Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The last three weeks - Living in Yellowstone Update #8

Wow has this been a month.  August isn't even over yet and so far my family has experienced three major life events. 1. We moved, 2. we saw a total solar eclipse, and 3. my husband and kids have all started school.

But this post isn't about any of those things.  Instead it's about the things we did during our last three weeks in Yellowstone. I wrote most of this while I was still living in the park, but I didn't have time to post it.

So journey back with me in time to when my family was still having our carefree summer in Yellowstone National Park. 

Months ago I'd marked August 1st on the calendar as the date that I wanted find a home in Pocatello. Goals have a way of working out because at 4:15 on August 1st we received a call from the property management company in charge of the home we were hoping to rent. They told us that we'd passed the background check and were able to get the 4 bedroom house that we wanted.

There was just one little obstacle-our lease didn't start until the 15th, but we had to pay the deposit by August 3rd. And we had to pay it with either a money order or cashier's check.

At first we talked about taking another weekend trip down to Pocatello as a family. But we'd just done that the weekend before. So instead I told my husband that he should drive down there by himself. He could travel much faster without the kids, and it would be a much needed break after his summer of being the stay-at-home dad. So on Thursday he got up early and drove down to Pocatello and I spent my day off playing with the kids.

This was the first time all summer that it's been just me and the kids. I decided to take them to Norris Basin. I wanted to see what it was like in the morning. We started out in the Porcelain Basin which is very pretty. We walked from there ALLLL the way over to the Back basin and then back. Its a long hike, but my kids are pros at this.

In the afternoon we opened up our Kiwi Crate. I subscribed to these at the beginning of the summer as kind of a consolation prize for suspending our Netflix account. These crates come each month with fun, hands on science activities for your kids to do. What I love about them is that they have everything to do the activity. You don't have to go find special equipment to complete the project. I also love that they are science based. I love watching my kids get excited about science.

This month's theme was all about the body. They had little felt pieces cut out in shapes of organs. The kids used yarn (that was provided) to sew the felt together. (There were also handy pre-cut holes to put the yarn in so this was easy for my kids to do.) They had a great time making a heart, a brain, and a stomach.
We also put together a stethoscope. The kids (and me) were amazed to hear their heartbeats through the stethoscope. Hurray for science and hurray for kiwi crates.
All summer long we have been plagued by mosquitoes, but in the past few weeks they have disappeared. That means we can finally enjoy the area outside our RV. The night my husband was gone we spent a long time playing outside. My 3 year old had a lot of fun gathering rocks and arranging them in different shapes. Here they are a nest. She also made them in a long snake shape. She'd pretend the rocks were babies and she walked around singing, "I've got the babies, I've got the babies" to the tune of "the Farmer in the Dale" while she arranged the rocks.

A few days later the twins used some of the rocks to build a pretend fireplace. My three year old had been pretending the rocks were Easter Eggs and tried to take them back. A big argument ensured where the girls were all fighting over rocks. This is why we don't spend a lot of money on toys.

My husband came back home in the afternoon on Friday. We just hung around that day, but by Saturday we were ready for adventure.

Two of the very first things that I put on my Yellowstone bucket list were to swim in the Firehole River and to walk from the Old Faithful area to the Black Sands Geyser Basin. For some reason these thing didn't happen until almost the end of our time in Yellowstone.

My son had been asking to see "Paint Pops" for days and so we stopped at the Fountain Paint pot area so he could see those. There is a geyser  in that area that is almost always going off so we stopped to watch that for a while.

Then it was on to the Old Faithful area. On busy summer days in the height of tourist season there is hardly any parking in the geyser basins near Old Faithful. So walking the 2 miles from Old Faithful to the Black Sands Basin was a better plan than fighting for parking. Plus we got to walk by many interesting geysers and hot springs.
When we finally made it to the Black Sands Basin, Everyone loved Cliffside geyser.  It put on a show the whole time we were there.  It made my son laugh a lot.

We also really liked Sunset Lake. In the back ground of this picture you can see a little puff of steam. That's most likely Grand Geyser. We'd walked by it earlier and read that it was projected to erupt within the next three hours.

We walked back to Old Faithful and despite the long walk and the warm temperatures my daughter said, "that wasn't a long hike." It had been over 2 miles, but by comparison to some of our other adventures it was rather short.

