Day 8

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Up and out of the cabin by 6:30 this morning, we bid farewell to Yellowstone on our final drive through the park. Our attempt to drive up Beartooth pass was blocked by gates, but we still got some amazing drone footage in the snowy mountains. Also on the drive up, Will fell asleep in the back, which finally allowed Noah to play the Hamilton soundtrack in the car.

Next stop, Billings! Retracing our steps from only a week before, we drove down Chief Joseph highway and took it all in one last time. A quick pit stop at a gas station to refuel and (feebly attempt) to clean the Hypemobile, we made it to the airport with time to spare! Bye bye Montana! Back in Denver, our 3 hour layover consisted of getting Chick Fil-a (for some of us, twice, @Will), walking laps around the airport (had to get in our 10,000 step goal!) and riding the air train.

The Final Five were all seated in the same row on the flight back to Newark, where we did Sudoko, Crossword puzzles, and sang Smashmouth’s “All Star” before getting reprimanded by the people in front of us to quiet down. Touchdown 11:30 in Newark, it felt good to be back in the Dirty Jerz, but Montana (and the little people) will forever hold a special place in our hearts. <3

Day 7

Friday, June 1, 2018

The final five remain in the Hypemobile – Will, Sierra, Jonathan, Noah, and Heather, all cozy in a a one-room airbnb. Happy June! It didn’t really feel like June though in Gardiner, with chilly temps in the high 20’s in the morning. Some might say it was brick. Will and Sierra did a final run at altitude around the town before embarking on the final day in Yellowstone. First stop was Tower Falls, where Jonathan decided to wash his sneakers caked in mud from the previous days adventures. The rain didn’t slow us down!

After a heartwarming lunch near Yellowstone Lake and the Yellowstone Hotel (and trying huckleberry fudge ice cream for the first time!), we visited Artists’ Point overlooking the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. After seeing an epic stand-off between a bison and a grizzly, we parked to hike up to Point Sublime. On the hike, we passed by Clear Lake, where we saw a Black Bear walking just across the lake from us! The hike was muddy and slippery and Noah had the bear spray ready the entire time, but it was all worth it for the views at the top. Some of us got a little too close to the edge and had to be held back. The weather turned on our way back down and it started to rain. Then, it started to hail. A lot. The last mile of the hike ended up being a sprint through an open muddy plain getting pelted my hail and the biting cold (some of us only had shorts on). Cold and exhausted, it felt good to be back in the car again. Shoutout to the Hypemobile— battered, muddied, cracked, and with a replaced tire, it pulled through when we needed it most. We continued to drive around, until we found a prong-horn that Jonathan valiantly spent 40 minutes filming and got almost within an arms length distance of. Safe to say someone made a new friend.

Our last stop in the park for the day was Lamar Valley to film some Bison across a river, and we saw a rainbow! Truly icing on the cake to an action-packed day. Really never a dull moment. We ended the trip having seen every type of notable wildlife in the park except for a wolf— we even saw a rabid chihuahua! Our natural adventures finished for the day, we drove back to Gardiner, had dinner, explored Jardine (SKETCHY) and went to sleep in our tiny cabin. Amazing last day an Yellowstone, hard to believe it’s been a whole week!

Day 5

Fort Belknap to Montana Gumbo 

At the crack of dawn, those who had to leave to return back on campus woke up and got their belongings. By the time most of us got up and stopped baking in our tents, they were gone, showing up sporadically throughout the day as groupme messages about chick-fil-a and flight information. Meanwhile at Enrico, we had a relaxing breakfast with time to chat about different lakes in the world and making plans to go to Canada. All in all, it was a slow morning, that is, if your name is not Noah. If so, you were running around trying to find a lost wallet. 

At 11, it was time to go. Plan for the day: Fort Belknap to get a tour of the Native American reservation and possibly an interview with a resident about the buffalo. The ride over to Fort Belknap barely had a hitch. We pulled up to a gas station on the side of the highway, where we were going to meet Ray, our tour guide. After short trip to his office, he led us onto Native Plains, land that belongs to the reservation, which was then decided belonged to the buffalo and all animals that live there. In the distance, bison were galloping, running away from the rumbling of our metal boxes. After driving around for  couple of minutes- slowly, because how else is there to take in the landscape- Ray stopped and popped open the back of his pickup truck, settling in. It was story time. 

