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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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