Road Trip USA-Day Six “What is the next best move?”

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Thursday, August 25th 2016

“Don’t look ahead.  Don’t look at how high you need to climb.  Don’t look down – Just look for your next best move…what is the next best step…” Gabe, our climbing guide.

Rock climbing Devil’s Tower was the climax of our family’s trip.  We have all agreed on this collectively.  Rock climbing, like other outdoor challenges and sports is a metaphor for life!  Climbing the tower was an ambitious family goal.  The lessons and connections that each of us experienced in the 6  hour experience will be with us forever – they were life changers.

Our day began with us waking and packing up our car and checking out of our cabin.  We knew we would be finishing our climb after check-out so that needed to be handled first.  After completed, we walked over to Frank’s house for breakfast.  Kamiko, our youngest, loves to write inspirational quotes and right before our trip, published her first book, “The Book of Life – Stuff You Can Follow to Have a Happy Life.” (available on Amazon.com – lol) https://www.amazon.com/Book-Life-Stuff-Follow-Happy/dp/1535436247/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1476645218&sr=8-1&keywords=kamiko+takei We knew we wanted to do something special for Frank, so Kamiko signed her 1st copy of her printed book for him!

When we walked in his front door we were greeted by the most beautiful display of shoes…shoes of all backgrounds, walks of life and stories sitting outside his main door.  All the lives that fill those shoes already inside around a huge family style table enjoying an enormous home-cooked family style breakfast.  Filling those shoes were an older couple on their anniversary, a young man attempting to ride his bicycle across country, three rock climbing guides, Frank, the amazing cook Jennifer, and an awesome family of three stopping for some adventure on their way to return their daughter to college.

 

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All the walks of Life.

 

When you walk in to Frank’s house you immediately feel at home.  He has tons of books, paintings, climbing artifacts and wonderful words of inspiration on his walls.  The dining room is an enormous glass room that faces Devil’s Tower.  He plays piano and there is a beautiful grand piano in his living room.

Lucky for us, when we walked in Frank was right at the door as we entered.  He greeted our family and after a few minutes of introductions and hugs, Kamiko presented Frank her 1st signed copy of her book.  Frank was floored.  He genuinely was moved by the gesture and immediately got down on Kamiko’s level to express his gratitude to her.  He explained to her that he was having a bit of a tough time right now and this book was exactly what he needed to receive and he thanked her for this gift.

Kamiko does not realize the power her words have had on people.  She is a deep, wise, sensitive soul and I have witnessed healing with her words.  To see Frank’s face soften and his eyes tear up was magical.

Frank gave me a very long hug and expressed how much he appreciated our stay and the gift of Kamiko’s words. Frank.  I truly have no words for what an inspiration he is to me.

After our greeting, Frank walked us to his community dining area.  He has a huge table and everyone sits together and enjoys their meal and connects over food.  The room is enclosed in all glass and overlooks Devil’s Tower.  Food is served family style.  Breakfast was delicious. Frank sat at the head of the table, engaging and encouraging connection.

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We sat next to “biker dude”, the couple on their anniversary trip and two of our rock climbing guides for the day.  It became very clear from our conversations with the guides (who return annually for rock climbing season to work for Frank) that they are not “employees” but family at the Lodge.  Frank and his young guides have an unspoken respect, trust and affection for one another.  You can tell Frank trusts these young men and gives them autonomy to run the show.  I can not say enough about the quality of men of our guides.  They are young, insightful, engaging, smart young men.  They are able to connect with all ages and push each person just passed their own ‘comfort zone.’  Interestingly for my girls, one of the guides, Gabe, was homeschooled and they thought that was pretty cool.

I had several “Gabeism’s” on this trip.  Stories or expression Gabe would share and I would be struck by the stunning insight.  For example, it was obvious Gabe had done a lot in his young 20-something years of life.  He shared that his parents let him ride across country with friends when he was in high school!  He is a very accomplished outdoors kind of guy (already!).  So, I said (in my mother mode)….”Wow! You must have amazing parents to allow you to have such freedom to do something like that in high school!”  He said, “yea, they were cool….but I knew it…I knew I had a good gig…my parents gave me a really long leash and I never wanted to mess that up…so I tried not to mess up….I wanted to keep my freedom.”  Brilliant, right?!  Because he was trusted by his parents and he appreciated what that meant, Gabe has had experiences in his 20’s that many will not have their entire lifetime.  Gabe, and the other guides, are so alive…so engaged…living their lives.  They laughed and remarked many times about their lack of money or funds, but my husband and I said to them many times, “you all are the richest people we have ever met.”  Secretly, I think they know it too.  🙂

 

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Gabe.

 

Every single one of us overcame fear, frustration, exhaustion and anxiety to climb the tower.  I did not climb as high as Quinn or the girls, but I climbed my own Everest and was so proud of myself.  After the first climb, in my mind, I was done.  I was content that I did it, but truly did not think I had anything left in my muscles.  But, like life, I did…I could keep going… and, I did.  I did a more challenging pass and reached that summit too.

