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JC Yellowstone Trip Recap and Final Report

June 28, 2018

What happened when 13 Junior Curators and 3 amazing leaders from NCMNS spent 8 days in Yellowstone National Park? Well, it was a wild, whirlwind week of wonder. The trip was so incredibly jam-packed with amazing moments that, after a few days of reflection, a recap is in order.

Day 1, spent in Lamar Valley, set us off on a unbelievable start. Upon arriving in the park that afternoon, we almost immediately spotted a black bear with three cubs, a grizzly bear, and numerous elk and pronghorn.

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Black bear cub climbing a lodgepole pine tree

This bountiful wildlife viewing continued into Day 2, when following a fascinating few hours spent with wolf biologist Kira Cassidy, we were able to see two wild wolves from the Lamar Canyon pack feeding on a baby pronghorn carcass. We also saw two peregrine falcons feeding their chicks, and on the same cliffside a family of bighorn sheep were frolicking. Adding to the already numerous species count was a pika on a talus slope, as well as a boreal chorus frog.

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Pika with a mouthful of grass – making a “haystack” that will help it stay active through the winter

Day 3, our final full day in Lamar Valley, was spent with wildlife photographer Dan Hartman, who shared wisdom about being a nature photographer and led us on a beautiful hike where we saw a bull bison and a ruffed grouse.

Bull bison

Bull bison

At Trout Lake later that day, we witnessed cutthroat trout spawning and soaked in some of the first full sun of the trip. We also managed to hunt down a cow moose along Soda Butte Creek later that day!

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Cutthroat trout at Trout Lake

Sun at Trout Lake

Sun at Trout Lake

On Day 4, we journeyed into the main caldera of the park, stopping along the way for an obligatory moment of sledding in the snow that remained in the high altitudes.

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Noah and Carson decided to stick their heads in the snow…

We learned about the explosive, volcanic geologic history of Yellowstone, which is the reason it has so many unique thermal features. We also continued to view the huge variety of wildlife, including pelicans, a coyote, and more elk with calves, as well as more cutthroat trout jumping in river rapids–a definite highlight for our fish nerds!

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White pelicans have a 9-foot wingspan!

We stopped by some of those famous thermal features, including amazing Dragon’s Mouth Spring, and saw a large group of bison by the boardwalk (as well as some tourists who were questionably close to the herd). Day 5’s excitement began near Yellowstone Lake at the Lake Hotel, when an elusive pine marten ran across its front porch! As we traveled towards Old Faithful, we viewed several more thermal features, including Black Sand Pool, Daisy Geyser, and, of course, Old Faithful itself. Viewing Grand Prismatic Spring, the third largest hot spring in the world, from the overlook was a beautiful end to the day.

Daisy Geyser

Daisy Geyser

On Day 6, we began by watching Beehive Geyser erupt, an explosion that turned out to be a fan favorite, and we also had an up-close look at a coyote. After that, we ventured out of Yellowstone to visit Grand Teton National Park for the day. The sun finally blessed us with its presence that afternoon and the weather made for a beautiful mountain hike to several lakes.

Jcs taking in the scenery at Taggert Lake in the Tetons

Jcs taking in the scenery at Taggert Lake in the Tetons

Day 7, our final full day in Yellowstone, was punctuated by viewing many more amazing thermal features in the caldera before returning to the Lamar Valley area to hike around Mammoth Hot Springs with Ranger Matt.

Ranger Matt helped us sample the pH of the water at Mammoth Terraces - it was slightly acidic.

Ranger Matt helped us sample the pH of the water at Mammoth Terraces – it was slightly acidic with a pH around 6.

That night after dinner, some of us went out on one last evening hike and spent a quiet moment listening to elk bugle and birds chirp, just appreciating and remembering all the beauty that we had witnessed over the past week. At our group meeting earlier that afternoon (which featured a guest appearance by black bears in the hills), many of us had described our experience in Yellowstone with words such as “rejuvenating” and “indescribable,” and lying out in the sagebrush that evening watching the dusky pink sky behind the mountains demonstrated that unbelievable, calm beauty perfectly.

But the adventure was not quite over, because on the morning of Day 8 before we departed, we were lucky enough to watch two more wolves crossing the road in front of us, and just a few minutes later a group of five wolves from the Junction Butte pack traveling over hillsides. It seemed the park was giving us one last show before we left.

