Friday, August 21, 2009

Family Vacation 2009 - Yellowstone

It's been about 4 years since the last time we went to Yellowstone. I still remembered it as being gorgeous and relaxing, but until I got up there, I'd forgotten just how wonderful it was.

We left on Wednesday later in the morning and drove the ~300 miles to West Yellowstone, Montana. The kids were very well behaved considering it took us a just under 6 hours to get there due to the various bathroom and snack breaks.

We spent the first evening unpacking and wandering the town to give the kids a feel for what the area was like. We stopped in at the Museum and chatted with the guy at the desk for a few minutes where we learned that the coming weekend was the "free entry weekend" for Yellowstone. In addition to that, President Obama and his family were flying in for the weekend. That information was good to have so we could plan our Saturday and Sunday appropriately and try to avoid extra crowds. We got dinner at the Gusher (always recommended), bought a few postcards to write over the coming days and then settled down to get some rest and prep for the coming days.

Over the next few days, we saw as much as we could.

We did the "Upper Loop" first. We stopped just inside the park at a thermal pool between the west entrance and Madison junction. The kids loved watching the steaming water gurgle along. After turning towards Norris, we stopped at the Museum of the National Park Ranger, the Norris Geyser Basin and then continued on up the loop. Our next stop was to hike the Artist Paint Pot trail. This was a fairly easy little hike/walk up to a bunch of mud pots that the kids loved. They especially loved one up at the top that was spurting mud 10+ feet and even splattered a few drops on a fellow hiker.

After the paint pots, we continued on to Mammoth where we stopped for lunch and wandered around a little bit. Mammoth is home to the old Fort Yellowstone, so there are some cool exhibits showing how the old soldiers used to live. By now the kids were working on their Junior Ranger booklets so we spent some time searching the exhibits for answers to some of the questions.

After Mammoth we continued driving along the loop to Tower Falls. There were some great overlooks along the way and some gorgeous back country. At one point, traffic came to a dead stop. We'd already been stopped for construction earlier and had slowed way down due to animal sightings (we'd seen some elk and bison), but there was no indication of construction at this part of the park. As we slowly crept forward, we saw people looking around and decided it must be animals so we kept our eyes peeled.

A few minutes later, we saw movement off in the tall grass and strained to see what it was. We quickly determined it was a bear. A few minutes later we saw a smaller bear tagging along. We got some pictures and video, but we were far enough away that it's hard to distinguish since they kept to the tall grass. Everybody was very excited. In all the years we've been going (and including the few years Lynette lived up there), none of us had ever seen a bear in the wild, so it was pretty cool.

Once we finally made it past the onlookers, we continued to Tower and went to the overlook. The waterfall is amazing. There was a sign saying that the trail was damaged so we couldn't go all the way to the waterfall, but the boys and I went down, hoping we could get close enough to get some cool pictures. Unfortunately, they should add to the sign something that says "not only can you not get to the base of the can't get far enough to even see the falls." We did get some good views of the river. The boys wanted to slide down the extra ~hundred feet and go wading, but I was a little worried they'd go in too far. Plus the girls were waiting for us at the top. The hike up was a little strenuous on Jason's asthma but we finally made it, though he vowed no more hikes.

Past Tower, we continued through the gorgeous backcountry road to Canyon village where we got everybody a snack. It was nearly dinnertime and we didn't really want to do dinner at Canyon, so we planned to work our way back out. First we drove down the road a bit more to get a look at the canyon. We circled down past the falls and walked up to Artist Point where we found an amazing overlook to view the Lower Falls and the canyon. It was awe inspiring.

From there, we went back to town for dinner and to prep the next day.

We started along the lower loop, stopping to look at the Fountain Paint Pot trail to look at the gorgeous pools and pots between Madison and Old Faithful. I love the Celestine Pool and Leather Pool here. The fountain paint pot was cool, but not as active as the one we saw on the Artist Paint Pot trail earlier, so the kids weren't quite as impressed. The Spasm Geyser, true to its name, was spurting and splashing like crazy and a lot of fun to watch.

We made it to Old Faithful Lodge about 20 minutes before it was anticipated to 'go off', so we did a bathroom and gift shop break and then got a little lunch to eat while we waited. Old Faithful erupted just as we were finishing lunch and everybody rushed to the deck to watch it stream high into the air. We heard later that weekend that when President Obama went through, people were mad because Secret Service blocked off the area for security such that the President had nearly a private viewing and the other guests had to wait another 90 minutes for the next eruption. Made me glad we heard about his visit earlier and planned to avoid him.

