Tropical Ecology

“Life on the Island”

Late last night (Saturday) a small group of us gathered around Danny, a young Belizean boy who just finished eighth grade, on the pier at our Pelican Beach lodging. Danny was casting his line and a hook with a chunk of bait fish (without using a rod) into the crystal clear Caribbean water. Almost instantly his line tugged because he had hooked something. The fish fought but, as he expertly pulled the line in, we marveled at a magnificent 28” barracuda. The sleek scales shimmered in the light of our flashlights as he pulled it onto the dock to unhook it. Soon, after such a long and eventful day, we all drifted to sleep to the soothing rhythm of the Caribbean waves crashing onto the shore and reef of South Water Caye Marine Preserve.



This morning, we were awakened by gusts of ocean breeze entering our rooms as the sun rose over our little piece of paradise. Nathan guided us around the perimeter of the island for our morning walk. We saw seashells, coral fragments, pumice, conch shells and a few friendly island dogs. Nathan demonstrated the proper way to clean and crack a coconut for the group. We continued our way back around the shore until we arrived back to our resort and our open-air dining room. We were served a traditional Belizean breakfast of eggs, bacon, cheese, fruit and fry jacks. We were eager to get out and explore the wondrous underwater world of the Belize Barrier Reef, which is the second largest in the world.

As we rode out to the reef, we first stopped at Tobacco Caye range, and Mr. Omar (our snorkel guide) briefly told us the importance of protecting the West Indian manatee, also known as the “sea cow” in Belize. We were really hoping to see one, but we had no luck. These animals are endangered because only one calf is born every two to five years and they are often harmed by boats and humans since they hang out mostly in the mangroves and shallow water. We marveled at a new fun fact: they only need to come up for air every five minutes.

man cracking coconut

Nathan showing us how to open a coconut

group on boat in front of green island with birds overhead

Watching magnificent frigate birds and brown boobies at Man O’ War Caye

Next, we stopped to check out Man O’ War Caye (aka Bird Island) and viewed frigate birds and brown boobies in their natural habitat and nesting area on the mangroves. When we arrived at the reef, everyone put on their mask and fins, before jumping into the clear Caribbean water. We viewed many coral formations and numerous species of fish including a school of tarpon, stoplight parrotfish, and sting rays. This was a reminder of why we need to preserve and protect our valuable coral reefs.

school of yellow fish in front of coral

School of grunts

sea urchin in hand

Sea urchin

multi colored fish

Stoplight parrotfish female

After a splendid time filled with snorkeling we returned to our resort and enjoyed a traditional Belizean Sunday lunch of BBQ chicken, potato salad, rice and beans. We also got to taste Danny’s catch of barracuda from the previous night and some snapper caught by our Belizean teachers Neysy and Kaylie. We had some down time after lunch and enjoyed some rest and relaxation in the oceanside hammocks and chairs, listening to the peaceful sounds of the ocean waves. At 3:30pm, we all jumped back in the water to snorkel to the nearby reefs off our island, which were teeming with fish and beautiful coral specimens. We then met for a short group meeting. Endless laughter followed as we discussed what challenges we had encountered for our trip and what was our favorite thing we saw at the reef while snorkeling. We had dinner and a night snorkeling session to wrap up our day.

group sitting on deck in front of sunset

Group meeting

Tropical Ecology

“Island Time”

We’re on island time now!

We slept last night to the tune of torrential downpour in the jungle. While the newly muddy paths did not dissuade any of our avid birders from tramping through the jungle in search of wildlife first thing this morning, the rain did cancel our original plans to paint the St. Jude Roman Catholic Primary School near the Maya Center. Instead, we dropped off all our painting supplies and our various donations at the Maya Center and then said goodbye to the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary.

Remember what we looked like when we met in Raleigh in April…

12 head shots of group

Before the trip…

After our time in the Jaguar Preserve, here we are…

12 head shots in a grid

After the Jaguar Preserve.

