Day 6 – Wednesday, July 31, 2019 –Gardiner, MT (Yellowstone)
Today the plan was to stay close – as we were tired of road construction and traffic. We also wanted to avoid all Visitor Centers as the kids just want to go buy things. At this point, Zoe purchased a small mountain lion and her prairie dog has been abandoned. RIP, little guy. We will put him with the other National Park animals in their area in her room when we get home.
We woke up at a decent time and probably left around 8 am – up to Mammoth Springs. We had last been here 3 years ago, and the stealthy plan was to warm the kids up with walking on the boardwalks, then foist on them the Beaver Ponds Trail that is cleverly hidden behind the restrooms.
Well, Zoe was not having it. “No more hiking”, “no, no, no”. We managed to convince her to “walk” not “hike” on the boardwalks, and as soon as she realized by running on the boardwalks (that have minimal handrails over the hot springs) that she was terrifying and could upset us, it was game on for her. By the end, we were happy (resigned) to carry her around if it meant no certain death, and she was pleased to be carried around like a queen on Matt’s shoulders.
We stopped back off at the car for snacks, and Sarah negotiated that if Zoe was willing to hike the Beaver Ponds Trail, she would give her 3 M&Ms for every ½ mile. We think we won out on the deal. But we had to separate all the M&Ms out of the trail mix, so maybe not.
So off we went. We had read about this trail in our “Easy Day Hikes in Yellowstone” and that was good enough for us. It starts behind the Mammoth Springs and travertine terraces, and loops down to 3 beaver ponds, then back up on the ridge overlooking the Gardiner and Yellowstone River Valleys. Supposed to be decent for spotting wildlife, but we just wanted an easy hike near by. (Note: this was not easy (for kids) and the book is full of lies).
The trail sign was helpfully written on with all the recent bear sightings on the trail (great). We were off! There were some decently steep switchbacks at the start, and we did see a cute baby elk with its mom on the trail. Up we went, and then dove down into marshier areas. Zoe made it… some short amount of distance… then demanded M&Ms. The entire just under 6 miles undulating switchbacked trail was fraught with negotiations with Zoe. In the end, Matt’s back and shoulders paid the price for her unwillingness to walk all 6 miles. We guess she’s only 5, we will cut her a tiny bit of slack.
We saw baby badgers, which was super cool! Never seen those in the wild before. Or a zoo, we guess. Heard they are mean – these ones definitely weren’t scared of us, but didn’t directly attack us, so that’s a plus.
The three beaver ponds were definitely full of water (thanks to the deluge we got last night) and we saw ducks and the beaver dams, and cute streams with little waterfalls. We then switchbacked up and the last part of the trail was gorgeous, with multiple mountain views and the valley below. Amazing! Lots of wildflowers on the entire trail too. Zoe took “samples” of all the flowers, jamming them in her backpack to make “medicine” from later. At this point, we don’t care any more, as long as we don’t have to take her medicine.
At the end, we finished behind the Mammoth Hotel. We also got to see part of Old Gardiner Road. This is some random old stagecoach road that leaves from behind the hotel and goes down to the entrance to the park – it is one way and dirt and supposedly terrifying. We have been stalking it for days – it has a big closed gate in front of it. The fact that we cannot access it makes it even more tempting (Matt: “it is a dirt road that for unclear reasons Sarah has become obsessed with”). Sarah sent a Tweet to the NPS but hasn’t heard back. The woman working the entrance gate today did tell us that it probably wouldn’t open for a bit due to the (in her words) “crap ton of rain we got last night”. She said they would have to “go out and drive it” first. We volunteer as tributes.
After the hike we staggered, covered in bug spray and sun block and bugs and dirt and blood (Zoe got yet another bloody nose), over to the ice cream place. It was amazing, as usual. We then staggered over to our car and drove home. We all collapsed and did nothing.
We laid around and watched TV, watched the various wildlife creatures outside our cabin window, watched the rafters on the river, and relaxed. Matt and the boys then made a run to town and played PokemonGo and picked up dinner for us at the Wonderland Café, and the kids ate leftover grill food. Everyone to bed after some games, we have treasure hunting to do in the morning!
Miles driven: the least of any day on the trip, it was a great day (~15?)