We took a break and relaxed in the movie theater at the visitor center. Then my husband ran back to the car and grabbed the bag with our swimming suits in it. We went to the bathroom in the Old Faithful Lodge and helped the kids change into swimming suites. We put our clothes back on over our suits so people couldn't tell that we were wearing swimming suits, but the twins were still saying things like, "I'm so embarrassed, I can't believe I'm wearing my swimming suit in public."

Then we drove to the Firehole river. Parking is a little crazy there so my husband just dropped us off at the staircase that leads down to the river and then drove ahead to find a parking space. I took the kids down and he joined us a few minutes later.

The water from every geyser and hot spring upstream flows into the Firehole River and makes it warm. The water wasn't hot, but it wasn't cold either. Most of the kids had a good time swimming. My son doesn't like situations where he feels unstable so he didn't want to walk very far into the water. I put him on my back and gave him a piggy back ride in the water, but he never felt comfortable with that and cried a lot. Btu other than that swimming in the river was pretty cool. I'm so glad we finally got this crossed off my bucket list.

Another thing we've been wanting to do all summer is to have the kids earn their junior ranger badges. To earn these you have to buy a book for $3 and then have your kids do the age appropriate activities. You also have to walk on a trail and attend a ranger talk.

Well the first two were pretty easy. My husband worked with the kids to help them fill out their books. And they've hiked on more trails and boardwalks then some real rangers so that was easy to do. But the ranger talk proved more tricky. Canyon Village has ranger talks every night, but they start at 9:30 AKA after bedtime. And I wasn't sure the kids would be able to do one during the day. Our kids don't have the best attention spans and I knew that we'd need both parents there - one to take out the kids that couldn't listen and one to stay with the ones who could.

Then I read that there was a ranger talk every night at 7:30 at the Norris Campground. So we headed over there on Monday night. As predicted one child didn't want to listen. So I took my son on a walk while my husband sat with the girls and learned all about invasive water species.

My son and I spent a glorious hour enjoying a little stream. He threw rocks in the water and I thought about how much I truly love this place. Some of my favorite moment in Yellowstone are when I get a chance to just be still and absorb the park. I love the clarity that I feel in those moments.
The bison have been in Rut since the very end of July. We've gone down to the Hayden Valley a few times to watch them. The males let out a low moan that kind of sounds like a drawn out frog croaking. They stay very close to the females. And, as one of my daughters observed, sometimes they jump on top of each other.

On our very last weekend in Yellowstone as a family we decided to do something that we've been talking about all summer. We rented a boat and drove it on Yellowstone Lake. There are several options for how to see the lake. You can rent a row boat, you can rent a boat with an outboard motor, you can charter a private fishing tour, or you can go on a boat tour. When I did the math I realized it was about the same cost to rent the boat as it would be for the 6 of us to go on the tour. My husband told me he'd rather drive a boat than go on a tour so the motor boat won out.

Still, I kept debating about whether or not we should go. Our finances have always been tight and I don't have a job lined up yet for after Yellowstone so I wasn't sure if spending $50-70 on a boat ride was prudent. But in the end I decided that we should do the boat ride. The kids have been looking forward to this for months and I don't know when we'll be back in Yellowstone with time for a boat ride. So we decided to do it. I can always make more money, we can't always go on a boat ride. (And I get a 20% discount as a Xanterra employee so that make me feel better about the whole thing.)

I'm so glad we decided to do this. From the moment we stepped on the dock the kids were so excited. We put a life preserver on my 3 year old and she started jumping up and down and yelling, "I love this."

We gave the kids a quick talk about settling down and paying attention and then we listened to the rental employee talk about boat safety. He showed my husband how to operate the boat and then helped us all into the boat. And then we were off.

My husband loved driving the boat. For a split second I was like, "will he be able to handle it?" and then I was like, "oh nevermind he's flown airplanes and helicopters, he'll be fine." We had to go slow while we made our way out of Bridge Bay Marina. But as soon as we were passed the last buoy he pushed the throttle all the way forward and we raced across the water.
Everyone loved the speed. One of the twins is always trying to stick her head out the car window so she can feel the wind in her hair. She kept yelling, "I've always wanted to do this!" The three year old added a few more yells of "I love this." And the other two kids laughed and cheered too.
There is a limited area where you can dirve the boat on the lake, but it's still a pretty good area. We passed Lake Hotel, Storm Point, and made it all the way to Steamboat Point. Then we turned around and went passed the island on our way back to the Marina. This was one of our favorite things we did in Yellowstone.