On the outskirts of Dangriga, we stopped at the Garifuna Museum. We were welcomed by Wahrisi, our phenomenal museum guide; she then led us through the various exhibits telling us about the history, cooking, and agricultural accomplishments of the Garinagu people. Along the way, she sang us traditional songs, and then showed us two of the drums, the Segunda and the Primero, central to their rich musical traditions.

two drums side by side, one larger

The Primero (left, tenor) and Segundo (right, bass) drums used in Garifuna music

We then headed to the Pelican Beach Resort to drop off our luggage and eat lunch. After a delicious meal, we loaded up two boats – one for our luggage and one for us – and headed to our new, temporary island home at South Water Caye. The boat ride was forty-five minutes of endless blue water and brilliant blue skies overhead, and it ended at a tropical island paradise.

After settling into our cabins around the island, we all met up with our snorkel gear to check everyone’s masks and get a feel for swimming in a group in the clear waters of the Caribbean Sea. What most of thought would be a brief check of our gear turned into an hour of snorkeling, exploring the shallow waters right off the beach. We got to hold a sea cucumber, and we saw conch shells, a spiny lobster, a southern stingray, coral, reef butterflyfish, rock beauty, cocoa damselfish and graysby.

group walking down dock

Heading down the dock in Dangriga to board a boat for the trip to South Water Caye

three people next to chalk board with palm trees in the background

We were warmly welcomed to our island home on South Water Caye

Our daily meeting was held at sunset on a platform overlooking the sea. It was a perfectly picturesque end to a day that started wet and gray in the jungle. After dinner, we have our first night without a night hike, so we are taking advantage of the time to set up hammocks and enjoy the island breeze. We’re looking forward to the next two days of snorkeling and keeping our fingers crossed for more beautiful, sunny weather.

Tropical Ecology

“Welcome to the Jungle”

July 20, 2023

Despite the rain on day four, we were still able to fulfill all our planned experiences! It was our last day at the Sweet Songs Jungle Resort, and we started the day by eating breakfast before loading the bus. Then, we rode 29 miles down the George Price Highway to the Belize Zoo. The zoo is home to the rehabilitated, orphaned and rescued wildlife of Belize. With the help of our outstanding tour guide Jose, we had the chance to explore. He responded to all inquiries, told tales, and provided some background information on the creatures we saw. We observed many different species including coatimundis, harpy eagles, pumas, tapirs, howler monkeys, ocelots, river otters, white-tailed deer, crested iguanas, scarlet macaws and a great number of others.

Neysy feeding a colorful scarlet macaw

Neysy feeding a peanut to one of the Zoo’s scarlet macaws

jaguar on top of a cage with paw out

One of our groups got the chance to enter a cage where guests have the chance to interact with Lindo, one of the Zoo’s jaguars. Lindo has been trained to give high fives!

It was exciting to visit the Belize Zoo, a place we had become familiar with through the “Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw” nonfiction novel we were given in preparation for our trip. Many in the group remarked on how amazing it was to see these beautiful and strange (to us) creatures. It felt almost like seeing them in their natural habitat, as the Belize Zoo has taken great care to maintain their enclosures in such a way that they are almost identical to what the animals would have in the wild. Unlike some zoos in North America where the enclosures have sparse vegetation for almost guaranteed views of the animals, this zoo had enclosures dense with foliage that means the habitat is more like a home away from home.


A Baird’s tapir.

Blue Hole National Park was our next stop; a popular tourist attraction due to its vividly blue water, created by the reflection of the sunlight on the limestone underneath. This is the site of a former cavern which had collapsed. We did a quick change from our sweaty, sticky clothes to take a quick dip in this 37-foot-deep cenote. This felt amazing after a humid morning of trekking through the zoo.

From there we left for our day’s final destination: our new, two-day accommodations in the Jaguar Preserve located in the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary. This new lodging is much like your traditional summer camp cabins (and a tad more rustic than our last accommodations). After having checked off a lot of species we could identify at our previous lodgings, we were excited to be in a new environment where our chances of seeing new species increased.

people on steps of rustic dormitory building

Our home in the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary!

After settling in, we were treated to dinner prepared by Ernesto and Aurora Saqio, a previous Jaguar Preserve director and his wife. We got to taste traditional Maya foods we had not yet had a chance to try, including amazing tamales.