It would be foolish to say that his stories and views were not a little problematic to our millennial and gen Z ears. We heard about cannibalistic « little people » and how women had to be protected because they brought life to this earth. His heart was int he right place, calling for intervention if a woman was being abused, but his reasoning was a little more difficult to comprehend. Shouldn’t the primary reason of respecting woman be that we, too, are humans? Not simply that we can carry a fetus in our uteruses for nine months? In the car, while driving back into the town, we tried to reconcile the fact that the culture and time period that Ray grew up in was completely different from our own, and that our prejudices and associations of his views may not actually be true at all, with our staunch collegiate, liberal views. 

Before heading out, Ray introduced us to Junior Horsecapture, a respected member of the Grovont tribe. We met him on the side fo the road before conducting an interview at a park that was reconstructed after a fire. If I had to describe the interview in two phrases, it would be riveting and thought- provoking. He went over  racial identity, freedom, and prayers. I can confidently say that Junior Horsecapture is one of the only people I have met who is so in touch with his racial identity and background. While describing the release of the first bison on the American Prairie Reserve, he got emotional, believing that this was the prayers of the Ghost Dancers being answered. I will be the first to say that his views on racial identity were eye opening, not simply in the controversial manner, but also in a way that made me think about my own thoughts on being Chinese American. When asking for our racial backgrounds (including those of the group who were caucasian, which was very refreshing), he called me out on saying my parents are from China, as if I was not accepting that part of my background. Chinese- American was not a satisfactory answer to him. He wanted soley Chinese, rejecting assimilation. Similarly, those who were Caucasian were European. This led to a long discussion in the car about racial identity and being « American, » and I cannot say that my views on this topic are any clearer. 

While in the car, we saw a thunderstorm in the distance, flashes of lightning dancing across the sky. It starts raining, but we were on the reserve already, driving towards Enrico. Noah drove, since he was the resident off road driver, and since we had a flat tire. We watched as the thunderstorm closed in on three sides, before we had to turn and drive directly into the storm. Six miles from Enrico, our car gave up, the tire warping in on itself. Here, I learned a new vocabulary word: hydroplaning. We were stuck, deep in Montana gumbo. Somehow, I still had cellphone service, Verizon being our savior. We called for help, and for thirty minutes, we thought we were going to be rescued. Per Jonathan and Will’s request, we played EDM music with the bass turned all the way up, shaking the car. Avicii (rip), Marshmello, etc. The typical list. That was when we got the news that it was too muddy for a car to get us, and that we would have to walk 2.5 miles back to another house, in Sun Prairie North. After accepting our fates, we packed our stuff for the night, and embarked on our hike. The walk over was probably the most « backpack-y » experience we’ve had, trudging through a mix of clay, mud, and dirt, (Montana gumbo), everything sticking to our shoes until it felt like we were walking with five pound cinderblocks on our feet. Morale was high- there were even some lines of « Glorious » by Macklemore sang. On the way there, we decided that the best way to pass time was telling horror stories and talking about horror movies. You could say that we were setting ourselves up for a rough night. 

Two miles in, we saw a light flashing in the distance. It was Dan, a worker at the Prairie Reserve who later brought us pasta and tortilla chips for dinner (If you are reading this, thank you!). However, despite the hospitality and the coziness of the cabin, we were set up for a night on edge, entering the house with horror stories in mind. We took a video of the house- a video that is more revealing of our paranoid and frazzled minds than anything else, if I am being honest. This is not to say that we did not enjoy ourselves there. It was probably a highlight of the trip, us freaking our and laughing about everything. The fact of the matter is that we would not have had nearly as good of a time if we were rational about the entire situation. The one downside was that Jonathan had an interview the next morning and we did not have any computers with us. It all worked out though, with him getting the job! (Congrats again!) After a slightly restless sleep, we were rescued by Chuck in a pickup truck, and made our way back to Enrico. All in all, a day packed with adventure and stories.

Here’s a short compilation of the videos we took chronicling the day:

Day 4

May 29th was an awesome day to say the least. Fully settled into the Prairie Reserve lifestyle (and fully expecting to wake up to a hot sun beating down on our tents… in a peaceful way) we all woke up early and were treated to some PHENOMENAL chocolate chip-banana pancakes courtesy of Devon, Sierra, and Janette. I (Elias) made some eggs but they were overshadowed because these pancakes were thick, AND we had peanut butter to put on top of them. Andrew had about six (whether voluntary or not). Safe to say we were all satisfied.

We followed up breakfast with a long, but extremely fulfilling talk with the Manager of Wildlife Restoration on the reserve, Dan. In between detailed explanations of the overarching mission of the APR and how real progress is being made day by day, Dan took question after question from our extremely curious group. What qualities do you guys look for in the land you acquire as the APR expands? How are working relationships formed with neighboring cattle ranchers? How does the shifting preference of American diet to organic and grass-fed beef play into the conservation strategies of the APR with regard to local beef farms? Dan addressed all these questions and much more, leaving us with a well-rounded idea of how special the plans for the “American Serengeti” really are! We finished up with a tour of the apparatus in which the bison are herded for transport, and even got a chance to put ourselves in the bison’s shoes (hooves?) by doing a human version of the herding process. Dan is a seriously awesome dude.

