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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!

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

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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

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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

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