Friday, June 10, 2016

Vacation 2016 Part 5: Yellowstone and Mt. Rushmore

Don't worry, she's up on an elevated boardwalk ten feet off the ground!

Our last three days were spent in Yellowstone. I must confess that Yellowstone is one of my favorite places on earth--I love the huge variety of terrain and wildlife, and to me it basically embodies everything that a national park should be, and encapsulates the type of landscape that we absolutely do not have in the Midwest. It was something I really wanted the children to see and was a huge motivator for me in wanting to go west this year rather than somewhere nearby with less driving. 

I wanted to do a few specific things at Yellowstone: see the geysers and geothermal landmarks, go hiking away from the throngs of tourists, and see as much wildlife as possible. We managed to do all three! And I was so thrilled to be there--camping is one of my absolute favorite things to do. There's just something so magical about it that we can never replicate otherwise--the freedom from our normal routines, the go-with-it attitude that comes from all the dirt and smoke and inevitability of missed bedtimes and too many marshmallows and kids clinging to my hand at 2 AM while we walk to the bathroom...I love it all. 

We arrived in Yellowstone Wednesday afternoon and had our tent up in less than fifteen minutes--we're getting pretty efficient! I set the tent up by myself the week before (I didn't think Neil would be with us and wanted to make sure I could do it 100% by myself) and it took me a lot longer than that...yikes. This thing is so huge that it sure helps to have two adults lifting poles! Kind of funny because people ask us ALL the time where we found such an awesome tent and the truth is that while we did tons of research for our first tent (which we bought three months after we were married with our first tax refund, which we gleefully used to buy camping equipment--you can tell where our priorities were!!) this one was a total impulse Sam's Club buy a week before graduation from BYU. It was $100 which was a ton of money for us at the time, but we decided it would be our graduation gift to each other (now I'm like, wow, what an amazing deal!).  At the time we only had Abigail, who was less than a year old, and I remember Neil having this dreamy look in his eye and saying, "We'll have the children to fill it someday..." and now we do! 

Isaac and Nathan set up the camping chairs as soon as the tent was up--I love how Isaac put his waterbottle in his cupholder right away. Hah!

And meanwhile the girls were busily digging in a patch of dirt. I asked them what they were playing and they said, "School." Okay.

Nathan, working on a champion dirty face to rival Luke the Barbarian.

We ate dinner pretty quickly since we were all so hungry and raced through the cleanup so we would have time to go explore a bit. Our first stop was less than propitious; Nathan spontaneously got a nosebleed right when he walked into the steam from this geyser and immediately decided that ALL GEYSERS EQUAL BLOOD. I will let you imagine how that played out over the next three days in Yellowstone. (Still no idea where the nosebleed came from; our best guess is altitude + super dry conditions...all of us always notice some nasal discomfort in the West.)

Poor Nathan--this was the last geyser he enjoyed! All the rest were met with tears--Neil ended up carrying him nonstop for the entire time we were in Yellowstone.

After we left "Bloody Nathan Geyser," as Nate continued to refer to it (he was still talking about it at dinner tonight!) we headed over to the Artists' Paint Pots. This was seriously one of our favorite hours of the whole trip--hardly anyone was there (it was about 7 pm) and we had the whole boardwalk loop to ourselves (something that never happened again!). We spent as long as we wanted at each feature and the kids were totally enthralled with the mudpots--we watched them for a loooong time and Abigail even got splattered a tiny bit which was incredibly exciting (and all the other kids were jealous...thank goodness the mud wasn't hot nor did it touch her skin!).

It was a really beautiful night with gorgeous weather--it was cool enough the whole time we were in Yellowstone that it was hard to believe it was in the mid-80s at home! During the day we ended up wearing sweaters and jeans; at night we went to sleep in fleece pajamas, socks, and sweaters inside our mummy bags (and as I am perpetually cold, I wore my ski jacket all night every night!).

A little smoky in this photo, but here the kids all are happily ensuring that their pajamas smell like woodsmoke (too cold to change after dark, and we figured everything would end up smoky anyway!).

So here's something interesting--that night I got up around 2:30 to take Jules to the bathroom, then fell back asleep and dreamed that our tent was surrounded by wild boars. In my dream I could hear them pawing at the ground and snuffing at the edges of the tent. It was an incredibly vivid dream and I remember sort of cowering down in my bag hoping they would go away before I had to do anything! The next morning when we woke up, our tent was surrounded by buffalo prints and there was a fresh buffalo pie right out on the asphalt of the road--apparently a huge buffalo herd had come through the campground about 5 AM! We had seen them the previous night across the river near the campground, but didn't even think that they might migrate in the early hours! Yikes! It reminded me of the time when Neil and I first went to Yellowstone together and woke up at 5 AM to a big herd of elk splitting around our tent and reforming on the other side--that was quite the experience to look out the window and see nothing but huge hairy elk backsides. I was pretty darn grateful I slept through the buffalo incursion.