After Old Faithful, we started the drive through the Tetons to Jackson Hole. There was a lengthy section of construction that slowed things down a little bit, but overall it wasn't bad. The kids were a little bored with the drive but the scenery was gorgeous. Lewis Lake was beautiful to drive beside and after that, we had amazing views of the majestic Teton peaks.

The drive to Jackson took longer than we anticipated and the kids were a little cranky after being in the car so long. We parked the car and then walked along the downtown strip. Our primary goal was to get an old time photo of the family as has been our tradition whenever we go to Jackson. We got dudded up in cowboy gear and got some great shots. The kids loved it. The price was more than Lagoon's Pioneer Village (where we get pix in non-Yellowstone years), but I always like the Jackson pictures better.

After pictures, we wandered a little more and enjoyed the town, getting the obligatory picture by the antler arch. We found a stagecoach and the kids wanted to go for a ride, so we hopped aboard and took a stagecoach ride around town, which was way cool.

For dinner, we stopped at a mexican restaurant called "The Merry Piglets." The art on the walls and the menus was hilarious. It had great ambiance. We got settled and ordered. Lynette wanted to share a margarita, so she ordered a virgin margarita. The waitress explained all the different flavors and mixes available. I told her we'd just do the regular lime. Unfortunately, this confused her enough that she forgot the "virgin" when the drink came, the first swallow burned its way down Lynette's unsuspecting throat. We got it squared away, but the shock swore her off tequila...if she'd ever had the inkling to try it anyway.

After dinner, we thought about checking out other sites in Jackson, but it was getting late and we had a long drive back, so we just hit the road. We saw a few animals in the park, stopped for a picture by the Continental Divide sign and then watched as the sun started to hide behind the peaks we were driving towards.

The rest of the trip was a lot of repeating previous sites. We spent a morning in the hotel pool which gave the kids new found energy after car rides and hikes. We visited the Wolf & Grizzly Discovery Center and signed the kids up to help "feed the bears." The workers took the bears back out of their habitat and then let the kids into the bear habitat where they were encouraged to hide a bucket of dry food for the bears to find. The kids had a ball wandering around the bear lair and then watching as the bears sniffed around to find the hidden food.

The weekend we were there also marked the 50th anniversary of the huge earthquake (7.3 on the Richter) that caused a huge rock slide that "Earthquake Lake", so we drove up there to take a look. It's so eerie to see a lake with trees in the center, or a highway that is now a boat launch because it disappears in the water. We watched the video presentation giving the history of the earthquake and telling some of the stories of those who died and those who survived. The kids were somberly impressed by the stories.

We made our way to church while in Yellowstone and the presiding counselor joked about wanting to invite the president to attend but he was worried about where the secret service would put their guns. It's interesting...the meeting was completely full with chairs all the way to the back of the gym/overflow. According to the counselor, only about 10% of those attending actually lived in town. It's kind of cool to see so many people taking time out for church while on vacation. It was an interesting meeting. There was a talk from a boy about to leave on a mission...he took up nearly the entire meeting with his talk, which I've never seen on a leaving missionary. After him, a group of singers from the Playmill gave a pair of songs and the high council speaker stood up, acknowledged he was out of time...and closed after about 5 minutes.

Our final Yellowstone activity before heading out was to get the kids sworn in as Junior Rangers. They'd all finished their booklets and were excited to get their patches. The ranger on duty asked them some great questions to see what they'd learned and then swore them in and gave them their patches.

The drive home was a little less peaceful than the drive up, but it still went well. We were all very tired when we finally got home and it was nice to sleep in our own beds again. But getting back into the swing of things at work and with life made me sad for the slow, relaxing pace of a little town and the great outdoors.

It was a great trip and I'm sure we'll do it again in a few years. For the first 5-6 years Lynette and I were dating/married, we went at least once a year. It was a great getaway. As the kids get older, it would be fun to do some weekend trips with them and I'm sure we will.

On a fun side note, we took so many pictures that our camera ran out of memory and we didn't have a backup memory card. If you're terribly interested, I can give you the link to the online album so you can see the rest of the pix as well as see the full-size version of those above. We trimmed down to ~300 images, but Lynette's still got a ton of scrapbooking ahead of her. :)

No comments: