Yellowstone in Winter

“All creatures great and small”

We woke up to a beautiful blanket of white covering the ground. With snow falling, we loaded up in anticipation for all the animals we hoped to see throughout the day. Within minutes of leaving the hotel, the adventure for the day started!

Giddy with excitement, we eagerly spotted a large group of animal enthusiasts and photographers at Tower Junction. We knew we were in for an amazing treat! On the rolling ridge, bison grazed on grasses. Upon closer inspection of the herd, we captured our first views of the infamous Yellowstone wolves. Our childlike enthusiasm bubbled as we quickly set up our scopes, pulled out our binoculars and prepped our cameras for the wolves. We counted sixteen wolves ranging in color from black, light grey, to the white alpha female. The pack was actively moving across the ridge to the delight of all the watchers lined up. Three of the wolves were in a constant game of chase and tackle. You could feel the joy and companionship of the pack. As the alpha moved the pack would run and reposition. As they reached the top of the ridge it was as if they knew they were being photographed because the pack lined up across the top and begin walking. These magnificent views and interactions continued on the other side of the ridge so we quickly moved. From our new position we had an even closer view and we laughed and ohh and awed as they ran and frolicked down the hill. It was an amazing and awe inspiring experience.

Wolf pack

Wapiti Lake wolf pack

Second only to the wolves themselves we met Rick McIntyre, retired Yellowstone Wolf Project employee, wolf watcher, and writer, and Doug Smith, Senior Wildlife Biologist and Wolf Project Manager for Yellowstone National Park. We had the opportunity to hear them tell stories about the wolves and answer our questions. We totally “fan girled” and asked for autographs and selfies.

Group pic

The group selfie with Rick McItyre

In addition to the Wapiti Lake Pack we saw two coyotes, two pairs of bald eagles, ravens, magpies, a moose, lots of bison, and five Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep. To not be out done by the wolves two of the bighorn sheep decided to head-butt each other right in front of us. And this folks was all before 11:30am.

Bighorn sheep ramming each other

It’s not the mating season, which is usually November, but these two bighorn sheep exhibited their territoriality by rearing up and butting heads with a loud crash.

After a delicious lunch at Buns and Beds we headed to meet Cindy and Dan Hartman, leading wildlife photographers and naturalists, at their home on the edge of the park. He started our education by taking us on a snowshoe hike through his backyard. He enthralled us with stories of owls, voles, and moose. Then from the cold he took us into his home to get down to the heart of the matter. All animals deserve our respect and protection. He showed us his astounding photography of all the animals large and small but drew our attention to the smaller species that are the first impacted by human interactions like the pika that we must hold in the same esteem as the wolves.

The group on a snowy hillside

Snowshoeing with Dan Hartman

Our final moment in the Lamar Valley was to soak in a sunset in silence.


Sunset in Lamar Valley

I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery- air, mountains, trees, people. I thought, ‘This is what it is to be happy.’ ~Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar, 1963

Yellowstone in Winter

“The Lynx Day”

Our first day in the park was full of excitement!

We got intel from a hotel staff member that there had been recent spotting of a lynx on the premises. Being the wildlife nerds we are, we loaded up in the SUVs after our 5:55 am breakfast and began the lynx hunt. Though we were unsuccessful in our first exploration, the morning quickly proved itself.

Driving through the park before sunrise seemed a bit uneventful, but after a while, we entered area around Elk Creek and experienced the most amazing sunrise over the Absaroka mountains.

Sunrise over a snowy landscape

Sunrise over Elk creek

In addition to waking us up, the warm light creeping over the peaks allowed us to witness some incredible wildlife as they too began their day.

Before noon, we documented sights of: American dipper, elk, common goldeneye, bull moose, red foxes, mountain goats, a herd of bison crossing the snow (and took over the road), and a very regal coyote who stood peacefully on the hillside and eventually walked down to our cars!


Coyote, not a wolf.

Male moose

Male moose. We saw 2 others also, for a total of three, but the other two males had already dropped their antlers.

We slowly made our way to Lower Baronette for a challenging, yet incredibly rewarding show shoe experience. With snow in depth past our knees, we embarked on our first trek through the snow. Through the heavy breaths and frigid temperatures, we found solace in this special place. Randy shared with us an activity that NC State Parks leads— a silent walk. Since snow shoeing is far from silent, we opted to rather pause in our tracks and listen… to the cold air blow past our faces, the water rushing from a nearby (mostly frozen) stream, and birds rustling in the trees.

We paused and listened to Yellowstone. We heard what she had to say, and though to many it would seem like nothing, there was great wisdom, stories, and soothing words spoken in that peaceful moment.