 

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Climbing my Everest.

 

My girls were amazing.  Each one had struggles during their climbs.  I will never forget witnessing my little nine year old accepting the challenge of the most difficult route.  It took her almost an hour to complete it.  When she was about 3/4 of the way up, she yelled, “I want to come down!”  Gabe, in his wisdom, shouted back “Ok, Miko…but before you come down, maybe just hang there for a minute…I got you…just relax for a little and then you can come down..”  And, of course, after a little while she yelled down, “Ok, I am going to keep going…”  THAT.  That…she said, “I’m going to keep going.”   Relying on another who is wiser, holding your rope to say “I got you – rest – you got this.”  And, she did…she struggled (all on her own), lost her grip, struggled to find where to put her hands, her feet, banged her knees till the bled, knocked her knuckles, grunted, sighed in frustration….but She. Did. Not. Give. UpShe did it.  Here are some of my favorite images of Kamiko.

When she came down, there was that exhausting look of absolute pride.  Accomplishment.  I whispered in her ear, “Miko, I hope you never forget this.  This is the metaphor for life…you can do anything you set your mind to, little girl.  You are smart and you are strong.”

Kayah had a similar experience as she did the most difficult climb as well.  She yelled down to Gabe that she had had enough and Gabe used a different approach.  Kayah was ‘stuck.’  You could tell she was struggling and could not find a way to get passed the most difficult part in the climb.  There were areas of the climb you would wedge your fingers in rocks and sometimes really had to take a leap of faith to the next rock or ledge.  Gabe said, “Kayah…I want you to only look for your next best move…just the next step…don’t look up….look straight ahead and only look for your next best move.”   BRILLIANT.  She listened to him, she searched and my gosh, she found her next step…and then her next one, and her next one and before you knew it, she completed the run!  She came down, bleeding, banged up and bruised.  She high fived Gabe and then came over to me and while giving me a hug, lost her emotions and belly cried for a few minutes.

 

As with Kamiko, I told her how proud of her I was and how I hoped she never forgot this climb and when life felt overwhelming to remember not to look so far ahead, but think and look for that next best step, the next best move.  I told her to know she has the strength and intelligence to do this on her own.

Kira and Quinn are adrenaline outdoor soul mates and naturally, immediately took to rock climbing.  Kira is hoping to continue rock climbing when we return home!

When we finished our climbs we hiked back down and enjoyed a feeling of accomplishment.  Many people would stop us and ask, “did you all climb that today?”
And, all of us still garbed in our climbing gear kind of felt a little like rockstars, a little bad-ass, as we all said, “yes!”

 

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Quinn!

We went back to the lodge, unpacked our gear, played on the slack line with our guides and said good-bye to Frank and the cabin.  Such an awesome day.

Rock Climbing Life Lessons:

  1.  When life starts to feel too much, too big, or overwhelming and you may want to quit or feel paralyzed  – don’t look ahead…don’t look up…don’t look down — just look straight ahead and ask yourself….what is my next best move?  And, then do it.  One move at a time.
  2. You are not alone.  There are people who have been there who will hold your rope while you rest and gather your strength and courage to go on.
  3. You can do it.  You are strong.  You are smart.
  4. Everyone (especially young people) need to have big challenges.  We need to succeed at difficult challenges.  We need to know we can trust ourselves.
  5. In rock climbing, sometimes the climbs that look easy can be deceiving and sometimes, the more difficult level climbs can be easier than expected.  Approach life in the same manner…only you can determine what is ‘hard’ and what is ‘easy.’
  6. And, once again, my most favorite lesson of all…ask yourself…always…”what is my next best move…”

 

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What is the next best move?

No matter your age, size, physical capability or experience, I would highly recommend attempting this experience at Devil’s Tower. The hike to the base of the climb may be all the challenge you need, but go for it! The guides have taken people with zero experience (like us) all the way to the very experienced climbers.  They do some lessons and review in their indoor climbing gym prior to climbing the tower and will always have your back.

As our day came to a close, we got in our minivan and said farewell to Frank and his crew and headed out to our next destination, Deadwood.  Deadwood is a historic Western town, home of Calamity Jane & Wild Bill Hickok in South Dakota.  Due to the fact we drove in later than expected, we did a quick tour of Deadwood, checked in to our hotel, ate dinner and decided to really explore Deadwood after a good nights rest – more on this tomorrow.

 

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Frank & Our Family.

 

Road Trip USA – Day Five arriving at “Devil’s Tower”

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Today was bittersweet.  We said good-bye to Yellowstone.  Yellowstone National Park will always hold a special place in our family’s heart and I know we will return.  Even on our drive out of the park, it did not disappoint!  As we were leaving, we were excited to see the orange cones of excitement and cars, motorcycles and RV’s parked along the road side…there was ANOTHER grizzly bear that had been sleeping next to a beautiful river in the process of waking up.  This was so rare (according to the National Park Ranger) that even the rangers were taking pictures!  This was like the super bonus cherry on top of a delicious sundae.

