Off to… the Next Place! (where is that again?)

The beginning of September was a large blurry blotch on our calendar, and had been for some time.  We had reservations for the end of September in California and several more after that, but the few weeks in between there and Grand Teton was our first experiment in playing by ear.  Making it a bit more complex was a 3-day work trip I had to do after Labor Day and a few days of Navy duty Tacco had to knock out back in DC / Annapolis after that.  “Nail down accommodation for Labor Day weekend” had been staring at me sternly from my electronic to-do list for about a month now, which portended campsite-lessness given that it was a few days away.

One of the things I’ve found in trying to plan for where we stay, and I’ve likely already hit on this, but weekends fill fast, even when it’s not high season.  Though I’m beginning to realize that first-come-first-serve campgrounds will likely net us a place to stay just about any time as long we don’t arrive on a Saturday afternoon, I’m still not comfortable with arriving in a place after a 6 hour drive and only then starting the where-do-we-stay dance (most RVers probably feel this way, hence the FCFS availability).

Several areas had been competing for our attention, all of which we very much wanted to visit: Bend, OR; Hood River / White Salmon, OR (and Portland by extension); and Park City, UT.  All three, incidentally, are on our short list of possible end points.  Complicating things were the previously mentioned wildfires, though.  I mentioned the fires that made Bozeman smoky, well a short internet search revealed that essentially the entire Pacific Northwest was on fire, or at least covered in smoke.  Dozens of fires, and hazy, smoky skies in the forecast everywhere.

Reasoning that the Columbia River Gorge would have a steady wind that wouldn’t allow any smoke to accumulate, I focused on Hood River.  Nope!  Turned out half of the Gorge was on fire as well, I-84 was closed for much of its length there, and the campground we had focused on was temporarily closed as well.  So Utah it was.  Park City had the added bonus of Tacco’s parents being there visiting a friend for the week.  Plus we have quite a few friends and family in and near PC.   So I booked us a spot for a couple days at Jordanelle Reservoir, which looks at Deer Valley from the less skied east side and off we went.  Nothing available for Labor Day weekend by the way; we booked the days around Saturday and Sunday and prepped our “how would you feel about our parking in your driveway?” pitch.

Another gorgeous drive from Grand Teton south.  We stopped in Jackson for lunch.  This is probably unfair to say given how short a time we spent there, but here goes… Jackson is a very cool place in a great setting with respect to skiing, National Parks, etc.  Lots of antlers.  Yet I have to say that taking cost of living / housing, proximity to major airports, etc into play, Park City would take Jackson hands-down in a cage match, or at least our family’s cage match.  Not even close really.  I did still buy a T-shirt there though.


We arrived in Park City to find it significantly more developed than when we’d lived here 15 years previous.  Our little condo complex by the outlet mall and not much else is now at the edge of a major commercial and residential area that appears to be booming.  To be fair, I had been back several times since then as I try to do a yearly ski trip there with a bunch of guys from my Navy days, so I knew about all the development, but even since I had been last the expansion had blown up.  Maybe we sold our condo there too soon!

The camp site at Jordanelle is nice, with playgrounds, bike trails, fishing, boating, and laundry (!).  Plan is to stay a few days, then revisit the trek to Oregon & see how we can shoehorn our work commitments into that.  Happy Labor Day!

Snake River Float

It was yet another stunning Tetons day – brilliant blue sky punctuated by a few puffy cumulus over the highest peaks, 80 degrees and dry. I’d been looking forward to a chance to float a river with the family since well before we started the trip, and the previous day’s play session on String Lake had worked some of the kinks out with respect to inflating, using, and re-packing our kayaks.

I’d spent quite some time planning what stretch of river we’d float as our requirements were pretty narrow… Tacco and I would be going tandem with a girl each, and Keeper would go solo.  Some current but not too much, very little actual paddling required, a couple gentle rapids, good scenery, an easy put-in and take-out… and I’d found it.  It was to be a 10 mile stretch of the Snake that cut through the heart of the National Park.  Of course there was also the logistical issue – several ways to skin that cat, but the friendly ranger at the Visitors’ Center had assured me that I’d get picked up hitchhiking within about 5 minutes (or at least, she always had), so I decided I’d unload everyone / everything at the put-in, inflate the kayaks, then drive down the road to the take-out by myself, leave the car there, and hitchhike back to them, at which point fun would commence.

And commence it did.  The entire evolution went like clockwork, I was picked up and dropped off by a carful of cheerful college women doing one last summer outing before heading back up to MSU, and we got on the river just after a picnic lunch on the beach.

The water was crystal clear and just cool enough for the occasional dip to cool us off, and we saw trout darting beneath us over the entire route.  We saw otters, ospreys, even a moose or two on the side of the river.  Keeper took to his kayak as if he’d been paddling rivers his whole life, and couldn’t contain his excitement for the next rapid, and afterwards, the next float.  The girls were equally enthusiastic and said they wanted to do something like this everywhere we go.  All three kids informed me that they had inherited my love of rivers, and that this experience would make them more confident, independent, and high functioning adults.



We awoke to an overcast day.  Though there was no rain in the forecast, the skies to the West over the Tetons were a bit ominous.  We were a little sluggish in the camp that morning, so didn’t really get moving until after we had planned, but we weren’t really on a timetable, so figured we’d catch lunch (and a few minutes of cell phone coverage) in Colter Village, I’d talk to the rangers one last time, and we’d head out.

The rangers were my first buzzkill.  Which isn’t to say that anything they said to me was incorrect or unhelpful, it just wasn’t exactly what I wanted to hear.  First they told me that I’d be required to buy permits for the float.  I’d read that inflatables under 10’ were exempt, but apparently I’d read that incorrectly.  OK, no problem.  Then they informed me that I’d need to get all my boats inspected for invasive creatures (i.e. mussels).  Yet another thing I thought I’d been exempt from, and what seemed like a massive time-suck – finding an inspection station, pulling all of the inflatables out of their bags, inflating them, deflating them, re-packing them… and for what?  I’d had them on exactly two bodies of water – our pool and String Lake the day prior.  Hard to imagine I’d have picked up mussels in either of those places.  Plus that exemption I’d read about.  When I asked about it they explained that I was exempt from getting the sticker for the inspection, not the actual inspection.  Wait, huh??  So I should get the inspection but no proof that I’d had it done?

The two rangers had begun to assume good cop / bad cop personas, at least slightly, over the course of our conversation, and the bad cop was clearly taking offense at my line of questioning, so I let it go and told them I’d “get an inspection.”  (after she stepped out, the good cop let me know that if she were me, she’d just go float, given that we’d not had the kayaks elsewhere)  Thirdly, when I told them my plans, they shook their heads and tut-tutted at me.  “That’s a bit much.”  Yeah?  “Yes.  For a family?  Yes.  Lots of braided channels, lots of ways to get stuck in a section of river with protruding obstructions, etc.  You want no part of that with a 5 and 8 year old.”  Really?  I’m pretty good at this. [actually I’m not – I’ve only done guided trips in the past] “Really.” Well shoot.  So I took their recommendation and opted for the 3 mile stretch with no rapids instead.  I was told there might be some paddling, but it shouldn’t be too much as long as there wasn’t a headwind.  And they were right of course, but already this float was deviating uncomfortably from the vision I’d concocted.

