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Arrival at Yellowstone National Park

June 16, 2016

Greetings! The annual Educators of Excellence Yellowstone National Park Institute got off to a relaxing and smooth start. The group was filled with excitement yet maintained calm and relaxed attitudes as we traveled. Our flights were on time and we were able to spend a bit more time getting to know one another during our extended layover in Minneapolis/St. Paul.

Upon arrival in Bozeman, the weather was refreshingly crisp and a welcome contrast to the hot and humid weather of our home state of North Carolina. Once we picked up the rental vans, we were off and running! While trekking toward our destination, team members began to be on the lookout for wildlife. Our first sighting was a red-winged blackbird who seemed rather full of himself, showing off his bright red shoulders (or epaulettes) for all of the world to see. We continued to see different types of wildlife including multiple magpies, bison, and elk.

During our drive, team members were filled to the brim with excitement until … one of our rental vans broke down! As much of an inconvenience as this may seem, it hardly even deterred us! We simply piled all of our gear and team members into one van (minus two who stayed for the replacement rental) and kept on moving.


Hard at work – the group taking weather measurements while broken down on the roadside!

During our continued excursion, we discussed many of the geological features of the area including beautiful displays of sedimentary rock in thin, continuous layers; a rare dike composed of igneous rock cutting across older layers of rock, and folded layers of rock from continental movements millions of years ago. We made our first (scheduled – hah!) stop at Devil’s Slide, named for a strip of red rock that runs down a steep hillside. Here we examined the geological features, took in the beauty of the Yellowstone river, and studied all of the different traces of animals (scat!) left in the area.

Soon after, it was time to enter the park! We entered the park through the historic Roosevelt arch where, on April 24th, 1903, Teddy Roosevelt gave an impassioned speech stating “The creation and preservation of such a great natural playground in the interest of our people as a whole is a credit to the nation.”

After taking a few pictures it was time to head to Mammoth Hot Springs, where we will be spending our first two nights in cabins. We were met with an elk casually stopping for a drink in a puddle in the middle of the road. We quickly learned to pay attention to our surroundings when we found elk roaming through the common area in the midst of our lodging, snacking on the bright green lawn! After the elk excitement, everyone checked into their rooms, unpacked their belongings, and met for our first group meeting in the common area (after the elk wandered away of course!). As a team we reviewed our nine-day itinerary and made a few goals for ourselves. Once our meeting had adjourned, we headed towards dinner.

After dinner, we were to take our first hike into the park – however, along the way, we spotted a cinnamon-colored black bear and HAD to pull off to the side to make sure we got a closer look! The group quickly moved to a position where we could take in the complete beauty of the bear (while keeping a safe distance). Once we were back into our vehicles, we continued to drive to Wraith Falls for a short evening hike.


Cinnamon colored black bear

Once we arrived at the Wraith Falls trail there was a bit of curious bewilderment among the group about what was in store. As we traveled up the trail, we encountered evidence of bison using the trees as scratching posts to help remove their thick winter coats. The trail was also littered with evidence of the Yellowstone fire of 1988 – some charred stumps and numerous standing dead trees that still remain. We encountered a number of common ravens scavenging the mountain side. Once we reached the apex of the trail, we all stopped and took in the beauty the Wraith Falls. We could see on each other’s faces a sense of belonging begin to take hold, and it was evident everyone had officially bought in. The tired eyes disappeared and everyone quickly forgot the long day of travel as a sense of excitement began to take over. We can’t wait to see what is in store for us on the rest of our Yellowstone adventure.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. Janay Hall permalink
    June 16, 2016 3:19 pm

    What signals the bears to shed their winter coats? Is it weather (if so, what prevents an accidental shed caused by a heat wave) or an internal chemical release? -Janay Hall

    • June 17, 2016 3:47 pm

      Great question! Shedding in many mammals is actually triggered by changes in day length.

  2. Desrean Smith permalink
    June 16, 2016 3:56 pm

    Hello! Nice post. What are the ancestors of some of these species in Yellowstone, and what fascinating characteristics do these modern day species in the Yellowstone share in common with their ancestors?

  3. Megan Fussell permalink
    June 16, 2016 6:08 pm

    So glad you all got there with minimal issues! Can’t believe you saw a bear day 1! Can’t wait to hear all about your adventure.
    Megan Fussell
    (Participant in Yellowstone Institute summer 2015)

  4. Jaimie Rudder permalink
    June 16, 2016 9:12 pm

    Stephanie Kinley is my daughter and she has been so excited about this trip. I’m always excited to hear about her adventures. What an amazing learning opportunity for her as well as the rest of the group. I am looking forward to seeing the posts and especially the pictures. What an experience this is going to be!!!

  5. Alyssa Schneider permalink
    June 17, 2016 9:49 am

    Are the elk usually that peaceful around humanity, or is this a special case?

    • June 17, 2016 3:50 pm

      The elk like the fresh grass lawns around the buildings.

    • June 17, 2016 3:52 pm

      The elk like the lawns (that are watered) near the buildings. A lot of elk calves come near developed areas to have their babies because predators are less likely to be around (they tend to not like being around humans). But elk can pose a danger to humans if they are upset or disturbed so park rules require we stay at least 25 yards away.

  6. Janay Hall permalink
    June 17, 2016 12:48 pm

    What signals bears to shed their winter coats? Is it sustained warm weather or an internal chemical release? -Janay Hall

  7. Leah Buckley permalink
    June 17, 2016 1:56 pm

    I have such wonderful memories of my first trip West with the Institute. Yellowstone is such an awe inspiring place! Have a terrific time!
    Leah Buckley
    (Participant in Yellowstone Institute Summer of 2010)

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