 

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The small black dot (to the left of photo) is grizzly bear #2 relaxing next to river

 

 

As we drove through the “you are leaving Yellowstone” gate, we paused and had a moment – so many precious memories…and now — we continue our way to Mato Tipila or better known as “Devil’s Tower”, Wyoming.

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If you have ever seen the movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” by Steven Spielberg you may remember this iconic rock formation.  Devil’s Tower was designated the United States first national monument and was included in our Park Pass.  There are many native American legends and stories to how the Tower was formed – the leading story being that it was created by enormous bear claws trying to climb and reach a princess that was held at the top of the butte while science favors it is a special rock formation that was created when magma cooled in a chamber and has since eroded.  Either way, you can not deny the magical power the Tower does possess.

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I can not say this enough.  The drive is a HUGE part of this trip.  You will see things you have never seen before and will be in awe of the wide open land and space in the United States.  Our drive to Devil’s Tower was 7 hours and included a stop in a town called Gillette.  Gillette is about 1 hour from Devil’s Tower.  We stopped at the Walmart (2300 South Douglas Highway) to do our first food and supply re-stock & eat.

Originally, our plan was to rise super early to drive into the sunrise, but due to the fact we went to bed so late after watching stars and we were all pretty tired from the hiking in Yellowstone, we left later than planned.  (We also knew we had a really intense day of physical activity planned for our 6th day.)  We enjoyed our drive, bought our supplies and made our way to our next lodging at Devil’s Tower.

Many people have asked our family “what was your favorite?” or “what were your top 3 experiences out West?”  I can say without a second of hesitation, our stay and experience at Devil’s Tower was our families Number One.   I will share more about our experience rock climbing the tower tomorrow…but, for today, we had an amazing drive, were greeted by the largest, most active,  home of adorable prairie dogs, ever.   When you drive in to the Devil’s Tower Park you pull off to the side of the road and it looks like a vacant ‘ghost’ town or field.   After sitting quietly for a few minutes, you start to see little prairie dogs heads pop up out an enormous network of holes and then the cuteness begins…the chirping, barking and running and playing from hole to hole – too cute.

I have mentioned before that if you can arrive at your National Park locations during the daylight you will find it much easier to navigate to your destination.  I can not stress that enough with Devil’s Tower.  We stayed at the BEST cabins, ever, but like many times, you will most likely lose your GPS (we did) and there is very limited signage and lighting…so we enjoyed the scenic route to our lodge, but were very happy to be arriving in daylight…I think at night it would have been very difficult.

We took screenshots of all our directions to make sure we had “hard copies” of where wedeviltowerbook were going.  I am compiling a list of “Tackey Tips” for Road Tripping the West and will include some suggestions or ideas like this all in one location in my final posting for this trip.  For example, to the right are some of the books I used with the girls prior to our trip to learn about all the awesome things we would see and experience when we arrived.  I did lesson planning and educational lessons prior to leaving so that our ‘field trip’ could just be fun and full of experience and not feel like “school.”  The author, Carole Marsh,  has created these mystery books that my kids (and I) have enjoyed reading prior to many of the trips we have taken (she has written a large number of these mystery books).  She does a fun job of weaving a fictional mystery story with factual/historical background at the same time.

We stayed at the Devil’s Tower Lodge.  This is an AMAZING, intimate location to stay.  The lodge is owned and run by one of the coolest cats our family has ever met, Frank Sanders.  From the moment my husband called him to arrange our stay and excursion to climb the tower, Quinn knew Frank was someone special.  Frank talked with Quinn many times prior to arrival (and for long periods of time).  He is one of those beautiful souls that have been placed on Earth that really has an interest in people, the planet and peace.

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A couple days before we left for our trip, we went to the IMAX to watch the National Parks in 3D (highly recommend – Quinn and I cried twice during the film – so beautiful) to kind of get the kids pumped up for our trip.  In one scene, they shot footage at Devil’s Tower and showed the crew learning how to tight rope walk on these ropes called “slack lines” and you could see all kinds of people in the background –  Quinn leaned over to me and said, “I think that’s Frank – the dude’s house we are staying at!”  When the movie was over, we were walking out of the theatre and Quinn’s phone rang, IT WAS FRANK!  He was returning Quinn’s call from earlier in the day and when Quinn asked him about the movie Frank shared that it was him and that many crew members stayed at his Lodge while shooting that part of the movie!  Cool, huh?

This is a quote from Frank’s website http://www.devilstowerlodge.com  describing Frank…

“His greatest satisfaction comes from helping others enjoy and enrich their lives.”  Amen.

