Friday, July 21, 2017

The inconvenient life - Living in Yellowstone Update #6

"Is your life not inconvenient enough? Buy an RV."

That's a joke my husband and I came up with 7 years ago. We were in the middle of our epic 9 day road trip through Southern Utah. It was just the two of us, our jeep, and our tent. Every night we set up the tent in a different campground, and every morning we packed the tent and other camping gear into our jeep and travelled to the next location. It was basically our dream vacation. One night, as we sat around our camp fire in Arches National Park, we started making up silly tag lines for the things around us. Most weren't that memorable or funny, but the one about RV's stood out and became a long-running joke.

We couldn't understand why anyone would want to travel with a cumberson RV. Over the years we'd repeat "Is your life not inconvient enough? Buy an RV." Every time we saw someone trying to navigate a parking lot in an RV.

Two years ago, when we moved to Fort Rucker, Alabama, I met a family at church who had moved out of their Army housing to live in a trailer at the Campground on Fort Rucker. During our 18 months in Alabama I knew four other family's that made the same decision. Some of them lived in trailers, others lived in RVs.

I knew they were saving money by living in RVs/trailers rather than the on post housing. My husband and I briefly talked about maybe doing the same thing, but we ultimately decided that there was no way on earth we would ever give up our four bedroom house - or all our stuff- to live in an RV.

Little did we know the interesting turns that were coming up in our lives. My husband decided to get out of the military, I decided to go work in Yellowstone, and that meant our family of 6 was going to live in an RV for three months.

I'll admit I was a little worried about the logistics of daily life in a space as big as the master bathroom/walk in closet of our Alabama home. But with careful planning we've been able to make it work. In a previous post I showed all the updates we did to the RV to make it into a living space. Today I want to do a post highlighting many of the ways that we make this unusual living arrangement work for us. As you'll see we've learned a lot of things about simplifying our lives.

Here's a picture of our campsite. We have the jeep which I take to work (special thanks to my in-laws for bringing it up to me when I got promoted and had to start commuting), the Honda which my husband and kids take on their adventures, and the RV where we live. The campground supplies ectricity and water and has a sewage connection as well. The only thing we don't have ready access to is hot water. But that's our own fault.

On the second day here our water heater tank started leaking.  After working on it for a while my husband decided that it couldn't be fixed easily or cheaply while living in the middle of no where.  So we haven't had any hot water while we've lived here.  That's not as big of a problem as it sounds because we have a bath house with showers located just a few yards from our campsite.  (And quite honestly I planned on showering at the bathhouse even before our hot water heater broke so it wasn't that big of a loss anyway.)  The kids quickly learned to take showers instead of baths.

There is a laundry room located on the back side of the bath house. This is where we do laundry once a week. It costs $1.00 to wash a load and .25 for 10 minutes in the dryer. The prices aren't terrible, but they have certainly made us more conscious of how much laundry we do. Over the last few years we've been in the habit of considering everything dirty after it's been worn once (side effects of having a house full of babies that spit up and have leaky diapers) but now everyone will wear clothes for a day or two before putting them into the dirty clothes.
Another reason we are so willing to wear clothes over multiple days is that we didn't bring that many clothes to begin with.  We have a dresser in the living room that the kids all share.  Each child has one drawer that has to hold all their clothes. Each child brought 4 pairs of pajamas, 8 shirts and 8 pants/shorts.
My husband and I use the top drawer of the dresser for our socks and pajamas. The rest of our clothes are in the closet in the bathroom. We also have about 8 shirts, 8 pants/shorts and 4 pairs of pajamas. It was so hard to pair down my clothes to that few outfits. And actually I cheated and brought "pajama" shirts that I don't mind wearing out in public.

Also, with my promotion I can wear my own clothes instead of an ugly uniform. Which would be awesome if I'd brought any business casual clothes. Luckily I was able to do some successful emergency thrift shopping in Cody and find clothes that will work.

Our closet came with a really annoying way of hanging clothes. We had to put each hangar into its own slot. This is a great system if you are driving around the RV and you don't want your clothes sliding around while you drive. But it's annoying if you are trying to push clothes out of the way. So a few weeks ago my husband installed a real curtain rod. This makes hanging up clean clothes almost enjoyable.