Sidenote: I have NEVER seen as many buffalo in Yellowstone as we did on this trip--there were so many of them everywhere. Seriously everywhere.

That morning we headed down to Old Faithful (we camped at Madison) and stopped at the various geyser basins along the way. Luke was fascinated with every blue pool we passed, but was quite irritated at what he felt were the unimaginative names given to most of the geothermal features. So--being Luke--he started giving them his own names, and kept us all laughing! My favorite was "Yoda's Bathtub," given to an oddly-sized small green pool; the other kids were especially fond of "Bubbly Boop," which was a geyser that spontaneously bubbled up and then sucked back down, making a sound like a toilet flushing. (We watched that one 5 times, since it went off regularly every 4 minutes.)

Can't remember the name of this one--Chrysandrae, maybe? but it's memorable to me as being one that Neil and I saw in a major eruption on our first Yellowstone trip.

Also, I cannot believe my hat did not disappear. I think I caught it like 5 times before I finally stuffed it in Neil's pocket. If I'd lost it I'd have to run the Indy 500 half again. :-)

 This is near the Grand Prismatic Spring--we saw a man lie down on the boardwalk and stick his hand in the water and then start screaming. Yeah buddy, it's hot. (Sidenote: I was not at all surprised to read the Washington Post article today about the man who died when he left the boardwalk this week. I literally could not believe the number of people who were climbing over the fences and walking WAY out between the geysers to get a better photo. I will refrain from further commentary as to the nationality that all of them seemed to share, was ridiculous. I honestly could not believe the behavior of so many of the tourists, not just on the boardwalks, but when we passed bison along the road--I saw people within 3 feet of a group of six bison.)

We made it to Old Faithful just as things got exciting!

Which meant, of course, that we decided to hang around another 90 minutes or so to get a better view instead of the "running towards it" view.

Except that Old Faithful was not so faithful. We found ourselves some front-row seats 15 minutes before the expected eruption (since the previous one had been 10 minutes early) and then proceeded to wait the 15 minutes...and another the time the eruption happened the kids were like, whatever, this is boring, check out this tiny rock fragment I dug out of the boardwalk!

It took a lot of pleading to get this much of a pose and even so I'm not exactly sure what Isaac is doing here...

The Old Faithful Inn was much more impressive to them by this point. 

And more blue pools! Find all the blue pools!

We decided we'd had enough of geysers for awhile and headed out to Mystic Falls. I would 100% recommend this little hike; it was short (I think 2.4 miles round-trip?) pretty easy until the very end, and absolutely beautiful. 

Isaac, my ever-conscientious child, had read all of the signage posted about bears (this hike opened 4 days before we arrived since it's bear territory up until then). He did not let go of my hand and did his utmost to make sure nobody got more than 5 feet ahead: "PARTIES OF LESS THAN THREE ARE VULNERABLE! MAKE NOISE! STAY TOGETHER!"

These kiddos are so cute. I loved seeing the girls reach for each others' hands so many times during our trip.

We had a very detailed conversation about water purification and backcountry camping along this stretch; if I recall correctly, Luke was staring at the river trying to figure out the best route down to fill a canteen.

So beautiful. These photos really make me wish I'd had a better camera along--our little point-and-shoot seems to inevitably be blurry and grayish.  

Our first glimpse of the falls! The trail gets a little trickier here and you really have to pay attention. Poor Isaac is still quite nervous about heights after our hike in the Smokies last year, and he did not like this part at all. We talked a lot about trail safety and bravery and he made it through--so proud of his perseverance.

And the falls! They were quite impressive and really beautiful.

We hiked up a bit more to get a better view of the full cascade (although we chose not to do the overlook trail...that would have been too rough on Isaac!).

 Looking back down the river at the trail we followed...

 I was hoping that we could get a family shot, but Isaac didn't want to leave the safety of a particular boulder, Juliet and Luke were mountain-goating it up the side of a cliff, and Abigail was trying to entice a chipmunk to be her lifelong friend, so...this is what I got. I was pretty thankful for that chipmunk though; Isaac was so interested in where it was going that he forgot to be afraid on the way down (the chipmunk ran ahead of him through all the scariest parts! Bless that chipmunk!). 