Frank is an educated, lover of adventure and outdoor, connection and living his dream.  He is generous with his time, space and blessings.  For example, although there are a very limited number of cabins to stay at on his property he does allow tent camping and listen to this…we met a young man who was attempting to  ride his pedal bike across the country and Frank allowed him to stay (and he offers this to other bikers) at either free or very reduced rates.  This guy, we’ll call him “biker dude” because unfortunately his name is escaping me, will sit next to me at the family style breakfast Frank prepares for his guests tomorrow and will share with me the wisdom and insight of riding a bike for weeks in tough terrain, with everything you own on your back and bike.  He had a special shine, twinkle – he was inspiring.  Just one of many people thankful for Frank’s grace.

 

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This was “biker dude” leaving in the morning as we all waved goodbye and wished him the best.  Driving in a minivan through the mountains was challenging enough, I can not even imagine doing it on a bike!  So inspiring.

 

The location is magical, beautiful.  We pulled in and as we checked in – which is Frank’s personal home – we interrupted their family style dinner he was having with the other guests for the night.  He was gracious and one of his employees (which is the wrong word, this group functions as a family, not a business) came out to give us an orientation of the cabin we would be staying in.  The cabin rocked!  Beautiful.  He had every amenity you could ask for – and it has a beautiful large deck that over looks the Tower.

 

Quinn and I poured two glasses of wine, the girls enjoyed the cutest little bottles of fake champagne and we split a chocolate bar. Our view of the tower was stunning. THOSE moments…were the best.

After we ate dinner and settled in a little, we knew we all needed a good nights rest before our adventure the next day….but before we called it a night, we all headed over to the outdoor community hot tub and joined another family traveling with their college age daughter (who is a phenomenal gymnast) on route to college and an inspirational movie producer, Grant Kinsely, who creates documentaries on deep/tough social injustice issues.  The film he just completed exposes and discusses the dark issues of human trafficking.  He gave us a copy of his film, it is called “Untouchable – Children of God” – here is a link to his website http://coderedfilms.com/.

To listen to each person’s story…their journey…under the stars with a lightening storm way off in the distance that ‘lit up’ the tower was aaaammaaazing.   After some time, we all said good night and the cool thing…most of us would be rock climbing in the morning together.

We walked back to our cabin, took showers, pulled out our clothing for the next day and went to bed beautifully exhausted.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Road Trip USA – Day Four “Yellowstone Grand Canyons & Lake, Hayden Valley”

20160823_165635Tuesday, August 23 2016

Grey Shirt Boy…the backstory.  We checked in to our cabin last night.  After we had settled in, Quinn & Kira went out front to eat apples and peanut butter.  While they were chilling, the family staying in the cabin next to us checked in.  As soon as the door opened to their minivan a young boy, maybe age 7 got out of the car wearing a grey shirt.  Straight away, Quinn growled and said to Kira, “Grey shirt boy.  I hate him.”

And then the absolutely absurdity of his statement got the entire family laughing about how much we didn’t trust, didn’t like, hated the ‘grey shirt boy.’  Of course, by now, you know we are totally not like that and were totally kidding, but ‘grey shirt boy’ has become a running inside joke in our family.  For two days, anytime there was a ‘grey shirt boy’ sighting much banter ensued. Grey shirt boy and Bennie the Bison are examples of those precious inside jokes and experiences that weave the tapestry of memories for family or friends over the years.

Side note:  Grey shirt boy was the cutest little guy and the girls enjoyed playing with him very much.  I still don’t like him 😉

The altitude change is no joke! Yellowstone park sits on a plateau that is around 8000 feet above sea level (some of the surrounding mountains are as high as 11,000 feet).  Raleigh, NC (where we are from) is about 300 feet above sea level, so this was a big adjustment!

 On a side note, this reminds me of a cool feature my girls discovered on Snap Chat.  There is an altitude recorder and it will report, real time, your altitude and was fun to watch as we drove through some of the steep mountains and land features.

So, back to the story – In the morning, while we were all getting ready for the day, Kira passed out!  She was in the bathroom drying her hair and I was at the sink.  She looked at me and said, “mom, I feel weird…I feel hot…” and then, BAM, she went out.  She collapsed down and crumpled backward into our cooler.  It happened so fast and you would think from my years of critical care nursing instinct would have kicked in, but instead I grabbed the blow dryer trying to shut it off and must have yelled her name 3 times until I was able to register what happened.  She came to very quickly and said, “what happened?”  In addition to passing out, she had several nose bleeds too.  After that, Kira (and everyone) committed to drinking a ton of water and never had any further issues.

It is so difficult to say what was my favorite part of our vacation, because there are so many, but driving through Hayden Valley must be in my top 3.   Hayden Valley is a huge valley in Yellowstone that is in between Yellowstone Falls/Canyons and Yellowstone Lake.  We drove through the Valley on our way to the Lake, but went back three times over the two days because of the beauty and animals!  We saw so many herds of bison and parked our car and walked and just where in absolute awe of the views and experiences.  I found myself crying on more than one occasion at the enormity and beauty of it all.

