January 16 – 22, 2013
Since 2006, the Museum has offered a winter trek to Yellowstone National Park for educators. Snow blankets the landscape, steam fills the air in the geyser basins and wildlife struggles for survival. Yellowstone in the winter is a truly unique experience.
We met with a number of remarkable people during our time in Yellowstone. Park rangers, tour guides, wildlife photographers, and the owner of our favorite lunch stop all agreed that there is, indeed, something special about this place. And their answers to our question about what it is that makes Yellowstone special were quite similar. They valued the diversity that Yellowstone holds – wildlife, geysers, scenery; and that in its vastness there is always something new to learn. They appreciated the closeness of community and shared values that come with living in a small town centered on such a grand national treasure. And though none of them were natives to the area, all felt a sense of homecoming in their first experiences of Yellowstone and chose to make it their home.
We, too, experienced something special in Yellowstone. But for us, whose home is North Carolina, perhaps the most important reflection is how our experience in Yellowstone affected us. Our snowcoach driver, Tamarak, talked about the tracks in the snow, the track of the Yellowstone hot spot across the west, and the track our country chose to take in preserving this place. And she asked us what tracks Yellowstone left on our souls. Below are some reflections from each of us on the answer to that question.
Yellowstone speaks to each of us in a way that gives us a new perspective. It was easy to follow the snowshoe tracks left by others and so, too, I hope my excitement for Yellowstone encourages others to visit and be forever changed. But when they come, I hope they also make their own snowshoe tracks and enter the territory of their soul uncharted by anything yet!
It has made me recognize the serious task of sharing this land with others, so that it will remain wild into perpetuity. A feeling of gratitude blankets me in Yellowstone, and this deep appreciation will help me find my own tracks back to this immensely pure, whole and inspiring land.
I’ve just let all the sights, sounds, and smells wash over me and I have no idea what will stick and sink in. So you’ll have to ask me again after I’ve visited Yellowstone again. I will say the locals who shared their knowledge and passion DID make a deep impression on me and I’ll think often about their words and dedication to one place.
When I begin to hurry or feel stress, there is always a place in Yellowstone I can remember to soothe my soul. I hope to continue to visit Yellowstone to feel the magic and renew my soul.
Simplicity. Prioritize. Introspection. Silence.
Much of the wildlife seemed to have a sense of simplicity to their lives, as well as patience, that most people (including myself) have long forgotten. Though this may be true, everything has a purpose with them. They have to work for this purpose. This has reaffirmed for me that I can’t just sit and wait for things to come my way! I have to be dedicated and use hard work to get me where I want to be in life.
Yellowstone is unique. It reminded me of who I am and what is important to me. I felt the pulse of this place and I am forever changed because of it. It helped me see the best me.
I have allowed the demands of daily life to etch deep tracks in to my soul. Slowly, one by one, you replace those deep tracks with layers of beauty and leave me with a feeling of peacefulness.
As I snowshoed over the very tracks that the bison had walked, and looked around absorbing the breathtaking beauty of Yellowstone, I thought to myself: What must it be like to be a bison, to own nothing, yet have everything? I want to be more like the bison, roaming where I please and surrounding myself with unsurpassed beauty; worrying less about ‘things’ and just being with my herd of family and friends.
But Yellowstone… what has it said to me? “Preserve me. Don’t let me get lost in the hustle and bustle of your life. Do not let me go. Don’t let me go.” I won’t.
Yellowstone allows me to come into my own, to be my pure self, by demanding that I live in the present and absorb every moment. It has instilled in my soul a longing for wilderness and a deep connection with place, to be a part of the natural order of things. And by time and again demonstrating the transformative power of nature, it reaffirms my desire to share that power with others.