Finally, we ended the day with a night walk and were rewarded with seeing a plethora of treefrog species. We were fortunate that today was as rainy as it was. Belize has been experiencing a drought and with the rains today it brought out many of these frogs, who are mating and laying eggs on the tree leaves above us. Now we are off to bed to prepare for tomorrow’s adventures!

yellow colored frog on a person's thumb

Yellow tree frog.

green frog with red eyes and black pupils

Red-eyed treefrog (now called Taylor’s leaf frog).


July 21, 2023

Today was our full day at Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary! We started off with our morning bird walk, where we walked down to the river and started to orient ourselves to the Preserve. After some much-needed downtime, we walked part of the Ben’s Bluff Trail to a waterfall for some swimming. Behind the waterfall, we found a small cave and a swallowtail swift nest! The waterfall was both cooling and provided some free massages (thanks to the pounding water). After returning to camp, we enjoyed a little more downtime and a delicious lunch.

group in waterfall

The waterfall was a great swimming hole!

In the afternoon, we traveled out of the Preserve to Maya Center for the afternoon! We were able to grab some ice cream and gifts from the Maya Women’s Center. The gifts at the Maya Women’s Center are all handcrafted and used to help connect Jaguar Preserve visitors to the community. We enjoyed our short shopping trip and then traveled down the road to learn about how chocolate is made!

We started at the cacao farm and learned about the life cycle of a cacao tree. We were able to taste the seed at multiple stages, including the raw seed (which is covered in a citrusy pulp), the dried bean and eventually the powdered bean. At the cacao farm, Narcisio showed us how to break open the cacao bean with a few whacks of a stick. A machete would have damaged the seeds but is used when taking the bean off the trees. All the cacao at the farm is harvested by hand! After the cacao beans are harvested, the seeds are removed and then put in bins to ferment for 5–6 days. After they become vinegary the seeds are then laid out to dry in the sun for 6–8 days before crossing the street to be processed into chocolate.

group under shelter listening to presentation with cacao pods

Group listening to Narcisso describe how organic cacao is grown.

We finished up at the farm and crossed the street to Che’il Mayan Chocolate to learn about the Maya way of making chocolate. Robert, our chocolate guide, gave us dried fermented cocoa beans to eat, then explained how the shells were removed from nibs by a fan, (one of the few steps not done by hand) and then placed on a quern (a traditional Maya grinding stone) to be ground into a paste. We tasted the chocolate at each step until we eventually created an 80% dark chocolate. Both Robert and Narcisio kept repeating that their chocolate is high in antioxidants and other nutrients — so eat your (good) chocolate!

woman using tradiional grinding stone to crush cacao nibs into chocolate

Meredith making chocolate.

After our chocolate lesson, we moved down the road and were able to walk around Aurora’s herbal shop before joining she and Ernesto at their restaurant. Ernesto started dinner off with telling us about the history of Cockscomb and Maya Center. In the early 1980s, Belize wanted to find a place to protect jaguars. A scientist, Alan Rabinowitz, was hired by the Belizean government to research jaguars in their natural habitat. Because of this push for jaguar conservation, traditional Maya land began being preserved and the Maya were forced to relocate to what is now Maya Center. Ernesto believed in the protection of jaguars but faced many challenges because of the relocation. He stepped in to be an advocate for both the preserve and the Maya people. He started the Women’s Center to help bring revenue to the Maya and to create a bridge between the community and the preserve. This informative talk was followed by a delicious dinner prepared by Aurora. We enjoyed stewed chicken, rice and beans and Belizean banana bread pudding!

We returned to our accommodations and some of us trekked into the jungle for a night walk. We saw several tarantulas and scorpions, found two coffee snakes, and a HUGE fig tree (we guess it was about 7 feet in diameter but only about 100 years old). We also saw a click beetle with two glowing green spots on its back and a branch that was covered in glow-in-the-dark fungi. We enjoyed a moment on the trail with flashlights off and sat in the peace and darkness of the jungle. When we returned to camp, it was time to pack up and sleep. Tomorrow, the beach!

woman smiling with small snake in her hand

Neysy held her first snake!

brilliant green insect with transparent outer edge, circular

A strange (and large – about 1″ across) scale insect (we think).

scorpion glowing under UV light

Small scorpion glowing under UV light.