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winding rivers & tons of animals in Hayden Valley

After spending some time in the Valley, we continued our drive to Yellowstone Lake.  This drive turned out to be our first up close and personal experience with wildlife!   I was driving our minivan and all of sudden in front of me, in the distance, I noticed a dark band stretching across the road.  At first, I thought perhaps it was a road block of some sort but quickly observed it was moving…moving because it was a huge herd of bison!  We read in our manuals and guides to not stop and just keep driving slowly if this should occur, but they literally blocked the entire road and cars were backing up behind us so fast we were stuck.  We were the first car in the line and they bison were coming straight at us.  I would like to say I handled it calmly and embraced it with the spirit of learning and Laura Ingalls, but not so much.  I kind of freaked out for a few minutes.  Images of the cautionary movies we watched at the visitor’s center of bison ramming cars and people kept flashing through my mind…

My girls turned immediately into 3 high pitched super excited ‘girls’ and were squealing (and crying) so loudly I thought for sure they were going to freak out the bison!  Luckily, we realized very quickly they had no interest in eating us for lunch and just walked right past us and we got to witness the most amazing animals up close.  It was one of those memories and moments I know we will never forget.

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After the bison finished, we were going to stop to hike a trail, but there were signs up indicating that bison were on the trail and we agreed we would pass – bison in our car was one thing, but on the trail where nothing would separate us…not this girl.

Yellowstone Lake is a huge beautiful spring lake that although will mostly freeze in winter will maintain unfrozen areas were water depth is shallow and heat from springs keep area warm.  This area of the caldera has filled with water and has a VERY active base.  There are areas in the bottom of the lake that are very active –  bulging and shifting and fault lines as well.  You will occasionally see the bubbling in the water of activity in various locations under the lake.  It is a trip! 

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Along the rim of the lake there are also numerous geysers and bubbling mudpots to explore.  The mudpots were so cool!  The mudpots, like the geysers are a result of being on an active supervolcano and bubble not because of the heat, but secondary to the gases escaping from the mixture under the Earth.  Some of the mudpots smell like rotten eggs (due to the sulfur) and the flies were something new to enjoy!  These geothermal features were among our favorites.

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Ok, so if the valley, the bison and lake were not enough, this just was like the icing on the cake!  As we were driving back we noticed a lot of cars parked on the side of the road and those infamous orange cones!  We pulled over and asked the park ranger what was going on and he informed us that a grizzly bear was in the middle of the river and he was eating a bison!  What?!   It was awesome.  It turned out the bison had died upstream several days before and as it was floating down the river 3 different grizzly bears had been fattening up on it over a total of 3 days!  We got so close and were able to witness first-hand the awesomeness and strength of a grizzly bear.  We were so glad we brought binoculars with us!  Some of the best pictures and video we got were taken through the binoculars!

We went to different areas of Yellowstone Canyon and were just so in love with the views and features.  We took so many pictures it hard to limit to just a few!

At the end of the day as the sun was setting, we thought…can you even imagine what the stars must be like at night in Hayden Valley?  There is NO light and it is enormous!  We heated up some hot cocoa in our electric tea kettle and set out for some star gazing.

Our family loved our minivan rental!  It had one of those back up cameras that we had just a little bit too much fun with!!

 

 

Do you remember the scene in the Pee Wee Herman movie when he is like outside in a jungle and its pitch dark and he is hearing sounds and seeing some eyes blink and then all of the sudden when the lights come on and he is totally surrounded by tigers, elephants, monkeys and hundreds of other animals??  Well…I couldn’t help but remember all the wildlife we saw in the Valley earlier in the day and was terrified we were going to be mauled to death if we got out of the car.  After noticing many cars parked along the side of the road, and about 15 minutes of calming my nerves, we enjoyed the most amazing view of the nighttime sky, ever. 

We could see the Milky Way, planets, constellations, satellites and shooting stars!  My oldest daughter saw her first shooting star that evening.  Quinn and Kira went up on the roof and watched the stars.  I would highly recommend this!  I would also highly recommend bringing blankets and/or sleeping bags from your hotel/cabins to lay on the roof and to cover you because it is freezing at night, literally.  We would have stayed much longer if we had not got so cold. 

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We returned to our cabin for our second and last night in the cabin — while we were excited about our next adventures we were all very sad that our days in Yellowstone were winding down.  We all agree we wish to come back and our middle daughter has indicated she would like to come back here as a graduation gift when she completes high school.  We went to sleep and hoped for good sleep as we had a long drive to Devils Tower in the morning.  It is a 7 hour drive we want to leave early enough to drive into sunrise –

 

Road Trip USA – Day Three “For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People”

Day THREE:  “For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People” 

Monday, August 22nd 2016

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Everyone had a great sleep and woke up ready to roll for Day 3!  Our food system is being refined and tweaked and we almost have a solid rhythm.   We are finding by keeping all the breakfast food in one cooler it minimizes searching for food items and helps us be more efficient.  We typically eat a huge breakfast, stop somewhere for a roadside picnic lunch and then have a smaller dinner in our room at night. 