You may be wondering where we put our dirty clothes.  Well, we've blocked off the drivers and passengers seats with some curtains.  We keep a laundry basket on the drivers seat.  That's where we put our dirty clothes.  The passenger seat holds boxes where we store some of our food.  We keep the stuff for our Sunday church service between the seats and in the foot room areas.  And on top of that we keep the pillows and blankets that my husband and I sleep with each night.
When my nephew was visiting he wanted to see inside all our cupboards.  So I thought that you might want to see inside each of them too.  Let's start with one of the living room cupboards.  On the outside it has some random drawings and art projects.  On the inside it holds the computer that is hooked up to our monitor, our DVD's (we really enjoyed the first season of Sabrina the Teenage Witch) and our first aid kit and some other emergency supplies.
The other living room cupboard is much the same on the outside, but on the inside it's very different. The kids can reach this cupboard if they stand on the couch so we put lots of things for them in the cupboard.  One side has art supplies in a big tote, the middle has games, and the other side has lots of books.  Every evening I read to the kids while they fall asleep.  So far we've read Where the Red Fern Grows, Home Alone, Bunicula, and My Side of the Mountain (so far this was our favorite - maybe because we can relate to the main character) We are currently reading the Silver Crown and I'm hoping to read two or three other books before the summer is over.
 In the kitchen cupboards we have dishes, dish rags, and my husband's school text books.
We only brought 6 plates, 6 small plates, 6 bowls, 6 knives, 6 forks, 6 spoons, and 6 cups.  That means we have to do dishes after every meal.  This has been a big change for all of us because we were used to using different dishes at each meal and then doing a big load in the dishwasher every night.  Now everyone works together to wash, rinse, dry, and put away the dishes.  (Full disclosure we don't always have the kids help with every meal.  Sometimes it's just easier to do the dishes ourselves rather than nag them, but they help more often then not.)
One of my favorite things about the RV is that we are connected to electricity.  So we can easily use things like the TV and the microwave. Since we have hardly any counter space (technically we have none) we keep the microwave in a cupboard. The cupboard next to it has all our spices and other baking things.
Food prices in the park are expensive, and they aren't much better in the towns near the park.  Our nearest Walmart is 90 miles away in Cody.  So we knew we would have to use all of our food storage skills. The biggest change to how we eat is that we can't buy milk - there just isn't room in the fridge for it.  Even without milk we we pack the fridge full every two weeks and then gradually empty it out. Here's a picture of what the fridge looks like before a shopping trip and after.
The same thing happens in our pantry. We have a pretty good stock pile of canned food and other non perishable things.  We also have a good supply of treats that we keep on the top shelf.  We give the kids treats like gummy worms and Swedish fish for eating all their dinner, and for helping do the dishes. My husband also packs treats to help motivate the kids while hiking.
We also store food in a cupboard under one of the dinette seats. This is where all the extra food goes before it goes into the pantry.  Before we came here we went to the LDS cannery store in Ogden and bought big cans of dehydrated apples, potatoes, milk, onions, and oatmeal.  We also went to Gosners Cheese in Logan Utah and bought two big cases of shelf milk.  This cupboard works well, but it apparently is easy to get to from the outside because we found signs that mice had been in there.  So we set a mouse trap.  So far we've caught four mice.
 The final cupboard is the bathroom cupboard.  This is where the extra toothpaste, soap, and shampoo is stored as well as all our medicine.  I was really worried that the kids would get sick while we were living here so we made sure to come prepared.  But so far no one has been sick yet.

My husband had our propane tank filled before we came here and it lasted us until July. (It helped that we didn't have to have to heat the hot water tank.) When the propane started running low we weren't sure how we would refill the tank. In theory we could just drive the RV to one of the gas stations in the park and have them refill the propane, but that seemed like a giant hassle. Our RV is on leveling blocks and I did not enjoy the thought of taking it off the blocks, driving it, and then trying to get it level again. So I was pretty happy when we asked around and discovered that Amerigas would come to us and refill the tank. Amerigas has terrible customer service, but even that was worth dealing with so we didn't have to move the RV.

While we were working on the propane problem we still had to eat. One night we wanted Pizza, but we didn't want to use the propane powered pizza oven. So my husband figured out how to make pizza in the electric skillet. It turned out really well.