Tropical Ecology

“A Jam-Packed Day”

Day three was jam-packed with adventure. We started with an early morning bird walk, followed by breakfast where two collared aracaris (a type of toucan) graced us with their presence at the bird feeder. We loaded the bus for a short ride to Xunantunich Archeological Reserve. This ancient Maya site sits on the edge of the Mopan River where we crossed by hand-cranked ferry — the ferry workers have to turn a crank to move the ferry across the river. After a mile walk, we entered the historical site, where we viewed different structures that were used for ceremonial purposes. We climbed to the top of the largest structure on the site, El Castillo, where the king would have performed rituals. While at the top you could see Guatemala in the distance. Below, on the plaza between the buildings, we viewed a ball court where ancient Maya would have played.

group sitting on tall stair-stepped stone structure

Group photo with El Castillo at Xunantunich.

When we returned to Sweet Songs Jungle Lodge, Rita, who is Ketchi Maya, shared her culture including an authentic tortilla-making lesson using a Maya grinding stone. We shaped and cooked the tortillas on a traditional Maya wood-burning oven. We ate them for lunch with plantains and grilled habanero peppers.

three people making tortillas

Corinne and Neysy learn how to make tortillas from Rita.

After lunch we headed down to the Macal River where, in groups of three, we canoed down the river, enjoying the flora and fauna along the banks. On our journey we collected figs to investigate later. At the end we were able to stop and take a dip in the cool, refreshing water. As we headed back to the lodge, we stopped for a local ice cream treat at the Ice Cream Shoppe in San Ignacio.

three canoes on a tropical river

Canoeing the Macal River.

woman swimming in river

Mary enjoying the cool water of the Macal River.

Back at the lodge, Melissa, Megan and Andy led us in an engaging activity where, in groups, we dissected the figs that we found earlier in the Macal River. We learned all about the fig wasp, which has a mutualistic relationship with the fig, and its life cycle. We finished the day with a delicious dinner and a short night walk led by Nathan.

four people looking closely at a plate of figs that are cut open

Meredith, Corinne, Scarlett and Kaylie dissect figs.

group waving arms on porch

The group re-enacting the fig life cycle… Shawna is the female fig wasp. Can you tell?

Tonight we pack up for the next stop at the Jaguar Preserve! For the next two days, it is unlikely we will be able to post new blogs. So stay tuned for a big post on Saturday detailing our time exploring the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary!

Tropical Ecology

“First Full Day”

A man holds a grasshopper in his hand

Andy was happy to capture and show off the grasshoppers and their flashes of color (salmon pink, bright magenta, yellow, etc.) underneath their wings, which are used to startle predators.

Our first full day in Belize began very early with a bird walk at 5:45 am. We were rewarded for rising early with coffee, and then we headed off to explore the land surrounding the lodge. In addition to seeing Belize’s national bird, the keel-billed toucan, we saw a white-necked jacobin, a golden-fronted woodpecker, a spiny-tailed iguana and giant grasshoppers that were similar to our lubbers back home. And the plant life did not disappoint either. We saw starfruit and avocado trees, lobster-claws, and got to taste a velvet apple, a type of fruit that looked like a fuzzy peach with the leaves of a persimmon, that tasted reminiscent of a floral pear.

A group of teachers hikes down a sandy road in open pine forest.

Hiking in the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Preserve felt similar to our sandhills region in North Carolina.

After a delicious breakfast, we loaded into the bus and drove to the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve where we hiked along the road and then through the jungle — up what we now lovingly refer to as “death hill” due to the steepness and narrowness of the path, the low-hanging branches we had to limbo underneath, and the ever-present heat and humidity — to the entrance to Domingo Ruiz Cave. Once in the cave, we saw stalactites and stalagmites, bats, spiders and kissing bugs; then we sat for a minute in perfect darkness and silence to fully appreciate the majesty of the space.

group of teachers sitting in a cave

Our group sitting inside Domingo Ruiz Cave immediately after our moment of silence in total darkness.