Permits purchased, family re-grouped, we headed to the Jackson Lake Dam and the put-in.  Skies were looking ever more ominous, but Keeper chimed in with “who cares if we get wet on a river?” That’s my boy.  Though it wasn’t exactly warm out, nor was the water.  Never mind though, we inflated all the kayaks, packed the snacks and I left the family behind to find the take-out, which was easy enough.

Shoot, that’s gotta be rain out there over the mountains, headed our way, isn’t it?  Nah, don’t look at it, we’re fine.

But then I had to hitchhike.  I’ve never hitchhiked.  It was awkward.

Where do I stand?  Do I look them in the eye pleadingly or pretend I can’t be bothered?  Arm straight out with thumb up or more of a sideways thing?  Would tooling around on my phone make me look less creepy (“hey, he’s solid enough to have a phone at least, I say we take him anywhere he wants to go”)?  Should I stay near the parking lot or walk down the road?  Many, many questions, and I’d thought of none of them until I was In It.

Ten minutes in, I realized that I was facing the wrong way; doing it with my back to the people I was hoping to catch a ride from was an almost guaranteed show-stopper.  I could’ve turned around and displayed a hideous monster-face once they stopped.  Maybe I had an axe in the other hand.   So I turned around to face my potential ride-givers.  It felt weird in a way that’s hard to describe to not know how to hitchhike.  Twenty minutes and several dozen tearing-past-me cars into it, and I started mulling over the idea that a young, attractive female ranger (“I get picked up within 5 minutes any time I hitchhike”) might have better luck than a solo middle-aged dude with a questionable hat.  At thirty minutes I texted Tacco (fortunately I had one bar of signal, as did she), only to find that it had started to rain and they were huddled under one of the kayaks, though she assured me it was “all good.”  It didn’t seem all good, and I’d gotten not as much as a friendly look from passers-by.  I’m a truly crappy hitchhiker.

So between my lack of thumbing skill and the rain, I opted to admit defeat and return to the car to pick up my stranded family.  Fortunately it had only sprinkled, so they’d made an adventure of it and hadn’t gotten too wet.

As soon as I pulled into the parking lot next to where they were squeezed together under the kayaks, however, the sky opened up.  Wind, heavy (cold) rain falling in sheets, total mayhem.  One kayak caught a gust of wind and went airborne down the river bank, sending Keeper after it (in bare feet, on semi-sharp rocks) to keep it from going solo down the Snake and never seeing us again.  The girls ran for the car and piled in to try to warm up.

I spent the next half hour collecting all the kayaks and kayaking gear in the downpour, deflating them, and wrestling them back into their carrying cases, all the while trying not to think of the mildew that was going to grow on them if I left them this way for more than a day or two.

Right about the time I’d got them more or less packed and shoe-horned with the other wet gear into the car, the rain stopped.  “Wanna try it now?  We could just float down and all hitchhike back to here instead.  We might have better luck with five of us!  Never mind that it’s pushing 4PM!”

“No, Dad.”

Shoot.  So that was our river kayaking day.  In the interest of silver linings, no one was especially dispirited and I was probably more disappointed than anyone, which I kept in check when I saw that the others were playing up the “adventure” part of it.  We’ll try again another day, on another river.  It’ll be cool.  I’m certain of it.

The Other Side of the Grand Tetons…

Although I navigated airplanes for the Navy for a while, my grasp of 2D geography and relative distances, especially in the western US, is a far cry from exceptional. For example, I still have a hard time believing the 20 minutes to get anywhere in LA doesn’t include San Diego. Anticipating we’d be journeying in Davista for a good part of the day, I was surprised to learn I had significantly overestimated the length of our trek from Yellowstone to Grand Teton National Park. The boundaries of the two are actually only nine miles apart. !!! And to think, my skills have improved.

We stayed a ways out from the center of the Park (at Headwaters Lodge RV Park), but had a space we could expand into – a very welcome change from Yellowstone’s cramped accommodations. The Clam again saw some play and we busted out our two hammocks, a first on this trip. Our goal with living in Davista is to sleep within yet find ways to sprawl into the outdoors to minimize feeling cooped up. The Clam, the outdoor cooking area, the picnic table provided at most campsites, and the hammocks have all eased our (or at least my) feelings of confinement and alleviated any (mobile) cabin fever.

Checking out Colter Bay

Once camp was set up we made our way to the Colter Bay Visitors Center, where Firebolt and WoodSprite were insistent on getting the Junior Park Ranger Books first thing. The girls were on a mission to complete their respective Junior Ranger Programs and knocked out their requirements in one day, in just a few hours really. Fortuitously, half an hour after they had books in hand, the same Ranger who gave them their books presented a talk on birds in the Park. We learned about the tiniest birds in the park (the calliope hummingbird, recognizable by the magenta patch at its throat) to the largest (the trumpeter swan, who mates for life). Although he didn’t appear to want to pay attention, Keeper, too, offered answers to the Ranger’s questions throughout her talk.


Keeper was having a tough go. Lack of connectivity has been tricky for us in trying to sell the house as we had a very interested potential buyer who was threatening an imminent offer (more on that later). This certainly posed challenges for Flight and me, however, being cut off from his friends back in Maryland was extremely demoralizing for Keeper. Of the three kids, he is the one who has most expressed his dissatisfaction with the whole notion of departing Maryland and his friend network. The main reason we had purchased him an iPhone prior to this adventure was so that he could text and Facetime to his heart’s content so as to maintain his friendships while on walk about. He had been cut off for almost a week, save occasionally driving through haphazard snippets of 4G comms in the Yellowstone, which is an eternity in the world of a 6th grader. We made it a point to get lunch at a GTNP café that boasted Wi-Fi and allowed him some space to catch up with his friends.

Not unlike Yellowstone, anywhere we wanted to explore involved a commitment to a car ride, during which the kids were constantly bickering and whining at each other, much to our dismay. After doing such mini road trips first in Yellowstone and again in the Grand Tetons environs, Flight and I expressed our deep gratitude for having chosen a Class A motorhome instead of a 5th Wheel, which would have necessitated all five of us in the tiny cab of an enormous truck for all of our transit time. I can think of no more grating self-inflicted hell – unless we then stayed only on Montana’s washboard back country roads.

Our first day on the other side of the Tetons ended with a family “mountain bike” ride around the campsite. In truth it was just a scenic outing along a hiking trail, hardly technical, but it was the first WoodSprite had managed. At one point, she (in her own words) “ate it” but dusted herself off and continued the ride. Pretty awesome for someone who is still averse to using her actual brakes and, when faced with coming down any hill, will use Fred Flintstone methods to slow herself to a manageable speed.

The next day we went to String Lake and (most of us) kayaked. We have four very different inflatable kayaks that we carry with us in Davista’s belly so we can explore any waterways we encounter: two two-person kayaks (one specifically made for fishing and one just for tooling around) and two one-person kayaks (a sporty one made for whitewater kayaking and another also highly maneuverable one).   Shamefully, this was the inaugural paddle for our trip, and so, understandably, we were all eager to get on the water.