For breakfast we have been enjoying oatmeal (my favorite) with toppings like crushed walnuts, blueberries, raisins and brown sugar.  We also have hard boiled eggs, bagels, muffins, yogurt and bananas. We use our electric tea kettle to make French press coffee (yes, Quinn brought our French Press – we love coffee!) and warm water for oatmeal and hot cocoa.

Mammoth Hot Springs (Wyoming), is a very short drive from the Inn – you cannot miss it.  Parking was easy and there are boardwalks for your safety and exploration.  This hike does contain some impressive stairs – great exercise. 

 

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Mammoth Hot Springs

 

Mammoth Hot Springs is, well, a mammoth geothermal feature of hot springs on a hill of travertine!  Once again, I am not a geologist, but my best understanding of the Springs are they formed over thousands of years. They are the result of hot water from the spring cooling (I think the water temp at the spring was around 150-170 degrees Fahrenheit and deposits calcium carbonate (the springs are mostly white) as the water cools.  The manner in which the water comes up the vents from the spring through a layer of limestone (which I believe provides the calcium carbonate) provides this beautiful slow creation of these Springs.  Due to the heat of the water (the Springs are technically on the outside of the Yellowstone caldera) there are also some beautiful orange, brownish formations from the algae that propagates the formation.  In Yellowstone, you can tell a lot about the temperature of a feature by the colors in the formation.  Due to shifting land and earthquakes some areas of the Springs have ‘shut off’ and other areas continue to grow at an impressive rate.  There are some beautiful boardwalk hikes to look out areas for amazing views and photos of the Springs.

 We spent a couple hours at Mammoth Springs and then enjoyed another beautiful drive to the north entrance to Yellowstone National Park where we visited The Roosevelt Arch (Montana). You see many warning signs in Yellowstone…some that confused us…like below… 

 

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Falling Rock or Broken Tortilla Chips ahead? We were not sure…

 

The Arch, built in 1903 (after the government had approved the legislation to create Yellowstone in 1872) and was the historic landmark left for the people of the United States as a ‘gift’ and ‘reminder’ of the sacredness of the National Parks.  At the top of the arch it is inscribed, “For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People.”  You can park your car along the side of the road (parking is available), walk through the arch and snap your historic photo!

We ate lunch next to the arch and watched some type of antelope – deer animals (not sure what they were) play in a football field near the arch.  After lunch, we packed up the car and headed to our next destination, The Canyon Lodge Cabins for a two night stay.  On our drive we were so excited to see our first bison!  There really are no words to capture how you feel as you drive through these beautiful lands and see a herd of bison grazing, running, and playing in the valleys – no words…

Due to the number of places to see in this area of the park, we decided to stay in this location for two days (the longest we will stay in one place this trip).  We stayed in the cutest cabin at the Canyon Lodge.  The Canyon Lodge also has a mini shopping/visitor center attached where you can learn more about the area and shop.  My thirteen year old fell in love with bison on this trip which sent us on a scavenger hunt to find the perfect “Benny the Bison” stuffed animal.  No kidding, we literally went to three different locations (over several days) until we finally found this special souvenir…all three girls bought the same bison and they really came to serve as a symbol of this trip for our entire family.  We even have a Benny the Bison song and dance!

 Our cabin would not be ready for a few hours so we set out to begin enjoying what is called “The Yellowstone Grand Canyon.”  There are several entry points along the canyon, all with amazingly stunning views of rock formation and waterfalls!  We spent a lot of time here just taking in the beauty and having fun with photography. 

An interesting observation we made on our trip was the number of visitors from other countries.  (Our trip coincided with the European holiday, too).  It was very cool to hear the smorgasbord of languages all around us.  It gave us an appreciation of how fortunate we are we LIVE here!  When you see families plan their holidays and vacations to experience Yellowstone from other countries, it reinforces the magic the parks behold.

 We watched the sun begin to set into the canyon and then drove back to check in to our cabins.  The stars….the stars…the stars…my word.  It is one of those places so dark you look up and see the Milky Way and so many constellations, planets, stars and satellites.  I will share our star gazing experience tomorrow…for those of you who know me, you will understand how my fear of being eaten by a wild bison or bear in the middle of the park had to be overcome so we could enjoy a once in a lifetime experience.

 

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Our Cabin.

 

We checked into our adorable cabin, met ‘grey shirt boy’ (more on him tomorrow), ate some dinner and went to sleep.  Once again, no T.V and no internet allows for wonderful mental rest too…

Road Trip USA – Day Two “How did I not know this?”

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DAY TWO:  How did I not know this?

 

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Kamiko wrote out our itinerary each day in her notebook.

 

Sunday August 21st, 2016

Our vacation out West completely coincided with the National Parks 100th Anniversary.  It was a very exciting time to be in the parks because there were many special events scheduled to commemorate this special occasion.  After learning about how the National Parks were created, I truly believe it is probably one of the best forward thinking decisions our government ever made. 

I have been to Europe and stood in awe of the Roman and Greek history – marveled at the beauty, stories and legacy of our civilizations.  And, now, I am in Yellowstone and bathing in the same feeling touring and exploring the history of North America.  It is incredible!  We are talking history that is millions, sometimes, billions of years old!  Geothermal features, rocks, land, water, ice ages, volcano eruptions…here, right before my eyes.  I am in love.