He also likes to cook with our new dutch oven.  We bought this for our wedding anniversary back in May.  Cast iron is the traditional 10 year gift, right?
Another creative cooking technique we use is to make cake in a sandwich maker.  We actually figured this one back in our college days.  We'd been ready to make a cake when the heating element in our oven went out.  We decided to try to cook the cake in the sandwich maker and discovered that it worked.  This technique comes in handy on days when you don't want to heat up your house when you turn on the oven.
I've actually been really surprised by how many normal things we can do in our tiny kitchen.  Here are the twins helping make a treat that they saw in a magazine.
One of the biggest differences in how we live is the amount of TV everyone watches.  Our kids loved vegging out and watching Netflix and stupid YouTube channels.  But we don't have the internet here so they can't do that.  If they do watch something it's usually a movie in the afternoon or evening.  The rest of the time they have to entertain themselves.  After going through some withdrawals they've discovered all the fun things that they can do.  One day I came home from work and the twins proudly showed me the puppets they'd made.  Then they acted out the story of Cinderella.
 The twins also spent several days constructing an elaborate fairy house outside the RV. (And yes, one of the twins spends quite a bit of time pretending to be a bat.)
I think my son has benefited the most from the reduction in TV time.  He's always loved letters but he's never liked writing or even drawing for that matter.  Well lately he's been sitting down and writing his alphabet letters.  One night he picked up a park newspaper and wanted me to help him cut out the pictures.  We cut the pictures out together and then glued them onto a piece of paper.  Then I told him how to spell Yellowstone National Park and he carefully wrote each letter.  He actually knew how to spell Yellow all by himself.  This project kept him busy for at least an hour and a half.  It was incredible.
And what's my youngest daughter been doing? Well she's always enjoyed playing with odd things and that really hasn't changed much. Here she is playing with the dice that she earned when she finished potty training. (This girl is funny, my husband told her she could have any toy on the toy aisle and she picked dice?) They came with a little bag that she'll take with her everywhere - even on little hikes. But we've also noticed her pretending more than she used to. She has little stuffed animals that she'll talk with and play with. Its fun to see her using her imagination.

So is living in an RV an inconvenient life like I always assumed? Yes and No. Yes because we do have to do things in a rather deliberate manner. We can't just leave the dishes in the sink all day or we can't just leave clean laundry in a basket on the couch. We have to clean throughout the day. But honestly living in the RV has helped us develop habits that we probably should have had anyway.

Living here has really helped us slow down and connect as a family. I love how close we feel emotionally as well as physically. I love the little moments when the twins are playing in the loft, my daughter is playing on the floor, my husband is cooking, and I'm sitting at the table helping my son draw. I love how we are all together.

So maybe I should change the tagline to "Is your life not mindful enough? Buy an RV."

That being said, I'm also looking forward to next month when we have a "real" house again. My husband and I kicked around the idea of living in the RV for at least a few months when he starts school, but neither of us could see it working very well. Maybe it could work if we didn't have kids, but with four school aged children I don't want to deal with the chaos of trying to get them fed and out the door every morning in such a small space.

So within the next month we'll be moving into a rental house in Pocatello, Idaho and getting our stuff out of storage for the first time in 8 months. Sometimes when the RV starts feeling a little small I tell myself, "In just a few more weeks you can sleep in your King Size bed again." That thought keeps me going.

But in the meantime I'm so glad that we've had this chance to live in the RV. It's definitely not something I ever thought I would do, but it has been so enjoyable.

(And it really helps that we have an awesome National Park that we can explore when we start feeling a little confined.)

Friday, July 14, 2017

What a Joy, What a Life, What a Chance - Yellowstone Update #5

The title for this post comes from the ABBA song, "Thank you for the music." The full lyrics are:

I'm nothing special, in fact I'm a bit of a bore
If I tell a joke, you've probably heard it before
But I have a talent, a wonderful thing
'Cause everyone listens when I start to sing
I'm so grateful and proud
All I want is to sing it out loud

Mother says I was a dancer before I could walk
She says I began to sing long before I could talk
And I've often wondered, how did it all start?
Who found out that nothing can capture a heart
Like a melody can?
Well, whoever it was, I'm a fan

I've been so lucky, I am the girl with golden hair
I wanna sing it out to everybody
What a joy, what a life, what a chance!

Thank you for the music, the songs I'm singing
Thanks for all the joy they're bringing
Who can live without it, I ask in all honesty
What would life be?
Without a song or a dance what are we?
So I say thank you for the music
For giving it to me

That song often comes to mind while I'm on a hike with my family. I really feel like this is such a joyful summer. I'm so glad that we could all have this chance to live here in Yellowstone.

One of my favorite things about being here is to come home from work and go on a hike as soon as we are done with dinner. We don't have to worry about a long car ride, or packing for an overnight trip - we are already living in the middle of a vacation. It's great.

A few nights ago we decided to try Uncle Tom's Trail on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River. We've been on just about every trail in the Canyon rea, but I wasn't sure if we would ever do Uncle Tom's Trail. That's because the trail involves 328 steps down to the bottom. I was pretty certain that the kids could handle the steps down, but I was worried about back up.

However, lately they have been stellar hikers and so I was willing to see what happened. This summer the parking lot for the Uncle Tom's trail is under construction, so we had to park down at Artist Point and then walk along the rim trail to the start of the Uncle Tom's Portion of the trail.

