Tuesday, July 19th, 2016 – Bozeman, MT to Gardiner, MT (Yellowstone!!)
This morning we woke up and no one felt well. Sarah has had “allergies” since entering North Dakota (or as Matt says, a severe sinus infection since Minnesota) and finally took some pills from Nic last night to help. She woke up in the morning feeling less congested and like she could fly. Meanwhile, Zoe opened the other two pills and sucked on them until she realized they didn’t taste good, then brought them back to Sarah. There were only 4 different medications in it. She spent the day sobbing endlessly and throwing fits and complaining that her tummy hurt, so she’s fine. Probably?
We headed down for a continental breakfast and realized no one wanted any of it except for delicious, wonderful coffee. So Matt and the boys headed off to Granny’s donuts and brought back some delicious donuts for breakfast. Cuz you know, vacation. The boys were allowed to dip their own donuts and put sprinkles on themselves. Very nice.
We packed up and headed off to the Museum of the Rockies. The kids loved this museum last year, with all the dinosaur stuff. This year there is a Pompeii exhibit which looked great (sign saying something about parental guidance was ignored by all). Well, it was a rough morning. The kids did not appreciate the delicate urns and pottery and jewelry recovered from Pompeii and detailed sketches of the excavation. Lots of screaming about where was the volcano and dead people. They were hauled unceremoniously out of there (really this more was more B) and we let them get stuff at the store and we all stood outside exhausted from fighting.
Then we saw an outdoor exhibit which was a real turn of the century house that was done up with people in period costumes and period stuff inside (the house had actually been donated and transported to the museum – seriously this museum is pretty kick ass). We figured, hey what the hell? This was actually really nice – they had an authentic ice box, stove that was roaring (very appreciated when the outside temp was 95 degrees), and a water pump. After what felt like a 15 minute demonstration of all the kitchen appliances located near the stove, we went outside and pumped water to water the flowers near by. We think we were providing some kind of free grounds labor, to be honest. The kids loved it – Noah even asked about getting some of the “appliances” they had for our house (um, no).
We ate subs for lunch from the Pickle Barrel Shop at a local park. It was a million degrees outside. It was a poor decision retrospectively. We headed off to the grocery store because we had burned enough time – time to stock up for our trip to our cabin! We bought fruit and frozen pizzas to supplement the crates of apple sauce and quinoa bars and whatever else Matt had packed (the lady in the parking lot next to us was watching the intricate dance that Matt was doing of rearranging things to get our cooler back in and actually complimented Matt’s awesome packing job)….and then we were off to Gardiner, MT!
We rented a cabin just north of the north entrance of Yellowstone through VRBO.com – 5 nights and located yards from the secret gravel road entrance to Yellowstone. We are a couple hundred yards from the Yellowstone river. There are about 20 cabins here, and in a wild coincidence, our friend Bill’s father in law is the president of the cabin association and owns one here! When we heard that, we knew the place had to be decent. 😉 An easy ~75 min drive from Bozeman, and we were here!
This place rocks!! It smelled so nice. We have a cute little living room with giant windows overlooking the mountains, and a full kitchen, and two big bedrooms each with a private bath. This is luxury. And weirdly not much more than our Trump-like hotel room in freaking Miles City. So there is no bath soap or shampoo, things we wish we would have known. We are hoping there is someplace where those can be purchased. If not, this cute cabin will not be smelling as nice.
We made a frozen pizza dinner, and then decided to travel up to the Visitor’s Center within the park. We saw antelope positioned strategically near the gates into the park (probably put there daily by park personnel) and then drove up to the visitor’s center, where Zoe’s behavior required removal (twice, as she escaped Sarah’s clutches the first time) from the center. B kept kicking things for NO reason at all. Everyone was a delight. We got our maps and such as headed back to the cabin for bedtime. The best was, everyone is running around in the cabin and B comes running up with a bone. We don’t know where it came from. We are pretty sure it isn’t human if that helps (thank god Sarah’s obsessive Bones watching pays off! Of course the medical training, too). But where the hell did it come from?
