Mountain Style: Expedition Yellowstone

The Misguided Adventures of a Well-Meaning Mother

Story and photographs by Marlene Wusinich

Most fourth- or fifth-grade parents of Teton Valley, Idaho, kids anticipate Expedition Yellowstone. It’s legendary! Led by Yellowstone National Park rangers, Expedition Yellowstone provides an opportunity for experiential science, history, and preservation study in the wilds of the park. So when it was my son’s turn, I jumped at the chance to volunteer, thankful to be able to share this moment with my child.

I was very impressed with the curriculum: Expedition Yellowstone addresses the Idaho Core Standards for history and science in a hands-on way. The kids study via brainstorming and question and answer sessions, allowing them to form conclusions.

As a volunteer, I was responsible for a clan consisting of six kids. It was my duty to make sure they respected others and stayed on task. As the week progressed, my clan got restless; they began to question, “Why?” They wanted to go in different directions and do things in a different way.

“Tell me and I forget,
teach me and I may remember,
involve me a­nd I learn.”
– Benjamin Franklin

My first instinct was to say, “No, we have to obey the rules and do what we’re told.” This got me nowhere. They were curious kids—they weren’t asking to do anything wrong or unsafe, they just wanted to venture off the beaten path. We were in Yellowstone, after all, the crown jewel of national parks. And national parks came into existence because someone challenged the status quo, because someone asked, “Why?”

So on our last hike, when we were supposed to be following the group, looking for man-made artifacts, my clan spotted something in the opposite direction. Finally, I said, “Yes—let’s run for it, check it out, and then run right back!” We were still within earshot of the group, but we pursued our curiosity and found what looked like an animal carcass. Guess what? We discovered a really cool stacked vertebra!

This was their discovery; they owned it. And while it may not have been a rare find in Yellowstone, to my clan it represented the essence of the trip: Sometimes you need to step off-track and approach things in a different way to discover something truly amazing.