Then we were greeted by the many steel steps down the side of the canyon. The kids have seen these steps before so they were excited to get to walk on them.
This is the only trail in the canyon area that takes you lower than the waterfall. It's really cool to see the waterfall come into view.
We reached the bottom and took a victory family picture. If you look carefully at the area above the waterfall you can see some golden specks. Those specks were flying around. At first we thought they were birds, but they were too small to be birds. Then we thought they were some sort of dust, but they were too big to be dust. Finally we realized they were large beetles flying through the air. They were really beautiful.
And guess what, the kids did great on the way up. They all climbed up the stairs by themselves and no one asked to be carried. These kids are amazing. 
My in-laws decided to come up for a visit the weekend after Independence Day. I was able to get them a place in one of the "transient rooms" that friends of Xanterra employees can stay in. The room wasn't much to write home about, just a small room with a bunk bed in one of the employee dorms, but the cost for 2 nights was about 1% of what a one night stay in one of the hotels costs around here so it was perfect.

My kids were thrilled to see their "Bestemor and Bestefar" (Norwegian for Grandma and Grandpa) and wanted to know where they were every night. It was fun to show off our tiny house and our big back yard.

One of our adventures took us through the Hayden Valley just as three elk were taking a swim in a river. You can't plan pictures like this.
Another day we took them into the North Eastern section of the park. We took them to Tower Falls since they'd never seen that. Then we walked around to the other side of the waterfall and looked at Tower Creek as it flowed toward the falls. I think I like this view better.
We went into the Lamar Valley and were hoping to spot something cool like a bear or a moose, but saw nothing. That was too bad because my mother in-law has never seen a bear in Yellowstone so we were really hoping to change that on this trip. We might have stayed in the valley a little longer but we had to get to the Roosevelt Area where we had a Stage Coach Ride Scheduled.

Xanterra operates these Historic looking stage coach rides. They are probably one of the most affordable Xanterra activities in the park. They are $15 for adults and $8 for children. My husband and I were planning on taking the kids on one of these rides sometime this month and we decided it would be fun to do it while the grandparents were in town. I'm glad we planned to do that since my Mother in law has always wanted to go on one of these rides. 
All my kids have been looking forward to the wagon ride, but my son has been the most vocal about it. For weeks he's been asking to go on a wagon ride with horses. (He started out asking to go on a horse back ride, but I told him he had to be 8 before he could do that here.) So everyone was really happy to finally be on the wagon.

We were having a grand time riding in the wagon down a dirt road when we noticed there was quite a crowd of cars on the real road. It looked a lot like a bear jam. We realized that everyone was looking in the area that we were about to drive through. We started looking closely for a bear. And suddenly we saw one in the bushes less than 20 feet from us. He disappeared in the bushes so it was hard to get a picture, but when we looked back we could see him climbing the hill. It was amazing. My mother in law was so excited!
The rest of the ride was kind of uneventful after that. The wranglers took us down a road about a mile, gave us some history, took our pictures, and then drove us back. When it was all over we could pet the horses. They were named Creep and Crawl. (And yes, my daughter is dressed like a bat.  She still loves wearing her Halloween costume.)
That evening we went to get ice cream at the newly opened Falls Cafe in Canyon Village. I've been promising the kids we'd come try the ice cream as soon as the cafe opened. The ice cream is delicious, but like many things inside the park, horribly over priced. I'm very sorry to say this, but the service is also terribly slow. I can't believe how long it took to get 8 people their double scoops of ice cream. If Subway can make me a sandwich in less than a minute then I should be able to get two scoops of ice cream in less than 30 seconds. And for over $4 those employees should be incredibly fast. But alas, that is not the case and so we will not be going back there for ice cream this summer.
The kids were rocking from all the sugar so even though we'd had an action packed day we decided to go take a walk through the Norris Geyser Basin. I never really like Norris, but it's bearable in the evening. It was especially pretty right at sunset.
While we walked around I realized what my problem is with Norris. It's a lot like the show room section of Ikea. There is a lot of really cool stuff, but at some point you realize you are trapped in a giant maze with no easy way out. That's the Back Basin Trail in Norris.

But my kids love it. I don't know how many times my husband has brought them here while I'm at work, but it has to be a lot because they have it almost memorized. The twins were walking along saying things like, "The next geyser is named Yellow Funnel geyser." and then we'd walk up to Yellow Funnel Geyser. My daughter kept telling me that her favorite geyser is Pork Chop Geyser.
The kids also love Vixen Geyser which they call Rocket Geyser. This is probably the one redeeming feature in all of Norris, because it's basically always erupting. It was quiet when we walked up to it, but the kids sat down by it and said, "wait a few minutes." Within 2 to 3 minutes it started sputtering and then started shooting water into the air. The kids jumped up and down and cheered until it stopped. Then the sat back down to wait again. Their patience was rewarded within a few minutes. 
The next day I started training for my new position. I was offered this job about a week and a half ago, but I wasn't able to start it until they could find a replacement for me at my original location. That turned out to be harder than expected (what can I say? I'm irreplaceable.) but finally it all worked out. It actually was kind of good that I had to wait the extra time because my new position requires me to commute 4 days a week. And I wouldn't have my own car until my in-laws brought up my jeep. So they arrived with the jeep just in time for me to start training.