Snowshoeing with the group

Vin leads the way on our snowshoe adventure

After lunch, we embarked on yet another snowshoe hike to Trout Lake. We were excited to walk right into the path that we had earlier seen a herd of bison and two moose. We were moved to see tracks of bison, weasels, coyote, and wolves. We had entered their domain. At the high point of our trail, over 7,000ft, we paused yet again to reflect in our journals. Amidst the silent snow, once again, Yellowstone spoke directly into the hearts of each and every one of us. We shared our journal entires and embraced the immense gratitude for this experience and those with whom we are sharing it.

The group cross the bridge at Trout lake

Crossing the footbridge at Trout Lake in snowshoes!

“This place was so much more than I was expecting…”, “If I stayed here forever, I wonder who would I become…”, “I have unleashed a wildness in me that I didn’t know was there.” Moved from the words of our fellow participants, we embarked on our descent back to the trailhead just as the sun began to set, hoping to hear the howl of a wolf.

So though we didn’t technically see a lynx today, thank you Yellowstone, for all you did show us. It is only the first day, and you have already left us in awe. We are eager to hear and see the remainder of your secrets, hidden within these white walls.

The group at the entrance to Yellowstone National Park

Welcome to a very snowy Yellowstone! This picture is at the northeast entrance sign.

Blaire, Chip, Davanne, Randy

Coyote Team

Yellowstone in Winter

“We made it!”

Our travel went great, and everything was seamless. All of the participants made it, along with all of our luggage. The weather was also very cooperative. Brittany enjoyed her first plane flights ever.

Group at airport

Just before our early departure from RDU

Once we arrived in Bozeman and started driving toward Yellowstone, we started seeing wildlife almost immediately. The list includes: magpie, raven, elk, mule deer (and maybe white tailed deer), bald eagle, pronghorn, bison, and duck.

Group packed in car

We didn’t get many close ups of the wildlife we saw today… but we looked a little wild after a very early morning, hours of travel, and trying to cram ourselves and all our stuff into our rental cars!

The geology is also amazing! We saw all three rock types on our drive (sedimentary, igneous, and metamorphic), and the mountains are very beautiful. There is also evidence of past glacial activity and landslides.

Looking at mountains

Blaire checking out some pronghorn in front of Devil’s Slide, which is a great example of uplifted sedimentary rocks and igneous sills.

It is really exciting to see the biology and geology here, especially since it is so different from what we are used to in North Carolina. We had our first team meeting to share our first impressions and goals, and we started to form bonds with each other before breaking for dinner. We have settled in to the Mammoth Hot Springs area and are eagerly awaiting our first full day in the field tomorrow.

Yellowstone in Winter

“A Week of Firsts”

Brittany tries out her new parka to get ready for Yellowstone in winter.

I have never really considered myself adventurous. Sure, I’ve been here and there on vacation or for work, but on those trips I pretty much knew what to expect. Next week, I will be embarking on a true journey that will be full of the unexpected. One that will probably prove to be very adventurous. A week from today I will be at Yellowstone National Park with an amazing group of educators and scientists exploring all that nature has to offer.

There are so many “firsts” for me in this journey. My first time west of the Mississippi, my first time on an airplane, the first time I’ve been away from home this far away or for this long, and most importantly my first true adventure without friends or family (although I’m certain I’ll make plenty of friends during this adventure). This is a real leap out of my comfort zone, and I can’t wait to see how I’ll learn and grow from this.

I began preparing for this trip when I found out I was accepted into this program in September. I’ve been getting out in nature more, trying to walk and exercise more, watching documentaries and reading about the park, and acquiring gear to keep me from turning into a snowman (shout out to my parents for getting me the gift of not freezing to death for Christmas, LOL). I feel like getting to this point has been a journey of its own. Even with all this preparation, I still feel that I could never fully be ready for all this trip will show me. I know there will be sights, experiences, and emotions I’m not expecting, but I’m so excited to begin this journey with this amazing group of adventurers!

May this trip be filled with wonder, laughter, growth, and safe travels!

~Brittany White, Science Educator, Edgecombe Early College High School

Yellowstone in Winter

“Getting started!”

We were thrilled to receive a record-breaking number of applications for this year’s Yellowstone in Winter Educator Trek – more than 100! It was very difficult, but selections have been made and 11 North Carolina educators are very excited to participate in this exciting workshop in January. Check back this winter to follow along on our adventure!

4 people overlooking a frozen lake, hot spring in foreground


“…And even the sky was crying”

July 18th

This morning we awoke to the sounds of a rainstorm after what seemed like 2 minutes of sleep. The weather was a representation of our emotions about leaving this amazing place and these generous people, to whom we have given our hearts. We had an emotional reflection session before breakfast where we shared failures and successes, laughter and tears, our hopes for the future, and our deep connections to places here and at home. By the time we had finished sharing our thoughts and feelings, the sun seemed to recognize our joy and started to make its presence known, appearing to wish us “buena suerte” (good luck) on our long journey home.

