Our Western Adventure – Exploring the Basin

We spent a lot of time exploring the various geyser areas. Since there was a lot of overlap, I’m including them all in one post. I apologize for the length. Thank you for reading! :-)

Monday – Day 4
After a night of shivering on our first night at Yellowstone, we got up, and made pancakes in the camper. YUM! Once everything was all cleaned up, we left for Old Faithful.

The West Thumb Geyser Basin, with Yellowstone Lake in the background.

The West Thumb Geyser Basin, with Yellowstone Lake in the background.

On the way, we stopped at West Thumb to check out the hot springs there. When we first saw this area from the road, our first thought was that there was a fire there, due to all the steam. We quickly learned that billows of steam are tell-tale signs of hot springs or geysers in the area.

This was our first glimpse of the hot springs and a couple of mudpots. It was beautiful with the backdrop of Yellowstone Lake.  There were a couple of geysers right at the edge of the lake, which were pretty cool to see, though, we didn’t see any erupt while we were there. We did see a large group of kayakers were going along the lake near the geyser basin. I wondered how warm the water was down there.

Old Faithful Geyser

Old Faithful Geyser

After West Thumb, we headed to Old Faithful, where it took us over 40 minutes to find a parking spot! I would recommend going early in the day, instead of mid-afternoon, like we did. Once we parked, we had a picnic lunch in the car before heading to see the most predictable geyser in Yellowstone. They had times posted as to when it was “supposed” to go off. Times are +/- 10 minutes. Amazingly – it was pretty much right to the minute! There were seats all around the huge fountain for people to sit and watch.

At first, Old Faithful just started sputtering a little bit of water. The water got higher and higher. It went for about 5 minutes or so, then it was done. It wasn’t at all what I expected. I guess I expected to hear more sound from the water, or something (like in the cartoons). It was actually fairly quiet. One of the dads from the dance studio said his initial reaction to Old Faithful was pretty much the same.

Castle Geyser, one of my favorite geysers surrounding Old Faithful.

Castle Geyser, one of my favorite geysers surrounding Old Faithful.

There are several trails around the geyser to explore. We did the “main loop” on that day, and went back on Thursday to see the parts we missed. As we were walking around the trails, we all got sprayed by a geyser. What was interesting, was that all the males in our group thought the water felt really hot, and hurt. When Grace and I walked by a couple minutes later, we thought it was icy cold, and felt good on such a hot day.

The trails are fairly lacking in shade, and the sun was intense. A few of us ended up with a bit of sunburn. We remembered the sunscreen later in the week. Also, with all the walking/ mild hiking we did, we were glad to have tennis shoes in addition to sandals. Grace wore her flip flops the first day we were at Old Faithful, but wore her tennis shoes most of the rest of the week. We all had back up tennis shoes too, in case it got rainy, or our shoes got wet.

Jason, Michael, Grace, and I at the Mud Volcano area.

Jason, Michael, Grace, and I at the Mud Volcano area.

Day 6 – Wednesday

Wednesday, we had a slight change from our original plan of visiting Mammoth, due to needing to find a hardware store that carried a part we needed to fix part of the camper that broke. We ended up heading to West Yellowstone, which is just outside the park boundaries. It was a cute little town, that we may visit again to explore more. An added bonus, is that we got to explore areas that weren’t in our original plan, and we saw many elk and buffalo that we wouldn’t have otherwise seen.

Dragons Mouth Spring, the loudest of the springs that we heard in the Mud Volcano area.

Dragons Mouth Spring, the loudest of the springs that we heard in the Mud Volcano area.

Anyway, on the way, we stopped at Mud Volcano. This was a cool area that we passed a couple of times during the week. It was a chilly, drizzly morning, and half the kids wanted to stay in the car, and not explore. The rest of us got out, and carefully walked the trails. We had to be careful, because this is, apparently, a favorite area for one herd of buffalo to hang out. There was a huge one at the top of a hill overlooking the winding path. Since my husband was wearing a red hoodie, and my son had on red pants, I was a little nervous that he would charge, but he was more interested in watching. Thank goodness!! One thing to note about the Mud Volcano area – it is one of the stronger sulphur-smelling areas we visited. I was especially glad for my bandana to cover my nose on that day!