He looks so concerned in this photo (since I'm not holding his hand) but he was also super proud of himself for hiking up and wanted to see the photo when I'd taken it, so I'm posting it to commemorate his bravery even in the face of fear!

And this kid--I had to tell him to get away from the edge a dozen times. He could use a little more fear.

As could this one. Chipper and happy to be doing her absolute favorite thing--climbing up big rocks!

The view straight down

After leaving Mystic Falls, we decided to drive to Mammoth and cook dinner there. Everyone but Neil fell asleep on the drive for a few minutes, and thankfully Nathan and Luke slept almost the entire time! It was pretty rainy and gray so we were glad we were in the car--the only rain we saw in Yellowstone, so it was perfect timing! Neil also saw a wolf as we were driving through the Lamar Valley, but the real excitement was when we saw a tour bus tipped over on its side--yikes!!!

Mammoth was a little underwhelming, probably because a few kiddos started to feel carsick when we drove through the super-windy road over the upper terraces and then were hit by the sulphurous smell of the lower terraces as we started walking. Oops.

My valiant husband and Nathan, prince of the backpack!

 We found ourselves a nice little picnic table backed by a hill to make dinner (you guys, quesadillas on a camp stove + apples + carrots = easiest on-the-go dinner ever...) and the kids played mountain goat again while Neil and I got things set up and commented repeatedly to each other on how quickly the children had recovered from their inability to climb a set of stairs up the terraces but had no problem charging their way up a hillside with no path...

I admit that when I first saw this photo I was like, are you kidding me? How close is she to that elk?! But Neil (who was up there with them) reassured me that she was more than 30 yards away (the park-recommended distance is 25 yards) and reminded me that elk are much much larger than deer. And it's kind of an awesome picture.

After dinner we started back to our campsite, when lo and behold we saw the holy grail of Yellowstone wildlife-watching--a mother bear and her two cubs! We were pretty far away, so this isn't the best photo, but man oh man, I was SOOO excited!

And then we went back and got in bed and the next morning the girls took these photos of Nathan...


Which I am including because my children think they are the funniest pictures ever.

More geysers! This morning we started out at Norris Geyser Basin, which is pretty spectacular, and is where we watched the aforementioned Vixen Geyser, aka Bubbly Boop, do its thing over and over again. We also have it on video. Like a lot of videos. The children all unanimously agreed it was much cooler than Old Faithful, so there you go. (It really was pretty cool.) Isaac made a point of telling every person we encountered about it and gave them very specific directions and instructions on how long to wait. Hope they listened. :-)

Jules and Isaac chilling on a fallen log looking over Porcelain Basin.

Honestly, I thought by this point the kids would be SO done with geysers and hot springs. But in Porcelain Basin (following up on the pretty impressive Vixen Geyser in Back Basin) we saw 3 different geysers go off in a matter of minutes. An older woman told us that we were very fortunate in seeing those particular geysers, since they are unpredictable and often years pass between eruptions. Isaac then told her about watching Vixen Geyser 5 times in a row and she told him that it often erupts only twice a year, so all of the kids immediately decided that we were incredibly fortuitous and being treated to all sorts of geyser miracles! This kept them busily talking all the way back up the super-steep hill to the ranger station (which I had mentally noted would be a nightmare to get everyone back up, but hey, when you are the Luckiest Geyser Watchers, hills aren't worth noticing).

Love this picture of Abigail. She was really into this trip--she'd read up on it quite a bit beforehand (I checked out a huge stack of library books the week before we left) and was our official guidebook reader as we walked around, so she filled everyone in on all sorts of interesting tidbits about what we were seeing, and mapped out our routes beforehand to include what she thought everyone would like most. I loved seeing her take on that role. 

After we left Norris, we headed towards the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. We remembered from past visits that we really loved going to the rim of the falls...but we forgot that we had only visited the upper falls' rim and not the lower falls! Word of advice: the lower falls trail is only 1/4 mile, but it has a 600-ft elevation change in that span and it is SO CRAZY STEEP. I honestly did not know if the kids would make it back up again under their own power or if I would be dragging Luke's limp (very heavy) body uphill for the next three days...the altitude and the general vacation-induced lack of sleep made this pretty ambitious for our last day!

But we made it! I really should have taken some pictures of the switchbacks, but I had no free hands--the switchbacks are also in terrible condition, the trail is kind of a mess, and I was worried that if I wasn't holding onto the smaller kids that they would go careening over the side. (Isaac also brought this up at dinner again today...)

