Essential Yellowstone

Just as difficult it was to start my travel journal of our Great Journey Westward it is just as difficult to write this final piece.   But in 38 days we are flying to a new area never explored … TEXAS! …and so it is time to say goodbye…

It was Sunday evening and we were in our comfy new room at Hayden Lodge drinking tea from our Keurig.  The next day the adventure would begin — Essential Yellowstone.  We lay awake wondering just what was ahead for us. What had I gotten us into?   How bad would those Lake Cabins be? Who would be in the program?   What would our guides be like? How much time would the person from the Institute spend with our group?  Yes. I had done my research and carefully chosen this program after being lured into the tag line on the Xantera page…  Don’t Just See It, Experience it!   We both love educational programs and since it was just the two of us I thought it would be nice to join with a group of other like-minded people.  After researching the Yellowstone Association, I decided that the Yellowstone Lodging and Learning was just what we were looking for – Expert instruction provided by Yellowstone Association Institute naturalist guide and lodging in the park.  And after a phone call to Yellowstone Association, I was able to pick the best program for my daughter and me – Essential Yellowstone.

Because of getting caught up on Mt Washburn in a hail storm followed by a hard fall down the mountain(I think I left that out in my earlier post),  I arrived at the orientation a little out of it, tired, disheveled, and seriously bruised (but luckily no place visible), to meet our group and group leader.  My first moment of surprise was that this was composed of just a small group of us (thirteen) and our leader from Yellowstone Association.  I had no idea he would be spending every day with us including being our driver.  Already I could tell this was going to be an amazing week.

Just this morning I awoke to frost and it brought back fond memories of this trip (reminding me to finish this post)… two months ago my daughter and I awoke to the same conditions.  August in Yellowstone and it was the first morning of Essential Yellowstone.  Unfortunately however there was no gear to retrieve from the closet, only what we brought with us.  And this certainly did not match the forecast posted two weeks prior.  We bundled on pretty much everything we had and waddled out to enjoy our breakfast before our first adventure.

Joining this program was the best decision!  This was an incredible program filled with countless amazing moments.  We left the park with such a greater knowledge of Yellowstone.  The program truly covered the essentials of Yellowstone… which is a lot if you consider the different types of thermal features, the geology, the wildlife, and the history of the park.   The program created a bond with Yellowstone that forever changed us.

Because we didn’t know our full itinerary (just an overview) there were some repeat stops — However for the majority of our time it was all new and certainly was much more informative!   My daughter and I agreed it was nice have our first aha mother daughter moments and rapid picture-taking just to our selves and then have the time with the group to learn and ask questions so I highly recommend arriving two days prior to the park like we did.

Any program can easily be affected by the teacher and the students. And so this is your risk.  Maybe they can tell you who the guide is? If you are lucky it will be Josh. His passion for Yellowstone and his love for life long learning enriched the already amazing program. Our group of 12 of us came from all over (although primarily east cost) with diverse backgrounds:  a retired couple, a family of three, two sisters, a photographer who came solo, and another couple.   And we all blended perfectly together.   For my fifteen year old, she settled in quickly -. Often she would be chatting with one or two other group members learning about their hobbies and interests.  It was great to see so much enthusiasm!

Our guide went above and beyond – like the day we went out wildlife viewing.  DSC00511He altered plans based on the fog and changed to a new location based on tips from other naturalists.  We therefore went to see the Lamar Canyon pack’s rendezvous area.  This was a major highlight of the program for me. How better to learn about wolves and the packs at Yellowstone then to be standing outside and viewing them?  And the ability use high power scopes to see them provided by the Institute made it even better! (Trust me that is wolf out by the tree in that picture!)

DSC00487We went from just seeing a bison and being in awe to seeing the bison and identifying the alpha female who leads the group, which young had a more likely chance of surviving the upcoming winter, and the old male who wanders alone.

And Josh also knew when to be where – like when the sun hit the waterfall just right to produce a beautiful rainbow… or the perfect place to stop and see the sun rising.  And this seemed to be true with the timing of animals too… As if he has things pre-planned — like
the day the black bear came running down the DSC00494meadow to the road we were driving on… another amazing moment!

The hiking was less then expected but considering how I was feeling after my tumble this was a relief and we so enjoyed the company of our group and our time together.  It was ranked at a level of two – Hikes up to 3 miles per day with elevation gains up to 600 feet however we did not seem to go on any walks like that — majority of the time we were on the boardwalks or DSC00545stairs down to the falls with breaks in the van in-between.  (For summer programs there was no education programs offered at level 3 which would have given us a little more hiking.  This would be ideal).  Again our approach of a week full of busy hiking in the Tetons followed by this was just perfect.  This trip could not have DSC00554happened in any better sequence.

The sleeping conditions were horrid as previously mentioned and I feel it is unfair to any reader to not prepare you for this.  Also you needed to drive anywhere to get in a nice evening hike.  Plus because we were so far away from everything it ended up being a lot of time in van.

However regardless of a stinky dirty cabin in the middle of nowhere I still loved every minute of our Essential Yellowstone. Our lives were truly enriched by this program and the wonderful people we met.  I am just disappointed to not have received a group email to stay in touch.  .. perhaps one of them will read this post and reach out to me?

My next dream?   Return for one of the winter programs!

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