5:00 AM is an active time in Yellowstone...I found myself in a Volkswagen Beetle with Ken, a science teacher from Arlee, Montana who has been taking eighth graders to Yellowstone for a week of hiking and camping for the past 24 years. He was a wealth of information in the four hours we spent watching animals, looking at plants, and exploring trails...After driving very slowly through a huge herd of Bison (I was taking pictures out of the top of the sunroof and yes, I was scared!).
Ken showed me a pack rats version of a family crest. It is a rock hard, black, tar-like formation made out of the rats spit and feces. I know it sounds disgusting but it is pretty awesome... it is a territorial marker and has been dated, by Yellowstone researchers, to show that this line of pack rats has lived in the same pace for over 12,000 years. WOW! Today we saw two grizzly bears, a fox, a bald eagle, a Peregrin falcon ripping apart a small bird, two spawning Cut Throat in a mountain stream, a wolf, and a MOOSE! This was all before 9:00am!
After the wildlife tour we went to the local art studio of painter Shirl Ireland. She lives in an incredible house and studio right next to Yellowstone. She paints "en plein air", or outside, in Yellowstone at sunrise and her artwork is incredible. We also visited the Yellowstone Heritage and Research Center. This holds Yellowstone artifacts from 12,000 years ago. We spent some time there sketching some of the artifacts that they have including a wolf skull and some hotel souvenirs from the late 1800's.
This afternoon, we saw a beaver dam then took a hike up to a wickiup site that was overlooking the valley with snow capped mountains in the distance. A wickiup is a Native American shelter made out of limbs, branches, and twigs. At the wickiup, Ranger Trudy told us about the history of a local tribe called the Sheep Eaters. It was a beautiful day, finally warm and sunny. We sat around as she spoke and showed us different artifacts.
Tonight we had our last dinner followed by a studio tour of George Baumann...That guy has an amazing and inspiring life! The end cap of the evening was singing and storytelling by Ken Voorhis, who is a great person with kind blue eye and a white beard. He is also in charge of the Yellowstone Association and a big part of bringing all of us teachers in the program here.
This is my last night here and I have so enjoyed my time with all of the incredible people that I have met...I am going to miss Yellowstone but am so grateful to have this experience. I have learned so many things and I am very excited to share with my students and colleagues.
Also...I can't wait to come back!!!
Today was a fishy day...I mentioned last nights dinner being delicious but failed to mention that it was locally caught lake trout...It gave me great energy on a 6am four mile run across an old railroad bed next to the Gardner River with my new pals Lisa, Kim, Matt and Ranger Jess. Later at the studio I was Gyotaku printing with some similar trout that Ranger Matt had recently caught in the Gardner River. Gyotaku printing involves inking up a fish and printing it on paper...It is an old Japanese method of recording a catch and I have done it before with my students and rubber fish but never with real fish...It was slimy, stinky, and AWESOME!
After lunch we headed into the park. We drove down to Yellowstone Lake and spoke to Ranger Pat about the two trout problem in the lake. A few years ago, a tourist decided it would be a good idea to introduce a new type of trout to the lake. Since then, this trout..the Lake Trout, has been decimating the Cut Throat trout which it the indigenous species...For the past few years Yellowstone has been gill netting, then destroying Lake Trout to try to bring the numbers down so the Cut Throat can survive.
We had a picnic dinner at the Lake Lodge Hotel which is a huge beautiful hotel on the lake and then drove north to the LeHardy Rapids to see the Lake Trout trying to swim back up the river after spawning...
Our last stop was at the amazing Grand Canyon of Yellowstone...Huge Waterfall...breathtaking views...I would say one of the most beautiful places on earth.
Tomorrow we are getting up before dawn to try to see the wolves and their pups...
Exciting moment when we arrived this morning at the site..two huge black bears really close to the bathroom that we were next to....We moved away pretty quickly but watched as some crazy tourists got super close and were taking pictures.