This trip to Yellowstone marks a milestone for me, my last trek with the Museum, as I retire in March. I am so grateful to the Museum for allowing me to help make tracks of understanding and appreciation about nature for people over the last 24 years. The tracks for me and those I teach have come from many places and experiences: the birds at Pungo, elk in Cataloochee, the haunting calls of Barred Owls along the Roanoke, and even caterpillars on a school ground. But Yellowstone has always left the strongest track, the deepest, and the one that has kept me focused on a greater purpose. So now I set out to make new trails in my life, to try to continue to inspire others to marvel at the world around us. It is fitting that on my last Museum trip to Yellowstone we heard the yipping of coyotes, just as I did in my very first trip almost 30 years ago. It reminded me of a quote from Montana author, Rick Bass:
We heard a coyote yipping in the meadow yesterday afternoon, barking in the wind… The woods will either have me or they’ll send me home. Every small sight, every small action counts. That coyote’s barks are accumulating, becoming part of my life, and I am turning away from my old life and walking into a new one…
Thank you all for helping make this an amazing career. It has been an incredible journey. I hope to see you again, looking at our world in awe, be it close to home or in the vastness of Lamar Valley.
Today we were able to be still and listen to the sounds of Yellowstone. Not all sounds could be heard — some were the sounds of silence and reflection. As we traveled throughout Yellowstone we were introduced to many local experts who shared their time and knowledge with us. Before they left us they were asked to share their thoughts on this question: “What makes this place special to you?” Each person shared their personal reflection. At our closing meeting we shared our answers to this same question — we heard the words spiritual, sacred, magical, perspective, transient, and peaceful.
C.S. Lewis wrote:
While we are actually subjected to them, the ‘moods’ and ‘spirits’ of nature point no morals. Overwhelming gaiety, insupportable grandeur, somber dissolution are flying at you. Make what you can of them, if you must make anything at all. The only imperative that nature utters is ‘Look, Listen, Attend.’
As we venture out in the morning on our final glimpse of the magic that Yellowstone offers us, we are reminded of the song lyrics, “Day is breaking in my soul.” We will keep our hearts open to receive the final gift that is awaiting us.
Written by Dawn, Dianne, and Betsy
Today we entered Lamar Valley, a vast canvas of sage brush, frozen river, a blanket of snow, and hundreds of bison. In the summer it’s a lush feast of grasses for pronghorn, elk, and bison. In winter, it’s a different story. The pronghorn have migrated to find food. The bison sweep their heads in the snow to find the dormant grasses hidden below. They eat, but the grasses don’t have much nutritional value, so they are living off their fat and bone marrow. Winter is such a stressful time for the animals. The extreme cold and lack of food make them vulnerable to predators. We saw evidence of these predators today: coyote and wolf tracks along the road, a flock of magpies likely feeding on an old carcass, and two coyotes running along the river in the valley. The Lamar Valley provides a great winter home for these magnificent animals.
We spent time with a photographer and naturalist who also calls this place home. Dan Hartman led us on a snowshoe hike around Silver Gate where we saw the homes of little mammals called pikas. They gather grasses and flowers in the fall to build food storage for the winter called haystacks . Usually it is covered with snow, where they continue to live and stay active throughout the winter. Today we were able to see their homes because there hasn’t been as much snow to cover them.
Just above the pika homes were pine marten tracks. Dan shared with us the stories behind many of his amazing photographs. When asked what makes Yellowstone such a special place, he paused and replied, “It feels like home. When we first saw Lamar Valley many years ago, we said it feels like home.” Even after a short time here, we are beginning to understand.
Written by Megan, Robert, and Cindy
Our morning started early with a chilly walk to Old Faithful. The sun had not yet risen and though the clouds and fog limited our visibility, it did not limit our excitement. The geyser is named accordingly because it is predictable, and faithfully erupts. Unlike the other geysers that function together like a family, this one lives on its own with a single water system. This allows the pressure to build up on a consistent basis.
We next met Ranger Rita and assisted her in the collection of geyser prediction data. We measured the time and temperature in order to predict the next eruption. We learned just how hot and dangerous these amazing geysers can be.
After lunch we continued to learn about thermal features of the park. We were amazed to learn that water flows at a rate of 4000 gallons per minute at Excelsior Spring. This constant flow is what helps the Fire Hole River stay free of ice, thereby providing animals in the park with a source of water. A few feet later we saw the famous Grand Prismatic Spring. This thermal feature is famous for its astounding, rainbow-like appearance from above. The pool is a clear, Caribbean blue with the edges characterized by hues of green, yellow and orange which are actually algae and bacteria growing on the pool’s edge. Grand Prismatic is the largest hot spring in the park and spans 370 feet across.