A few weeks ago I said that the stage coach ride at Roosevelt is the most cost effective activity in the park. That's not quite true. It's the least expensive thing on a per person basis. But renting a boat is even more cost effective - if you have a large group. The boats hold up to 8 people, and they are rented out per hour instead of per person. So if you have a group of 6-8 people renting a boat is very affordable.

Our boat ride was only one of the lake related things we had planned for the day. After the boat ride we went to a picnic area by the lake and had lunch. Then we drove down to the West Thumb area of the lake. Up until this summer I always thought that West Thumb was just an area with an overlook of the lake. Consequently I never wanted thought it was worth my time to visit it. Then I realized that it's a Geyser area. And a beautiful one at that. Even after living here for 2 1/2 months I can still be amazed by things inside the park.
Our final stop for the day was an spot on a hill where you can overlook the lake.  I'm going to miss sights like this.
We had plans to go on one last hike on my last day off, but those were cancelled when my husband decided that we probably should get the Honda's brakes replaced before starting all the moving related driving. Fortunately we have the kind of brakes that are "easy" and less expensive to purchase so my husband was able to buy them in West Yellowstone and replace them all in one day. It actually only took about 90 minutes for him to replace them.

That night I took my son and daughter to Artist Paint pots so my son could see some more "Paint pops." The area was pretty, but my favorite picture from the night was the aftermath from one of my daughters hugs. She does this to her brother all the time.

The next day I started into my last week of work. I have 4 day work weeks. A few weeks ago I realized I could get an extra week of pay if I extended my contract by only 4 days. So I did that. The trade off meant that I would have to work 8 days with only one day off in the middle.

We decided that it would be best if my husband took the kids and worked on the move while I stayed in Yellowstone  for that long work week. So they left on Sunday night to go down to Utah and get our stuff out of my in-laws garage where it has been stored for the past 9 months.

Several weeks ago Xanterra had an employee appreciation sale where we could get merchandise for 40% off. The kids all picked out toys with the understanding that they couldn't play with the toys until they left Yellowstone. I gave the kids their toys when they were in their seats. It helped easy the sadness of saying goodbye for almost a week.

The next week was a blur of work and driving. I'm pretty certain I should be in Florida right now after all the driving I did.  I worked three days and then spent my one day off driving to Pocatello to help my husband move our stuff into our rental.  That night I drove back to Yellowstone, and then worked 4 more days.  On Saturday I drove down to Idaho Falls and met my husband and kids.  We left the Jeep there and drove back to Yellowstone.  We all spent one last night in the RV together.  I went to my last day of work, and then we drove out of Yellowstone the way we had come.  My husband drove the RV and I drove the Honda.

And so now it's all over.  I'm still trying to find the right words to sum it all up. Our 13 weeks in Yellowstone was the most fulfilling time of my life. I've never felt so content.  It was like my whole life led up to that summer.  I'm so glad my husband and I took the risk and did something crazy. This summer will pay dividends for the rest of our lives.

For some reason I keep thinking of a scene from the 2005 movie Sahara.  This movie is known as the biggest blockbuster flop of all time, but my husband and I love it.  We like the relationship between the two main characters as they deal with crazy adventures. We often quote these lines:

Al Giordino: Hey, you know how it is when you see someone that you haven't seen since high school, and they got some dead-end job, and they're married to some woman that hates them, they got, like, three kids who think he's a joke? Wasn't there some point where he stood back and said, "Bob, don't take that job! Bob, don't marry that harpy!" You know?

Dirk Pitt: Your point?

Al Giordino: Well, we're in the desert, looking for the source of a river pollutant, using as our map a cave drawing of a Civil War gunship, which is also in the desert. So I was just wondering when we're gonna have to sit down and re-evaluate our decision-making paradigm?

Dirk Pitt: [coming up on the fortress seen in the cave painting] I don't know - it seems to be working so far.

So back when we decided to take our four kids and live in a 25 foot RV in a National Park we asked each other "when are we gonna have to sit down and re-evaluate our decision-making paradigm?"  

Followed quickly by, "I don't know - it seems to be working so far."

And so far it has.

1 comment:

  1. You guys are amazing! What a dream summer! I would love to try something similar but I don't know if I'm as brave as you. Thank you for sharing your adventures and what you've learned. It helps me to see that it is possible and worthwhile. Good luck in Pocatello!


I would love to hear what you think. Did I get it right, or was I dead wrong? What was your experience like?


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