Sunset over the Amazon from the canopy walkway


“More fun than a barrel-full of monkeys”

July 17th

The great Ceiba tree (also known as a Kapok)

A wooly monkey snacks on leaves

Today was our final full day in Peru since tomorrow we go to the airport.

We started our day early at 5:15AM so that we could head up to the canopy and search again for the elusive sunrise. Even though there was too much cloud cover (clouds- 2, teachers – 0), we still were able to see a multitude of birds and insects species. Rebecca noted that the clouds were a reminder that the forest is a living organism, breathing (or transpiring) like us.

Next, we had breakfast and then headed to Ceiba Tops for our final night of lodging in the Amazon. There we took a short hike to see the tree of the same name – the ceiba. It was awe-inspiring to stand at the base of such a gigantic 200-year-old tree. The entire tree was an ecosystem unto itself with bromeliads, frogs and insects, birds, and vines living within and on it. It struck each of us how much more majestic our forests would be – con árboles gigantes – if we protected them as carefully as the Amazonians do.

After lunch we headed to the famous Isla de Los Monos (monkey island) by boat. It is a refuge for monkeys that have been abandoned or injured or rescued from the pet or meat trade. We don’t know who had more fun – us or the monkeys!

In the Amazon, everyone is family!

Just as the skies let loose again with a downpour, we settled in for an amazing presentation by Alberto about CONAPAC and the incredible work they are doing in local communities. This organization partners with communities of native people to provide agricultural, educational, and sanitation (water and sewer) services. All of the Peruvian teachers that have been with us all week are working with CONAPAC currently. One of them shared with us how excited the students are when they receive their yearly school supplies.

Finally, after dinner, we wrapped up our evening with a cultural dance presentation (and later some singing and dancing of our own!).



July 16 Tuesday

Birds singing loudly in the distance. Soft mud squishing below.

Fresh and juicy watermelon and pineapple. Salty remnants of sweat and sunscreen.

Sturdy rope. Damp clothes. Rough bark.

These are the sounds, smells, tastes, feelings, and sights of our only full day at ACTS (Amazon Conservatory of Tropical Studies). We jumped right into the middle of the jungle action at 5:30 in the morning for a sunrise walk in the canopy. The scattered clouds prevented us from getting a clear view of the sunrise, but we did have an incredible view of the rainforest filled with mystical mist and mysterious fog. Many of us found that we were less afraid than we had been the night before, which allowed for more confident observation of the surroundings.

After making it back to the lodge for breakfast (of eggs, potatoes, chorizo, vegetables, bread with various spread, and fresh fruit) we prepared ourselves for another walk through the canopy- this time with a set task. We were to work with our groups to identify, discuss, and draw epiphytes from one of the many platforms, but only after we took time individually to reflect on the five senses of the forest. Many of us found this reflective time to be peaceful and a moment of connecting with the world around us. All the while, eyes were everywhere on the lookout for creatures both big and small.

At lunch, we enjoyed rice and beans, chicken, Peruvian french fries, salad, a medley of cooked vegetables, and pineapple for dessert. Many requested the recipe for the chicken because it was that tasty! Following lunch was a small break. Some took the time to catch up in their journals, while others were lulled to sleep in hammocks by the sound of a passing rain storm. Some worked on their group assignments for the day, while others chatted with each other casually about ourselves and how we can apply these experiences in our own classrooms.

We all reconvened to discuss our findings from the morning before heading out on another trail. We took our time noticing the larger-than-life lush plants around us, and we were totally obsessed with the animals we saw (including but not limited to a tarantula, a Peruvian fire stick (a walking stick insect), and a five-foot span of sprawling army ants). The trail met up with another trail, and from there we split into two groups. Some of us walked the canopy again while others went back to the lodge for some much needed rest and relaxation.

For dinner we ate beef, rice, mashed potatoes, vegetables, and bananas with cream for dessert. After some partner discussion, we once again divided into two groups. Those who wanted to experience the bioluminescent fungus on the leaves of one particular tree- the Bucinaria- headed out on the tails, and those who needed some more rest and relaxation stayed back at the lodge. Despite the 100% humidity, our only full day at ACTS was one our five senses will not soon forget.

As we close our eyes, images and memories of moments from today blur together, and we leave you with a sampling of our reflective writing about our enlightening experiences:


Walking through the jungle forest, the sound of rain pitter-patters to the ground, hitting leaves along the way. Each step is taken carefully as the fallen dead leaves become slick, and the dirt forest floor turns to mud. In preparation to walk down the trail’s wooden steps, a hand rail was put in place. Despite much care taken, the foot slips off the first step with great speed. Surprisingly, it does not land on the next step. Instead the foot lands on top of a gently swaying hammock with a jolt as the lush jungle trail is transformed into the mosquito laced confines of the lodge’s dining hall. The consistent rainfall heard from the vision can still be heard, but all of the other surroundings have been replaced. It takes a moment for the senses to adjust and realize what happened was a dream. The only logical explanation is that while resting, the mesmerizing sounds of the passing storm must have created vivid visions of what was seen and experienced earlier in the day. At this moment the truth has been revealed: the lines between fantasy and reality are bridged by the enchanting power of the Amazon rain.



