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Classes offer unique look at Yellowstone

Sat., July 14, 2007

Grizzly bear.
 (The Spokesman-Review)
Grizzly bear. (The Spokesman-Review)

You have visited Yellowstone National Park. You saw Old Faithful erupt, watched herds of bison and elk, walked to Artist Point at the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. In other words, you’ve been there and done that.

But the Yellowstone Institute will add a fascinating, in-depth aspect to your Yellowstone experiences.

Yellowstone is one of those places with an almost unlimited number of natural attractions and subjects to grab a person’s interest. Joining a field seminar and getting totally engrossed in a particular feature or subject for one to four days may be the best way to visit and enjoy the park.

Visiting Yellowstone can be overwhelming; the park is so large, and there is so much to see and do that tourists often spend their precious vacation time just driving around. Slowing down and focusing on one particular area of interest will greatly enrich a visitor’s experience.

The Yellowstone Institute offers 111 classes during the warm seasons and 25 classes during the winter months.

If you are interested in wildlife, seminars such as “Bears: Bones, Signs and Stories,” “Wildlife Watching in Grizzly Country” and “From Bison to Bighorn: The Hoofed Mammals of Yellowstone” may grab your attention.

A repeat participant from Minnesota excitedly described crawling into an empty bear cave with a flashlight to see where and how bears live during the winter months of hibernation.

Not too surprising since their reintroduction into the park, wolves have become intensely watched and studied. A multitude of Yellowstone Institute classes year-round reflect the public’s interest in the wolves.

The hard part is choosing classes, which include “Behind the Scenes of Wolf Behavior and Ecology,” “Are Wolves Worth the Effort?” and “The Wolves of Yellowstone.”

Instructors typically provide classroom discussion coupled with trips into the park. They also make every effort to find wolves to observe.

Seeing wolves hunting, running and playing – even from a distance – is an exciting visual treat. Hearing the howl of a wild wolf may give you goose bumps.

The instructors often are out in the field and communicate with one another about sightings of wolves and other animals. The chance of seeing Yellowstone wildlife increases dramatically by participating in a seminar.

Of course, Yellowstone is unique in the United States for its thermal attractions: geysers, colorful hot springs, mud pots.

Here is the description of a one-day seminar, “Secrets of the Lower Geyser Basin”: “You’ll go beyond the well-known Fountain Paint Pots and Great Fountain geyser to see rare, remote and spectacular hot pools, mud pots and geysers seldom seen by other visitors. During several short hikes to these locations, you’ll discover even more about the park’s astonishing thermal geology and ecology.”

The list of subjects is long, including classes in photography, wildflowers, geology, birds, raptors, history, painting and alpine ecology.

The instructors are some of the best Yellowstone researchers in the country. They often have master’s or doctorate degrees, and many have written books on Yellowstone. The institute ensures that instructors not only are knowledgeable about a particular subject but also are good communicators.

Classes are limited to eight to 12 participants. Popular classes can fill up fast.

So, if you are interested in a particular class on a certain date, you should try to reserve a spot two or three months in advance. (The winter class catalog already is available.) However, if you are flexible about what seminar you will attend, there is a good chance that upon arriving at Yellowstone, you will be able to participate in a class that has had a cancellation or still has openings.

Many seminars are based at the Lamar Buffalo Ranch. You may have to share a cabin with two other class participants. Meals are prepared in a group kitchen.

Some seminars are based at other locations, and hotel rooms are used. The institute partners with Xantera, the park’s hotel and food company, to offer “Lodging and Learning Programs.”

Programs planned specifically for backpacking also are available, such as a three-day class titled “Alpine Wildlife: Base Camp in the High Country.” Ten backpacking programs are scheduled this year.

The Yellowstone Institute offers a great way to become immersed in a favorite topic in the incredible location we call Yellowstone National Park.

And the experience of learning and interacting with like-minded classmates in a dynamic, beautiful location is just plain fun.


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