The next cave we visited was named “Rio Frio” (cold river). This is where Late Preclassic and Classic period Maya may have performed sacrifices and other religious ceremonies. Unlike Domingo Ruiz Cave, this one was open on both ends, so we had natural light to aid us as we climbed over rocks to reach a sandy beach along the river running through the cave.

A large open cave entrance with vines hanging down from above

Rustina, Andy and Jeff at the grand entrance to Rio Frio Cave.

silhouette of a woman looking out from a cave into the light

Meredith looks out towards the light and forest from inside Rio Frio Cave.

After a lovely picnic lunch outside the Rio Frio Cave, we headed to the Rio On Pools to cool down after a taxing morning of hiking. We changed into our swimsuits and then got to play like children, clambering over smooth granite rocks, sitting under small waterfalls, sliding into the different pools and swimming around the crevices.

Teachers gather around the base of a small waterfall over smooth granite rocks.

Most of the group at one of the small waterfalls in the Rio On Pools.

We returned to Sweet Songs Jungle Lodge where most of us spent our free hour enjoying the infinity pool, and we then had our daily meeting where we discussed highlights of the day and what we learned from our experiences and our top notch tour guides, Nathan Forbes and Zhawn Poot.

After our fabulous dinner, we are headed off on another night hike. Fingers crossed we find some new creatures to observe.

Tropical Ecology

“We made it!”

After three years of waiting, we finally landed in Belize. The early morning was worth it — we took off from RDU at 5:05 AM. We had a layover in Atlanta and then had our final leg to Belize. Our first day was full of animal sightings including howler monkeys, leaf-cutter ants, spiders and lots of birds!

group in bus

We loaded our bus full of excited teachers and lots of luggage!

After visiting the Howler Monkey Preserve, we continued our way to Sweet Songs Jungle Lodge for some rest and air conditioning. We had our first group meeting by the pool and created some group goals for the trip. Some of our goals included taking risks and pushing ourselves out of our comfort zone. After a delicious Belizean dinner, we took our first night hike of the week and saw a fishing bat, a marine toad, and our first scorpion!

scorpion in Nathan's hands

Our guide, Nathan, showed us how the scorpion fluoresces under UV light.

Now off to bed for some well-deserved rest.

Tropical Ecology

“Back to Belize”

Way too early on Monday morning, 12 educators and three Museum staff will meet at the RDU airport to head to Belize! This amazing group of educators has been waiting since 2020 to make this trip.

grid of 12 head shots

These awesome educators are ready to get to Belize!

One of our trip participants, Corinne, had this to say about getting ready for our adventure:

A week out and preparations are well underway! Here are some necessities, not including clothing, that will be coming with me. Outside of my “I need to be prepared for the weather this close to the equator” items, my gear also includes a couple of books for our Belizean teachers and fun pencils and erasers as a donation to a local school. Now we cross fingers that it’s under 50 lbs all packed!

The Museum has been sharing the wonders of Belize with educators since the start of the Educators of Excellence program in 1987. Its extensive tracts of reserved land provide habitat for a vast array of plants and animals; its friendly people represent diverse cultures including Maya, Mestizo, Creole, and Garifuna; and its barrier reef is home to a rainbow of fishes and other marine life. Everyone is excited to experience all that Belize has to offer and gather information, ideas, and inspiration to bring back to North Carolina students!


“An Indescribable Experience”

How does one describe the indescribable? Language does not possess the capacity to capture the totality of the past ten days and all that we experienced. In an attempt to express how we have been impacted, some words that have emerged over the course of our time here include awesome (in the true sense of the word), renewal, humbling, surreal, grateful, overwhelming, inspired, connection, relationships, and sublime, to name a few. Such words only begin to reveal the deep meaning found in such a short time and the experience that is indelibly imprinted upon each of us. We are — as people and as educators — forever changed in ways both known and unknown. While we are all changed in different ways, it has been the combination of the people we have met and learned from, the vast and diverse landscape, and the abundant and varied wildlife and lifeforms we have experienced that have produced a life-altering effect.

