Editor’s Note: Every year, Canyon Elementary fourth graders travel to participate in Expedition Yellowstone, a four-day trip designed for the students to learn about the past and present wildlife and geology of Yellowstone National Park. Mrs. Peternal’s class wrote this article about their experience.
We were all excited to board the bus and head to Yellowstone. After a stop or two at Daniel Junction and the Jackson Visitor Center, we finally made it into Grand Teton National Park. Once we were in the Grand Teton National Park we saw our first elk, which are also called wapiti. Then 25 students and nine chaperones entered Yellowstone National Park for four days of fun. We started with eating lunch at West Thumb, a tip of Yellowstone Lake. The light refracted off the water and made it shimmer. It was almost magical.
We were off again and stopped at the Mud Volcanoes. They smelled like rancid cheese. They were mud pots, which are the only thermal feature with rock particles dissolved in them.
We then got back on the bus and traveled to the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone to see Yellowstone Falls. It was a great spot to take pictures and see evidence of a canyon made by a river. We got back on the bus and soon we were at Lamar Buffalo Ranch.
Our first night at Lamar, Ranger Matt took us back in time. We went back two billion years ago, and saw lots of rocks called basement rocks. Then we went back 520 million years ago, where there were oceans, plants, oxygen, trilobites, sponges, coral and photosynthesis. When the time machine went 100 million years in the past, we saw the ocean still, but there were dinosaurs roaming the land. At 75 million years ago the mountains formed. This period was called the Laramide Orogeny, and the ocean in Yellowstone was gone but the dinosaurs still roamed.
We went then to 55 million years ago. There were volcanoes erupting, the Absaroka Volcanoes. With the volcanic action, there was a caldera that petrified the redwood trees in Yellowstone, which you still can see today.
Then at 25 million years ago the volcanoes calmed, and Yellowstone was in a desert with camels, elephants, cacti, and little water. This was called the Quiet Period, because not much was happening. The last caldera and super volcanoes were at 640,000 years ago, which was the opposite of the ice age that followed at 40,000 years ago, during which glaciers formed and mammoths, mastodons and giant sloths roamed Yellowstone.
But in time the glaciers melted and moved, carving U-shaped valleys through Yellowstone and depositing glacier silt. We then traveled closer to our time, losing the dinosaurs and turning into the Yellowstone of today.
On Saturday Ranger Matt planned a trip to Norris Geyser Basin, but due to a snow storm the road was closed, so we stopped at Mammoth Hot Springs. At Mammoth Hot Springs we tested the pH and temperature of the water. We got a pH of 7 which is equal to pure water, but you still shouldn’t drink the water. The water temperature was 75 degrees and varied as we went further from the hot spring, but there was steam and the hot springs killed the trees.
In Mammoth we saw rock terraces, which had brown and orange bacteria growing. Due to the road still being closed we hiked up to Orange Spring Mound and tested the water there. The pH was a 6 and the temperatures went as high as 104 degrees. We saw more white, orange, and brown bacteria, and travertine rocks. We learned what makes Yellowstone special and why they have so many thermal features.
P2HEW is the magic combination (pipes, preservation, heat, earthquakes, and water) that created wonderful thermal features in Yellowstone. When we were at Mammoth Hot Springs we also got to see Liberty’s Cap and Devil’s Thumb. Ranger Matt taught us that these rocks were formed when water evaporates, then mixes with carbon dioxide, and falls to Earth.
The water and carbon dioxide mixture seeps into the ground and meets up with limestone, dissolves it because it has a higher acidity level and pulls it to the surface. This mixture is called travertine and is the reason Mammoth Hot Springs as the brilliant white terraces.
That night we learned ecology with Ranger Trudy. We learned how to look at an animal’s skull and learn about the animal. We can look at the teeth and if there are incisors and molars mostly they are herbivores and eat plants only. Carnivores eat meat and have to have canines and premolars. Omnivores eat everything and so have every type of teeth. We also learned if the eyes are pointing up on the skull they are swimmers, or if they are to the front they are predators and hunt. If the eyes are on the side they are prey and hide. We also learned how to determine if they had a great sense of smell, sight, or hearing. We looked at many skulls and determined all we could, and then finally identified the animal. We finally took our knowledge of animals and invented an animal of our own using specific cards of traits and habitats given to us by Ranger Trudy.
On Sunday, Ranger Trudy took us on a hike to find Lost Lake. We started our hike at a petrified redwood tree. We saw many tracks and learned to look for signs of life. When we walked around a mountain we found Lost Lake and after our lunch we continued on our hike.
We learned to identify conifer trees by their needles. We also learned that an aspen grove is really just one tree. We then played a game called Wild Wapiti Walk, where we learned how fragile the ecosystem is and how we need to help preserve it. As we walked down the trail to the bus we saw bear tracks.
On our last night we had a campfire ceremony. Ranger Matt told a story about the Washburn Expedition and how they named a mountain after Truman Everts. Truman Everts was leading the expedition, but got split up from the camp and got lost.
After about a week of searching, the members of the expedition gave up and went back to Helena, Montana, and sent out Colonel Langford who found him in the meadow, and almost shot him, mistaking him as a bear. Truman Everts made a good recovery after all that bad luck, and they named a mountain after him, Mt. Everts. The funny thing is, they named the wrong mountain. We then performed our legends around the campfire and sang songs we wrote about what we learned. We then passed a buffalo horn and told everyone what we were thankful for and what we learned on our trip. After another legend by Ranger Trudy we followed the campfire with a delicious s’more.
We left Lamar Buffalo Ranch and went on a hike to an abandoned wolf den, a long tradition of Expedition Yellowstone. We saw lots of animal tracks and signs of animals. We then made our way to Old Faithful. Old Faithful goes off around every 90 minutes and shoots up to 184 feet in the air. It was exciting to see the steam and water shoot in the air.
We had fun, we missed home a little, but it was so much fun. Everyone should go to Yellowstone; the hikes, geysers and hot springs make it a one of a kind adventure.
At Expedition Yellowstone we learned a lot and had a lot of fun. We also made memories that we will keep forever.