I think this was across the street from Mud Volcano. The buffalo seemed to be drawn to the springs areas.

I think this was across the street from Mud Volcano. The buffalo seemed to be drawn to the springs areas.

Day 7 – Thursday

We went to Old Faithful early to avoid the parking disaster we had earlier in the week. This was a good idea! Not only did we get to park right away, we got to walk the trails we had previously missed before it got too hot out. After a delicious lunch in the cafeteria at the Old Faithful Lodge, we left to explore the rest of the Upper Geyser Basin.

One of the geysers we saw near the Biscuit Basin (north of Old Faithful) was called Artemisia. Nearby, was the Morning Glory Pool. Jason and most of the kids were ready for a break from the sun and walking, so Michael, Nikolai and I hiked to these two on our own. We were glad we did – they were gorgeous!

My two hiking buddies - Michael and Nikolai!

My two hiking buddies – Michael and Nikolai!

We also explored the Black Sand Basin, the Midway Geyser Basin, and the Fountain Paint Pot areas on Thursday.

The Midway Geyser Basin was pretty cool, because it had some gorgeous pools and springs. One of the highlights of this area is the Grand Prismatic Spring, the largest hot spring in Yellowstone. I wish the walkway were somehow elevated here, because being level with the spring, I felt like we missed out on the true beauty of it. I have seen pictures taken from the air, and it is much more gorgeous than we could even see. The clarity of all the springs, especially those in this area were amazing! Another cool part of this area was the water that was draining into the Firehole River from here.

Grand Prismatic Spring

Grand Prismatic Spring at the Midway Geyser Basin

Day 8 – Friday

The last of the springs we visited was the Sulphur Caldron. It was definitely the stinkiest place we visited. The bandana didn’t even kind of help, and Michael didn’t want to stand still long enough for a picture because it smelled so bad. Fun fact, this spring has a pH level just below that of battery acid. You definitely wouldn’t want to touch that one!

Sulphur Cauldron - the stinkiest place we found in all of Yellowstone Park.

Sulphur Cauldron – the stinkiest place we found in all of Yellowstone Park.

Final Note:

Because of our change of plans on Wednesday, we didn’t get to see the hot springs at Mammoth. The next time we go back, we will definitely be taking a day to explore this area more.

 

 

 

Our Western Adventure – Hot Springs and the Geyser Basin

A panoramic view of the West Thumb Geyser Basin with Yellowstone Lake in the background.

A panoramic view of the West Thumb Geyser Basin with Yellowstone Lake in the background.

Several days of our Yellowstone vacation included exploring the various geysers and hot springs in the park. I had never seen them before, and they were nothing like I expected.

There are several “geyser basins” (or areas where there are multiple hot springs and geysers in the same area) around Yellowstone Park, but there are only four or five in the entire world! We truly saw many unique areas, and things change there all the time. We could go again in 3-5 years, and things could look completely different.

Being my first time at the hot springs, I was surprised at how stinky it was. There was a definite sulphur smell in the air. Steam was rising off many of the springs. I so badly wanted to feel just how hot they were, but I probably would have been burned – either from the heat, or the acidity. Either way, it’s also illegal, so I didn’t give in to the temptation to touch the water (or let anyone else in the group).

Some of the springs were so clear, you could see every detail of the pool, quite deep. Several looked like you could dive in, swim down, and find The Little Mermaids grotto of treasures below!

Some of the springs were so clear, you could see every detail of the pool, quite deep. Several looked like you could dive in, swim down, and find The Little Mermaids grotto of treasures below!

The clarity and colors in many of the hot springs across the park were incredible! I think that deep down, I thought the photographs I had seen were doctored in some way. This was not the case! The colors were so bright; it was amazing! Colors were caused by the chemical makeup of the springs, the depths, the temperatures, the bacteria and microorganisms that were living in it, and the minerals left behind in the run-off. Speaking of run-off, many of the springs in this area literally emptied into Yellowstone Lake or rivers in the area.