Walking, witnessing and simmering in the longevity and awesomeness of our planet – first hand.  Marveling at life, nature – our history.  I knew on our first day, I was never going to want to leave.

One of the programs created to honor the 100th anniversary (thank you Theodore Roosevelt!) was The 4th Grade Park Pass –  Every Kid in a Park Pass!  Kamiko, being in the 4th grade was our ticket to the parks!  Any family with a 4th grader can register on line FOR FREE for a pass to ALL (almost all) of the National Parks in the United States of America.  

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It is simple. Go to www.https://everykidinapark.gov  and complete the quick application.  I did it with Kamiko. You will print up a paper voucher and when you visit the National Park, they will change out your paper copy for a very cool laminated card! Registration was easy and all we had to do was show our pass when we entered any of the National Parks and the park ranger would verify our 4th grader was in attendance. 

 Kamiko thought this was pretty cool because everywhere we went the Park Rangers personally welcomed her to the park.  The perks to this pass need to be checked per park, but for our trip the pass covered our entire vehicle (2 adults and 3 children) park entrances for every park – FOR FREE.  It was awesome.  The program was such a success last year, that they have decided to continue the program and you can still register now until September of 2017.

 We could not say enough about our experiences in the National Parks.  We fell in love with the parks.  The Park Rangers are the BEST and so willing and helpful to provide exciting and meaningful experiences for guests of the parks.  If I had anything ‘negative’ to write, it would be our stay at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge.  The actual facility was awesome and in a fantastic location.  However, this was the only place where the customer service was less than enthusiastic. 

We came in late at night and were not greeted in a very welcoming manner.  The individual working at the check-in indicated where we could go to retrieve a cart to bring our suitcases and items in for the night.

The next morning, we wanted to check out of our room before going to do the geysers and Quinn went in to the same closet to retrieve the cart and were almost militantly stopped by the front desk to question him (literally, question him) about what he was doing and where did he get the cart?  “Didn’t he see the sign that said “employees only?”  After explaining that he had been told last night to go in the closet to retrieve the cart (and thought that was what he was supposed to do) he was informed that that cart was only for the bellman and he would have to put it back. 

Ironically, the bellman was nowhere to be found and my husband ended up helping several elderly men who thought HE was the bellman lift their heavy suitcases into their cars!  So, I swear, I am not a high maintenance hotel girl, but this was the ONLY place in our entire 2 week trip I was disappointed by the lack of assistance the staff provided. 

 The main visitor center for the geysers is a quick walk from the hotel.  As soon as you walk through the front doors you are greeted by a floor to ceiling glass view of Old Faithful!  Although not the biggest geyser in the park, it is impressive and erupts with almost 90 minute regularity.  They have the area so well designed that despite the huge number of visitors, there was excellent seating and viewing for all! 

The park is huge and there are many amazing thermal features to watch!  We spent about four hours walking the boardwalk.  Luckily, while we were there one of the larger geysers named “Beehive” erupted.  This geyser erupts only every 10-12 hours.  While Old Faithful erupts every ninety minutes, some of the geysers erupt like every 25 years! 

Which brings me to the biggest AH HA moment I had on this vacation…Yellowstone is an ACTIVE SUPERvolcano.  How did I not know this?  There is a visitor’s center that has interactive museums and movies to help explain the phenomenon you witness. There is cool video you can watch prior to the eruption and then another after. 

I am not a geologist, but this was my take away – Yellowstone is a HUGE active super volcano.  And, by supervolcano I mean that if it were to erupt (and it will) the ash cloud would cover and reach most of North America!  The last time this volcano erupted (roughly 650,000 years ago) the cone collapsed and created an enormous caldera that filled with water and they have even been able to isolate the ‘hot spot’ of this volcano.  

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Normally, magma flows deep under the Earth’s crust, but due to the collapsed volcano, Yellowstone is unique in that the magma flow is much closer to the Earth’s surface – magma flows only like 4-5 miles under the Earth’s crust!  Thus, it heats the rock which in turns heats the water and creates the amazing steam/pressure in the geysers we witness and the unbelievable mudpots and geothermal pools we will visit later in our trip.  To realize you are walking on an active volcano??  BLEW MY MIND.

To walk the entire geyser park took us about 4 hours and it was very hot!  This location requires guests to walk on a boardwalk for safety.  You will need sunscreen and water and some good walking shoes.  For fun, Kayah, our teenager, brought her ballet pointe shoes and we enjoyed taking pictures of her in them over the course of our two week trip.  I think this was something she really enjoyed and I would encourage anyone with kids to see how your children can find ways to personalize their experience and document it – be it through photography, journaling, blogging, video recording, etc.  Some of my favorite photos of our vacation are the artistic ones we took in the different locations.