Furthermore, it is not coincidental we have been so profoundly impacted; it is thanks to our thoughtful, knowledgeable and dedicated leaders, Melissa, Greg and Martha, all of whom have not only given their time but have truly given all of themselves. Their passion, insight, patience and flexibility have been unwavering and instrumental in making this trip like nothing else, especially Melissa who, even after forty visits, exudes awe, wonder and joy for the wild majesty that is Yellowstone. From all of us, thank you!


three people in front of mountains

Our trip leaders — Martha, Greg, and Melissa.

Yellowstone contains worlds within worlds, rich with life and history on a scale that is immeasurable. First arriving in the park after an especially early flight, we emerged from a sleepless haze and were quickly introduced to the impressive mountain landscape, winding rivers, and fascinating wildlife: bison, pronghorn antelope and elk. The excitement was palpable. The massive Roosevelt Arch stood as a gateway to the unknown as well as a reminder of the long and complicated history of the land. Our first five days in the Lamar Valley and surrounding area was a foray into our first world within the park. This vast landscape of rugged, looming mountain peaks with steep and stark cliff faces covered in dense groves of Douglas fir trees, sloping into expansive valleys blanketed in lush grasses patchworked with sagebrush and rushing rivers, is truly a sight to behold. Dense layers of clouds could not fully hold back the rays of sun creating a kaleidoscope that shimmered down to the Earth and cast shadows that undulated like waves across the sea.

Each day in the Lamar Valley was full of wildlife and wonder. Despite the cold and wet, a sense of curiosity and inspiration quickly spread throughout our group as new friendships bolstered the shared excitement. Our first full day we were greeted by a moose near our rustic accommodations and shortly thereafter a mother grizzly bear with two playful cubs on a hillside near the road — a truly special and memorable experience that already made us question, how could things get much better? This question was a recurring theme each day, yet somehow each day managed to unveil new depth and beauty. Over the following days, we tracked wolves and witnessed a pack attempt to get a baby bison (but mama bison was not having it, and fought off seven wolves, and baby was quickly surrounded in the safety of the herd); a mother grizzly bear nursing her cubs; baby foxes playing on logs; baby pronghorn antelope with their mother; elk lying in the school football field; and countless birds, wildflowers and breathtaking vistas. The frequency and quality of sightings and unique animal behavior observed was truly astounding and elicited a joy and levity that even unseasonable weather and functioning on minimal sleep couldn’t detract from.

sagebrush, meadows, and hills at sunset

Sunset in Lamar Valley.

people walking through grassy hillside with mountains in the background

Hiking in the northern range.

While the daily exhilaration of the natural beauty was otherworldly, another aspect that made the experience even more special was the amazing experts we met and who took time to help us learn about what we were seeing on even deeper levels. Ranger Michael, Kira, Dan, Rick, Pat and others were such an integral part of making our experience even more special and rich, and each added something that could not be quantified or even described because they did not merely share information, they shared their passion, their insatiable curiosity, and a new lens to look at the park and at life itself through. Even more, they showed us ways we can learn from their lives to enrich our students’ learning and show them new possibilities for their future, and the positive impact they can have in myriad ways. The gift of each of these experts is truly a blessing, the impact of which will help grow the next generation of researchers, conservationists, ecologists, geologists, naturalists, biologists and so much more.

three people in NPS uniforms in front of a geyser

An impromptu meeting with the park’s geology crew in Upper Geyser Basin.

After days immersed in the awesomeness of the northern range, we entered a new world in the park as we headed down to the outer rim of the caldera, through the canyon and into the Yellowstone volcano’s caldera. In the Yellowstone River canyon, rushing river rapids carved through volcanic and hydrothermally altered rocks, exposing among the cliff faces of the canyon a historical account of our planet going back millions of years. The story told is one of dynamic change, volatility and the power of nature that has not only shaped the landscape, but also the subsequent life that has existed, from the tiniest microbes in the most extreme environments to the ways people live on and use the land.

Heading into the caldera, geothermal features unfold across the land, making the Upper and Lower Geyser Basins truly otherworldly. Seeing features such as the Dragon’s Mouth made clear how indigenous peoples didn’t just see rocks and water, but the source of creation itself and built their sense of existence and their culture in relationship with the Earth. The Earth is not a resource to consume, it is sacred and to be revered, honored and respected — a lesson we all would benefit to learn.