The elevation of String Lake (6870’ – !!!!) made inflating the kayaks rather taxing, especially for Flight because he was mostly flying solo with that. As I had never participated in their inflation, I was on “running young ladies to the port-a-potty” duty to change into swimsuits and tend to other necessities, and never in one fell swoop it seemed. Keeper had enthusiastically jumped in to assist Flight and immediately blew out one of the pumps. After swapping pumps to further inflate his kayak, we learned that Keeper’s FireFly (highly maneuverable single) had a hole along one of the seams, one that needed a patch and 24 hours of curing time. Bummer.

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Often our children impress me with their compassion, wisdom, and wit (maybe not while in all riding in the backseat of the Suburu), but I’m always blown away when they demonstrate the true meaning of team player. When Keeper learned we were down to kayak seating for four, he said, “That’s okay – while you paddle, I will swim!” and swim he did. Although some of his “swimming” involved barnacle operations dragging off of either kayak, he did so joyfully and made it all the way to the other side of the lake. Flight told him he’d trade out on the way back. I’m hoping Keeper will offer his own summary of the experience.

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The Log is ahead of us

On the far side of the lake, we made landfall amidst downed trees in the water, using one as a dock of sorts. Keeper was already on the log and the girls had disembarked and were making their way up the bank when we heard, “pshshshshshshsssshssssssh.” Crap. That’s really not a sound you want to hear in an inflatable kayak. Looking down for the offending weapon, I saw a pointy, broken off branch poking out just above the water’s surface. I put my hand down and felt where air was gushing out of my ride, a few inches above the waterline. Crappity crap crap crap. Now we were down to one kayak and seating for two.

Ever the pilot, Flight immediately assessed the situation and was working through his emergency procedures decision tree to come up with the best solution to our predicament. I asked Flight where the patch kit was – I knew we had one as I’d just seen him use it. “In the car.”   Well, shoot. I wasn’t sure how much help that might have been anyway, having just learned a full cure requires 24 hours out of the water (I have since learned that would have been fine temporarily to get us back across the lake. Noted.).

Ever the Girl Scout, I mentally reviewed our stores. Four cans of LaCroix, almonds, half a canteen of water, a few iPhones and car keys (all in dry-bags), and our “Go Bag” (contains a basic first aid kid, acupuncture needles (because ya never know…), homemade lip balm, homemade “Bug Off,” hand sanitizer, and antibacterial wipes) that goes everywhere with us. If only we had a holocaust cloak… No such cloak, but we did have waterproof Nexcare bandages as part of our “Go Bag.” When I volunteered one, Flight said, “Give it a shot. I’m not sure it’ll hold, but maybe it’ll slow down the leak.” I dried the site as best I could and placed the bandage squarely over the hole. Pssshsshsshhsshh – and silence. Leak secured or better yet – wait for it – Band-aid applied to that problem. HA! Woo HOO!


We rallied the girls who were busy being pioneer women exploring their new homestead. They were sorely disappointed to have their playtime cut short, but we had no idea how long our innovative use of the wound-care bandage might hold. Flight had Keeper kayak back with Firebolt, who was keen to get out of the kayak with me – apparently I dripped too much water on her while she wasn’t paddling. WoodSprite and I paddled back while Flight happily swam back. Every dozen yards or so, I’d look back and check in, “All okay?” “Yep, just trying out all the different survival strokes.” He totally rocks.


Hot-wash of first kayaking adventure yielded the following lessons learned: 1) much as they’d probably disagree, the girls don’t NEED paddles and their having them is probably more detrimental than helpful in forward propulsion; 2) always ALWAYS bring the patch kit, or at least Nexcare bandages; 3) LaCroix is no substitute for just plain water and we should bring more of the latter and probably none of the former; 4) children get over their disinterest in raw almonds once all the more interesting snacks have disappeared; and 5) ensure “Go Bag” is replenished and always well-stocked with Nexcare products for their versatile use is limited only by one’s imagination. As Flight said, it was a really good thing we had this trial day on the water before we tried to float the Snake River.

Which brings us to the next day…

We got an offer on the house, although it was for significantly less than we’d hoped. We went back to the same café for lunch (and cell phone coverage) and contacted our realtor and came back with a counter-offer, well two counter-offers really. We split the take home difference for us with their initial offer: 1) we came down in our asking price, but offered to pay the closing costs up to 3% (as they had requested with their original offer) or 2) they pay a lesser amount, but without any help with the closing costs. Either option was roughly the same amount to us. Our realtor agreed to pass that along to theirs to see if we could come to an accord.

Holy crap, it’s really happening. We’re going to travel back to Maryland, pack out our trash, store it who knows where, and have nowhere to call home in the event this whole deployment thing goes south. Much of the early afternoon was fraught with evaluating “what if” scenarios (and laundry), sorting out how we might get the kids to Flight’s parents’ house in the Bay area, leave Davista there too, while Flight and I would fly back to pack out the house in Davidsonville. Throw in the mix an upcoming work trip for Flight, a Navy Reserve weekend back in DC for me, and Flight’s folks being out of town for two weeks in September. Needless to say, our minds were spinning as we did our best to plan for every contingency and iron out where we’d be for the next few weeks to optimize our flexibility for what may or may not be coming down the pike.

Originally, we were planning to go to Park City (also on the short list of where we might end up) from Grand Teton National Park, but only for a couple of days. We learned that my parents were going to be in Salt Lake City for a week beginning just before Labor Day, our own accommodations for which we had yet to nail down. Surprising us not at all, most places were already booked up for the holiday weekend.  We were able to get in at Jordanelle State Park for Thursday and Friday night, but they were totally booked for Saturday and Sunday night. Considering we just barely (HA – that’s a ridiculous Utah saying that makes me crazy, using barely incorrectly as a temporal reference) made this change of plans, we’ll have to sort accommodations out upon arrival.   Since we recently (proper use of the proper word) stayed in the parking lot at Grand Targee Ski Resort, we might be able to do the same at one of the resorts in Park City. If not, there’s always the Walmart Parking Lot…

After this whirlwind of mental gymnastics, it was about 3ish in the afternoon we got to the put in location on the Snake River. We (it was we this time) inflated the kayaks, and Flight took off to park the car at the take out location. Our game plan was to have him hitch a ride from the car to us and then we’d get on the river. However, as Flight noted, apparently it’s 2017 and enough people have seen any number of movie versions of “The Hitch-Hiker”, which means few drivers will actually pick people up, especially “a middle age dude in a weird hat.” His words, not mine.


Fortunately, we had a rare cone of connectivity for both of us. While Flight was lamenting not bringing one of the girls to increase the awwwwwww fer cute/sympathy factor to maybe generate a ride, I could update him on breaking weather conditions. Now I barely (correct use of the word, as it was not last week and I did almost fail) passed my meteorology class in Flight School, but even I can recognize a rainstorm gathering energy. Just days ago we had discussed virga with the kids, but that quaint sublimation was not what was inbound. I texted Flight that the sky was about to open and dump (official meteorological term) as I was watching the storm stalk us across the valley. And then it was upon us. I gave Flight further updates from under one of the upside down two-person kayaks.   The kids were troopers, actually they thought it was great fun to be sheltering under a kayak. Flight called our training evolution complete, mission aborted, returned to the car and drove back to us. He trundled us all into the car so we could warm up while he deflated and packed up our non-float flotilla solo and in the driving rain. I offered to assist and he declined. Like I said, he totally rocks.