And off to bed for all after some Strong Red Ale and Matt beer. And we saw some elk across the river with Sarah’s new high powered binoculars! Hey, you have to have a hobby. And it’s probably better she is watching animals with them, right?
Wednesday, July 20th, 2016
First full day in Yellowstone!
For your browsing pleasure, a tiny map image of Yellowstone National Park:
So we really didn’t know where to start with our trip. The last time we were here was 11 years ago for a 2 hour day trip when we were young singletons and Sarah was interviewing at the Billings Family Medicine Residency (we jumped in the Boiling River and spent 10 minutes near some hot springs). Before that? Sarah visited in 1988 during the wildfires. Classic.
So Matt purchased a book called “Yellowstone in a Day” at the visitor’s center yesterday. We decided, what the hell, we have no plans and nothing else to go on! Let’s use it. So looking through it, we decided to do the 3 days of must-see drives (sort of). Sarah also spied a hike that warned against people with cardiac/respiratory issues from doing it (note: Matt had heart ablation several years ago) and was insistent upon doing it. So our four days here are taken care of!
So the plans for today were to go from the north entrance down to Mount Washburn. Of course, the kids slept in until 7. The ONE DAY THEY SLEEP in is the one goddamn day we need to get up early. We were in the car by 8 and off we went! We stopped at the Mammoth Hot Springs. Because this is not our first rodeo, (and because Sarah was borrowed the Death in Yellowstone book and knows more people die in the hot springs than are killed by grizzlies (FACT)), Zoe was placed in the hiking pack and off we went.
We spent way more time on the boardwalks then planned and it was so pretty! B finally learned how to rhyme when he saw Cupid Springs and said, this is more like STUPID springs (Matt really wishes Sarah wouldn’t have laughed). The kids’ favorite thing was when we saw a hat that had blown off someone and landed near a hot springs pool.
As an aside, Sarah has a brand new hat and LOVES it! She searched for “hiking hat” on Amazon and it was the first one to pop up AND had a muscular dude wearing it who self-submitted some photos of himself. Thanks Prime! She was mercilessly made fun of by her family until we got the hot springs today and no one had hats in the family except her, and it was so windy everyone else’s hats blew away. Not hers or the other expert Amazon buyers. Thanks, Columbia! And take that, family.
It began to get really busy by the time we left around 1000 in the morning. We drove northeast along the Great Transverse Loop and hit up several different falls, including Undine Falls and Wraith Falls. Zoe tripped on rocks as she refused to be carried or helped and bonked her nose on a rock. Good news, the screaming scared away the bears (we forgot our bear spray in the car).
There was some trail turn off recommended by the guidebook. We calmly began discussing it and the kids started screaming “No! No! No more hiking!” from the backseat. We put on a minions movie to tranquilize them. The next recommendation was for a turn off down a gravel dirt one way road called Blacktail Deer Trail Plateau – 7 miles long and basically could be closed for any reason (rain, nighttime, if you have a camper, etc). Totally something we would dig, right? The kids started a protest, until they realize they won’t have to get out of the car or do anything, and go back to the Minions.
Of course we went down the road and it was freaking amazing! There were wildflowers and marmots and rivers and trees and sweeping mountain and valley vistas. Totally recommend it. The first 200 yards almost took an axel off the truckster, but we swear it gets less scary! B is quite the spotter with his binoculars (just like his mom!).
After that we hit up the Calcite Springs Overlook – it looks over the Yellowstone River in the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and was amazingly gorgeous. Matt took a billion photos and was quite happy. We started to notice traffic was picking up.
We then pulled into the Tower General Store parking lot. It was a fucking madhouse. Mostly with Asian and European (primarily German, but I think most European tourists seem German to us? As if we could tell if they were Swiss or Austrian…) tourists. We somehow snagged a primo parking spot (almost ran over some Asian tourists and it might have been a handicapped spot but so be it) and got ice cream with no line and even got a picnic bench in the shade. It was eerie. Something horrible has to happen now.