I'm really excited about my new position - even if sometimes I feel like I bit off more than I could chew. One of the best things about my new job is that now I work four 10 hour shifts instead of five 8 hour shifts. That means I get three days to play in the park instead of two.

My first day off was full of grown up things like, driving to Cody so we could register the Jeep and then going grocery shopping. The drive to Cody is always pretty, so it wasn't a complete waste of a day.

My second day off was much better. We decided we were ready to tackle the 7 mile hike to the top of Mount Washburn. Now a little bit of history first before I tell you about this. For years I have had a goal to hike to the top of a mountain. Pregnancy and living at low elevations have got in the way of this goal, but I've made some decent attempts.

The closest attempt was when we went to Mt Evans in Colorado in 2012. I'd given birth to my son about 3 months earlier so I was in no shape to climb one of Colorado's 14ers. So I cheated and we drove to the parking lot near the top of the mountain and I only had to do the last 500 or so feet on foot.

Another cheating summit was obtained last fall when we drove nearly to the summit of Clingmans Dome on the boarder of North Carolina and Tennessee. We'd only had to hike the last 1/2 mile to the top- though I should get double points for carrying my three year old daughter up nearly the whole way.

And there were a handful of "mountains" in the south that I climbed. Most notably being "Mt" Bonnell in Austin Texas which rose to an impressive hight of 770 above sea level.

I decided it was time to climb on a legitimate trail up to the summit of a legitimate mountain. And Mt Washburn seemed like the place to do it.

I had my reservations though. The trip would be a total of 7 miles - which would be the longest hike the kids had been on yet. However, they'd done so well on the gruelingly steep trail to the petrified trees that I was certain they would do fine on the long switchbacks on the Mt Washburn trail. So we decided to try it. 

The kids did fantastic and it seemed like we were up on the ridge line in no time. (It was really two hours, but they went quickly since no one was whining) We were all really excited to see a few big horned sheep feeding on a steep meadow.
And soon we were summiting the mountain! We'd made it to over 10,000 feet above sea level. We'd hiked over 3 1/2 miles and gained 2000 feet in elevation. I was so proud of my little family of hikers.
And check out my three year old. There is a big difference between a "just barely three year old" and an "almost four year old." Last fall she insisted that I carry her to the top of Clingman's Dome. This year she summited a mountain without much fuss. Actually I'm not surprised, this girl is a force of nature and when properly channeled she has enough energy to do anything.

There is a small visitor center at the top of the mountain and we ate lunch in there before heading back down. Down was definitely harder than up - but mostly because it was hotter. We kept passing people heading up the mountain who only had a small supply of water. I wanted to go up to them and say, "turn back now or you'll regret it." So instead I'll tell you, don't even consider starting the Mt Washburn trail after noon or bringing just one water bottle. You will have a bad day if you do.

We went back to the RV and vegged out the rest of the day.  The kids wanted to watch The Martian so we plugged that in.  In the evening we roasted hot dogs and marshmallows.  We realized the kids were all filthy so we made sure they all had showers before bed.  When they finally did lay down in their sleeping bags they fell asleep really fast.  

And that's good because we have another day of adventure planned for today.

I know this summer can't last forever, but every day I catch myself thinking about how lucky I am to have had this opportunity.

I really am blessed to have this joy, this life, and this chance.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Personal Victories - Living in Yellowstone Update # 4

Before we came up here to Yellowstone I made sure to download as many podcasts as possible. There are several podcasts I regularly listen to including The Nerdist Podcast hosted by Chris Hardwick and How to Be Amazing hosted by Micheal Ian Black. Those two podcasts might be somewhat responsible for getting me into a mindset where I considered living in Yellowstone for a summer to be an excellent life choice. Another podcast I like is Baconsale. That one focuses on fun, trivial subjects like ranking all the best live action Disney movies. My absolute favorite podcast is the Radio Ronin Podcast. I've been listening to the hosts, Jimmy Chunga and Kenny D, for almost 6 years and they are something like the longest (albeit one-sided) friendship I've had during that time.

Jimmy Chunga, often talks about his love of Disneyland. He likes to say that every person who visits Disneyland is celebrating a personal victory just by being there. He knows the effort they've gone through to save up the money and plan the trip and in his eyes they are victors when they walk through the gates.

That's how I like to think of the people who are visiting Yellowstone. Every single one of them is celebrating a victory by coming to the park. (Some are more gracious victors that others, but that's beside the point.)

