there, right there!’ in hushed but forceful tones. We looked at each other. What is there? Where?


Binoculars snapped upwards, some ran to the van to pull out the spotting scopes. We quickly scanned the ridges ahead of us and helplessly tried to see what we had been waiting for. ‘Look between the conifers, on a game trail, they’re walking,’ they said. And they were. Two very large black wolves and off to the right, a grey wolf. Suddenly barking, loud yelps, brown masses began to emerge on the ridge much smaller than those already in our eyesight. Their cries echoed between the hills. These coyotes, another, smaller species of the dog family, were not happy with the proximity of the wolves to what was likely their den. Pronghorn turned up to face the action, flight animals, ready to run. For what seemed like forever, the coyotes barked and we traced the ridges following the pack, watching them weave between tree clusters. Satisfied with their work, the wolves strolled over the ridge, unaffected by the uproar they caused. Frantically, we asked others if they could see them, we moved locations to find the pack but they were gone. Silence.

Without a doubt, today is a day we will never forget. We had an octo-ungulate morning, seeing all eight hoofed animals in Yellowstone National Park, all before 10:30 am. That alone has to be a record. Finally, after hearing all that Kira had to say about the infamous park wolves, our encounter was that much more meaningful. We wake up each morning to a beautiful sunrise, each day a new journey. Everywhere you look you see God’s creation thriving in an incredible piece of history. We sleep tonight knowing that more adventure awaits tomorrow.

Group in front of a waterfall

A very wet spring meant that Wraith Falls was very powerful!

Fun facts:

⁃ Black bears are generally smaller here than ours in eastern North Carolina.

⁃ Bison will sometimes run towards their predator which acts as an intimidating trait.

⁃ The ungulates in Yellowstone are: bison, pronghorn, moose, mountain goat, big horn sheep, mule deer, white-tailed deer, and elk.


Mandie, Kristen and Emily


“Entering Wonderland”

June 15, 2019

Our day has consisted of a 5am start, a 2 hr time zone change, and an excursion through Walmart followed by the Yellowstone wilderness. Here are some highlight of today’s events:

– We survived the hour-long TSA security line that almost spanned all the way out the door of the airport

– Bayleigh and Kristen got their “wings!” It was their first time on a plane!

– We completed an ultra-efficient, lightning-speed “Supermarket Sweep” at Walmart. We left with 3 carts filled to the brim.

Full grocery carts

The results of the great “supermarket sweep”- enough food for field breakfast and lunches for 10 days!

– As soon as we entered the park, we were accosted by wildlife. Just beyond the Roosevelt arch, we saw elk and pronghorn. By the end of the day, we added bighorn sheep, bison, moose, magpie, osprey and eagles to the list (no bears YET).

– We literally touched history as we walked through the majestic stone entryway arch dedicated by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1903.

The grand north entrance to Yellowstone National Park- the Roosevelt Arch

– We heard ground squirrels squealing their high-pitched warning calls to the rest of their family group.

– We heard the word “ungulate” uttered more times today than ever before in our lives.

– Everyone sang “happy birthday” to Bayleigh at the Mammoth Terrace Grill.

In all, Megan summed up our experience on Day 1 well when she described Yellowstone as “a journey through Wonderland.” We are already in awe of this place. Our souls were touched by the vastness of the magnificence of God’s creation surrounding us, Yellowstone National Park. We are excited for more adventures in the days ahead! Signing off for tonight, the Hot Springs group.


“A time of transition”

Pile of clothes and gear

The pile of gear needed for a 10-day adventure in Yellowstone can be quite overwhelming, especially for a small dog…

This week has been a time of transition for many of us. Some of us have been out of school for weeks, some of us were still teaching students yesterday, and all of us are excited to be traveling to Yellowstone today!


“Junior Curators in Yellowstone”

This summer, the Museum’s Junior Curators, high school students who volunteer weekly to help take care of the Museum’s animal ambassadors, are taking a trip to Yellowstone!

From June 14-21, thirteen students will travel with Museum staff to visit Yellowstone National Park. We’ll take time to learn about the Park’s amazing wildlife, observe the geothermal energy released in hot springs and geysers, and take some hikes into Yellowstone’s backcountry.

The students will be posting blogs during the trip to the Museum’s Education blog site. We hope you’ll follow along!

Bison Silhouette