We then walked to the Tower Falls lookout. Pretty falls but really crowded. Stumbled back to the parking lot behind some people who were all “Should we get mom from the car for this?” and the dad was all “eh, I don’t think so”. We swear, National Park people are our kind of people (but NOT the dude at the hot springs who was wearing a T shirt that said “The second hardest thing in the morning is getting up”. ?!??! Seriously dude, you are at a National Park? We are not sure he is our people (also, parents, please don’t read what we just wrote)).
After the lookout, there was a minor traffic jam (“bear jam” here) where people were jumping out of their cars and running to the side of the road. Matt threw the camera at Sarah and was all “GO!!!” and she was deployed to the precarious cliff at the side of the road and was all “what do we have here people?” and there was a mama black bear and cubs frolicking in a river. Sarah took several poor blurry shots then became terrified of the bears and ran back to the car. Eventually the line started moving again, being led by a minivan with the door open and someone calling “Get back in the damn car!” to their family. Like we said, our people. We watched it drive off, side doors still wide open.
We then drove up to the Mount Washburn trailhead. Sarah made Matt go check out the first 100 yards to see if this would actually be kid do-able. Matt says YES! We will see if this happens. Also he had to say no to some people hitching rides as we were loaded down with kids, trash, string cheese wrappers, and minion items (not dirty diapers as we horrifyingly realized at the end of the day (sorry Zoe, we forgot to change you all day (she was okay))).
Headed back down and there was another traffic jam. We sat there for ~20 minutes and finally began slowly moving, all excited for some kind of wildlife but there was nothing to be seen. Guess who got the camera thrown at her again? So we are starting to slowly drive and there they were – our favorite mama and cubs! Again Sarah fired off some blurry shots of the cub near the river but she is so proud and we think we are the only car that realized they were still down there! Score.
We also saw other wildlife – a bored looking bison, antelope, some elk we think were placed by Yellowstone rangers near the Mammoth hotel, and mule deer. What a wonderful wildlife day! (PLEASE GOD GIVE SARAH SOME GRIZZLIES).
The night was capped by Zoe screaming endlessly before collapsing but we won’t touch on that. Or the macaroni and cheese for dinner. Or the confiscatory prices at the local grocery store in Gardiner (weirdly the same prices at the Piggly Wiggly in Waupaca, hmmm).
Thursday, July 21st 2016 – Day #2 in Yellowstone
Again, the children slept in until 7 am. Seriously?? Again?? However, we had mad plans today. We were going to attempt Day #1 from our new Bible, “Yellowstone in a Day”. This is the must see day and involved a drive from Madison Junction to West Thumb – aka, Old Faithful and all the stuff around it.
So this basically involved driving about an hour down to Madison Junction to get started, given there was a fair amount of road construction. Ugh. BUT, during that time, while we were slowly rolling along at about 25 mph, and Sarah was hanging out of her window looking for wildlife (that is all she EVER does): there he/she was, lumbering along about 150 yards from the road, GRIZZLY. Yes, it finally happened. It’s been a few years. Location was north of Grizzly Lake (ironic yes) and the bear was glorious and clearly not a black bear – it was brown with a ring of tan around it’s neck or midsection and was clomping along in a line parallel to the road. Matt noticed its shoulders looked very different than a black bear’s. It was freaking HUGE. Instead of reaching for binoculars or a camera, Sarah instead began hanging out of the window and pointing and NOT yelling, she promises.
**pretend there is a grizzly pic here**
Anyway, on we went and then the plan changed. There were gorgeous hot springs everywhere and steam and poofs of water coming up, and beautiful colors visible from the road. BUT there were a billion cars on the road and although Old Faithful was going to be a stop (#4 according to our special book), B was quite insistent about seeing Old Faithful, and although Sarah remembers it being lame, that was 1988 and we figured we better get our asses there before the parking filled up. So we booked it down there and WOW was it busy. It was 9:30 in the freaking morning! So we exit our car and are walking down the promenade and we see hundreds of people gathered around the geyser, and BOOM – what are the chances? The geyser blows. (or erupts? Who knows). Seriously, perfect timing and perfect view. And then it’s done.