SO let me tell you about the formations on top of the hot springs....Limestone far below the earths crust is dissolved by carbonic acid and brought to the surface by superheated waters in Yellowstone....carbon dioxide is released when it reaches the surface and the dissolved limestone becomes too heavy for the water to hold so it releases it and now it is called travertine...this forms ribbons and layers of stone on top of the hot springs. Travertine is white or grey in color but bacteria from the air creates brushstrokes of vibrant color on the travertines surface. The layers of bacteria and travertine also causes the shelves to constantly grow and change....a travertine formation can grow up to six feet a year if the conditions are right. New hot springs can pop up at any time as well so these geothermal environments are always changing.
Today we visited Mammoth Hot Springs which is covered in hot springs and travertine formations. We toured with our teachers Trudy, Jess, and Matt, who work in Yellowstone as Rangers. They were very informative about the site....They also pointed out many plants and flowers indigenous to the park and we spent time both drawing in our nature journals and doing a lab which involved measuring the temperature of the hot springs as well as testing PH and identifying types of bacteria growing around the springs. We had a picnic lunch overlooking the hot springs and I was filled in by the teachers from around here about the wonders and fun of the rodeo...I've been convinced that I need to go and check one out. The afternoon was spent in the studio making art using photosynthesis with local plant life.
Research is always being done on bacteria found in the hot springs and geysers at Yellowstone....The bacteria that scientists use most often today to read DNA from crime scenes was discovered in Yellowstone in 1965 near Old Faithful. Today, researchers are working with a microbe found in the Norris Geyser Basin to create new sunscreens and in cancer research. It was described to us as a bacteria, up to three inches thick, and dark purple on one side but bright green on the other... Over 200 different types of bacteria are found at most hot springs so the medical and industrial applications could be endless...Yellowstone teams with universities to encourage these discoveries.
Tonight we had a fantastic dinner (the food here has been delicious) and then an amazing talk and demonstration by artist and naturalist, George Bumann. He told us stories about the wolves in Yellowstone while sculpting a wolf out of clay...He is also originally from the Syracuse area which makes him even cooler in my book, and has been living his dream by teaching and sculpting out here for the past fifteen years. On Friday a group of us are going to go check out his studio which is very close to our cottage. He is currently working on a ten foot clay grizzly bear and cubs.
Spring is in the air here in Yellowstone and babies and running wild! Today we saw animal families of all types. The first thing we saw this morning on our way to hike around Beaver Ponds was two mamma Elk with four babies who running like crazy around them. Right after that we saw a deer nursing a small fawn...Amazing! We spent the morning hiking and looking for other wildlife but besides a Blue Bird, a Western Tanager, which is a black and yellow bird with an orange head, and a couple of Elk. We decided to drive along the same route that we went the first night to try to see some more animals and hit the wildlife jackpot....We saw huge herds of Bison with their young and at one point got a little too close for my comfort since I was out of the car taking pictures! After that we ran into a woman who was watching two Grizzly Bears on ridge in the distance...She had a high powered scope and let us watch for a while though it. So cool! Later we saw another pair of Grizzly bears but as we got to a good spot to watch, they ambled into the woods. There were quite a few other black bears around but the highlight of the day was toward the end when we saw a momma Black Bear and her two cubs. She was eating and they were playing and climbing a tree nearby.
Other things we saw included a dead Bull Snake, a Sandhill Crane, and a black and white Magpie.
Tonight we checked into the Yellowstone Overlook Campus and started our course with the other teachers from all over the country...It seems like a very interesting a diverse group and I am excited to get to know them all.
Tomorrow...Mammoth Hot Springs!
Yellowstone is one of the earths biggest volcanos. The reason there is so much geothermic action going on is because the magma is only four miles under the surface of the earth. Today we drove down south to check out the geyser basins. I learned a lot about how geysers, hot springs, fumaroles, and mudpots work. The magma underneath Yellowstone superheats underground water which is then forced up though openings in the earths surface...When the opening is small and constricted you get a geyser...when there is no constriction, you get a hot spring..when it is just a little bit of water, it turns to steam and you get a fumarole. Mudpots develop when there is limited water but a great deal of minerals and acid decomposing microorganisms.