The orange solid surrounding many of the pools are called "bacteria mats". They are made up of living microorganisms.

The orange solid surrounding many of the pools are called “bacteria mats”. They are made up of living microorganisms.

Besides the colors, I didn’t expect the ground all around the geyser basins to be thermal as well. That means the ground all around was also hot, some areas only having a thin layer of ground above underground springs. There were several areas where we could see recent sink holes, or where vegetation was obviously being impacted by acidic or thermal activity under the soil. In some areas, we could feel the heat rising from the ground, and often were greeted by hot steam from the geysers or hot springs. There were signs all over, reminding us to stay on the paths. Nikolai and I often wondered how they knew where it would be safe, and how they anchored the walkways so as not to collapse with new sinkholes. We also noticed buffalo prints and dung near many of the hot springs, and wondered how people could fall through, but not the huge bison!?!

I’ll have an upcoming post about the various areas we explored in the geyser basin and hot springs.

 

Our Western Adventure – Devil’s Tower to Big Horn

Devils Tower, shrouded in fog in the morning.

Devils Tower, shrouded in fog in the morning.

On Day 3 of our trip, we went to Devil’s Tower,  and drove through Big Horn on our way to Yellowstone.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect when it came to Devil’s Tower. After all, it was just a big rock formation, right? We saw it from our campground – cool. It was smaller than I expected from a distance. Even up close, it was only a 1.3 mile hike all around the base, though taller than it originally seemed. I fully expected all the kids to complain about having to walk around it; especially since it was drizzling when we got there, and covered in fog.

The sign that talked about how the Devils Tower rock formations were created.

The sign that talked about how the Devils Tower rock formations were created.

Instead, we all enjoyed the hike around the base. The fog quickly cleared. We saw rock climbers going up the tower, and coming down from the top. We saw some rocks that we got to climb on, beautiful overlooks, and learned a bit about how rock formations can be made. What was cool to read about, was how it started as solid magma, then tiny holes were formed as heat tried to escape. Eventually, the holes created cracks all the way down, which created columns in 4, 5, or 6 sided shapes. Did you know hexagons are nature’s most perfect fitting shape?

Devil's Tower after the fog cleared.

Devil’s Tower after the fog cleared.

There were several lookouts all around the tower. Some looked out over the valleys, some looked at forest or rock formations. We got some great pictures, learned a little, and had an enjoyable hike – the first of what would become many over the course of this trip.

As we were leaving Devil’s Tower, there was a prairie dog town just at the exit. We stopped and watched the playful little animals for a little while. I was snacking on dried banana chips, and decided to see if they liked them. Now, I know we are not supposed to feed the animals, but someone else was giving them Fritos, so I thought we’d at least offer them something healthy… the prairie dogs LOVED the banana chips!Now, I’m not condoning breaking the rules, but it was pretty cute to watch them…

This may have been one of the highest altitude points of our trip... as you can see, not much grows up there!

This may have been one of the highest altitude points of our trip… as you can see, not much grows up there!

After we were done exploring Devil’s Tower, we drove through Big Horn. The mountains were beautiful! We saw a lot of antelope as we drove through this area. I was only a little disappointed that we didn’t actually see any of the Big Horn Sheep while we were driving through. We did, however, see 2 herds of regular sheep, if that counts. ;-)

We stopped at a few of the scenic overlooks, for even more amazing views. At one point, we were at “the tree line.” Practically nothing grows at that altitude. When we got out to take pictures at the overlook, we were surprised at how cold and windy it was up there at close to 10,000 feet above sea level!

One thing to note about Big Horn: USE THE RESTROOM BEFORE ENTERING THE PARK! I can’t emphasize this enough! We drove over 60 miles (at slow speeds due to being in the mountains) with people who had to pee, and there were no rest rooms or portapotties in sight! Being that we were in a National Forest, it felt a little wrong to just go pee in the woods!