The rest of the day was spent searching for prairie dogs (Andrew got some phenomenal shots of one that he was able to creep up next to) and flying the drone along the vast expanse of land that extends in any direction one chooses. We also got a chance to take a *loooooong* drive out to see a giant Medicine Rock that was inscribed and used by Native Americans that had previously lived on the lands. Rattlesnake and spiky cactus threats aside, it was an extremely scenic drive that made for awesome conversation and old-school navigation. We returned to another beautiful sunset, whipped up a taco dinner for the squad, and even made s’mores — all while we got to watch an angry thunderstorm strike down 30 or 40 miles off on the horizon. Never a dull moment out in Montana 🙂

Day 3

Day 3: Really, we began our “day” at midnight, driving through dirt roads from the Livingston grocery store out to the American Prairie Reserve. With no GPS or internet service, we drove through the bumpy gravel roads and immense swaths of pitch-black darkness. After taking a few wrong turns, we finally arrived at Enrico at 3am. Dusty and tired, we passed out in our tents to the howls of coyotes. We woke up the next morning with the sun beating down on our tents, turning our living space into an oven. Thankfully, with a hearty breakfast of oatmeal and Elias-brand eggs, we gained the energy to begin creating our documentary.

 

Around noon, we had the fantastic opportunity to interview a veterinarian working on the reserve named Don, who had 50 years of veterinary experience. Don taught us about bison/buffalo, which we learned are actually two words for the same animal. We also conducted an interview with Don about his work on the reserve to use in our documentary.

After our time with Don, we packed up lunch, hopped in the car, and set out for the nearby Missouri River Basin, where we planned to swim in Fourchette Bay.  Along the way, we spotted some bison herds grazing in the prairie, so we stopped the cars along the dusty road and began filming with the drone. Once we captured all the shots we wanted, we set off for the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge. After driving for what seemed like an hour of not finding any large bodies of water, only small watering holes, morale was low and we thought that we had taken the wrong turn again. But the gravel road soon dipped into a valley, and the bay emerged, appearing almost like a desert mirage. We dropped our stuff off in the parking lot after a picnic lunch, and headed to the river to swim. After meeting a family parked next to the river bank with four large dogs (Elias and Mac had a beautiful moment of bonding), we took a dip in the Missouri. To dry off, we went for a beautiful hike along the road with a view of the river.

After the hike, we headed back to Enrico for some free time before dinner. Some of the group went on runs through the prairie, while others stayed at the complex to play wiffle ball, frisbee, and fetch with Ella, a beautiful black lab who lives at the center. To finish off our long day, the members of the Woke Mobile and Adam made a delicious pasta dinner for us, which we ate as we watched the sunset. We can’t wait to see what the rest of this trip has in store for us!

 

Janette and Daniel

Day 2 – Yellowstone/Long Drives

Hey everyone,

Elias and Sierra checking in here. Sunday was an absolute blast and an extremely long day at the same time. To keep things transparent and show you how life really is out in the wonderful neature surrounding us, we decided to make a vlog (a video blog for those not with it) of the day’s adventures. From an epic hike to grocery shopping at midnight, we tried to cover all the bases on a day that provided zero dull moments. Click the link below and enjoy 🙂

P.S. We’ll be making our own YouTube page once this goes viral for you all to subscribe to so stay tuned!!

Day 1

Our day started at 2am when we left campus, and then arrived at the airport at 2:45. Despite our early arrival, we managed to arrive at our gate approximately 1 minute before it closed at 4:45 am due to conflicts in the booking and one member not having a ticket. Fortunately,  we all made it onto the plane and arrived at Billings, Montana. Once there, we encountered another two problems: one bag was lost and we couldn’t rent cars. These problems were also resolved and we were able to get great cars and be on our way to Yellowstone.

The next issue we encountered was when an unidentified object flew out of one of the cars and a group of us had to go back and find it. Finding this was an adventure but also an amazing achievement full of excitement. We continued on our drive and saw many bison, deer, pronghorns, and even a grizzly bear and her cub! We saw amazing sights and were all in awe of the landscape.

Fun facts about the cars: The “Woke Mobile”  blasted taylor swift for two hours straight and ran up the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, “The Horse” saw a great horned owl and also showed their superior driving skills, and the “Mihan Mobile” vlogged the entire journey. We ended our night bonding over a late dinner and arriving at our Airbnb to homemade brownies!

