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 –

 

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