Pretty amazing view though. :-)

This was everyone's reaction once we FINALLY made it to the top. My supposedly-healed-stress-fracture hurt so incredibly badly after this! Look at the anguish on those little faces...they all walked it (except for Nathan) but were spurred on by a constant discussion of what flavors of ice cream we would order once we were done!

Luke told me that the trail was "just like a fried egg: hot and terribly bumpy." Pretty darn accurate.

Then we went to the upper falls. Much less walking involved and blessed blessed stairs instead of eleven horrible switchbacks!

Falls, meh. Rocks, yes!!

I don't know that I've written much about it on my blog, but these two are virtually inseparable. They do everything together and are constantly tangled up together cuddling on the couch with their books or hugging each other during dinner or pretending to be circus monkeys or wrestling penguins or something. It's super cute (but also drives me a little bit crazy sometimes!). But it's pretty awesome to see how much they love each other and look out for each other. Abigail and Nathan have a similar relationship, and I'm really hoping that Isaac & our new baby develop the same bond!

And then the grand finale--Artist's Point! On our way up I suddenly realized that I was wearing the exact same holey old MIT T-shirt that I wore the last time we were here...hah! 

And of course we had to recreate the photo we took of Abigail overlooking the canyon and falls...minus the overalls and pink hairbow. Sniff. 

So we put Nathan up for the requisite three-year-old picture. :-)

 A nice gentleman offered to take our picture--just wish I'd asked him to center the falls! Oops! (Better than the guy at Mt. Rushmore who took a beautiful photo of us that didn't include Mt. Rushmore AT ALL...haha! I need to specify that I want our family WITH the scenic backdrop...). I wish I looked a little more obviously pregnant in this photo and not just sort of thickened, but oh well. 

 Some great expressions in this one. :-)

 We were planning to do another hike at this point, but then realized that we wouldn't have time on our way out the following day to hit the Mud Volcano area, which Abigail was really super looking forward to, so we did a very long detour in hopes of catching a glimpse of some really crazy mud pots. Sadly, the mud pots had closed down the boardwalk, but we did get pretty up close and personal with lots of buffalo! Thankfully the boardwalk went up about ten feet over their heads at this point. 

Still pretty exciting even after all the giant herds we'd seen in earlier days.

Look, sleepy Nathan! You saw buffalo!

Abigail really loved this formation--it was called the Dragon's Mouth and totally sounded like this huge creature was inside the cave belching out smoke! 

We wrapped up and headed to West Yellowstone (for T-shirts and ice cream) via the lake. So beautiful, as always! We hadn't planned to go this far south originally, but it was a gorgeous drive and we saw the requisite buffalo-stopping-traffic as we drove along (thankfully not in our lane!) and the male elk (they wanted to see big horns! All those herds of does weren't that exciting after awhile) that the kids had been hunting for, so it was a great detour!

And we also picked up a Yellowstone sticker to add to our dusty back window. :-)

After the biggest ice cream scoops we'd ever seen in our lives, we headed back to our campsite for our last dinner/marshmallow roasting/attempt to put severely sugared-up kids in bed. And then we woke up in the morning (and I took this darling photo of my sweet Luke still slumbering away!) and packed up and drove through the mountains until we hit Mt. Rushmore!

Poor Luke had to be woken out of a sound sleep and wasn't super enthusiastic! 

But Isaac sure was! He is completely obsessed with Mt. Rushmore--while Abigail busied herself reading up on Yellowstone before we left, Isaac read everything he could find about Mt. Rushmore. He was SO excited to get there and asked constantly for two weeks about how many days it was until we would arrive. I think everyone else found it pretty anticlimatic but Isaac was thrilled. :-)

And last but not least, this little paper provided SO many hours of entertainment! The kids never uttered a single complaint about all of the walking we did through parking lots (and there was a TON of walking through lengthy parking lots) because they were checking plates like crazy! We passed lots of hours on the road doing so as well, but parking lots were like manna from heaven--even Luke and Nathan got really good at recognizing specific plates. There were several times where one of us let out a joyful "ALASKA!" or "RHODE ISLAND!" scream and totally frightened the poor occupant of an idling car, and the kids thanked several people for driving so far and giving them the requisite plate. There may or may not have been a celebratory dance and tons of high-fiving when we finally found our Washington, D.C. plate in the Old Faithful parking lot. When we got to Mt. Rushmore, we had two plates left: West Virginia and Delaware. We checked all the plates and found our West Virginia, and we would definitely have gotten a penalty for excessive celebration had we been a football team. But that darn Delaware continued to elude us all the way home...but the kids are still checking plates around town so maybe we'll get it yet!

1 comment:

Neil said...

What a great trip we had. I can't wait until Florina.

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