Beers drank: Bent Nail IPA
Day 7 – Thursday, August 1, 2019 –Gardiner, MT (Yellowstone)
The last day! We had no scheduled plans for the day, with hiking being voted down in our family 3-2. We decided to throw our swimsuits in the car and get in the car and head into Yellowstone, with no plan. Except no hiking (we get it, kids, we get it).
We slowly motored through, concerned by the seeming lack of cars. This must be a travel day for lots of people? The park was still busy, but seemed a lot less crowded today than the rest of the week. We drove down through the Fountain Flats area, checking out various ideas for solves for the treasure (did you see us on the news? No? then don’t ask if we found it unless you have ideas of where it might be so we can look in those places).
We drove down the Firehole Canyon Drive, and decided to change up and head for the swimming hole there. We’ve never done this before – apparently last year the stairway had been ripped away during a storm and it was closed when we were here anyway due to high water flow – but today it was definitely open. We changed in the car and climbed down stairs and then rocks – it is a set of cascades and rapids through a small canyon, with little caves and shallow sides with a deep main channel – over 30 feet deep. There was a cliff for illegal diving and a shallower area for floating and jumping in. The swimming area was then cut off with a rocky ridge as there were more rapids beyond it. There was still a decent current even where it appeared calm, given it was a river with rapids and waterfalls on either side.
We all ended up getting in, although Z ended up on a rock wrapped in towels towards the end – partially for her safety as we didn’t bring her floatie, and partially due to her shivering and hypothermia. Sarah and Noah floated down in the calm area, and the current carried them toward the little rocky ridge in the water at the end of the swimming area before the rapids started again.
Sarah went over to investigate the edge of the swimming area (yeah, great idea Mommy) and got caught in the current and her legs flew past her over the ridge into the rapids – she was flipped on her stomach and hanging on to the rocky ridge with her hands trying not to be rushed with the current into the rapids flowing beyond the swimming area.
After all the thoughts of her motherless family went through her head, she worried about the headlines: “Dumb tourist swept away and killed in Yellowstone today”. The desire to not be in the news was the only thing that kept her hanging on. Meanwhile, Matt smiled and waved and took photos. After she started yelling “Matt” and “help”, Matt made his way over (along with a German man who could see what was going on) and pulled Sarah out of the current.
B: “that was the most concerned I’ve ever heard you yell Matt, except for when you hit his car in the driveway 2 weeks ago”
Matt and the boys swam up into the canyon area with the deep channel and caves, and watched the cliff jumpers. They all took turns jumping off ledges into the water. It was an awesome way to spend a beautiful morning. And no deaths! (Matt: “Sarah would not have died, she just would have been severely injured by bouncing off all the rocks. She probably would have made it out before the waterfall”)
We then got dressed in the car and headed out to West Yellowstone for a celebratory “Mom is still alive” meal at Mickey D’s. We nosed around town and then made our way back into the park, and, with nothing more to do, had to go to the worst place on earth (besides Billings) – Old Faithful. Everyone loves this place except Sarah, and guess who is writing this.
- Arrive and there is nothing but stadium sized parking lot full of drivers from California (worse than IL).
- Get there just as eruption ended so we have to wait for next one.
- Wait in line for 30 minutes for requisite ice cream. Kids fight.
- Ice cream people give everyone in family huge scoops of ice cream except Sarah, whose cone was hollow under her sad small scoop. HOLLOW. They remedied it, but still.
- Go to wait for eruption. Children are annoying and fighting and insist on sitting on unstable logs and no one except Noah and Matt care when eruption occurs. Then they try to leave before it is over.
- Matt goes to get our stamps at Visitor Center and children scream because they cannot go in and buy more stuffed animals that they will neglect.
- Children play on unstable logs under Sarah’s not so watchful eyes and Zoe falls, getting the largest injury yet sustained on a trip. Blood dripping down leg.
- Get in car after cleaning up blood. Rearrange seats so hopefully less fighting.
- Drive back to cabin with no treasure.
We ate leftovers and watched the elk eat our lawn. What a day. On our way home tomorrow, sans treasure. Still don’t know what the gold thing on the river bank is, but probably contains industrial chemicals that were illegally disposed of. Or a body.
Miles driven: park, so doesn’t count
Beers drank: Good Med & Lip Ripper IPA