Quote of the day: “They put a lot of effort into this place” (when describing Yellowstone)

Meet the kids going to Montana!

This is the first post in our Montana blog series. All 15 of us will take turns writing posts, so check back often!

With just over half a day before our arrival in Billings, we’re pumped to kick-off our blog series with a post introducing the fifteen of us who will be heading to Yellowstone National Park and American Prairie Reserve for 5-8 days of research, filmmaking, volunteering, and exploring.

Before we do that, we offer a hearty thank you to the sponsors, who’ve given us either the financial means or the love and administrative support necessary for this truly one-of-a-kind endeavor. They are:

Program in American Studies
Carl A. Fields Center for Equality and Cultural Understanding
Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
High Meadows Foundation Sustainability Fund
Mamdouha S. Bobst Center for Peace and Justice
Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students
Princeton Class of 1995
Princeton Environmental Institute
Princeton Progressives
Program in Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy (STEP)

 

Elias Berbari is entering his senior year, an EEB major, pre-med, and on the Men’s Basketball team. He’s from Long Island, and can be found on SoundCloud under “DJ Baby E.”

Devon Block-Funkhouser is a rising junior in the EEB department, hailing from Santa Barbara, California. She runs for Princeton’s track team, but “only a lap.” A very impressive 56.87 seconds lap though! When not training, she enjoys trying to do her EEB homework during Conservation Society meetings.

Will Brown is a history major entering his junior year, from Richmond, Virginia. Will was disappointed that no other history majors would be attending this trip.

Heather Callahan is a rising sophomore and prospective EEB major, from Delaware! In 2010, while Heather was in fifth grade, she “swept” an academic quiz tournament for grades five through eight at the Charter School of Wilmington!

Sierra Castaneda is a CEE major entering her junior year. She’s from the beautiful outlying parts of Northern New Jersey, and like the state we’re going to, has a name that comes from Spanish (which she’s getting a certificate in!). She runs for Princeton’s Cross Country and Track & Field teams, and ran a 17:31 5K in April!

Adam Chang is a rising junior, also from Northern New Jersey (but from the more built-up, more dystopian, inner suburb ring). He’s part of the Latin American Studies program, and his hobbies include running and asking for forgiveness rather than permission. His favorite ocean is the South Pacific!

Andrew Kaneb is a prospective EEB major who just finished his first year at Princeton, from Cambridge, Massachusetts! Andrew has one endorsement each for “Data Analysis,” “DNA Extraction,” and “Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR)” on his LinkedIn profile.

Grace Kortum is a rising sophomore hailing from New Haven (but really Chicago). She’s a prospective Geosciences major, and outside of school enjoys meeting with Kate Harmon at ODUS and tagging the same three Facebook friends in posts involving cute animals.

Daniel Lee is a rising junior from Wisconsin, west of Milwaukee (not east of Milwaukee, that’s a body of water), and studies in the Woodrow Wilson School.

Janette Lu is “from orange county, california but currently based in princeton, new jersey,” and almost wrote this bio herself (the quoted section is from her personal website, lowercase and all). She studies in the Woodrow Wilson School!

Vienna Lunking is a rising junior from Charlotte, North Carolina. She’s majoring in EEB, and the president of the Princeton Pre-veterinary Society. In high school, she started “The Amazing Bake” blog where she attempted to craft 26 different cupcakes, one for each letter of the alphabet (find the news article “Providence Day junior has fun with cupcake challenge on baking blog”).

Noah Mihan is a rising senior from Vermont, part of the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, the president of Conservation Society, and all-around role model for us all. He’ll be spending several weeks in Kenya this summer at the Mpala Research Centre! Isn’t that cool? Noah also is involved with Princeton Tonight, and if you google “Noah Mihan Princeton Tonight” you’ll get around a dozen videos whose titles all end in “SCARE PRANK.” If Noah had two fairy godparents, they’d be Ian Deas and Kate Harmon from ODUS.

Zoe Rennie is a rising sophomore from the East Bay! She’s a prospective EEB major, and on her LinkedIn profile lists her only job as “Performance Tracking Assistant” for the Office of Sustainability! How are we doing, Zoe!

Jonathan Salama just finished his freshman year, and hails from Westchester County, New York. He was in six honor societies in high school (Tri-M Music Honor Society, Math, Science, Social Studies, English and Foreign Language Honor Societies)! He’s a prospective Computer Science major — original!

Crystal Wu is a rising junior from New York (the city!), and studies in the Woodrow Wilson School. In high school, Crystal had several spectacular performances in the 1500m Racewalk, her best being a 8:16.29.