One of the coolest features of this leg of the drive, was in Buffalo Bill State Park, an area between Big Horn and Yellowstone. We drove through three tunnels that went right through the mountains. We have plenty of concrete tunnels here in MN, but there’s something really cool about driving through a tunnel, knowing you are in the middle of a mountain, and seeing nothing but stone around you. Grace was a little freaked out by the thought that the tunnels could collapse around us at any moment (though, we all know they wouldn’t). She held her breath through each one. The last tunnel was really long, I was a little afraid she might pass out if we didn’t get to the end soon.

One of the tunnels going through the mountain in Buffalo Bill State Park.

One of the tunnels going through the mountain in Buffalo Bill State Park.

We pulled into Yellowstone after dark. We were almost immediately greeted by a HUGE porcupine in the road, that stared at us as if daring us to hit it. Seriously, I didn’t know porcupines could get that big. We didn’t hit it, we stopped and watched it for a minute as it gave us that daring stare, then went around it.

We also saw an elk cross the road in front of us. Finally, we found our campground and started to set up. That night, we were FREEZING!! None of use expected it to get THAT cold during the night. We all shivered despite wearing layers, having sleeping bags and blankets.

At the end of each day, I asked the kids what their favorite part of the day was. Their responses were varied. Dysin liked the Big Horn Mountains the best. Aspen liked almost hitting the porcupine. He was one of the only kids still awake at that point, so he actually got to see it. Grace and Nikolai both said their favorite part of the day was the hike around Devil’s Tower. Michael liked feeding the banana chips to the prairie dogs, and hiking at Devil’s Tower. He also was the only one that was warm that night.

It was a great one of many days on our trip.

Our Western Adventure – South Dakota

We recently got back from a 9 day adventure, which ultimately ended up in Yellowstone National Park.

This picture was taken in 2012 in the Badlands. We attempted to recreate this picture again this year.

This picture was taken in 2012 in the Badlands. We attempted to recreate this picture again this year.

Day 1

We left just after 8 am on a Friday morning. Leaving only 15 minutes later than our goal was pretty good for 7 people headed halfway across the country. We drove from MN to South Dakota. The kids were really good for the long trip! It was a little cramped, as we now have 4 teenagers and a 10 year old, and there was almost no complaining. We had 4 tablets, each with movies downloaded onto them, and a Kindle Fire, plus cell phones and an ipod. We let them watch/play on them for much of the drive out.

This is the recreation attempt in the Badlands this year. Hard to believe how much the kids have grown in the past 3 years!

This is the recreation attempt in the Badlands this year. Hard to believe how much the kids have grown in the past 3 years!

Our first stop was the Badlands. We got out, and explored at a few of the sites. We noticed things were much greener this year, than when we were last there 3 years ago. Michael and I explored a trail that I didn’t remember being there when we last went. It took us out over the tops of the hills, and to an awesome overlook! We also climbed a different rock formation, and came to another awesome view. Jason and the rest of the crew explored another area while we were doing our little hike.

Once we were done in the Badlands, we went to Sleepy Hollow, our campground in Wall, SD. We were about a block from Wall Drug, but didn’t go there. The campground was fine, nothing spectacular. We were only there to sleep.

Day 2

 

Many days, we stopped at picnic sites such as this, or ate picnic lunches in the car. This site was in Custer.

Many days, we stopped at picnic sites such as this, or ate picnic lunches in the car. This site was in Custer.

Saturday morning, we got up and headed to Custer State Park. On the way, we stopped at the Minuteman Missile Museum. The museum is brand new, and not quite complete. It will be a cool stop for people when it’s done. We didn’t see the actual missile outdoors as shown on the website. This was probably due to the fact that we got there right before they closed.

Shortly after entering Custer, we came across the buffalo herd. They were very close to the road, and I was surprised at how brave the bikers were. There was one HUGE male right next to our car. Seriously, I could have probably reached out and touched him! He was sniffing the rear of the buffalo in front of him (which the kids thought was hilarious). Then, he turned his head, and started sniffing towards our car. His head was bigger than my window… I started panicking a bit (which the kids also thought was quite funny). We couldn’t really move the car, due to stopped traffic… I was definitely ready to move on. Darn imagination, picturing him ramming right through my car door!

Baby buffalo taking a drink from its mama!

Baby buffalo taking a drink from its mama!