Back at our campsite and in a fresh change of clothes, we packed up most of our gear after the rain passed and got ready to head to Park City in the morning. Owing to its proximity to a major airport (facilitating our respective upcoming commutes east) and lots of family (I think that between Flight and me, we are related to half of the Salt Lake Valley), we made the call to stay in Park City longer than everywhere else we’d been so far.

I left Grand Teton National Park feeling as thought we hadn’t really seen much of it.   When I voiced this observation to Flight, he said, “Most of what you really should see involves backcountry hiking and camping.” Ah, okay, so that’s not exactly in line with our current SOP.  I’m guessing Grand Teton National Park is one for us to further explore when our kids are much older and need no carrying to get up mountains.

Onward to Park City…

That’s a Pretty Large Teton

Seriously, it is.  They all are.  Just sayin’…

IMG_9081This is a place I could really get into.  There’s a big “but” once again though, and it’s similar to Yellowstone’s big “but.”  It’s not an RV place.  Which, OK, I suppose it’s no surprise, if I really think about it, that the places I really resonate with aren’t particularly RV-friendly.  Living in an RV now, though, it affects us.  Of course.

So we drove down from Yellowstone to Flagg Ranch, where we’d reserved a spot for the next few days.  Flagg Ranch / Headwaters RV park actually isn’t in Grand Teton NP proper.  There’s a chunk of land in between Yellowstone and Grand Teton that isn’t National Park per se, but is administered by the National Park Service, and that’s where we ended up.  First impressions were mixed.  It’s in an area that has had several forest fires in recent years, so the scenery isn’t especially stellar for the area.  And one of the hallmarks of Grand Teton National Park, I think, is the view of the Tetons you get from pretty much anywhere, which is uniformly breathtaking.  We didn’t have that view.

Still though, it wasn’t a bad campground, with the Snake River easily accessible and a decent amount of space, particularly compared to our Yellowstone campground.  We went a little large with the setup, and not only hung both of our hammocks for the first time, but put up the LED lighting in the Clam as well, for after dark card-playing (disco lighting optional, but encouraged).


One again neither internet nor cell phone coverage, so a bit tricky for us and trickier for Keeper.  We even received an offer on our house (deliberations thereover covered well and thoroughly by Tacco in her post), so that dominated both our thoughts and our immediate location planning, bars of even 4G signal being difficult to come by.

As all of Grand Teton’s destinations involved a 20-30 minute drive to the south, we jumped in the car after setting up and headed toward Colter Bay, the park’s main center of activity.  What we found there set up a major semi-internal conflict for me.  Tacco has previously referenced my need desire to always be set up in the best campsite available at any given place, which I inherited from my father.  Proudly, I might add.  Well, there were better campsites in Colter Bay.  They were first come first served, so I hadn’t been able to browse or set us up in them prior to arrival, but they were well wooded, near the lake, and even had a bar or two of cell coverage if you contorted your body and the wind was right.  They didn’t, however, have electricity or water, so we’d need to run our generator if we wanted power.  I recruited Keeper to beat to death the pros and cons of transplanting with me; fortunately he was game, so I didn’t have to deliberate in silence.  Ultimately we decided that the slight satisfaction we’d gain by being in the best campsite wasn’t worth the time and effort involved in uprooting from our current spot at Flagg Ranch.  This was progress for me.  In the past either I would’ve subjected the family to a move or brooded about the fact that we hadn’t moved for at least another day.

Junior Ranger duties and short hike complete, we returned to Flagg Ranch for the evening.


We (especially I) had been very much looking forward to getting the inflatable kayaks out of their storage bags and putting them to use.  They were one of our bigger purchases prior to the trip, with the thought behind them being that we’d often be near water and they would become our primary mode of recreation, along with the bikes.  Unfortunately they hadn’t gotten as much play as I’d envisioned, as the effort involved in removing, packing, inflating, deflating, etc proved just daunting enough to keep them in their Davista storage compartments.  But in Grand Teton I was determined to change that.  Not only was there the Snake River to float, but the mountain lakes there are legendary.  If we weren’t going to use them here, we probably never would.

We opted to drive to String Lake the following day, between Jenny Lake and Leigh Lake.  We had hoped to float them down to Jenny Lake and back (or maybe carry them back?), but a quick Google Maps view, which I couldn’t do due to lack of internet, would’ve told me that the two lakes are not only farther apart than I had envisioned, but separated by several log dams and some serious rapids.  So we stayed in String.  And it was glorious.  Clear, not-too-cold water, scenery forever, wildlife all around.


It was a bit of a learning curve getting our flotilla out of the RV, into the car, out of the car, to the lake, and inflated, and as Tacco mentioned, we had some puncture mishaps.  But it was so worth it.


While my appetite was whetted for much more Teton scenery, much of it is unfortunately (sort of) only accessible via hike, so we’ll be experiencing it from a distance.  Tomorrow we float the Snake!

America’s Best Idea (aka There’s a Bison in the Road!)


So much to say about Yellowstone.  I’m inclined to condense our stay there into one post – as usual, Tacco was more the picture taker than I (though I did get some good ones), and my thoughts on Yellowstone are gelling into more of a big picture than a granular one.

The title, of course, refers to the PBS special about the National Parks in general, but as most folks know, Yellowstone was our first, and though it’s not the most visited, likely due to the difficulty in getting there compared to a Yosemite or a Great Smoky Mountains, it’s certainly up there.  The first time I visited (not counting aerial “tours” during my Navy time) was four years ago, when we were forced by time constraints and a pending house closing to blow through in an afternoon.  The kids had been excited to see it then and I felt like we let them down, so I wanted to make sure we had plenty of time there this time; I was looking forward to our 5 days.

Interestingly though, I came to the conclusion that a lot of people, maybe even the majority, see Yellowstone just as we did the first time.  They blow through in a day, see some geysers and hot springs, take pictures of a bison or two, watch Old Faithful erupt, and move on.  And that’s crazy because the park is enormous.

I ended up with somewhat of a schizophrenic opinion of Yellowstone – a whole mess of “this… but on the other hand…” type observations.  Let me see if I can flesh that out a bit while talking about our specific experiences.

It is a fascinating and otherworldly place.  If you don’t know the underlying geography, it sits atop a volcanic “hot spot” or “supervolcano,” and is basically one massive caldera that erupted twice that we know of, and then collapsed.  Since this was so long ago, it’s difficult to visualize the caldera from anywhere in the park or even from the air, but it’s enormous, and still active.  Hence all the geothermal activity, and this odd sixth sense you get if you’re paying close attention, that things are “different” here.  Hard to explain, but everything feels alive and in motion.

The down side though… how do I put this.  It’s very commercial.  No, “commercial” isn’t right, but it’s very clear that they have spent a lot of time dealing with the fact that they get a ton of visitors each year over a small period of time (pretty much summer only), almost all of whom want to see it from their cars.  There are rules upon rules about what you can do, places you can go and not go and when, and there’s a feeling of being funneled.  There are ways to avoid this, all of which I would love to try some day but am not sure I’ll get to.  Going off season would be one.  I think a Yellowstone visit in the winter, particularly one that involved camping, would be life-changing.  Not going in an RV would be another.  Though they try, I did not find Yellowstone to be RV friendly.  And I don’t blame them given the sheer volume of RVers they see and the fundamental incompatibilities inherent in trying to bring your home to the wilderness, but it becomes clear very quickly that if you’re going to stay at a nice campsite, you need to be in a tent.  Even better if you’re backpacking.