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Our final Yellowstone sunrise was stunning

A wolf from the Lamar Canyon pack

A wolf from the Lamar Canyon pack that crossed the road in front of us

But soon our time in the park was indeed up and we had to head for the airport. We arrived back home in Raleigh at 1 AM, exhausted and a bit jet lagged, and thoroughly amazed by all that we had seen over the past week. We all agreed that that Yellowstone is an astounding, wild, unforgettable place and we were so fortunate to have spent our time there in the company of each other and our knowledgeable, fun, and all-around marvelous leaders, Melissa, Erin, and Kurt. Many of us hope to return someday, and with any luck any future trips will be just as spectacular as this one was!


Roumi found what might have been a grouse egg on one hike


Olivia at the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

Noah and Robbie realize just how strong elk are to carry around such large antlers

Noah and Robbie realize just how strong elk are to carry around such large antlers


The Jcs decide to try to reassemble a bison skeleton

Another moment of reflection when we visited the overlook for Grand Prismatic

A moment of reflection when we visited the overlook for Grand Prismatic

by Olivia Slack


Junior Curator Yellowstone Trip Day 7

June 21, 2018

On our final full day in Yellowstone, we explored the last stretches of the boardwalks around Old Faithful. We saw many beautiful and colorful hot springs and geysers, including Anemone Geyser and Castle Geyser.

JCs watching Anemone Geyser

JCs watching Anemone Geyser


Castle Geyser

After that, we departed for Mammoth Hot Springs. We met up with Ranger Matt Ohlen, who specializes in teaching visitors about the history of the park. He shared a ton of stories about the springs; one fascinating story he told was about Ole Anderson, who made souvenirs in Mammoth Hot Springs in the late 1800s. He dipped horseshoes in the springs, where they were coated with travertine, the mineral deposited by the springs which gives the landscape its distinctive bright white color. We explored the mounds and featured hot springs. We learned the difference between mud pots, hot springs, thermal vents, and geysers thanks to a helpful visual demonstration from Ranger Matt.


Mammoth Terraces

Once we headed back from the springs, we got back to our cabins, had a reflection meeting during which we spotted two black bears, three pronghorns, countless ground squirrels, and nest building swallows. The highlight of the day was yet to come, after dinner: ICE CREAM!!!!!!


Our last sunset

Junior Curator Yellowstone Trip Day 6

June 20, 2018

Today we spent the majority of our time in Grand Teton National Park, but before we left Yellowstone for the day we went on a “wild geyser chase” to follow up our “wild moose chase.” We made it just in time to witness Beehive Geyser erupt, with a maximum height of 200 feet.


Beehive Geyser eruption

As we were running to the geyser, we took a quick detour to get an amazing close view of a coyote.

Coyote in Upper Geyser Basin

Coyote in Upper Geyser Basin

After that we piled in the vans to head to the Tetons. The change in the scenery was stunning, with jagged, snow-capped mountaintops that started out shrouded in clouds, but by afternoon were glowing in some of the fullest sunlight we’ve had on the trip. We went for an almost 5-mile hike and saw two mountain lakes, cascades, and wildflowers. As we walked, we made a treacherous journey through the “land of mosquitoes,” but the views were totally worth it!


Hiking to Taggert Lake


Amazing view of the Tetons at Taggert Lake

Junior Curator Yellowstone Trip Day 5

June 19, 2018

Today was incredibly rainy, but it broke for us at the moments when we needed it to. We lingered over breakfast at Lake Lodge and when someone asked to stop by a second time to fill a water bottle we ended up seeing a pine marten running around the porch! The rain stopped just in time for our hike on Pelican Creek and the pelicans were doing their synchronous feeding dance. We found salamanders and leeches at Isa Lake (and though the kids tried hard they would not suck blood so maybe they really are detritivores, as we had been told). West Thumb Geyser Basin wasn’t crowded at all (and it usually is) because it had just stopped pouring. We found a beautiful picnic site for lunch where it wasn’t raining at the time. We stopped for a jam that turned out to be bluebirds hovering over a wetland to feed – tons of them – and then had to run back to the cars in 20 mph winds and sleety rain. The sun came out as we laid by Black Sand pool to feel how it thumps with small hydrothermal explosions, and we took a hike to see Daisy Geyser which erupted as we arrived.

JCs waiting to feel the small hydrothermal explosions from Black Sand Pool

JCs waiting to feel the small hydrothermal explosions from Black Sand Pool

We saw and incredibly beautiful Old Faithful eruption (our third of the day!) as the sun hit it in front of dark clouds.


Afternoon storms behind Old Faithful

And the setting sun broke through again as we reached the new Grand Prismatic overlook.

Sunset over Grand Prismatic Spring

Sunset over Grand Prismatic Spring

So in spite of the rain it was a great day… it is good to be here.

