Monday, June 22, 2009

Yellowstone 2009

And now the moment you have all been waiting for... all the gory details of our first official family vacation. If you don't want the gory details, then just look at the pretty pictures. But don't worry, the details really aren't that gory. There's just a lot.

Let me add this preface: I remember someone (Mom? Dad?) telling me once that scenery pictures were nice, but in years to come, you'll be much more interested to look at pictures with people in them. I have found that to be true many, many times. Scenery pictures are a good memory jogger--"I remember that, it was really cool"--but unless you're a really skilled photographer, the picture itself isn't terribly impressive on its own. Such being the case, most of the pictures I am going to post will be either of people or some amusing anecdote of the moment. We have plenty (meaning hundreds) of scenery pictures, but I am not going to post very many. If you want to see, come visit sometime. Otherwise, I recommend you go to Yellowstone yourself and collect your own memory joggers to your heart's content.


We drove to Aberdeen on Sunday night so we would be able to head out as quickly as possible on Monday morning. Of course, there are always a few last minute things to take care of, like mowing the lawn.

Unfortunately, Jane's teething pains had continued on from Saturday and she woke up rather unhappy (and sweaty). We did have time for a quick trip to the grocery store to stock up on some children's tylenol. After a while, she was fine.

Fine enough, in fact, that she went outside and proceeded to fall in the freshly-cut grass. She didn't seem concerned by having grass clippings all over her pants, although she was fairly worried about the pieces stuck to her hands.

The major highlight of the trip up was (drum roll please) the License Plate Game. Craig had printed out several games, activities, and pictures for each of us, and this was the one I most enjoyed. Here is how we started:

I colored the states in as we went along, finding a license plate from each state. It didn't take long to fill in the West, but the East Coast was quite a bit more challenging. Turns out, though, that Yellowstone is an excellent place to play this particular game...

Janet gave Craig a GPS for Christmas last year, and this was the first trip that he's really been able to do much with it. He had the laptop hooked up in the car so the GPS could track everywhere we went. We also took a slight detour in West Yellowstone to find a geocache.

The coolest thing about West Yellowstone was the fact that it is in Montana--I've never been in Montana before. I got to add a state to my list! I'm up to 10 now.

We finally made it to our campsite in Madison Campground in Yellowstone around 3:30 on Monday afternoon, after leaving Aberdeen at 9:30. It didn't take too long to get everything all set up.

Jane kept herself well-entertained during the process wandering all over the campsite. It was nice to just let her wander without worrying about her getting too far into the road or something. Our campsite was quite large and lacking in trees, which meant it was easy to see all around. If you could manage to keep up with her, that is, even though the camera couldn't always.

Dinner that night was quite enjoyable. We made tinfoil dinners while we were still in Aberdeen, then cooked them up when we got to camp. They were delicious.

Our neighbors in the campsite across the way were from the UK. They were motorcycling across the United States. I thought that was cool.

The forecast was pretty accurate--they predicted rain for the majority of the week. Oddly enough, it rained. This was the view from inside our gazebo on Monday night. I never knew rain to be so blurry.

Of course, rain does have its own perks.


Jane slept in her playpen in our tent, with double-layer pajamas for warmth. One catch to the trip was that since we were in bear country, everything had to be locked in the car overnight so no scents would attract bears to our camp and eventually lead to our deaths (that would be bad). The upshot of that was that I couldn't keep any wipes in the tent with us, so Jane got her shoes put on over her pajamas first thing in the morning so we could get into the van and dig out the diapers and wipes. But the result was admittedly cute.

Breakfast Tuesday morning was Mountain Man Breakfast, dutch oven style. Chris was pretty excited when the eggs all cracked in such nice order.

If you ever plan to cook with charcoal briquettes (I had to look up how to spell that), you should invest in a charcoal chimney. It makes lighting them way easier, and it takes no time at all for them to heat up. $10 at Walmart.

Our first real sight-seeing visit in Yellowstone National Park was to Artist Paint Pots. This was the first geyser I had ever seen, although I quickly learned that it wasn't the most amazing of the bunch.