Every day I feel like I'm celebrating a victory by being in the park. I get to walk through the woods on my way to work. I get to watch people enjoy their vacations on my lunch breaks. I get to walk through another section of woods as part of my job. And when I'm done with work I have a whole National Park to explore with my family. Every day I'm so amazed that this is really my life.

Today I want to talk about some other personal victories that have occurred in the past few weeks.

Victory Number 1: I got a promotion! My department had two openings for the position above mine. My co-worker and I applied and after a couple agonizing weeks we finally found out the results. My co-worker got the job in our office, and I was offered the position at another location in Yellowstone. I'm pretty excited about the promotion. The only problem is that my boss hasn't found anyone to replace me. So I haven't been able to start at my new location yet. But hopefully I'll be there within the next week.

Victory Number 2: My husband has been called to lead a church service for Canyon Village. We belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints which holds Sacrament Meeting services in four different locations throughout Yellowstone. The meeting are held at Old Faithful, Grant Village, Lake Village, and Canyon Village. This is a big responsibility and my husband is honored to have been chosen.

Victory Number 3: Our youngest daughter is FINALLY potty trained (mostly). She'll be four in September and we've been working with her for months to get her potty trained. You'd think that after potty training her three older siblings we'd know what we were doing, but that wasn't the case. With the older kids we just had to find the right motivation. (Candy for the twins, mini marshmallows and train rides for the boy) But this little girl isn't externally motivated AT ALL. She didn't care about any of the incentives we offered her.

We stumbled upon a successful potty training method about three weeks ago. The method is called: run out of pull ups while living in the middle of a National Park. The nearest store with cost effective diapers was over 90 miles away. Maybe if she was a newborn we would have been willing to pay marked up prices for diapers at the General Store, but for an almost 4 year old we decided it was time to just let nature run its course. After a couple tricky days she finally got the message that we weren't putting her back into pull ups and that she should always do her business on the potty. She still has accidents from time to time, but for the most part she's great about getting to the bathroom on time. (Nights are another story, but since we still have night time pull up for one of the other kids it isn't something that we feel she needs to work on right now.)

Victory Number 4: Our Honda is registered for another year. This was quite the headache for several months. Our Alabama licence plates expired at the end of June, but we aren't planning to have our next home in Idaho until August 1st at the earliest. We went through several different plans for how to have a registered vehicle during July. Registering it in Wyoming was the easiest option. So now we have Wyoming plates to add to our collection. Some people collect state quarters - I collect state licence plates.

(By the way, you know you are talking to a true Yellowstone Employee when they have trouble telling you what state they are "from". I'm no exception. I grew up in Utah, but in the last five years I've spent the most time in Texas. However, my best memories were from when I lived in Alabama. I lived in Utah most recently, but I'm moving to Idaho when this summer is over. Yep, typical Yellowstone resident.)

Victory Number 5: Our kids have learned how to sleep in. I didn't know it was possible for all four of them to sleep in passed 7:00 am, but lately they have been sleeping in until 8:30. It's heaven to wake up before the kids. The trade-off is that they stay up until about 9:00 to 10:00 each night, but I can live with that.

Victory Number 6: We are almost halfway through this summer and we are still loving it here in Yellowstone National Park. I'm so glad that our crazy plan to live in an RV has panned out so well. This is definitely a summer to remember.

So lets take a look at some pictures from the last few weeks.

This first one is proof that we are still loving our time here. Look at those smiling faces. This picture was taken halfway thought a pretty grueling hike to some petrified trees (more on that later), but we were all pretty excited to be doing something so fun as a family.
One of my favorite things about working in a National Park is that it's really easy to go play after work. I get done with work around 5:00. My husband has dinner ready by the time I get home (because he's amazing that way.) and then by 6:00 we are ready to go explore. One night we decided to hike to Natural Bridge. This hike is usually closed until mid June because bears frequent the area. I checked with the park service and they said the trail was open. So we headed out there.