All this to say that, though we had an excellent time in Yellowstone, by the end we were ready to move on, and we didn’t even miss the first day that we spent with friends back at Hebgen Lake.

Backing up a bit.  We drove in via West Yellowstone and threw the windows open wide.  The drive follows the Madison River higher and higher toward its source, and is gorgeous.  A word on the bison – I guess it’s ridiculously common to have them wander either right next to the road or walk down the middle.  Either way stops traffic just about dead.  You see it the first time and take picture after picture (slowing down traffic further) and pat yourself on the back for getting such a great bison picture.  But then if you stay for a few days it happens again, and again, and you think “Dude.  Thousands of square miles of wilderness and like four roads, and you have to walk here?”  It’s like they do it on purpose.



Our campsite at Fishing Bridge was… interesting.  The word “sardines” comes to mind.  I just noted that it came to Tacco’s mind too.  Hard not to.

IMG_9016IMG_9017Oh and by the way (and previously covered by Tacco), nothing left out at night that might smell even remotely like food due to the grizzlies, so every time we needed to cook, we had to set up and break down the grill.  We bought some bear spray (to the tune of $50) after reading all the warnings, which are absolutely everywhere.  Never ended up seeing a grizzly, unfortunately (?), but I guess bear spray would work against a hostile human as well, so there’s that.  We still have it.

Not much within walking or biking distance from our campsite either, unless you count the large General Store.  Big Yellowstone plus, which was a surprise:  their prices on everything are very reasonable. We expected price gouging and didn’t find that at all.  A plus/minus hybrid:  zero cell phone coverage.  In theory we liked this and wanted to show the kids that you normalize very quickly to having no cell coverage and internet.  In practice though, we’re still trying to sell a house, and being off the grid entirely is inconvenient at best.  Also, Keeper is at a somewhat crucial stage of the trip (more on this in another post), in which he’s acutely feeling the reality of what we’re doing and the fact that he has left his Maryland friends behind.  It’s very raw for him, and losing his one lifeline to them right now is not ideal.  We found ourselves generating excuses each day to drive to a point where we could get one or two bars of 4G to check email, messages, and texts.  It’s a very odd reason to visit Hayden Valley, which a friend of mine compared to the Serengeti for the concentration of wildlife.

At any rate, immediately after arrival and setup, we biked down to Fishing Bridge (from which you may no longer fish, because too many people did in the past) and checked that out, then headed back to our site.

The next few days were similar in structure, somewhat by necessity I think, due to Yellowstone’s massive size and the distance between points of interest.  We would get up, walk or ride bikes, have breakfast, and then jump in the car to do a several hour tour of various Yellowstone sights, then return, make dinner, and crash out.

Touring Day One took us to the Mud Volcano area, Hayden Valley, and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.  This was our first view of geothermal features and strong smell of sulfur.  There was also a fairly large herd of bison warming their bums (seriously, that’s what the ranger said they do there) in the area while we strolled the wooden pathways.  The Dragon’s Mouth Spring was a highlight there.

The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone was something I’d seen both pictures of and flown over, yet it hadn’t made much of an impression on me.  It should have.  I suppose the name had me mentally comparing it to the one in Arizona, but radical river erosion is about the only thing they have in common.  Beautiful place that pictures don’t do justice.


Touring Day Two took us on a longer loop through more of the geothermal features of the park.  We took a long-ish (by Yellowstone whirlwind car tour standards) hike at the Artist Paint Pots, then turned south at the Firehole River to check out the various geyser basins.

Quick digression:  I love rivers.  The astute reader will find me referring to them constantly, and I’m only now realizing how much I think about my immediate surroundings in terms of river flow, and how much of a draw I feel when I see a clear, running river (get outta here Severn and South, you guys are inlets!).  It seems like a massive oversight that I never learned to fly fish or truly run a river solo in a kayak.  I hope to correct that over this year, and to pass some of that enthusiasm on to my kids.  We’ll see if my being “haunted by waters” plays into our future decision on where to settle.

Returning to the Firehole, it seemed like a perfect idea to pull over and dunk our heads in the water at one point, given the heat and dryness of the day.  Also, any excuse to break up the dynamic that develops when you have three kids jammed into a back seat without electronic distractions is welcome.  I’ll say this for Kindles / Phones / etc – despite their obvious shortcomings as childcare providers, they may make the phrase “don’t MAKE me stop this car and come back there!” obsolete.

A majority of Yellowstone’s geysers and hot springs empty into the Firehole (hence the name likely), which I only thought about after noting that my head dunking, though refreshing, wasn’t quite as bracing as I’d expected.  The water is noticeably warmer than other mountain rivers.

IMG_9054The Grand Prismatic Spring was a highlight, as was the Excelsior Geyser crater right next door.  It’s difficult not to think at least a little bit, as you and all the rest of the gawkers walk on the carefully constructed wooden pathways around these incredibly violent geothermal features, about how all of them are active right now, and will undoubtedly continue to erupt, collapse, and morph, and how even though there’s been significant thought given to safety, it’s still an odds game.

It also made me think about Keeper’s getting doused by a slightly off-center eruption of a geyser on a previous trip to Iceland.  He got what amounted to a hot, slightly sulfury shower rather than a massive full-body burn, but that seems more like luck than solid risk management.

Earlier that morning, Firebolt, Keeper, and I braved the chill to see if we could catch some Yellowstone River trout.  Our expectations (i.e. the kids’ vs mine) for “fishing” vs “catching” are starting to converge a little.  I suck as a fisherman, but even adjusting for that fact, I tend to see any given fishing outing as a few hours hanging out somewhere beautiful and quiet, with the distant possibility of getting a few bites, and maaayyybe converting one of those bites to an actual hauled-in fish.  The kids seem to be assuming that we’ll have 3 days of dinner within 15 minutes, and get bored when the action doesn’t materialize.  I’ve been trying to explain that the truth is somewhere in between our expectations, likely far closer to mine than to theirs, but they’re not having it – they assume it’s just because I can’t fish.  An early morning on the Yellowstone, however, with the steam rising off the water, brought them at least a little closer to appreciating the process rather than the result.


IMG_9062By the end of our second “tour the park from the car” day, I took the liberty of canceling the third.  It would’ve been a longer drive up to Mammoth Hot Springs than we’d done yet, and it was time for a chill out day.  Tacco felt the same way — glad we were on the same page.  We did, however, opt to participate in a ranger-led hike near Lake Yellowstone, which was one of our better calls.  Tacco covered it well in her post so I won’t add to it, other than to say that every time we braved the kid-inertia to participate in a ranger led program so far this trip, it was WELL worth it and we all learned something.

Speaking of rangers, I need to give a shout out to Firebolt, who took to the Junior Ranger program there far more enthusiastically than we had even hoped.  The National Parks all have a program wherein the kids, according to age level, accomplish various tasks and write about them in their workbooks in order to earn a Junior Ranger patch.  Firebolt went well beyond her age level’s activities and completed all of them, earning her the patch usually reserved for kids 12 and older.  What’s more, she was thrilled about it, and expressed her desire to do the program everywhere we go.  Score!