We did bring a stroller with us, but it was only useful on a few of the stops, depending on the arrangement of the trails/boardwalks. This particular stop required more shoulder riding. Jane didn't seem to mind.

The mud pots were interesting. Don't ask me about the chemistry or physics of everything, because I don't care enough to know how it all works. I know enough to teach as much as is required by fifth grade curriculum--beyond that, I just think it looks cool. This mud pot kept bubbling up and popping. I managed to catch the bubble, but no pops. Sorry.

Jane is not a shy child, but when faced with a sudden group, it takes her a few moments to collect herself.

This is probably my all-time favorite picture that I took the entire trip. I'm not entirely sure why, I just really like it.

When we were leaving the Paint Pots, there was an older couple in this van who were stuck in the parking lot. They seemed quite worried because they couldn't get the van to start, and it wasn't their van. Chris went over and had it fixed in about two seconds. The steering wheel had locked--if that ever happens in your car (you can't start the ignition at all), all you need to do is jerk the wheel to the side and hold it there while you turn the key, then it will start. They were grateful enough that she even gave Chris a hug.

And they gave us a Wisconsin license plate to color in on our map. I was excited.

The weather was not cooperative for lunch that day. The sky stayed clear enough to cook some grilled cheese sandwiches--well, let's be honest, Craig and Janet cooked the sandwiches while Chris, Jane and I all took a nap in the car--before it started raining. Jane found the umbrellas quite amusing.

After lunch we made our way over to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. One funny side note: I noticed that in everyone talking about this, both in our group and people I overheard while we were there, referred to it as The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. I was personally inclined to abbreviate it to the Canyon, or maybe the Grand Canyon, but I guess that's wrong. So, this is a picture of the Lower Falls of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.

But since scenery pictures aren't always exciting, here are the lower falls again with some added subjects.

I can't remember exactly now where this bridge was, but I think it looks cool. It's still in the canyon (sorry--Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone), but I don't remember if it's the Lower or Upper Falls. Oh, well. It still looks cool.

This is the Upper Falls, up close and personal. We saw it from above first, then went closer. We tried to go closer to the Lower Falls, but there was an emergency in progress and the park rangers wouldn't let anyone down. We never did find out what happened.

This is where we saw them from originally. It was farther away then.


Wednesday was primarily occupied with Norris Geyser Basin. The colors there were amazing. It was nice to stop in one place and stay for a while looking at everything there, without having to get in and out of the van a lot like we did on Tuesday. Variety in a trip is good.

Yes, I am still pregnant. It makes for less-flattering pictures in my opinion. And this one isn't even that bad.

I was very curious what a "Colloidal Pool" was meant to be, so I looked it up.

A colloid is when two substances are mixed and one disperses evenly into the other, but doesn't dissolve. Apparently, this colloid involves several different chemicals that co-exist in the pool without actually mixing and creating new substances. And that's enough science for me.

Like I said, the colors were amazing. It was very impressive how vibrant different areas were, and how much the colors varied throughout the park.

This is the Whirligig Geyser. It went off probably three times while we were walking around the far side of the basin, so when we arrived at this point, we decided to stop and wait so we could see it go off up close.

We ended up waiting for quite a while without ever seeing it. I guess it was done after it's three rounds shortly before. Jane did well again at keeping herself entertained while we were waiting, though.

Chris took an interest in some photography while we were out and about during the trip. These little mushrooms were all over the place in this basin. Our high-resolution camera made for some cool shots.

Chris stayed behind waiting for the geyser while the rest of us moved on ahead. Michael (he joined our group on Tuesday evening), Jane and I made it back to the top before anyone else. I took the opportunity to sit down. A rare occurance when the van was far away...

Michael ran off at one point to get a picture of something.

Jane seemed quite concerned. She recovered once Michael and Dad came back.

A scenery shot. Enjoy.

This scenery shot has its own amusement value. Can you see the dragon?

Another scenery shot. Enjoy again.

The second path around the basin was a mile and a half long. I was getting worn out by then, so I kept walking up ahead just to keep my momentum going. This shot was taken through the steam of one of the hot springs.

Christopher photography.