I've seen several pictures of the Natural Bridge, but I never realized that you could hike up behind the bridge. So instead of showing you a picture of the bridge, here is a picture of the little ravine behind the bridge. It was very pretty.
Another night my husband and kids picked me up from work and we drove into the Lamar valley to do some evening wildlife spotting. We saw a moose with it's baby as well as a whole herd of pronghorn. But the highlight of the night was the Mama Bear with her two cubs. They were on the side of the road and we watched them play as they walked right by our car. Then they crossed the road behind us.
We've wanted to get up early and go to the Old Faithful area and hike from Old Faithful all the way to the Biscuit Basin and back. Well, the kids ended up sleeping in the day that we'd planned to do that. And we weren't messing with sleeping in. So we didn't get on the road until later than we had planned. The day was pretty warm and I knew we didn't have enough water to make it all the way to the Biscuit Basin. So instead we did about half the hike. Still it was really cool to see lots of geysers and pools that I've never seen before. At the end of the trail we were rewarded with the beautiful Morning Glory Pool.
We went through the Hayden Valley on our way back from Old Faithful. We ended up getting stuck in a "bison jam." The bison were using the bridge to cross the water. It took about 30 minutes for us to get across the bridge. This is a pretty common traffic problem in various parts of Yellowstone.
Our campground had a block party for all the residents. It was put together by one of the ladies who works for the post office. (If you think about it, it makes sense that she would be the most popular person in the area.) There were employees from Xanterra (that's who I work for), Delaware North (they do the General Stores), and the National Park Service (they do everything else). We had the only kids there. They had fun with the games that the post office lady brought.

Yellowstone is very different from the "real world". One of the biggest differences is that in Yellowstone having a trailer/RV is seen as a mark that you really having your life together. Most employees live in dormitories so having an RV is a big deal.
My sister came to visit us all the way from Texas. Her in-laws have a time share near Yellowstone and they talked her into joining them this year. We got together on my day off. She told me, "I'm here to see you, not Yellowstone." So we didn't do a lot of sight seeing. Instead we got ice cream at Canyon Village and later went down to the beach at Fishing Bridge. While we were there we saw a Bald Eagle Fly overhead.
We were only planning on seeing each other that one day. But instead we found ways to see each other two more times. One night she surprised me at my RV. And other time we went out to the condo for the evening. (And I got to use normal speed internet to rebuild my supply of podcasts.) She has two little boys and a new baby girl. My kids loved spending time with their cousins. And I was happy to hold the baby. This was actually another sort of personal victory. Since I had my kids so close together I got really overwhelmed with babies. I really haven't wanted to hold many babies since my youngest. I'm glad I'm back to liking babies again.
Most of the snow has melted from most of the trails so we can plan some hiking trips without ending up covered in mud. On one of my days off we decided to hike to Lone Star Geyser. This geyser is about 3 miles from Old Faithful. The trail is 4.7 miles round trip and is mostly flat. This was the longest hike the kids have been on, but they did great. When we hike the kids like to drag sticks behind them. Here they are all doing that.
Lone Star Geyser erupts about every 3 hours. When we got there we had about a 45-60 minute wait until it erupted. It was pretty cool to watch it go off. It erupted for about 15 to 20 minutes. We all really liked it. My kids thought it was called "Lonely Geyser." and they decided to rename it Friendly Geyser because it put on such a good show for everyone who came to see it erupt.
On our way back home we drove by the road that leads to Great Fountain Geyser. On a lark I told my husband that we should drive down there and see if it was going to erupt soon. Some of the more consistent geysers have signs near them that give a prediction window. When we got near the sign it said that the geyser was scheduled to erupt some time between something like 2:00 pm and 5:15 pm. It was 4:50 and there was a huge crowd of people and cars around the geyser. We liked the odds of seeing this geyser so we found a parking spot and sat back to wait. There were benches near the geyser, but they were in the sun. We preferred to wait in the shade of our car.
We didn't have long to wait. Within 5 minutes the water started churning and sending up small shoots of water. Soon huge pillars of water were shooting into the air. It was amazing. Just when we thought the geyser was done it would shoot up even taller pillars of water. I've decided that this is my favorite geyser in the whole park.
Our hike to Lone Star Geyser had gone so well that that the next day we decided to go on another long hike. We want to hike to the summit of Mt Washburn sometime this summer, but that's a seven mile hike. I wasn't sure if we were ready for that yet so I picked a shorter hike: The 3 mile hike to the Petrified Trees.

Here are the twins posing at the trail head. This is one of my all time favorite pictures of them together.

I read about this hike in the guidebook, A Ranger's Guide to Yellowstone Day Hikes by Roger Anderson and Carol Shively Anderson.

The book said: "There are a number of fossil forests in Yellowstone and a number of trails that will take you to them This is one of the shortest most direct routes." What I didn't realize is that in this case "most direct" was code for STEEP.

The trail started out level, but gradually it got steeper, and steeper, and steeper. This trail definitely needed some switch backs. But instead it just went straight up a ridge. If it wasn't for the promise of petrified trees at the top I would have turned around. But we kept going. Eventually we started finding petrified tree stumps. We considered ourselves rewarded when we came to an area that had 4 stumps within a short distance of each other. I had each of the kids stand by a stump so they would be easy to point out in this picture.
Part of me was thinking that we'd seen all there was to see with these four trees, but my husband wanted to hike to the top of the ridge. We scrambled over loose stones and climbed to the top where we discovered a HUGE petrified log.
I remembered that the guide book had mentioned this log. I pulled out the book to see if I'd forgotten about any other trees. After reading a few lines I realized we weren't even close to done. There was a large upright tree located farther down the trail. (Fortunately we could walk along the ridge line and didn't have to do much more steep hiking.)