As we continued our drive, we stopped to pet and feed the donkeys. They are “wild animals”, but they are actually pretty tame. The kids fed pears to the donkeys, and thought it was pretty cool that they ate them right out of their hands. We also saw some antelope hanging out in the same pasture.

After leaving the wildlife loop, we drove through the Needles Highway. This was a bit nerve-wracking, as we were pulling the pop up camper. We were heading through at the end of Sturgis, so there were motorcycles everywhere. They weren’t exactly staying in their lanes during the hairpin turns, and we were sure we were going to end up hitting one. No, we didn’t, but a few got close. The tunnels were especially frustrating. There are 3 tunnels, all one lane. We honked upon entering the longest one, and there was no response. As we got right to the entrance, a whole group of motorcycles went through, followed by several others. We did our best to back up, but with a line of vehicles behind us, it was very difficult. Luckily, a motorcyclist behind us went ahead to the other side, and asked them to hold off so we could get through. We were thankful she did. This was probably the most stressful part of the trip. I don’t think we’ll drive that again with a camper behind us!

Grace, pretending to hold up Devils Tower at our campground.

Grace, pretending to hold up Devils Tower at our campground.

We wrapped up the day by heading to our campground at the KOA at the base of Devil’s Tower in Wyoming. They have a nightly showing of Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind. Unfortunately, we got there late enough in the evening, that we were still setting up camp, and did not get to watch. We ate dinner at the campground. Prices were a bit high for the quality of the food, but we were hungry, and didn’t care. The camp ground was nice, though the bathrooms were stinky! At the KOA, I threw in the laundry we had created so far. While the laundry was going, the kids played Exploding Kittens, and I sat in the laundry room reading. It was a peaceful night!

The Animals of the West

While we were in on vacation, we saw many different kinds of animals. On the way out to Yellowstone, we drove through Custer State Park and saw all the wildlife there. Overall, we saw many more animals than I expected. I will put pictures with the animals that I have pictures of.

In no particular order, here are the animals we saw:

Porcupine – we actually encountered 2 of them. Both were on the road. We joked that they were trying to commit porcu-cide.

Deer – we saw several mule deer

Grizzly bear – we saw one walking in the woods while driving through a wildlife preserve between Yellowstone and the Tetons

Lots of unique birds and waterfowl that we don’t see in MN

Swans – we saw 4 in a river

Several different types of hawks

Eagles

Bats

Fox

Trout

Weasel

Chipmunks

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Here was a rabbit we saw in the Badlands in South Dakota.

This was either a bald eagle, or an osprey nest in south Dakota.

This was either a bald eagle, or an osprey nest in south Dakota.

My son Michael thought it was so cool that the donkey would eat a pear right out of his hand - in Custer State Park in South Dakota.

My son Michael thought it was so cool that the donkey would eat a pear right out of his hand.

We came across this herd several times during our week in Yellowstone. Sometimes they were by the road, sometimes by the hot springs.

We came across this herd several times during our week in Yellowstone. Sometimes they were by the road, sometimes by the hot springs.

This was one of many large bull elk we saw. This was the only one losing the velvet off his antlers. We also saw many female over the week in Yellowstone.

This was one of many large bull elk we saw. This was the only one losing the velvet off his antlers. We also saw many female over the week in Yellowstone.

This yellow-bellied marmot crossed our path as we were hiking to the top of Upper Falls in the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. When he ran, his tail moved as if he were a wind-up toy.

This yellow-bellied marmot crossed our path as we were hiking to the top of Upper Falls in the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. When he ran, his tail moved as if he were a wind-up toy.

This badger did not like that the trail to the river was a little too close to his home. We were a little nervous having to walk past him to get back to our car.

This badger did not like that the trail to the river was a little too close to his home. We were a little nervous having to walk past him to get back to our car.

These playful little prairie dogs were right next to the road near Devils Tower in Wyoming. They loved the dried banana slices we were throwing them.

These playful little prairie dogs were right next to the road near Devils Tower in Wyoming. They loved the dried banana slices we were throwing them.

We saw several antelope between South Dakota and Yellowstone. This one was in Custer State Park.