On the back side of the license plate game was a scavenger hunt with forty or fifty items to find. One of the items was a license plate with the letter Q. We spent tons and tons of time looking at license plates, but hardly ever paid any attention to what they said beyond the state name. When we were leaving Norris, we found a license plate that had a Q! It was noteworthy enough that we had to take the picture. Don't worry, it has nothing to do with the numbers...

Wednesday also happened to be Janet's birthday. This picture was taken on Saturday, but the hotpad was our gift to her on Wednesday during her specially requested dutch oven dinner with barbeque chicken, potatoes, and peach cobbler.

Funny side note: she actually crocheted that hotpad herself. She gave it to me a while back because she had used my yarn and my crochet hook. When we gave it to her, I had to make sure that she was okay with us regifting her present back to her.

On Wednesday night, Chris and Michael decided to venture out and have a little adventure of their own, elk, rock climbing and all.

I believe this is Gibbon Falls.

And how could this really be a post about Yellowstone without a buffalo?


First thing Thursday morning, we packed up camp at Madison and headed out. We had a few stops scheduled for the day, then we were going to set up camp again in Grand Teton National Park.

This geyser was right next the Grand Prismatic Spring. It erupted in the 1880s, expelling over 4,000 gallons of water each minute. It hasn't really erupted for many, many years. It actually created a crater, which to me looked like a mini-Caribbean island beach from far away. It may be the inspiration for next year's vacation...

For Dad.

Christopher photography.

This was in the algae mat across from the Grand Prismatic Spring. There were four movie stubs for the movie Coraline in 3D. I haven't seen it yet, but I am curious. Perhaps I'll have to investigate further.

Jane generally did very well in the car for the duration of the vacation, but of course, everyone has their moments.

I was very, very excited when we found this license plate. How often do you see Vermont?

Our next stop of the day was Old Faithful. We had to wait about an hour for the next eruption (is eruption even the right word? see how much I know about geysers?). When it finally came, it started raining about two minutes before.

We did take our own video, but I didn't want to wait forever for it to load. This one is funnier anyway.

We did have some entertainment before hand. A blue jay kept flying up right in front of everyone--it would hover for a few seconds, then drop all the way to the ground, and a few seconds later do it all over again.

I think Jane enjoyed it, although I'm not sure how much attention she actually paid to the geyser going off.

Amusing anecdote with no accompanying picture: by the time Old Faithful was finally done, I desperately had to go to the bathroom. Now, for the most part, this was not a major issue for me during this trip, despite the fact that I'm five months pregnant. I count myself lucky that I'm not rushing off to the restroom every 30 minutes...but in this instance, I wasn't up for waiting any longer. So I headed off to the bathroom while Chris, Janet, and Jane waited for Craig and Michael to come back from the lookout point where they had watched the geyser.

When I came out of the bathroom and walked back to the boardwalk, I didn't see them. I figured they had either gone to the bathroom themselves or back into the visitor's center. I wandered around for quite awhile, then finally decided to walk back to the car. They weren't there, either. So I walked back to the visitor's center again. Then I found them, standing right between the VC and the bathrooms. Apparently they had gone over to the other side of the boardwalk and I didn't walk back far enough to actually see them. Sigh.

Before heading out to any other sight-seeing destinations, we needed some sustenance. We pulled off at a picnic area on the side of the road to make sandwiches. Jane was asleep, so we left her in the car. Lunch was cut rather short due to the sudden HAIL that pounded us and the ground. In the rush, I didn't bother to make Jane a sandwich I knew she wouldn't really eat. Instead, she got a cup full of cold hotdog and pickle slices. I know, I know. You think I'm a terrible mother for feeding my child such a meal. I'm ok with it, though, because she ate lunch and seemed quite content about its contents. Eating is good.

West Thumb of Yellowstone Lake--This is Michael. Chris's back had been bothering him most of the week, so he opted to stay in the car for a nap at this particular stop.

The cool thing here was the underwater geysers. We didn't see any go off, but the craters were still cool.

And now for one of the ironies of the park. This was called the Black Pool.

It was incredibly deep, but there was no "black" involved. This next one was called the Abyss Pool.