We rode a bit further in our snowcoach to Fountain Paint Pots. These mud pots are often called paint pots as they vary in shades of black, cream, grey and even pink due to the dissolved iron. The pools resemble vibrant pottery.
Our senses and emotions were overloaded today! We took in many sounds, from the gurgles of the paint pots to the bass thumping of Black Sand Pool that we could feel as well as hear. At Black Sand Pool we lay on our backs and experienced nature as it spoke to us through its thermal heartbeat. This experience moved each of us in different ways. It was a unique opportunity to be in a group, but also to be alone in Yellowstone.
The word “family” comes to mind when reflecting on today’s experiences. The majority of geysers that we saw today are like a family; their thermal activity is interdependent. Our group of 12 also acts as a family; we have our leaders who guide us, and we each have our own roles yet we work together to support each other. At the end of today’s journey we unintentionally joined a family of bison (a large one at that!) as we encountered them on the road and we quickly realized we were at the bottom of the pecking order!
Written by Bethany, Donna, Jessica, and Stephen
Today we experienced the tracks of Yellowstone. Our first inclination was to ask,”who made them?” While there were many physical signs, we wanted to focus on what tracks this experience will leave on us. Seeing the beauty of Yellowstone made us stop and think about how we get used to the day to day routines and miss the teachable moments that nature reveals to us. Here are some of our teachable moments of the day…
When you think of water, you think of movement. You think of it moving and falling over rocks following a path. But when it encounters the cold of winter, it is forced to adapt. The falls were surrounded by masses of ice and the open waters were hidden by snow and ice.
Historically, the bison roamed freely, but were slaughtered in large numbers almost to extinction, forever altering the tracks of the species. Thankfully, today we were able to witness bison walking on the road, digging in the snow, and resting peacefully.
The expanse of the glistening snow revealed tracks of things happening above and below the surface. Even though our wildlife spotting was minimal, there was evidence of the animals moving in many directions.
The track of the volcanic hot spot created many of the beautiful vistas that we witnessed today. Majestic snow-covered mountains made us realize how vast and beautiful our world can be.
As we headed home for the night we were presented with our last teachable moment. Streaks of orange and pink with the mountains and trees set against them inspired us to reflect on the beauty of nature and the tracks she presented to us today.
Written by Betsy, Dawn, and Dianne
What a fantastic start to our Yellowstone Trek! After a good night’s rest in Bozeman, MT, we headed south toward the park through the beautiful Paradise Valley. Some of us saw our first bald eagle as he flew right over our car. No doubt he was looking for his morning meal from the Yellowstone River. Even from the car you can almost feel the intensity of winter by watching the water flow over frozen chunks of ice.
Not long after driving through the famous Roosevelt Arch, we spotted a male bighorn sheep called a ram. Just above him perched in a tree was a juvenile bald eagle. It was a bit surprising to see this wildlife so early in our journey. If this is any indication of our next few days, we are in for an amazing experience.
Our afternoon field trek at Mammoth Hot Springs with Ranger Beth Taylor opened our eyes to different thermal features and how they are formed. Mammoth features are deposits of travertine that create terraces as the water flows down over the cliffs. Travertine can build up as fast as 3 meters per year. There are no geysers at Mammoth Hot Springs. A geyser needs a few things in order to erupt, which is explained by PHEW: plumbing underground, heat, earthquakes, and water. The travertine at Mammoth is too soft, so there is not enough pressure built up to have a geyser. However, we made our own geysers in a neat activity that uses a film canister, water, and Alka Seltzer. If you shake it enough you will get lots of pressure. We will be able to see the real thing tomorrow when we travel to Old Faithful.
Written by Cindy, Meghan, and Robert
Our Yellowstone in Winter 2013 group is departing today! We are very excited to experience the magic of Yellowstone during this cold and quiet season. We will be posting daily blogs and photos during our trip, so please follow along on our adventure. Post questions you have for the group and we will do our best to give a timely answer!