 

Next stop? Grand Prismatic Springs!  OH MY GOSH.  So beautiful.  The parking was a little crazy, but well worth the hassle.  The springs are absolutely beautiful (and smelly).  There are these features called “bacterial mats” where the heat from the springs, mixed with the shallow run-off and atmosphere create this unique bacterial almost petri dishes – fascinating.  And, Momma Mia! – The lighting was so wonderful for photography. CAUTION:  Do NOT wear a hat!  There were hundreds of hats in the Springs (it gets very gusty up there).

The Grand Prismatic Springs took us about an hour.  After our experience at the geysers and the Grand Prismatic Springs, we needed to get rolling because we had about a two-hour drive to our next location – Mammoth Hot Springs.  We stopped and had a picnic lunch near a beautiful spot by the river!  Our meals were so good! 

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By the time we would eat each day, everyone would be so hungry and it was so nice to just take our time, be outside, enjoy beautiful locations and eat delicious food.  We would pull out our tubs, coolers and throw a tarp down to eat! 

On our way to Old Mammoth we enjoyed a beautiful ride through a lush valley.  The thing about your trip to Yellowstone (and the West) is the drive IS the vacation!  You will see the most amazing things along the way and have the best experiences.  Here are some of my personal favorite photos of us in the Valley.

 

Mammoth Springs is a quaint little town with a lot of history.  As we were driving into the town we noticed straight away the orange cones – which ALWAYS signify the park rangers are near and SOMETHING cool is going on – promise!  The cones were along the sidewalk near our hostel we would be staying and we quickly discovered there were a large number of elk eating grass in front.  We could not believe it.  We checked in our hostel (which I will discuss shortly, we LOVED it) grabbed a couple glasses of wine and hot chocolate for the girls and sat on the hostel patio and just watched the elk make their way through town. 

Quinn did such an awesome job of booking us lodgings at all different kinds of places.  In Old Mammoth we stayed at the Mammoth Inn.  It was a hostel, which meant we shared a bathroom with a floor of guests.  It was the COOLEST place.  It contained a lot of history and they had many old photos of the hotel and location as it looked a hundred years ago. 

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Due to the fact they were getting ready for the National Parks Centennial Celebration there was a lot of excitement and preparation. Our rooms were simple but comfortable.  We had a sink in our room and fans for air conditioning.  It gets so cool at night, heat was not an issue for us.  It was a little dim in the room, there were only two lights and very few outlets, but had such a historic older feel we loved it.  The service was OUTSTANDING in this hotel.  Everyone was so informative and helpful. 

 

Kind of a cool story – before we went to Yellowstone, we read a book called “Death in Yellowstone – Accidents and Foolhardiness in the First National Park” by Lee H. Whittlesey.  It was a great book that basically tells the stories of how people foolishly die in Yellowstone.  99.9 percent of the time it is because of poor judgement by people to not abide the rules posted in the park! 

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Book that shares the many foolish ways tourist die each year in the park.

 

As we were in the lobby talking to the bellman, a young girl walked up and joined the conversation.  She was so cool and obviously had enormous passion and knowledge of the area….it turned out her name was Jessa and she was the DAUGHTER of the author of the book, Death in Yellowstone!  We were a little star-struck and she was so kind to indulge us with a photo!

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Jessa!

 

Mammoth Inn is also the National Park Service headquarters so there is A LOT of activity going on in this location!  This is one of the only hotels/motels/hostels that the front desk is open 24 hours!  There was no T.V and no internet, but your park rangers are like your own personal ‘walking talking google.’  You could approach them so easily and they were happy to share their knowledge.

They had cool maps at the desk that the Rangers updated everyday with information on fire activity in the park.  While we were there, there were four active fires underway, and only one that was becoming a fire of ‘concern.’  We learned much about how fire is a vital role in the vibrant ecosystem of Yellowstone.  The forests depend on the fire to help it grow!  For example, there is a tree in Yellowstone (I cannot remember the name) that has pinecones.  The only way these pinecones can open and release their seeds to grow new trees is by extreme heat (from fires).  When you drive around Yellowstone you can clearly see where fires have ravaged an area.  The longer you stayed you could also begin to determine how long ago the fire occurred by the number or lack of ‘baby trees’ that were growing in under the burned areas.

 

Depending on the winds and weather, some days we were very aware of the fires.  Some days you could smell the smoke and the sky would have an orange tint and other days not at all.  While we were there, the park did end up closing one of the entrances to the park due to concerns over safety.

 After a delicious dinner in our hotel, we iced up our coolers, everyone showered and we called it a night.  This hostel had such sweet quaint touches, like the white robes left for us on the hooks in the room.  We would highly recommend this location to anyone that doesn’t mind sharing bathroom facilities and being ‘unconnected’ from the world.  We loved it.   THEN & NOW – the black and white photo was a vintage photo taken over a 100 years ago on our hostel patio – the one on the right was mine today….cool, right?

The next day we planned to explore Mammoth Springs, See Roosevelt Arch and then to Yellowstone Grand Canyon.