The kids did great on the hike. We kept them going with snacks every so often. Here they are walking through flowers. (We'd already taken the family picture by this point or else we would have stopped and taken another family picture in the middle of all these flowers.
The big tree was quite the sight. According to the guide book it was 26 feet in circumference. It was a Redwood tree that lived 50 million years ago. I like the juxtaposition between my three year old and something that was 50 million years old.
And that's not all. There were two tall and skinny stumps located below the tree. The hike had been grueling, but it had definitely been worth it. Most visitors to Yellowstone only see the petrified tree that is near the north section of the Grand Loop Road. Very few see these trees.
We hiked up one last steep trail and came out almost at the top of the mountain. This is our view while we ate lunch. Quite the sight. You can just barely make out our car down below. As we'd hiked we'd seen several other hikers attempt the climb. A few people made it to the big log, but none went beyond that point. We congratulated our kids on being tough little hikers. The trail had gained 1500 feet over the course of 1.5 miles. Whew!
Getting down was actually harder than going up. We had to be really careful with our footing. The kids found it easier to slide down on their bums most of the time. My husband and I did that a few times too. (And a few were actually planned.) By the time we got back to the car my toes hurt so bad from being squished into the tips of my shoes.
I do not recommend the hike to the petrified trees to everyone. It is definitely rigorous, but if you think you have the stamina, it is definitely worth it. And I'm almost ready to say that Mt. Washburn with its many switch backs is going to be a cake walk compared to the petrified trees trail.

It took us several days to recover from the hike. I was actually happy to go back to work the next day because it meant I could rest.

By July 4th though, we were ready for more fun. We had several options for where we could go to celebrate Independence Day. We could have driven south to Jackson, north to Gardiner, east to Cody, or west to West Yellowstone. Jackson seemed like it would be the overly-crowded, and Cody and Gardiner would require driving back over mountain passes in the dark. So West won out. I had to work that day so we decided to just head out over there after dinner.

So we arrived in West at about 7:30. Now before I go any further I need to tell you about the last two Fourth of July celebrations we've been to. We celebrated the fourth on Fort Rucker Alabama. They had a really good cover band play for 2 hours before the show. They always encored with Sweet Home Alabama and let me tell you, there is nothing like hearing Sweet Home Alabama played live in Alabama.

I just wasn't sure this year's celebration could ever live up to that. But then I started to have some pretty good signs that it might. First, the live band that was playing in West was named Slamabama and they were from Birmingham, Alabama. I was pretty certain there was a good chance they would play Sweet Home Alabama.

When we arrived at the city park in West Yellowstone the Granite Youth Orchestra was playing for the crowd. I grew up in the Granite School District in Utah and my dad, my brother, and a few other relatives had been in this Orchestra, and I'd been in the Jr high version of this orchestra. So it was fun to see them.

After the Orchestra was done, Slamabama took the stage. At first they only played country songs, but they started doing other genres as the night went on. They encouraged everyone to come up right near the stage and form a mosh pit of sorts.

The twins wanted to go up front so we went up there and danced at the edge of the crowd. The band played Uptown Funk which we call the "Fourth of July Song" because the kids liked dancing to it at the Fourth of July celebration 2 years ago. And then the guitarist played the opening notes to Sweet Home Alabama and my girls and I screamed with happiness. The energy of that band and that crowd made this the best version of Sweet Home Alabama I've ever heard. It definitely made my night to hear that song. No matter where I live, a little piece of me will always consider Alabama as my home.

The band played other songs, but we went back to our picnic blanket and pulled out the glow sticks that my husband had been sure to buy at a dollar store several weeks ago. (We come prepared to these things.) Fireworks were scheduled to start at 10:15, but the state of Montana has some pretty lax firework regulations and so there were unofficial aerial shows going off all around us for most of the night.

The official show started and my husband took the twins to get a good look at that. I stayed at the picnic blanket with the other two kids who were pretty freaked out by all the loud notices.

I decided that live bands are my preferred way to celebrate Independence Day. Fireworks are kind of a little bonus at the end.

The show ended and we made our way back to the car. There was a huge line of cars heading west from West Yellowstone, but there were only a few cars heading east back into the park. We made it home around 12:15 and were pretty happy to see our beds.

So that gets us caught up to today. And just in the nick of time too, because we have many more adventures planned for this weekend.

Until next time I hope you can enjoy your own personal victories, what ever they are.


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