Michael and I think their names should be switched.

And now for my favorite part of the entire park: Crawfish Creek. This was not a major destination location, which I think is part of why I liked it. There was no neat, even boardwalk--instead you had to hike just a tiny bit down into the ravine. And we were right next to the waterfall, closer than you could really get anywhere else. (Michael and Chris did get closer to Gibbon Falls, but that was quite a bit more of a hike.)

This bridge was actually the highway going over the creek. I just thought it looked cool. Apparently I have a thing for cool bridges.

I do believe I preferred our second campsite to our first. The trees made a huge difference. There was a lot of shade, which provided both protection from the weather and added privacy from camping neighbors. I was ok with both.

The Colter Bay campsite also had this huge toilet sink. It was actually a sink, meant to dispose of dishwater and such, but you could flush it just like a toilet. I found that highly amusing. There was a big sign, though, that very adamantly informed campers that it was not to be used as a toilet, so don't get your hopes up.

Random shot of the van: As I mentioned previously, we had to keep pretty much everything but clothes and bedding in the van at all times, unless in immediate use. I confess that I didn't actually do a whole lot of the heavy lifting, but it still got really old by the end of the week.

I have learned that my husband cannot go to any family function without performing some kind of car repair. Heather joined us shortly after we had everything set up in Colter Bay, and Chris ended up replacing her headlight. They also fixed a brake light, which had been installed backwards and was melting anything in the trunk that got too close.


Friday definitely had the best weather of the entire week. The sky remained clear for most of the day, although the morning was COLD.

While eating breakfast, I noticed this weird spot on the side of the fire pit...

...which Heather confessed was the top of her shoe that got too close.

The major activity of the day was canoeing. Jane and I opted to stay on shore, since neither toddler nor pregnant go well with canoe.

Craig, Janet and Heather had one canoe, while Chris and Michael had another.

And they're off!

My grand excitement while they were gone (for two hours) was the discovery of this Maine license plate. I was probably more excited about this than Vermont. I would like to point out that it also has a Q. And it's a Volkswagon, which was on our scavenger hunt and took us an impressively long time to find.

I had the keys to the van, but again, I was tired of hauling everything in and out and didn't want to attempt the heavy lifting on my own (nor am I supposed to). So, courtesy of a Wells Fargo ATM in the general store, Jane and I had our own unhealthy, overpriced, but highly enjoyed lunch of corndogs, pink lemonade, and chocolate doughnuts.

While everyone was still out canoeing, Jane and I wandered through the general store, gift shop, visitor's center, and Indian Art museum that were all located near the Colter Bay Marina. I took a picture of this:

in the visitor's center. It is Bear Deterrent--basically pepper spray intended for bears. I found it funny, but it was also significant because Michael actually already owned a bottle that we had been joking about all week. I'm glad, though, that he bought it somewhere else outside of the park. If you can't read the price tag, it says $50.95. Holy Cow. That's way too much to spend on a practical joke.

When they did finally come back from canoeing, I was ready to have some company that1 could actually carry a conversation. While I was waiting for them to unload, though, I was impressed by how cool the mountains behind them looked.

We went back to the campsite for lunch (yes, Jane and I ate again). Jane was doing quite well at helping "clean" the log with her rag. She even sang the clean up song while she did it.

Most of the afternoon was spent relaxing, taking naps and playing card games. Heather is entirely too good at Nertz. That evening, we actually ventured out into the public again for dinner and a show at the Bar J Chuckwagon Ranch just outside of Jackson, Wyoming.

We found this on one of the doors inside the building:

No one ever said the license plate had to be attached to a car. It totally counts.

Dinner consisted of barbequed beef (for Jane, Chris and I paid extra for steak), beans, cornbread, applesauce, baked potato, spice cake and lemonade. The show consisted of five men singing cowboy songs. The songs were nice, and they were quite funny inbetween.

But, as you might have guessed, Jane is not the best audience member anytime that quiet is required. I took her outside to let her run around (and dance, as it happened) during the show. Michael came out shortly after because it was too hot in the room, and Chris came out shortly after that because his back was hurting too much to sit at the picnic-style tables they had inside. We could still hear most everything that was going on, and we all found it rather pleasant to just hang out outside and visit for a bit.