A few words on the kiddos in general, as we’ve been asked how they’re reacting and adapting.  We’re quickly approaching the month-on-the-road milestone, and my intention is to write a bit more extensively about how we’re all handling that when it hits.  I will say that the honeymoon is over for them.  Maybe for us a bit too.  Though we’ve hit what I saw as the “high excitement” segment of the trip, in which we hit National Park after National Park in some of the our country’s most stunning scenery, they’re starting to realize that this is real, that our lifestyle is changing semi-long term and not just for a vacation, and most importantly, that they won’t be seeing their Maryland friends regularly, if at all.  That feeling has been made more acute by our being “off the grid” over the last few days.  I mentioned the lifeline of texts being exchanged between Keeper and his buds; the reality of not having that has driven all of the rest home.

Though my sense of it is that they’re absorbing much of what we hope that they will during this trip, the reality that they won’t realize it until later adds a bittersweet layer to it all.  We expected this.  Still, though, it’s a challenge to encourage kids at that age to live in the moment when you’re struggling to do the same.  All of the kids at one time or another over the last few days have expressed their hope that our house doesn’t sell and that we’re forced to return to Maryland.  The realities of the DC / Annapolis housing market make that still a distinct possibility, so we’re careful with what we say about our next few months.

In the meantime, we’re off to Grand Teton next, with a ton more adventure on tap, and a trek out to the Pacific Coast, which we’ll head down throughout September and October.  I’ve been able to get a week of vacation (which translates to a very gentlemanly work schedule for the month, when you factor in additional time off that I’ve been saving up) for August, September, and October, so I’m looking forward to maximum family time at least through Halloween.  It’ll be interesting to see where we are then.

Joining the 3%

Flight captured our time at the Hegben cabin perfectly. It was a lovely place to visit surrounded by great company – I am so stoked to have reconnected with our Park City friends. They had just hosted some Dutch cousins at the cabin and in discussing their visit we discovered that our family histories are eerily similar. Her maternal grandmother and my paternal grandmother (as well as my paternal grandfather, father, and uncle) were POWs in Japanese Prison Camps in Indonesia during WWII and had moved to the Netherlands following the war.

A little aside… If you weren’t aware of this aspect of history, Clara Olink Kelly beautifully documented her own similar experience in The Flamboya Tree .  I had the privilege to meet Clara with my father and I can’t recommend her book enough.

Both my friend’s family and my own immigrated to the Salt Lake City area in the late ‘50’s (they were nearly on the same boat across the pond!), staying with recently converted Mormon cousins. Furthermore, their family, like ours, spent time in the Netherlands last summer reconnecting with their roots. They are getting ready to go to Hawaii for a year where they plan to homeschool their girls. I find it pretty amazing that we’ve been unwittingly journeying in parallel – so great to rekindle our friendship!

So, on to Yellowstone… Super thankful we spent five days here exploring the wide range of things to see in this incredible National Park – and there was still so much more to see. We stayed in the Fishing Bridge Campground (it was centrally located in the Park) and it was tiiiiiiiiiight (worse than sardines), had no picnic tables at the campsites because we were now in Varsity Bear Country, and zero connectivity (wouldn’t be so bad if we weren’t trying to sell a house…). Apparently we’ve gotten spoiled with only chipmunks mucking about. In retrospect, Flight and I both noted that the National Park Service has quite a balance to strike between maximizing the number of folks coming through the park (mostly during the summer in Yellowstone) and enhancing everyone’s experience. We would have preferred to be camped next to fewer of our fellow visitors, but in truth didn’t spend much time at the campsite.

Just after we pulled into Fishing Bridge and did an abbreviated set up (no outdoor kitchen needed and no room for the Clam), we did some initial exploring nearby. We did our first family bike ride over to the campground’s namesake, where you can no longer fish because there are no longer any fish. The girls were eager to go hiking on the many trails that fanned out from the river, but we held off as we hadn’t yet purchased bear spray.  I was just excited to be biking around as a family and exploring the beauty of Yellowstone.

The next day it got real. We first went to the Visitor’s Center and got “Junior Ranger Program” books for all three kids. Awwwwwwww yeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaahh! The girls took their requirements very seriously and systematically knocked them out. Keeper was less inclined to do so.   Then we were off to the Mud Pots, which really everyone should see. As we watched, the Dragon’s Mouth Spring randomly belched out sulfurous steam, calling to mind a jumble of images ranging from Dragonslayer to this season’s Game of Thrones. Still haven’t finished watching it, so no spoilers please!

The highlight of the day was our hike to see the falls at The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. The fact that I didn’t even know that was a thing is indicative of how preoccupied I was during our last visit to the Park. I was happy to get out and hike at last, but wasn’t keen on the vertigo I experienced as my brain tried to wrap itself around the magnitude of what we saw.

It doesn’t even look real…

And I think I sprouted at least a dozen new grey hairs. Woodsprite (looking a little put out in the picture below) climbed up on the rocks that served as a barrier to the sheer drop off immediately to the other side.

Then, when we hiked down to see the falls, Firebolt dropped her Yellowstone Junior Ranger pencil (see above) and started crawling under the wooden fence (yet another boundary to separate the quick and the dead) to retrieve it.


On our return to camp we saw bison – herds of them. Glad to see I hadn’t been imagining them on our last breeze through…


One of the requirements for our Junior Rangers in Training was to attend one of the scheduled Ranger talks.  We chose to attend one under the stars. If you find yourself in one of the National Parks, I highly recommend making the time to take one of these in. Each evening discussion is Ranger specific and the one we attended was all about the history of Yellowstone and how it came to be the first National Park. We learned about the initial exploration (Lewis and Clark bypassed it entirely) of the land and how the natural resources had been devastated before the cavalry stepped in and served as the first official stewards of the park. It was a very eye-opening look at both our nation’s history and our earlier leaders’ wisdom to protect her treasures for generations to come. Even the kids enjoyed the discussion.

The following day we geared up for two more big sites: the Grand Prismatic Spring and Old Faithful. I was unprepared for the eye candy at the former and, after last summer’s visit to Iceland, was underwhelmed by the latter. The colors at the Grand Prismatic Spring were so striking, combining the deepest turquoise blue hues with odd mustard and rust. While it was rainbow-esque in its chromatic representation, its overall impression was made especially rich with the highlight of these complementary colors. Although I had no desire to stick my hand in the 165oF water, I felt compelled just to stare and be. It was glorious.

On our way to the world famous geyser, Flight pulled over next to the river because he wanted to dunk his head in it.  We had been in the car for a stretch and it was hot.  He even convinced both Keeper and WoodSprite to do the same.  Firebolt and I abstained.

Old Faithful, shmold faithful. While we (and the rest of the Park’s visitors) awaited the major geyser’s rupture, we got a preview in the distance from Beehive Geyser. Firebolt was intent on finishing up her Junior Ranger Book, which had a page for predicting the next eruption given the time of the last. There was an average (and motivational) 94 minutes between eruptions and Firebolt was dead on in her prediction. We made it back in time to make a quick bite before hitting the sack.

