When we decided to send Rachel’s car to college with her, I was delighted.
“Finally, I get to do a road trip,” I chortled.
The motto for our trip, to which nearly all of us faithfully adhered.
For many years, I’ve been trying to get Kathy to agree to spending one of our vacations on the road. I have fond memories of many trips I took as a child and young adult, but Kathy doesn’t seem to think that 12 hours in a car is a good way to unwind. I remember one trip we took from Connecticut to Michigan via interstate 80 across the top of Pennsylvania at Christmas time. That was when I discovered that having heat on the floor is a good thing in a car (our heat would only work on defrost mode). Maybe I can understand Kathy’s reluctance, after all.
The Roosevelt Arch, gateway to Yellowstone from the north.
When the dust settled, it was Joshua, David and Sarah who would be traveling with me from Washington to Tennessee — somehow Kathy and Rachel were willing to miss out on the 2500 mile trip and fly (Daniel is traveling in Europe with Aunt Stephanie). I guess it takes all kinds. Now I just needed a destination a little more spectacular than Kearney, Nebraska. Looking at a map, I noticed that Yellowstone National Park was almost directly in our path.
The kids were always very glad to be allowed out of the car.
So I took the kids to Yellowstone. We spent two days exploring the park, and then rushed on to Tennessee. It was totally worth it, as I think you will see from the pictures, if not from my descriptive prose.
Mammoth Hot Springs was both Mammoth and Hot, and smelled of sulphur, too!
We started our exploration of the park from the north, visiting Mammoth Hot Springs and Tower Falls as we moved south. We had all slept well in Bozeman the night before, so we hit the park with cheerful attitudes and eyes wide open.
Tower Falls reminded us of waterfalls back home in Washington.
I broke my toe the day we left, but many of the sights of Yellowstone are accessible via a short walk from the road, so it wasn’t too bad. The kids hardly ever mocked me for my slow pace, although I’m not sure they ever believed me about the toe.
“Face it, Dad, you’re not as young as you were last time you visited Yellowstone,” they hinted. I last visited Yellowstone National Park in 1973.
We camped at Canyon Village, in the center of the park. Joshua’s hammock was well-favored.
Some people (like my brother) plan their road trips meticulously, but that is not really my style. I did make a few reservations, but my total research time for the entire trip was less than two hours. Imagine my delight and surprise when I discovered that our campsite (reserved) was at 8000 feet above sea level. It was about this time I regretted some advice I had given while packing.
Sarah: “Should I bring any warm clothes, Dad?”
Me: “Nah. It’ll be hot, pretty much the whole trip. One sweatshirt and one pair of long pants will be plenty.”
Those words came back to haunt me when the temperatures dropped into the low 40′s, during the night. Unfortunately, I had followed my own counsel, something I usually scrupulously avoid.
Wildlife abounded — we found this elk in a ditch by the road.
During our visit to the park, we saw many elk, dozens of buffalo, a few small black bears, and lots of chipmunks. The wolves, grizzlies and moose eluded our spying eyes, though. Maybe next time.
Main attractions in Yellowstone include the ‘Grand Canyon’, which (while not as Grand as THE Grand Canyon) was stunningly beautiful.
Not far from our campsite, the Yellowstone River plunges over two waterfalls (Upper and Lower Falls), hundreds of feet into the yellow-rock canyon that gives the park its name. We hiked to the Lower Falls the first day, and found the Upper Falls overlook on the afternoon of the second day of our visit. Both views were well worth the hike, even for “Old Hopalong”.
The Yellowstone River Lower Falls was spectacular.
We settled into our campsite and put up our tent. Rain threatened, and the temperature was dropping fast.
Joshua taught Sarah and David how to braid rope with a series of slip knots, providing hours of amusement for everyone.
It was a delight to travel with Joshua, David and Sarah. None of them complained even once, the whole road trip, and they were very pleased and impressed with Yellowstone. Indeed, I was very glad to be able to share it with them myself, since my memories of Yellowstone from 40 years ago are sketchy at best.
We ate noodles and soup for supper — David (as treasurer) was later persuaded to buy us each an ice cream cup.
Joshua and I didn’t sleep very well in the tent. He had the dubious privilege of sleeping at our feet, and being kicked by me, most of the night. I was awoken by two men across the road who thought it was a good idea to shout greetings to each other at 5 am, and I couldn’t get back to sleep. I was reminded of Proverbs 27:14, and made a mental note to pull all their tent stakes in the middle of the next night. Both Joshua and I felt that our sleeping pads had not really helped much. David and Sarah, sleeping on comparatively-cheap foam mattress pads, were rather smug about how well they slept.
Four of us in a three-man tent was very snug — but even so, Sarah was cold.
On the second day, we started out at Norris, one of the larger collections of geysers (there are an estimated 10,000 geysers in the park). There we found our favorite, the Vixen Geyser, which began spewing water just as we walked up to it, and stopped as soon as we left. Most of the geysers were not particularly spectacular in terms of a high plume of water, but everywhere you looked there were hot springs bubbling and stange colors from the mineral deposits and thermophilic bacteria around the edges. We were able to get within about 20 feet of Vixen Geyser on the wooden boardwalk that spanned the basin.
Vixen geyser, while not particularly large, was very active and energetic.
We were a little disappointed with Old Faithful, perhaps the most famous of the geysers, because of its regular eruption schedule. We had hoped to see a plume of a hundred feet or more, but the one we waited for was only about 40 feet high. It was funny to see how many people (several hundred) were waiting for it to erupt, considering how few were on the trail at Norris, where there were dozens of less predictable geysers and pools.
Old Faithful mostly smoked, but it did get us a little wet.
We brought lots of lunch meat and cheeses, and each day of our trip we made sandwiches — it was a very good way to save money and we were well-satisfied. One of our best lunches was devoured on the porch of the lodge at Old Faithful.
Waiting for the geyser to blow its top …
Kathy made travel activity books for David and Sarah, to help them occupy the hours of travel. One game they played was the 50 States license plate game — Yellowstone was a great place to find travelers from all over the country.
Joshua was very pleased to find a rare Connecticut license plate, since it is the land of his birth.
We also visited the Grand Prismatic Pool, which was very colorful, but hard to photograph, because of all the steam from the hot springs.
The Grand Prismatic Pool, in some of its glory.
On the way back to our campsite, we drove along the shores of the gigantic Yellowstone Lake, and also happened upon a hike to a viewpoint overlooking the Upper Falls.
The Upper Falls, while shorter than Lower Falls, was also well-appreciated.
We were very glad to have seen most of the major attractions of Yellowstone in a whirlwind, two-day visit. We decided to press on toward Tennessee rather than camp that night, since Joshua was very eager to get to his college in time for a Life Group leadership retreat that he was supposed to be helping to run.
The buffalo feel free to roam pretty much anywhere in Yellowstone, including the roads. This herd was content to stay in pasture, however.
As we were getting ready to leave, Joshua and I both discovered that we had forgotten to inflate our self-inflating sleeping pads the night before.
“I think sleeping on the ground, directly, would have been softer,” Joshua commented, bitterly. Truly we win the prize for dumbest campers ever.
Joshua started a fire with damp wood, just to prove that he could. Happily, my fire-extinguishing curse doesn’t seem to have been passed on, genetically.
We had a great time, and were very glad we took the two days to explore Yellowstone. Now, on to Tennessee!