...with a husband and 5 sons, I am truly outnumbered....stories and thoughts on life from a mom in a houseful of little men!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Burnin' the Midnight Oil at Yellowstone

On Monday, July 7, we got up early as planned to head out to Yellowstone National Park.  Upon going down to the river bank to retrieve the last child, we met an interesting fellow named Mr. Reams.  What began as some short "small talk" turned into a very interesting and uplifting conversation.  Subsequently, we didn't drive out as early as planned.  I'm so thankful for unexpected interruptions that wind up being unexpected blessings.  And, as we would find out later, that was our thematic lesson of the day!

Driving into such an iconic setting was truly exciting.  Anyone who visits Yellowstone by the north gate is greeted by an amazing, stone archway.  It promises that you're entering something special.  I wish we would have had the patience to stop so I could get a great picture of that archway; however, a quick snap of one end on the way through had to suffice, as we really were not in the mood to contend with all the other stopped traffic there.
I'm not exactly sure how to describe the next 12+ hours we spent in Yellowstone.  We began not knowing where the heck we were going nor understanding how it was set up.  We quickly moved on to spending what felt like a wasted 2 hours stopping at a visitor's center, taking a potty break, looking at a petrified tree, taking another potty break, and getting a snack.  Thank heavens for our little house that took us everywhere we wanted to go and simultaneously had everything we needed for the day. 

Viewing the petrified tree was an interesting event.  Our rig was much too big to drive right up to it, so we parked and prepared it for the pets (opened vents, put down shades, etc.)  We decided to walk Chuggie up the road with us, as we thought he could use a little exercise and air (oops...didn't yet get the memo about no pets on walkways.)  The walk wound up being way longer than we thought, and it was extremely hot that day.  To top it off, we discovered a black bear 1/2 the way there, although he was well off the roadside and sitting contentedly in the shade eating flowers. 

Now, for those of you not familiar with our sweet dog, Chuggie, he is a very old dog.  He wants very much to be right with us, but due to his 16 years, he just can't keep up like he used to.  So, Tony wound up carrying him about 1/2 the way to and from the petrified tree.  Kids walked.  Dog got carried.  After we were all sweaty from the heat and past the stress of the bear sighting, we saw a petrified tree.
Neat, but not exactly what we were aiming for after all that effort, and we still needed to head back to where we were parked.  Did that, and then we were finally moving on.

Not surprisingly, we found Yellowstone to be very beautiful.  It's a different-sort-of-beautiful than what we'd been used to on our travels so far, but lovely nonetheless.  The wildflowers were absolutely stunning--large swaths and entire fields and slopes were covered with blue and pink and yellow.  I have no photos to do them justice; God had painted a spectacular, colorful landscape.

We wound our way through the park and discovered many wonders which looked like the backdrop to a crazy sci-fi movie--geysers, geyser basins, mud pots and fuboles--all bubbling and steaming and making fantastical sounds.
Wondrous things to see and to hear and to smell.  What a crazy world this is.

So, for hours and hours we drove and soaked in beauty, and took stops to soak in the beauty a little more deeply.  In addition to the black bear, we saw several elk and bison and a few other little birds and critters. 

We got to see Old Faithful blow, and could not have timed that better (pure accident.)  We got there six minutes before it's predicted eruption.
Note the rainbow--so beautiful
 By suppertime, we were near the southern end of the park, and it had been a very satisfying day.  We still wanted to see the falls and canyon area, so we planned to drive back up the right side of the figure-eight roadway before camping for the night.  Tired and hungry, talking and gawking, we simply missed our turn, and wound up waaaaaaay down at the southern gate.  There was no choice but to turn right back up the way we had come.  It was past 7:30 p.m. now, and we had a very long way to drive back up to the north gate.  No worries...we put on some classical music, passed a can of salted peanuts around, and headed on up, checking each campground on the way for any openings.  Our original plan for camping outside the park wasn't looking real appealing at this point because it was so far away and we were really ready to get camped. 

Not surprisingly, none of the campgrounds had any sites available.  What was surprising, however, is we began to see animals.  LOTS of animals.  The further we went on through the windy, mountainous roads and then wide valleys, the more we began to see.  At first we saw several elk up close and personal.  Then we began to see more bison along and in the roadway.  Soon we saw entire herds of elk!  But what absolutely beat all, was suddenly finding ourselves in the middle of literally thousands of bison in the Hayden Valley.   The bison were everywhere.  Everywhere we looked across that mammoth valley were bison--mamas and babies and nursing babies and giant papas.  As far as the eye could see to the left and the right and behind and in front they were.  And in the road they were.  It was absolutely incredible.  Incredible.  It was an absolute gift that we are so thankful for.  Had we traveled through that area when intended, we would not have experienced that wonder.

We were also very giddy to be able to see the canyon and the huge falls in the very last rays of daylight, with nobody around but us.  We hadn't been sure if we'd make it in time.
We were pretty slap-happy by this point.  The boys were especially excited about being up so late and nowhere near setting up camp, but instead, they were driving through Yellowstone at night with their crazy parents eating salted peanuts.  Yellowstone is a pretty happenin' place, even at all hours.  People were coming in for ranger presentations and planetarium programs, and their own personal star-watching and such.  We had a wonderful time on this unplanned adventure, and yet, we were also so very tired.  Tony had been driving for hours and hours.  We needed a place to stay for the night.  When we finally left the park after 11 p.m. I began praying with a new earnestness--"Lord, please lead us to a place to sleep that has room for us.  Please help us find it soon."  Each and every place we checked was full, of course, being so late.

Just passing through Gardiner, which is the gateway town for Yellowstone, we saw a state campground sign.  We turned and followed the signage up....and up....and up a dirt road in the dark.  We saw some elk hanging out alongside a horse pen, and still we continued to climb.  I confess I was all out of adventuring for this night.  It was dark and sort of eerie and unknown to me.  Finally we reached the entrance to the campground.  It was completely dark.  We pulled in to see all the sites occupied.  It was fairly congested and we needed to turn around, so I hopped out to help with backing out.  Discouraged, we started back out the way we came in, when a man flagged us down by campfirelight. 

"Please," I said, thinking this must be the campground host, "Is there somewhere we could stay up here for the night?"  The man stated the campground was full, but that the host had been squeezing in other campers earlier.  He then offered for us to share his tent site, and to help back us in.  What kindness, and a relief! 

We put up camp that night around midnight.  Everyone pitched in to cut salami and cheddar for a supper-of-sorts, get the pets situated, and get ready for bed.  As we began to put Chuggie out for the night, Brian, our neighbor, strongly recommended we not keep him out.  He explained there were a fair amount of Canadian wolves prowling about, and that they'd been making kills to teach their young, leaving the carcasses intact.  Nice. 

It's amazing how differently things look in the morning, with light and sunshine and a rested soul.  What had seemed so foreboding the night before, was actually a lovely place.  We were camped up on a mountain near Eagle River in Gallatin State Park.  We were right beside a river, which the night before I had thought was the noise from the wind.  We made up a delicious breakfast of blueberry pancakes with butter and maple syrup that morning, which we shared with our kind, site-sharing neighbor.
The drive down was cheery and so much faster than the way up had seemed the night before.  We had loved being up on that mountain campsite, but we needed to go find our next adventure.

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