We started all the way down at Upper Geyser Basin which is the home of Old Faithful although the first geyser that I saw the Grand Geyser...and it was GRAND! It had three eruptions and they were spectacular...It was very exciting...We then hiked around on the wooden boardwalks and looked at the other smaller geysers and hot spring pools...there are a lot of fumaroles around too...which looks like a hole in the ground that hisses and steam comes out but no water. It started pouring rain at that point but we knew that Old Faithful was due to erupt soon so we made our way down to see that....it was anti-climactic after seeing the Grand Geyser, which was SO much bigger, but I am glad we saw Old Faithful since it is so famous!
The rest of the day was making our way north and stopping at other geyser basins like Midway, Black Sand, Biscuit, and Lower...All of the basins have vibrantly colored hot springs due to minerals coming up from the ground. They also are very steamy and smell like sulfur... The air is cold between puffs of steam but at some points you almost feel like you are hugging a freshly cooked and peeled hard boiled egg...warm, wet, and stinky! We also visited the Mud Pots, otherwise known as artist paint pots...these look like bubbling mud pits...the mud is really smooth and spa-like and you want to touch it except it would burn you badly.
As we traveled along there were pull-off points to see animals and waterfalls..It was not as big of an animal spotting day as yesterday...A white coyote was right next to us on the road at one point and a huge bison almost ran into our car at another point, but other than that just a few elk sightings. We spoke to some people who had just seen two big grizzly bears run off in the distance but they were too far for us to see at that point. We did see two spectacular waterfalls, Firehole Falls and Gibbon Falls.
The last place we stopped today was Norris Geyser Basin..I felt like I was on another planet....the ground was hissing, bubbling, and steaming all around me and off in the distance I could see snow covered mountains...totally surreal.
The weather is constantly changing....you can see in the pictures that it is raining at some points and totally sunny and beautiful at others...Tomorrow we are panning a wildlife hike in the morning and then we will check into the Yellowstone Campus and meet the other teachers for our course orientation...
Fantastic first day. After a bumpy plane ride into Bozeman MT, I met my two amazing travel buddies who are also here for the STEAM program. Lisa, from the Minneapolis area, and Ambreen from Los Angeles. Both of these ladies are science teachers and both are very cool. After gathering some supplies and having lunch, we drove the hour and a half to Gardner MT. Along the way we stopped to look at a herd of Big Horn Sheep that were grazing on a hilltop by the road. We also saw a lot of Bison, and some Prong Horns (which kind of look like antelope with sharp straight horns). When we reached Gardner, we checked into our little cottage, which is located right at the North Gate of Yellowstone, then decided to take a drive along the northern route of Yellowstone to try to see some wildlife. Over the next three hours of driving, stopping, short hikes, and talking to a bunch of really nice people we saw an INCREDIBLE amount of animals... We saw a small black bear hiding in a grove of White Birch trees...We also saw more Bison, which by the way are the most dangerous animals in the park because of they are so unpredictable...Elk, a Blue Bird, a female Osprey sitting on her eggs in a huge nest and a male on a ridge above her keeping watch, a raven,a crane, but the most exciting thing we saw was two wolves and a coyote running around and eating something...they were too far to get a good picture but we could see them pretty well with binoculars...The weather was very nice today although it is cold and there is snow on every hilltop all around. Tomorrow ..Old Faithful.. so stay tuned!
A few months ago I wrote a grant to go to Yellowstone National Park to take part in the first ever STEM + Art = STEAM course.
I was chosen along with 12 teachers from across the United States.
During this week long course, we will be developing both traditional and innovative methods to teach about Yellowstone by exploring both science- and art-based strategies to teach science, technology, engineering, art, and math.
This will be my first time visiting Yellowstone and I am very excited to go!
I leave this Sunday, June 15th, and will be sharing my experience and photos using this blog.