Our next day was a scheduled down day, rife with planning (route, school, meal, event, etc.) and laundry. Keeper finished his Junior Ranger Program and we went to another Ranger-led program that had received great press, especially from other Rangers.


The Ranger was a retired high school science teacher from Washington State and did a great job presenting material on the hike. At the start of the walk he let us know he wanted us to view all that we saw through the perspective of a 12-year old Native American girl whose family came to hunt in the Yellowstone caldera centuries ago. When we made it into the forest, he called on Firebolt to help identify the difference between fir (flat and friendly) and spruce (short and spiky) trees using just the needles, assuring us we would all prefer to use the former to make a bed. We learned why fires are so critical for the health of Yellowstone – not only to clear out the dead stuff, but, because the iconic lodgepole pines have seeds so tightly bound in their cones, they actually require the heat of fire to release them so they can multiply. Who knew?

Our guide also called attention to all the signs of wildlife in the area, which, were we that young girl needing to feed her family, we would have shrewdly observed in a few seconds. Everything from the obvious bison scat (which the Ranger said doesn’t smell when dried out (Keeper was mortified to observe me pick up a pie and put my nose to the test) and burns well) to downed whitebark pine cones and accompanying needle tops indicating squirrel activity to hearing marmots whistling their shrill warnings. We learned that there are tons of hot spots throughout the caldera that remain free of snow in winter and where older bison can be found lolling about and easing their joints from the angry cold. Cool!


Because I’m into this sort of thing, I asked the Ranger what someone who may not necessarily be a hunter but can gather with the best of them might collect along our path. The Ranger pointed out the ubiquitous sage, the also prevalent (and medicinal powerhouse) yarrow, and, WoodSprite’s newest favorite, dwarf huckleberries. Actually, WoodSprite was so taken with collecting and sampling her meager but delicious harvest, we fell behind the group and almost missed the Ranger’s closing story about finding a lost toddler who had crawled away from the family’s campsite in the middle of the night. He concluded his two-hour talk by thanking us for being part of the 3%. The Ranger gestured at the cars obliviously passing by on the main road and mentioned that 97% of Park visitors don’t even get out of their vehicles to hike the innumerable trails. That number surprised me and I am so glad we made the cut this go around.


Though our Yellowstone reservations started yesterday, we took advantage of a previously mentioned semi-chance meeting with some old Park City friends to do a “boat day” at Hebgen Lake instead.  This is exactly the type of thing we were hoping would continue to happen this year – bump into people we hadn’t known were in a certain place, and spend a day or two catching up in some cool setting we hadn’t planned on.  In this case, they were staying for a couple weeks at a family cabin on the lake and had brought their boat / toys up.  Their two girls are close to our girls’ ages, so some kiddo play time was on tap as well.

Hebgen Lake is an interesting place.  Just inside Montana and just out of Yellowstone, it’s formed by a dam on the Madison River just prior to its descending into the Madison Valley, which we drove up a week or so ago.  While that’s not especially interesting, what is is that the entire lake was in effect tipped by a large earthquake back in 1959.  It changed the shoreline dramatically, just as if you’d taken a pool and tilted it.  Their family cabin had originally been built on the lake shore.  Fortunately they were on the “up” side of the tip, so instead of their cabin ending up underwater like the cabins on the north shore of the lake, the lakefront moved a few hundred yards away from the cabin.  Many of the residents banded together after that and dug channels back toward their cabins so that they could dock their boats nearby.

Our plan was to decamp from West Yellowstone and drive out to their cabin, spend the day playing on the water with them, and then make a call on the fly whether to just spend the night in the RV parked in front of their cabin or drive back into Yellowstone to start our reservation.

It was a short drive out to the lake.  Theoretically.  Perhaps you remember my diatribe on rough roads and Davista’s inability to take the “bump” out of them.  She’s kind of like a stagecoach in that way.  Well, this is what we saw when we turned onto the dirt road that took us out to their cabin.

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Six miles of that.  This turned out to be a particularly exquisite hell.  I could only manage about 10 mph at best.  Slower in the really rough patches and a tiny bit faster where I could find some non-washboarded areas of the road, which I was weaving all over like a drunken sailor looking for the smoothest bit.  The noise of everything in the motorhome bouncing was almost deafening, and it felt like the whole rig was shaking itself apart.  It can’t have been good for it.  At one point I had the bright idea to try going a bit faster, reasoning that maybe I’d get some sort of resonance where I was only hitting the very tops of the bumps.  WRONG!  That lasted about 10 seconds and was chalked up in the “worst ideas” column for the trip.

We did make it eventually though, and pulled up to this cabin, which is exactly the type of place you want to hang out with friends at a lake in Montana at.  The inside was filled with hunting trophies going back 50 years or so.  Such a cool place.


We made our way immediately to the boat and spent the afternoon tubing, paddling, and living the boat-on-a-lake life, which is of course far superior to normal life.


In the evening we returned to the cabin to clean up and relax.  We discovered that our friends were leaving for Park City in the morning, so we opted to go ahead and leave that evening in order to give them some space, but they plied us with wine, tempted us with the smell of flank steak on the grill, and very convincingly told us that our presence there wouldn’t make any difference in their preparations to depart.  No wonder they’re both so good at business.  We stayed, and we’re so glad we did. Amazing hospitality, awesome evening!

We left the next morning for Yellowstone, probably just a few minutes before they left for Park City.  It’s looking probable that we’ll head down to Park City after Yellowstone and Grand Teton, so hopefully we’ll see them again when we head down to Utah.

A few more notes on West Yellowstone…

My memories of Yellowstone date from four years ago and are a blur of driving through the enormous park while towing a sizable U-Haul and being consumed as I processed all the ramifications of coming back on active duty. We dashed across the country to buy a house (sight unseen for Flight), catching a few major landmarks at a speed only surpassed by the Griswolds, and I jumped right into teaching Engineering well before we were remotely settled. I vaguely remember seeing colorful Paint Pots and enormous bison, but took little note of anything else. I am eager to savor our upcoming stretch in America’s first National Park.

But first, to WEST Yellowstone to, as Flight put it best, “Come Down” from our Grand Targhee experience and try to process that. We pulled into the Grizzly RV Campground and were very pleasantly surprised by the accommodations, perhaps the nicest we’ve yet seen. Each spot had incredibly lush green grass and this was so unusual that Flight made it a point to take off his shoes while telling me he was doing so because he wanted to feel that (pointing) grass under his feet while he cooked dinner. We both joked that it clearly far surpassed our backyard crab grass lawn in Maryland (unless, of course, you want to buy our house, then it’s exactly like that). We relaxed and regrouped, enjoyed dinner and visited with our friends from Seattle.

