Saturday, February 21, 2015

2014 Year in Review (Part 2)

Yellowstone National Park

In mid June we loaded up the Vibe and started our sixth long road trip as a family of four. Yellowstone National Park was our destination, with a planned side trip to Fargo, North Dakota on the way home. The trip was scheduled to last seven days.

We spent a night in Hot Springs, South Dakota and took the opportunity to visit Mt. Rushmore. I visited the monument before and was unimpressed. This time was different. The excitement of a five and seven year old is infectious, and the kids were excited to be at Mt. Rushmore. They liked the sculpture but they loved the trail, and the flags. They did not enjoy being quizzed on all these things though. As their father I felt it was my civic responsibility to insure they leave this monument knowing who the four presidents were and why they were enshrined there. Also I felt as a proud citizen of the Show Me State that they should be able to identify a state flag among all others.

Nothing sucks the joy out of a child's outing like a father with his facts.

Let's skip our night in Cody (I recommend everyone skip having a night in Cody -- Montana seems a better choice) and get to the main attraction of Yellowstone National Park. We had planned this vacation for months. Not that we spent months planning. Just that we had known for months we were going. We'd watched the terrific documentary on Amazon Instant Video and talked about all the things we'd wanted to see. We had not actually figured out how we were going to see all these things (OR WHERE WE WOULD EAT). There are no Wal-Mart stores in Yellowstone National Park. You probably knew that had you given it any thought. We knew it, but it never sank in what that would mean for our vacation lifestyle. No Wal-Mart means no cheap item we didn't think we'd need or was removed to make room for a stuffed animal, or we didn't know existed but desperately need on vacation. No Wal-Mart also means no late night runs for tomorrow's lunch. At Yellowstone you either plan ahead for everything you need, pay higher prices for slightly inferior products in their markets, or go without.

It snowed every day we were in Yellowstone. Every day. In June. June is supposed to be hot. I would allow it to get down to warm but that is as low as I want to go. We did not pack snow appropriate clothing. We had packed for four days in the Park and wore all those clothes every day. We also bought hats.

The real attractions of Yellowstone are the animals. Specifically, bears. On our second day in the park we were taking some postcards to the post office when flashing lights, a bullhorn telling us to leave the area and eventually gunfire, directed our attention to a a rather freaked out grizzly bear about 100 yards away. Grizzlies are fast and majestic but much less intimidating when they are running away from you fast as their legs can carry them. A nice lady came up to us after we were done at the post office and said she heard there was a bear up there. She said she had been staying two weeks and hadn't seen one yet. We didn't mention that was our second encounter in two days.

The great thing about Yellowstone is that while you are out trying to run into dangerous animals in close quarters, there is always something interesting to see. Park signs and rangers are fond of saying that the park sits on a volcano. This is why there are so many fascinating natural scenes like geysers, boiling mud pits, and mineral pools. It's also fun to watch children's eyes go wide when you tell them they are walking in a volcano.

To anyone visiting with children, the Junior Ranger Program is a must do. The program provides a focus for activities, allows children to earn a cool patch, and is an excuse for walking long trails away from the more crowded tourist stops. Our family hiked only one trail where we saw no other humans. At the beginning of the trail and along the way there were several warning signs regarding bears. What to do. What to have. That sort of thing. We did not encounter any bears. We did happen upon the scariest deer in Wyoming though. Because when you are all hyped up about bears and see something running through the woods, it becomes the scariest whatever it is in the state.

The entire family enjoyed Yellowstone despite the weather. We stayed in one of the cabins at Old Faithful Lodge. With a little better planning on our part, it would have been ideal. Though it was very small and had no television or wifi, we were comfortable enough to go to sleep after the long days of hiking and sightseeing.

When our time was up we drove north out of the park and into Montana before turning east toward Fargo, North Dakota. Montana is beautiful; I think every American should visit it. North Dakota will never make my list of top 49 states in the U.S. (I feel like I'm daring one of the states I haven't visited to be worse than N.D. Bring it on, Rhode Island. Hit me with your best shot.)

We spent the night just over the state line in Minnesota. We gave ourselves some extra time in the nice hotel, enjoying the pool and the free breakfast. Then we headed south through N. Dakota and disaster struck. This most hated of states has decided that cutting the grass between interstates is a poor use of budgeted resources. An unseen deer bolted into our lane and Jill barely got her foot off the gas before it destroyed our beloved Pontiac Vibe. Let Cannon and Meadow tell you about it.

At that point we were stuck a very long way from home with no transportation. We were 70 miles from the nearest city of any size, and that was in the wrong direction. My parents are wonderful people. They changed their plans, packed a back, and drove 700 miles to pick us up, turn around, and take us home again. They traveled much of the distance we did and saw none of the cool sites. We are extremely thankful for their generosity

To sum up: Visit Yellowstone National Park. Avoid North Dakota.

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