Before getting started, here are a few interesting facts I have learned on this trip.
A bison can jump 6ft from a stand still.
A moose can dive 20ft.
An osprey is the only hawk that will dive into a lake.
The microorganisms that cause the color changes on the rocks at Yellowstone are called thermophiles.
Ok, now that I have that down, let’s get to the meat of this post.
First, if you have never been to Yellowstone, let me give you this bit of advice- there are incredible, otherwordly, beyond interpretation formations all over the park. It is ok to miss one. You will see another. Trust me, this advice is gold.
We drove to Yellowstone by way of the Tetons. It was a long drive, and one we were not all together ready for. If you read my last post, you know we had just spent two days relaxing in a secluded country house in the mountains of WY. We should have been refreshed and ready to travel, but I think we were just longing for more of the same. It was such a perfect couple of days, it was difficult to see it go.
We arrived at the Tetons and asked a ranger for a recommendation for a short family hike and picnic area. The ranger suggested String Lake. Driving to the parking area for the Lake, I was taken in by the shape of the mountains. Growing up near Colorado Springs, I considered myself a bit of a mountain expert, but the Tetons looked entirely different from any other mountains I had ever seen. The peaks jetted straight up into the air, like pencils sticking up from a box. They looked impossible to scale.
I loaded the backpack with sandwiches and watermelon and herded the boys onto the trail. We began to look for a spot near the lake to have our picnic, but every, and I mean EVERY spot was taken. At one point, Ben ventured ahead to find something while I waited at the canoe dock with the boys. A woman was waiting for the rest of her friends to arrive so they could head out onto the water. I remarked to her how busy the lake was. She replied “This is actually the least crowded I have ever seen it.”
Ben returned with the report that he had located a spot. We crowded into a small spot off the trail and ate our sandwiches. We waded into the lake and had fun, but it was a far cry from the privacy of the hidden lake in Grover. We packed up and continued on to Yellowstone.
The crowds at the Tetons had taken a toll on Ben’s mood. One of the things he enjoys most about being outdoors is that engaging in nature usually means leaving the crowds behind. We set up camp, and I could tell he was grumpy. I took the boys on a walk to give him a few minutes to unwind.
The boys and I found a lake. We dipped our toes in the water, sat in the sand, and had a great time- until I took a wrong turn on the way back to camp. We weren’t lost long- just long enough for my mood to sour as well. We ate, crawled into our sleeping bags, and hoped to wake to a better day.
We headed to Old Faithful as soon as we had finished our first cup of coffee, hoping to beat some of the crowds. I snapped a few obligatory snots of the geyser erupting and realized my memory card was full. I advised Ben that I would run back to the car and grab another. He said “Ok, we are just going to wander around here,” and motioned to the large path around the great geyser.
I know what you are thinking- what kind of a plan is that? “We’ll just wander around here.” I knew I should determine a more concrete plan, but I went with it. We hadn’t parked far away. Visually, it looked like I should be able to locate them pretty quickly. I headed off to retrieve the card.
When I returned, Ben and the boys were nowhere in sight. I didn’t panic. I walked in the direction Ben had motioned, assuming I would catch up with them. I got a point where the path diverged. Uh-oh. Now what? I looked down both paths to see if I could see Ben’s tall frame or Liam’s blonde hair. No luck.
I picked a path and began walking. Of course, it was the wrong one, but how was I to know? I tried to enjoy the scenery. Yellowstone is like no place on Earth. It is difficult to describe. The thermal beds look like something from a science fiction movie- bubbling and smoking cauldrons of every color, the pots extending into an endless abyss beneath the ground. The formations stunned me, but I wanted to share them with the people I loved the most.
After walking for some time, I began to second guess my route. Perhaps Ben headed back to the visitor center to try to find me. The trip had taken a toll not only on our moods but on our cell phone batteries- his was dead. Mine was charged, but he had it. I decided to walk back to the visitor center and find a pay phone to call Ben.
Finding a pay phone and change to operate said phone proved a bit more challenging than I anticipated. I will spare you the details, but by the time I saw Ben and the boys, I was in tears. It was more than anxiety- I was really pissed that this error had cost us seeing this amazing place together. I wanted my Yellowstone moment, dammit!
Ben could see I was upset, so when I suggested we walk the route I had just been on, he agreed. The boys were less than thrilled. Another hike! No way! But I pleaded with them, telling them I really wanted them to see this one geyser that was my favorite.
Hiking with small tired children is an exercise in torture for the parents. The children held up their arms and pleaded with us to carry them. Feeling like I had forced them to walk past their endurance level, I obliged. But my kids are about 40lbs each. Not too great to tote on the trails. At one point, Ben was carrying both of them to give me a break.
The trail I had walked and the trail Ben had walked intersected so that I was able to see some of the geysers the boys had seen earlier in the day. I was astounded and a little disappointed to see that the path they had walked was easily as beautiful as the one I had been on. There was really no need to drag them on this death march, other than my own ego and need for a “moment.”
We took a break and headed to the paint pots, another stunning feature. If I had more time, i would post pictures, but trust me, it is like nothing you have ever seen. It was gorgeous and I couldn’t take my eyes off of the features, but I also felt numb to them. Have you ever been to a large and well designed museum and felt like you should see the whole thing because it is so full of cool information, but at some point you have to stop because your brain just can’t absorb another fact? That’s how I felt. It was so stunning, so astounding,, and so gorgeous, but I just couldn’t handle any more. I was burnt out on crowds, burnt out on walking, and burnt out on beauty. We headed back to camp to regroup.
The next day, Ben and I awoke with the same agenda- relax and go with the flow. We decided to head to the canyon in hopes of seeing wild life, but kept our itinerary lose so we could enjoy the day.
We passed a peninsula, and I told Ben to pull the car over so we could walk on it. I remembered as a kid, I always thought walking on peninsulas or making it out to an island were so cool- just to feel like you were in the middle of the lake.
The boys took off their shoes and went to running along the beach. The sand was formed of volcanic rocks, with large pieces of shiny black obsidian dotting the way. Liam walked along a fallen tree, trying to balance on its surface and not fall in the water. Kellen collected stones and branches for his collection. Ben showed us all how to skip stones. I don’t know who was more thrilled with their first skip, me or Liam.
This was the moment I had been hoping for- just the four of us, enjoying the park, creating a memory of being together in a special place.
The rest of the day was wonderful. We marveled at the sight of elk and bison. We gazed over waterfalls. We ate a picnic and sampled fancy local sodas. It was great.
I am now in Butte, MT typing in a hotel room that looks like a prison cell. On any other day, I might be disappointed. But today, the painted brick walls and scant decor seem the perfect place to regroup after Yellowstone. I need a day to unwind, to be plain and dull before taking in any more beauty. I am at my fill.