Then the arguing starts and the kids absolutely do NOT want to hike around the geysers. (Neither did Sarah). So instead we do what the S and M family does in these situations. We went and bought ice cream (huckleberry ice cream sandwiches). At 10 am. Then decided to leave because of all the people.
And off we drove. We saw a pretty set of waterfalls called the Kepler Cascades.
We saw the continental divide which we still don’t fully understand and since we had no cell phone service, couldn’t google why there are multiple continental divides. HOWEVER, we were at a cool little lake that sits on the divide, and half of it drains one way and half drains the other way. More weirdly, the west half of the lake actually drains to the Gulf of Mexico and the east half of the lake drains to the Pacific Ocean. We saw a man digging around in the lake and his kids told us he was looking for newts. We didn’t see any newts. And it seemed a little illegal maybe to steal newts from a national park?
We then drove to the West Thumb Geyser Basin. Here is where B’s love of geysers and hot springs flourished. He went from screaming and not wanting to go to being dragged back into the car. He was running on the boardwalk he was so excited. It was terrifying. The hot springs were gorgeous, though. There were many hats that had fallen in or blown away near the springs, unable to be retrieved (see end of post).
And back we went, retracing our route. We gunned it past Old Faithful and the mess of “Old Faithful Area” (UGH). (Later asked, what was your favorite part of today, Noah replied “Old Faithful!” Seriously, kiddo?). We drove up to Midway Geyser Basin, took a look at that shitshow, and continued on. No way, so crowded. Plus, Z had JUST fallen asleep and we just could not wake her up purposely. The next “must-see” according to the bible was something called Firehole Lake Drive, a one way spur that took you on a drive among, wait for it, more hot springs and geyser-like features. It was pretty awesome and would highly recommend. You could cruise through, or stop and take pics. There were very few people and the features were stunning. B buzzed excitedly from hot spring to hot spring, happily asking questions and talking to strangers (we all have talents, and that is his). A lady pulled Sarah aside (as B’s voice echoed over a hot spring as he discussed the pool with Matt) and told her how much she loved having inquisitive kids like him in her classes when she was a teacher. Oh, if you only knew about “fart-go” and “stupid springs” (hehe).
We pulled out and went straight to the Fountain Paint Pot. There we saw some awesome geysers including a little one named Jet that B and Sarah got wet from, and larger one named Twig that B loved. Meanwhile Matt walked along while Z attempted to pull out all his hair and Noah had a spontaneous severe bloody nose. There were more hats laying near hot springs, which enthralled everyone. (it’s extremely windy at Yellowstone, and lots of steam around the springs helps too)
Lastly, we drove out along the Firehole River and took a spur road called Firehole Canyon Road and watched dumb teens and 20 year olds stand under a waterfall and skirt down rocky ledges. We miss those days! It looked really fun and hopefully we get a chance to take a dip in the river as well during this or a future trip!
After that, the kids were DONE. We basically spent the day throwing various snacks at them (animal crackers, fruit by the foot, apples, pringles, applesauce, ANYTHING) and negotiating with them (if you are quiet you can have ipads right when we get home, the first kid to see a grizzly gets to pick the next song we listen to, here’s our phone and just look at pictures on it what kind of harm can you do with no cell signal OMG do not do that we randomly have cell signal!!!)
We drove through to Gardiner and stopped again for some confiscatorily priced turkey meat and jumbo marshmallows (a huge hit – haha!). We went home where kids had canned pasta and Matt and Sarah had frozen Chinese food (weirdly not bad). We relaxed outside and called it a day.
(note: Sarah did spend today perusing her “Death in Yellowstone” book and has decided it really is not meant to be read like a novel, but more like a reference guide. She read the chapter on the hot springs and after reading what happens after you fall in she feels a bit sick. Like really sick. And it’s not what you think happens either, so there. She did already read the grizzly bear chapter and is so psyched for the rest of trip!!)
What do all these have in common? NO CHIN STRAPS, baby. You don’t see the #1 ranked Amazon hat laying near a hot spring, do you now?