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.

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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!

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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.

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