The next morning I was lounging in bed (I was writing) when Flight came in to give me the morning report. First he informed me that he learned why the lawn is so lush. Thinking I knew where he was going, I sat up and immediately asked, “Oh no, are they spraying chemicals right NOW?” Pause, “No, not chemicals. Sprinklers.” That took a moment to register and I realized we’d left all our fabric camp chairs out. “Shoot. Are the chairs all soaked?” “Well, sorta. There’s ice on all the seats.” !!! It had been a little chilly sleeping with the windows open…

Next he tells me that we are now officially in Bear Country (we’d both failed to pick up on that even given the name of the RV Park) and he’d been reviewing the precautions we should be taking.  I say “reviewing” because we’ve both been camping in bear country and should be well versed in the safety measures. For those of you new to the experience, the most important of these safeguards is to never leave any food (or anything that came into contact with food) out at your campsite, especially overnight. Oops. We left a bag with the remains of our swordfish dinner dangling from a hook on the back of Davista. All night. Knowing full well the answer my brain half formed the clueless question, “Bears don’t like fish, do they?” and I had this image pop into my head:

Brown bear catching salmon

Flight then mentioned we also (technically) should have put the grill away. He summarized our oversight perfectly.  He growled and pantomimed his impression of a bear swatting at something before he said, “Connected to the propane tank. Pop (big hand movement). Pshshshshssh (propane leaking out of the RV tank and hose as he continues growling and swatting). What could go wrong?” Hoo boy.  Lesson learned.

City slickers.  Probably inside their rig posting on Facebook.

I don’t like to admit this, but social media did allow us to connect with some friends from our Park City days who were staying at their family cabin just outside of West Yellowstone. Facebook is good like that. When Flight uses it, because I don’t.

While our Seattle friends were exploring Yellowstone proper (they had but one day to do so), we had an “ADMIN” day, meaning we meal planned, schooled, did laundry, grocery shopped, and relaxed before reconnecting with them in the evening to see a musical production at the Playmill Theater. There are two grocery stores in West Yellowstone and, while neither is in the same ballpark as Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, I was please to see that they had some standards:

No wine before then either, in case you were wondering…

Our Park City friends recommended one over the other and I was pretty stoked to run into them there as they, too, were replenishing their stores.  Impatient with my visiting over produce and eager to get back to camp, Keeper kept assuring me that we had everything we needed and could go now. After promising to visit more with them at the Playmill, (they too had tickets to see The Little Mermaid), I pulled myself away from our friends and returned to shopping. I asked Keeper for his patience because I had to meal plan (again) on the fly since some of the basic ingredients I had assumed we would find not be located (Who doesn’t carry chicken breasts that haven’t previously been frozen?) . Satisfied with our revised plan and all the goodies to support it, we headed back to join the fam before our night on the town.

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There are so many ways The Little Mermaid can be done terribly and the potential for having to just sit through such a production was being explored by my inner doubter. I cannot say how utterly delightful the musical was. The whole presentation was fantastic – the sets (our girls excitedly identified (in louder than stage whispers) all the other Disney references in Ariel’s Grotto), the singing (dead on, I thought as I mouthed all the lyrics from the movie version), and the acting (even while on skate shoes to simulate swimming) were all brilliant. Always drawn to the characters far more interesting than the princesses, I was captivated by the portrayal of both Sebastian the Crab and Ursula the Sea Witch. Happily buoyed by the entertainment, we chatted with our Park City friends and vowed to meet them at their cabin the next day and then enjoyed dinner with our Seattle friends.

At the Slippery Otter, we learned there would be a 30-minute or so wait. The other mom turned to me and said, “I think I would like a beer.” I hadn’t realized how great that sounded and gushed my agreement in two words, “Me too.” She then turned to our husbands and said, “We’re going to have a beer.” When they moved to follow us, she clarified, “No. WE are going to have a beer. You guys can stay here with this,” gesturing to the five kids. While I’m sad to have missed Firebolt’s dance moves (maybe?), our grown up girl time was very welcomed and a rare treat on this adventure.  After dinner of bison and elk burgers, we bid our Seattle friends farewell (they were moving on to Glacier in the morning) and looked forward to seeing our Park City friends at their cabin on the lake.

Coming Back Down — West Yellowstone

Well how do you top a total solar eclipse from the top of a mountain?

You don’t.  You don’t even try.  What you do is you chill out with some friends, so we did.

We had made plans to stay in the same RV park in West Yellowstone with the friends with whom we’d watched the eclipse prior to their moving on up to Glacier NP and our moving on into Yellowstone proper.  If you’ve never been to West Yellowstone, it’s probably not what you would picture.  It’s a postage stamp of a town just into Montana and bordering (outside of) the national park that serves as a jumping off point into the park as well as sort of an overflow campground and accommodation spot for people who couldn’t get any place to stay inside the park.

On the surface it’s a little cheesy, with about a mile and a half square grid packed with hotels and RV parks, punctuated by T-shirt & souvenir shops, mid-brow eating establishments with flashy lights out front and the odd “adventure park.”  But I have to tell you that that RV park was really nice.  Full hookups, lush green grass (first time we’d seen that in a while), and plenty of space.  And the town has a charm to it if you know where to look, which fortunately our friends did (he grew up in Montana, not far away from where we were).

They arrived first and were told that though we wouldn’t be parked next to each other, we were quite close and “in the same row.”  “Row” must have a different meaning there, not to mention “close.”  Perhaps they just meant we were at the same RV park.  No matter though, we all had bikes, and were exhausted from the day’s events anyway.  The kids did a little mini movie night using our outdoor TV (first we’d used it!) and crashed out.IMG_8978

The next day was our friends’ only day to explore Yellowstone, so they spent the entire day doing that, while we were grateful for a “down day.”

Laundry, relaxing, bike ride, relaxing, teepee building, relaxing…


One of the W Yellowstone gems our friends knew about and had dialed us into was the Playmill theater, which has an in-residence theater group that puts on various plays throughout the summer.  They were doing The Little Mermaid that evening, and we’d gotten tickets for it.  There was definite cheesiness potential, but I have to say that they did an extremely good job with it — everyone was entertained.  They even do an intermission in which all the players come out with play-themed treats that they’d made themselves — root beer floats, brownies, “poopcorn,” etc.  Good clean fun, and well done.

Thereafter we moved down the street to the Slippery Otter for more hearty high ranch food (read: elk and bison burgers, etc).  Firebolt, perhaps inspired by the busking musicians in Bozeman, decided she’d see if she could earn some spare change by doing an aggressive dance to the ’80s music that was playing outside while we waited for a table.  It was an interesting musical interpretation, and an interesting face to accompany it (she later designated it her “bear face,” and I can’t disagree).


Alas, only about 21 cents taken in, and that may have been the seed money.

What was fantastic, though, and spurred later conversation about the important stuff, i.e. where we want to settle after this adventure, was having dinner with our friends in a relaxed, non-rushed environment at last.  They live in Seattle on Lake Washington, and my previous visit there had stricken me deeply with a sense of “I’d love to have this sort of neighborhood setup, and even better to be around these people.”  That was one of the reasons I’d hoped we could all (as a family) visit them at home, but unfortunately it hasn’t worked out.  But this evening got Tacco and I thinking and talking about the difference between moving someplace that we like, but don’t know anyone, versus moving someplace where we at least have a foothold and some friends/family we know we want to be around and have our kids be around.  It’s a great conversation to have, and one we will revisit many times I think before we settle.

Amazing to be in a position to have this sort of choice on where ultimately to live and raise your family, but the sheer range of choice makes it almost paralyzing.

Tomorrow we say goodbye to them for now as they head to Glacier, and we spend a day with another set of friends (Park City friends this time) who happened to be in town, spending time at their cabin on Hebgen Lake, just outside of West Yellowstone.  Boat time!