We saw several antelope between South Dakota and Yellowstone. This one was in Custer State Park.

This little snake crossed our path down by the Boiling River in Yellowstone.

This little snake crossed our path down by the Boiling River in Yellowstone.

Tent caterpillars of some sort at Devils Tower.

Tent caterpillars of some sort at Devils Tower.

Beetles like this were all over the place. They kept landing on Nikolai.

Beetles like this were all over the place. They kept landing on Nikolai.

Lessons Learned about Yellowstone

Here is our family at Artists' Point in the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. Left to right: Me, Aspen, Nikolai, Michael, Dysin, Grace, and Jason

Here is our family at Artists’ Point in the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. Left to right: Me, Aspen, Nikolai, Michael, Dysin, Grace, and Jason

Our family just got back from a week-long trip to Yellowstone National Park. There were a few things we learned:

*Yellowstone gets VERY cold at night! The first night there, we were all shivering, even though we were sleeping in sweat pants, socks, t-shirt and hoodie, and were in our sleeping bags. We had to buy warmer sleeping bags for the two boys who slept in the tent. Then, we used their old sleeping bags to add a layer to two people sleeping in the camper.

*Despite a cold start to the day, and even a couple rainy starts, it heats up quick in the mountains. We all wore layers that we shed as the day went on.

*Groceries are expensive in the park. There are several General Stores that had a decent selection of groceries, but things like meat and cheese for sandwiches, was about double what it is at home. Despite the prices, we had picnic lunches almost every day, so we had to purchase them a few times at park-prices.

*A large water jug is a GREAT idea!  With the heat, and how much walking we did, we drank a lot! Several places throughout the park have water filling stations. I expected the water to taste like well-water does here, but it was very fresh and clean tasting! We got a 7 gallon water jug that we kept in the back of our vehicle. We filled it up several times throughout the week, which we used to fill our water bottles several times a day.

Old Faithful during one of its many eruptions per day.

Old Faithful during one of its many eruptions per day.

*The food at the cafeteria at Old Faithful Lodge is delicious! Portion sizes are more than most people can eat, and it’s very reasonably priced. We ate there twice – once for dinner, once for lunch.

*They take their bear warnings very seriously! Recently, there was a man who was attacked, partially eaten, and cached for future consumption. Several trails were closed. The bear and her two cubs were captured during the course of the time we were out there. She was put down, her two cubs are going to be sent to the Toledo, Ohio zoo.

*Don’t take selfies with the buffalo. Recently, a 17 year old girl was trying to get close to a buffalo to take a selfie. The buffalo gored her with his horn. She did not survive. The park’s recommendation is to stay at least 25 yards away from most animals, and 100+ for bears and wolves.

*There are a lot of stupid people in the park. No matter how many warnings there are all over about not getting too close to the wildlife, A LOT of people got out of their cars and were not afraid to get close to the animals, especially buffalo. We saw one man, who was between our car and a buffalo, get too close, and the buffalo stomped towards him to let him know he didn’t like it. I was pretty sure we were going to watch him die right in front of us… our car would have been wrecked too… Whenever we saw people get too close to the animals, we’d say, “Darwinism at its finest…” Most surprising, was how close people let their little kids get!?!

*There are a LOT of rules you need to follow in the park. The rules are for the safety of you AND the animals. It’s in your best interest to read the signs (and the rules from the campgrounds), and to follow them. This includes bringing all your food with you (or using the shared bear-proof food boxes available), and throwing your trash in the bear-proof trash bins that can be found all over the park. Another important rule includes staying on the trails. In many areas of the park, the ground surrounding the walkways are thermal. One wrong step could open up a sink hole and/or new hot spring. Other areas are eroding due to extensive foot-traffic. In order to protect the paths and the park, it is a good idea to stay on the path, and not kick the rocks or gravel around.

While the bandana did not block all the sulphur smell of the hot springs, it was very helpful!

While the bandana did not block all the sulphur smell of the hot springs, it was very helpful!

*The hot springs are stinky! I was warned by my Mother-in-Law, thank goodness! I brought a bandana along, and whenever we were checking out stinky springs, I’d put it over my nose. I was glad I did. I heard several people say, “That is one smart woman.” I also heard people say that it was a good idea, and they pull their own bandanas over their noses.