I don't remember what Jane was laughing at, but it appears to be the funniest thing she'd ever seen.

They had quite a few statues around, adding character to the establishment. Jane kept kissing the bear, but I wasn't ever fast enough to get a picture.

Michael left straight from the ranch to head back to Rexburg. That was sad.


Saturday was fully occupied with packing up and driving home. We did stop for a few minutes at a turnoff for some rather impressive scenery photos.

For some reason, we couldn't fit as much of the Tetons into that last picture. Apparently Jane is shorter than the rest of us...

While we were taking pictures, Jane sat down and played a game I've never seen her play before. She is quite a fan of playing with balls, and will often sit down and push them away from her, generally hoping that someone will push it back. This time, she sat down...and pushed the air. She had no ball, but she was having just as much fun pretending she did.

We also took a short detour (short meaning into a parking lot off the side of the highway) in Wilson. The town was founded by one of Craig's (and I guess Chris and Jane's, too) relatives and we stopped to get some pictures of the statue erected in his honor.

Of course, not all of the pictures were of the statue.

We left the campground at 10:30 Saturday morning. After our two short picture stops and lunch in Idaho Falls (and a stop at Barnes and Noble, where Brandon Sanderson happened to be doing a signing, which was cool even though that wasn't why we were there), we made it to Aberdeen shortly before 4:3o. We quickly moved all of our stuff out of the van and into our Mountaineer, then we headed out shortly before 5:00. We finally made it home to Logan at 7:15.

Rhode Island was the last new license plate we found. Here is our finished product:

In the end, we were only missing New Hampshire, Connecticut, Delaware, and South Carolina. Yes, we found Hawaii. That was cool.

And there you have it. Our trip to Yellowstone. I think everyone should go at least once (this was my first time). But be careful. Many visitors have been gored by buffalo.


Molly said...

ahhh geo casheing is so much fun huh?!
Your trip makes me want to camp!

Kate said...

What a fun trip it looks like you had! I have many similar scenery pictures. I love the picture of Jane laughing. Too funny!

Liz, Karl and Madison said...

Wow that was quite the trip. I love the license plate game. I am impressed you got almost all of them... I think we played that same game last time we went to Yellowstone. It is a good place to play it.

Brenda said...

Can I just say that I am so jealous that I couldn't go. You all had too much fun without me. I guess that is how life is sometimes. But I'm glad the rest of you had a great time.

Mom said...

I have never been to Yellowstone. sigh. It is my Mom, known to you as Grandma, who always said to take scenery shots with people in them. I probably said it too.

Danny and Janneke said...

Wow, so exciting! That was such a fun, long trip! Reminds me of the trip we took last summer as many of the activities and places were the same. Thanks for helping me relive a little bit of our family vacation from last year. :) And congrats on the license plate game - that was amazing!

Jared and Delia said...

That was so fun. What an awesome trip!

I must say I am impressed by the creative photography as well!

Tannie Datwyler said...

Holy Moly! I think that is the longest post in history of blog post. I LOVED it! I had no intention of reading the whole thing, but I couldn't resist - it was fun to read and brought back good memories of our trip last year. I loved the pictures and Jane is so cute!

Deborah said...

Geysers occur when minerals form a shell over the water underground. When enough pressure builds up, it bursts through the shell. After the water drains, the shell reforms. In mud pots the minerals get mixed in (at least, that's what I remember from my trip back in high school).

How did you guys like the Brandon Sanderson signing? Did he do readings of The Way of Kings and of the next Alcatraz?

Michael and Amanda said...

That first picture you have up of Michael is probably one of my most favorite of him! I enjoyed the part about The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. :] It's just much too long of a title to keep up for very long, much less be used even once. The picture of the lake and the mountains after everyone went canoeing is amazing! And I happen to really enjoy all the scenery pictures. You see people all the time but landscaping stuff can change so much! By the way, I'm blog stalking you and so far today I have read all of your posts since the beginning to here. I'm getting caught up and feel like I know you so much better now!