From the caldera, we drove out of Yellowstone to experience the majesty of Grand Teton National Park, just miles away. While close in proximity, the Tetons stand as a world all their own. Walking into the Jackson Lake Lodge, tired and desperate for coffee, our bodily concerns immediately faded from thought, and time and space stood still as the mountains enraptured us. Later, a walk to Taggart Lake provided a truly breathtaking view and moment of transcendence and peace. It was in countless moments like these that we felt a unity and connectedness with all of life, an experience of the sublime. After a brief day trip in the Grand Tetons we made our way back up to the geyser basin and Old Faithful, then on to the North Entrance to finish out our time in Yellowstone, a time and place like no other.

people in front of erupting geyser

Watching Old Faithful at dawn.

erupting geyser with spraying water and steam

Sawmill Geyser in eruption.

mountains reflected in a still lake

View of the Tetons from Taggart Lake.

There is the Greek maxim, “know thyself,” and Yellowstone is a place that instills in one a new and deeper understanding that is born out of experiencing the interconnectedness that we all share, for knowledge is relational. Amidst the landscape, the relationship between one individual and the hills, the rocks, the wildlife, the sky and so much more are all-consuming. Each sensation is not only stronger, it speaks of who we are and what it means to be human in the most humbling way. It opens you to the simultaneity of our insignificance and our significance, and contained in this paradox you find yourself in a truer sense than had previously been known. So, back to the question posed at the beginning of this post: How does one describe the indescribable? One doesn’t; it can only be experienced.

group standing in the Roosevelt Arch

We finished our trip where we started — at the Roosevelt Arch — the same people but changed for the better by our experience in Yellowstone.


“Geysers Galore”

Shortly after sunrise, the group enjoyed a mostly private viewing of Old Faithful erupting at precisely 7:17 a.m. The geyser is famous for erupting at a (mostly) regular interval and its high sprays do not disappoint. Afterwards, we enjoyed a hike in the Upper Geyser Basin, seeing several other thermal features including surprise eruptions from Spasmodic and Sawmill Geysers. We had a rare opportunity to talk with one of the park’s geology crews that was out in the basin collecting data from meters at the features. They talked with us about the research they are doing using the data, and how they are responsible for collecting items that fall away from the safety of the boardwalk.

group hiking on boardwalk

Hiking through Upper Geyser Basin

group in front of steam

Watching Spasmodic Geyser

The basin’s landscape could be likened to a moonscape — white geyserite covers the ground and little plant life. Trees that surround the features are bleached white over time by geyser spray and by soaking in mineral-rich water through their roots. Don’t let these features fool you! They are filled with microorganisms called thermophiles that thrive in the heat. Soon afterwards, Andy taught us about the bioprospecting of these creatures and how they have been used in scientific research since the 60s. This research unlocked the door to DNA sequencing, the Human Genome Project, medical advances, and other practical applications.

The morning was rounded out with a visit to the visitor center and the Tribal Heritage Center. The Tribal Heritage Center showcases the arts and crafts of indigenous tribes whose culture and history are tightly interwoven with the park. Today’s artist-in-residence, a Shoshone and Arapaho woman, shared her intricate beadwork with visitors. She explained how the patterns and colors in the beadwork have meaning to the garment’s wearer. One more viewing of Old Faithful and ice cream and then we were off!

We stopped at Fountain Paint Pots for a brief walk to see various thermal features including Celestine Springs, Leather Pool and Red Spouter. What makes this spot special is the proximity of the different types of thermal features to one another. We also spotted a coyote carcass near a geyser, reminding us just how volatile these features are. After lunch, we explored Obsidian Cliff and learned about how Native American tribes used the precious resource from Becqui. In addition, Scott schooled us on how invasive species are impacting native species in the park. The day was finished with our arrival in Gardiner for the night and a final group meeting. During the meeting, tears were shed, goals were revisited, regrets were let go, and connections were deepened as we shared the immense impact the trip has had on each of us. Conversation continued over dinner as we prepared to leave this transformative experience with hearts full of gratitude and joy.