*You can’t use mileage to gauge how long it will take you to get anywhere in the park. The speed limit through much of the park is 25 or 35 MPH. You also never know when there might be a buffalo herd, or elk on the road that you need to stop for. You also might want to do some sight-seeing along the way to wherever you are going.

I did not expect to see nearly as many buffalo as we saw. Often, traffic was stopped by herds crossing the street.

I did not expect to see nearly as many buffalo as we saw. Often, traffic was stopped by herds crossing the street.

*Use the pull-offs or scenic overlooks. You won’t regret it! There are so many beautiful sights to see in Yellowstone. If you don’t pull over a few times, you will miss them. Many are hidden gems that require a short hike. It sometimes took us an hour or two longer than we expected to get somewhere because we pulled off to see some hot springs or other sights. If you can stay relaxed about your plans, you will really enjoy all the park has to offer.

*I’d recommend wearing shoes that are good for walking on uneven terrain. I alternated between tennis shoes and sandals. I still ended up with a blister under my pinky toe, which was not fun to walk on the last day.

*Yellowstone has a lot of cool history. Take a few minutes at the various sites to read the plaques that give history of the area, or explain the geological features and how they were made. We learned a lot on this trip just by reading signs!

One of the many amazingly colorful hot springs we saw.

One of the many amazingly colorful hot springs we saw.

*Pictures truly do not do this park justice! The mountains, waterfalls, valleys, wildlife, hot springs, geysers… all are so much more beautiful in person. When I saw all the colors of the hot springs in pictures, I thought they must have been enhanced. NOPE! The minerals, bacteria, acids, etc. are so much more colorful than you can even imagine!

*The altitude seemed to mess with the tire pressure some. Our gauges on the Traverse were showing some really screwy numbers for the tire pressure. In the end, it was fine…..

*Be prepared to spend some time looking for parking, especially mid-afternoon. We drove around for about 40+ minutes looking for a place to park at Old Faithful.

*It’s OK to be over-prepared. We had planned on eating dinners at the campground several evenings. Most nights, we didn’t get back to the campground until after 9, so we ended up eating at the various locations we went to. We had a lot of food/spice items we didn’t end up using, but we would rather have it that way, than not have enough.

*A couple things to make sure you have: garbage bags, dish soap, duck tape, ways to charge camera batteries/ phone batteries, lanterns, wet wipes to clean hands when the sanitizer in the rest stops is not enough.

*There is no phone signal in most of Yellowstone. We were not quite prepared (mentally) for the fact that not only was there no wifi, there wasn’t even a phone signal. Not a big deal, really, except when you think about all the what-ifs that could happen driving in the mountains, surrounded by wild-life. We all survived just fine!

*Finally, we learned that 5 days was not enough. We saw a lot of wonderful things, but we have a list of things we missed that we want to go back and do or see. Even the teenagers want to go back and experience even more of the park!

Feel free to add any lessons you learned in Yellowstone National Park in the comments below.

Newly added: 8/23/15

* If you are going to do a road trip like this, it’s worth it to buy the seasonal Interagency Park Pass. It costs $80, and gets you into all National Parks, U.S. Forests, etc. for one year.  It does not get you into Custer. You can buy a pass that’s good for a week there. With the pass, we didn’t have to pay for admission into the Badlands, Devil’s Tower, Big Horn, Yellowstone, and the Grand Tetons. There are plenty of other places you could use this on, if you were going into the Black Hills, Mt. Rushmore, etc. It’s worth the money.

* Many of the different areas have trail guides. They have maps of the many different attractions at each location, such as geysers, hot springs, waterfalls, trails, etc. They also have some information about the sites, and make a great keepsake of the trip. They have a recommended $1 donation at the boxes these are located at. They are very helpful!

*There are free guides available at several locations that include maps of the entire area. The two we referred to the most were the “Oh Ranger” Yellowstone National Park guide (it has a green cover with buffalo on it), and the Jackson Hole Traveler, a white book, with a moose drawn on the cover. The Jackson Hole one had maps of the Jackson, WY area, as well as maps of Grand Teton Park and Yellowstone.