Riddles on the river

Monday July 15

The morning started with rain. As the rain slowly fell onto the thatched roof at ExplorNapo we began to assemble in the dining hall. Passing along the bridge that connects the guest rooms with the dining hall, Rebecca stopped to watch the rain fall on the river. As drops slowly fell into the murky brown water, the impact caused ripples that spread across the surface. As more rain fell, the ripples began to overlap. The ripples on the water became our metaphor for the day.

After breakfast, an entomologist and researcher from the University of Oregon, Ryan Garrett, gave us an overview of leaf cutter ants, including an incredible inside look at their everyday lives. We learned that their colonies, which are easily identifiable above ground, are actually the entry point to an expansive underground farming network. The ants work meticulously, cleaning and then breaking down, the leaves that they harvest to grow the fungus that gives the colony life. The queen, who initiates the founding of a new colony, actually takes a piece of fungus from a preexisting colony. A piece of the old community becomes part of the new one – ripples of population expansion.

We later visited an indigenous community, the Maijuna. After four centuries of exploitation by outsiders, they were given title to a portion of their historic lands. Now, they welcome outsiders into their village in hopes that by sharing their story, they will gain allies and friends – more ripples. By sharing their story with visitors, their reach extends far beyond their beautiful community.

In the afternoon, we moved to our next lodging— ACTS (the Amazon Conservatory of Tropical Studies) to experience the rainforest canopy from a walkway of suspension bridges strung between the tops of 14 of the tallest trees. Many of us had anticipated this moment, and the excitement as we approached the access tower was palpable. However, with the highest platform reaching 118 feet above the forest floor, there was also some anxiety. Here, the ripples we experienced were ripples within our community. We encouraged one another and applauded one another every step of the way.

As we near the end of our Amazon adventure we are feeling humbled, inspired, connected, and thankful. We are now a part of this place, and this place is a part of us. As we return to our everyday lives there is no doubt that our ripples will extend far beyond ourselves.

“Ant-man” aka Ryan Garrett explains the amazing underground architecture of leaf cutter ant nests

Don Sebastian, leader of the Maijuna community, and Willy Flores, one of our guides, explain the traditional hunting and fishing practices of the Maijuna

Linda loved taking pictures from the canopy walkway platforms (and we thought that she looked radiant in this photo- unlike the rest of us, who were dripping with sweat and mud)


“Everything is weird here (and beautiful)…”

This morning, we set off in boats from ExplorNapo to go birding in the early morning light. We spotted flocks of oropendola, a stunning plum-throated cotinga, cocoi herons (they look like white versions of our great blue herons), oriole black birds, and so much more. Additionally, we went deep into Lorenzo Lake where we searched for rare Hoatzins, a large bird (about four feet tall) famous for its prehistoric claws on its wings and brilliant, Einstein-esque crest of feathers on their head. The Horned Screamer (another very large bird) and the three-toed sloth also made an appearance! On our journey by various waterways to see these creatures, we were greeted by waves and friendly faces of local community members; one family even showed us the fish they caught that morning in their nets, and many others stopped to share a few words. We also saw the community and school of Juan Pablo, one of our Peruvian educators. He was so proud of his school and for us to see his home.

Birding by boat in the early morning light

Juan Pablo waves at his community, Isla Tamanco, as we drive by

The afternoon was filled with opportunities to see the pink Amazon River Dolphin, more birds and to fish for the infamous Piranha. Not only did some of us see the pink river dolphins and catch piranha, some of us even have the wildest stories from our day. One of us broke a fishing pole on the last cast of the day while pulling in their catch. Another had an exciting, first-hand experience with “los dientes” of the piranha… you’ll have to ask us each for more details and pictures once we get home!

The piranha that we caught were prepared for dinner and we all got to taste them! Afterwards, we talked first-hand with Dr. Marie Trone, who is staying here for the summer, to work on her research about the pink river dolphins! She was able to answer all sorts of questions and help us learn fun new facts about the river dolphin! In spite of the difficulties of her research (murky waters, remoteness of location, technical challenges with equipment, etc.) she continues to have hope that more knowledge will lead to a brighter future for these endangered animals.

To quote Dr. Trone, “Everything is weird here.” And beautiful, strange, and unique and we are in love with all of it!

A bit dangerous, but ultimately delicious!