Junior Curator Yellowstone Trip Day 4

June 18, 2018

“Okay JC’s!” Melissa shouted to the damp flock of teenagers. One by one, they began quieting down, sitting in a circle despite a brief squabble over who would sit next to the radiator.

“What do we want to add to today’s blog?”

Murmurs rippled through the group as ideas were mulled over. It was amazing how one day could be packed with so many exciting options.

“What about the snow this morning?” Alaina offered, tentative in her response. The group considered this, it HAD been memorable after all. Snowballs were thrown, words were written, they even went ‘sledding’ in just their pants! There were a few giggles at the memory.

JCs sliding down a slope in the last snow on Mount Washburn

JCs sliding down a slope in the last snow on Mount Washburn

“Okay, but that coyote though!” Olivia chimed in.

“Oh yeah! And when it chased that baby elk into the river! Coyotes are metal.” Carson added.

Elk cow and calf safely across the river from a coyote

Elk cow and calf safely across the river from a coyote

“Maybe that can be our band name?” Robert suggested with a shrug. His friends snickered in response.

“Alright guys, back on topic.” Erin grinned at the rambunctious boys.

“Hey, remember when those people got too close to the bison at the thermal features?” Danielle asked after a moment. The JC’s responded with a chorus of oofs. They knew very well how dangerous the large mammals could be, though evidently not all park-goers shared that knowledge.


Lauren measuring the temperature of Mud Volcano

“I dunno, the cutthroat trout were pretty cool.” Robert interjected.

“Yeah, especially when they were jumping!” Alyssa, who had waited a good half hour for the perfect picture of the fish, mused.

“We got some pretty great pictures of that.” Sam added, taking out his camera to demonstrate.

“Speaking if pictures, what about that hawk we saw!” Mavry grinned at the memory.

“Oh yeah! And the pelican was pretty majestic too,” Rumi shared in the excitement, “it was huge!”

Then Melissa said she got a report of a moose and they ran to the vans, the blog forgotten.

By Mavry, Lauren, Robert, and Jason

Junior Curator Yellowstone Trip Day 3

June 17, 2018

It was another rainy day, but that did not deter us. We got to meet and go hiking with an amazing wildlife photographer Dan Hartman. He took us hiking through open meadows where we saw a ruffed grouse and a big bull bison (from a safe distance).

Some other highlight included finding a second frog species, spawning cutthroat trout, and another wolf.

A favorite moment was our “wild moose chase” which ended with a great view of a cow moose along Soda Butte Creek.

Overall, it was another wild day in Yellowstone!

Hiking through meadows with Dan Hartman

Hiking through meadows with Dan Hartman


Our shoes got very wet but the sun finally came out over Trout Lake


Junior Curator Yellowstone Trip Day 1 and 2

June 16, 2018

Here’s the blog we wrote at the end of the day we arrived… a little late in coming, but we hope you enjoy!

When we all assembled, it was four am in RDU airport. The day we had anticipated for months was finally upon us—the day we departed for Yellowstone National Park.

Thirteen Junior Curators from NCMNS and our three fearless leaders, Melissa, Erin, and Kurt, headed to Yellowstone for a weeklong foray into the wilderness. After ten hours of travel by air and land (aka plane and van), we reveled in the fact that we had finally arrived in Yellowstone. We walked through the Roosevelt Arch that used to mark the arrival of stagecoaches into the park, “letting go of our cares like autumn leaves,” as John Muir instructed Yellowstone visitors years ago, we turned our minds to focus on exploring the park and its wonders.

Within five hours of our arrival, we had seen a total of six bears and multiple elk and pronghorns, as well as more common animals such as beetles and chipmunks. We saw elk lying in a field between two buildings at Mammoth Hot Springs and watched four bears—including three cubs—run across the road between stopped cars.

At the end of the day, we arrived at our lodgings and settled in for food and discussion of what we had seen and hoped to see in the following days…

Our second day, in summary, was cold, wet, and amazing. We fit so much in that it felt like a week instead of a day. We got to see baby sheep jumping in the air and wolves feeding on a baby pronghorn. We watched a adult peregrine falcon feed her four chicks, while its partner waited out the rain in a notch across the canyon. We stood quietly by a talus slope and were lucky enough to see an elusive pika. We saw one of only 5 amphibians in Yellowstone – a boreal chorus frog. And we learned a lot about wolves on a hike to the only remaining acclimation pen with Kira Cassidy, a wolf biologist. Cold. Wet. Amazing!

The group watching for pika

The group watching for pika


Peregrine falcon nest


Checking a pond for amphibians


Looking at a wolf pelt with Kira Cassidy, wolf biologist