 

My 20 Year High School Reunion

Some of my dearest friends and I at the reunion.

Some of my dearest friends and I at the reunion.

How is it that 20 years have passed since 600+ plus students and I graduated from White Bear Lake High School??

Last night was our class reunion. I was both excited and nervous to go. While I have great memories of high school, there were also parts that were not so fun. There were people that were mean to me, or that I perceived as being mean to me. There were people that, to this day, still make me feel like I’m a 14 year old girl being teased for being chubby (which I was in 8th grade). It’s not that they ARE teasing me…. It’s not that they’ve teased me in 20+ years, but the way they made me feel back then, has just never completely gone away…. Why is it that those feelings come back so easily? I know I am not alone in this, as there were people that even yesterday, were not sure they were going to come. Luckily, many of them did come, and I was so happy to see them there. We conquered our fears! We showed up.

As an adult, I like to think that we have all moved on. We have all grown up, we have all matured. Many of us are parents, and a few are even grandparents! Some of us are at-home parents. Many of us have great jobs outside the home. Some of us make a lot of money. Some of us are doing what we love, regardless of how well it pays. In short, we are now living real life. It’s not high school anymore. The type of clothes we wear, the brand names we may or may not be able to afford, the music we listen to, or what our hobbies are… none of that matters anymore.

My husband and I went into White Bear Lake a bit early for dinner. Because we arrived so early (we wanted to beat the pre-reunion crown), we were done way early. We hung out in the beautiful courtyard downtown, and eventually, mosied on over to The Station, where the reunion was held. I didn’t want to arrive too early, but we were there, why not? At the beginning, there weren’t very many people there. Mostly a few of us Band Geeks.

Side note: I hope no one was offended by me referring to us as that… I mean it as a term of endearment. I have fully embraced that I was, and will always be, a Band Geek. Most of the people I was most looking forward to catching up with were fellow band members. We had some amazing experiences together in all our years playing together, going on band trips, and rallying the crowds in Pep Band.

The party was only scheduled until 10:30 p.m.  The time FLEW by, and before I knew it, it was past 11. I was able to catch up with several people. There were many people I saw across the room but didn’t get to talk to. There were people I would have loved to have chatted more with, but there wasn’t enough time, or I got sidetracked into another conversation…

The room was full, and loud, and hot, but it was all good! I was surprised at just how many people came to the reunion. Many people still tended to draw together in the same crowds they were with in high school. It makes sense, if that’s who they know and remember, that’s who they would want to catch up with!

Overall, what I saw when I looked around the room, were smiles. And hugs. Oh, so many hugs!! I am a hugger, so I was all for it!! I hope I didn’t make anyone uncomfortable by hugging them. It’s just my nature.

I only have two criticisms (or critiques, if you want to call it that). 1: The cost was a bit high. It cost $30 if you paid by July 1st. I, of course, was among the many who did not, so I had to pay $45/person. That included 2 drink tickets, and appetizers. There wasn’t a lot of variety in the appetizers. Fruit and veggies would have been a nice addition. It would have also been fun to have a DJ there. While it was quite loud with everyone talking, many people went out to bars together afterwards, anyway. Why not just have the event planned until midnight or later, and have a DJ there? When we went to my husband’s 20 year reunion, the cost was not as high, and it included a full dinner, and dancing the night away. It’s not that I’m a cheap skate (well, maybe a little bit), but I am also not the only person who thought the cost was a bit higher than it should have been for what was included.

2: It would have been awesome to have a photographer take a group picture yesterday! We have our huge panoramic from school, wouldn’t it have been fun to have everyone who came together in one more picture?

Overall, I was surprised just how much I enjoyed myself. After the reunion, a group of us walked over to the White Bear Legion for some karaoke. It was a great night across the board!

PS. Check out this inspirational blog post from one of my classmates about how she hated high school, but was going to come to the reunion anyway. I think she sums up very well what many of us felt going in to the event!

 

CLASS OF 1995

GO BEARS!

 

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