Being Present: Adventures in Yellowstone National Park

I’ve been remiss in writing because our wifi connection has been really terrible. Honestly, I had given up completely but several people asked me to try to stick with it, so I’m going do my best to catch you up! Start here if you are new to our roadschooling adventures. 

Last you heard we were headed to Cody, WY, which is on the east side of Yellowstone National Park, about an hour from the gate. It’s all mountain driving though, so it’s very weather dependent. And then, once you’re in the park it is still a good drive to any of the major sites. We drove in on day 7 and woke up to an unexpectedly beautiful day on day 8. So we decided to take advantage and make the drive into the park.

Day 8 – Yellowstone National Park

The drive itself is gorgeous. Lots of really pretty scenery, mountain tunnels, animals, including a few wild horses. Once in the park, we took notice of the acres and acres that had been burned by fire. I asked one of the rangers while we were there when the fires had come through and he said 2009. But it seemed much more recent to me.

One of the first sites we saw was Yellowstone Lake. It has over 100 miles of shoreline and is one of the largest high altitude lakes in the world. Of course, my kids are drawn to water, so we had to stop. Despite it being really cold, both kids wandered out about knee deep. This is probably one of the prettiest sites we’ve seen on our trip. They do allow boating and other water activities during the warmer months, and I’m sure many people take advantage of that. But while we were here it was basically just us.  

From there we took the hour trip around the bottom of the loop to Old Faithful. The rangers and the education center there are really great. We just missed the eruption, so we spent the 96ish minutes between eruptions learning. The thing that sticks out the most to me is that the magma pool that Yellowstone sits on is only 2 to 6 miles below the surface. And that there are so many different geysers in Yellowstone. Over 600! 

If you have never seen Old Faithful, it is a true thing of beauty. The kids were impressed. On the way out, C spotted a painted rock. He was so excited, as we’ve never managed to find one at home. We tucked it away to leave somewhere else along our travels.

As we made our way back, the rain set in. The kids had noticed a bunch of steam vents as we were driving, so we decided to stop at the West Thumb geyser basin, despite the rain. We were treated to an Elk sitting, where we once again watched people take their life in their hands by getting entirely too close to the wildlife, and really enjoyed the basin.

The pools, mudpots and steam vents were all hit, even in the rain. Yellowstone gave us one last treat that day. On our way to of the park, 2 beautiful bison were walking down the center of the road. We pulled over and watched them for a while before finishing the drive back to town.

Days 9 and 10 – Cody, Wyoming

Days 9 and 10 were spent in Cody due to weather. There just wasn’t any way to get up into the park, so we played games, watched movies, caught up on laundry. You know, all the fun stuff. We also ended up with an Urgent Care visit, which is always fun when you’re traveling. C had developed a weird blister type thing on his finger and I needed to make sure it wasn’t a bite of some sort. They ended up opening it up, draining it and wrapping it. And sending us off with some antibiotics.

Day 11 – Hot Springs State Park

On day 11, after 2 days of rain (snow in the park), we decide it was time to venture out. On the way up to the park, we noticed the sign that said the East gate was closed. So much for that idea. So a little web browsing sent us to the town of Thermopolis, and small water park that was fed by hot springs. I had no idea what to expect, but we needed to get some energy out and it was only about an hour away.

Hot Springs State Park is the home of Star Plunge. Apparently there is a competing outfit next door, but Star Plunge was the one I had read reviews on so that’s where we went, towels in hand. There are two large pools, one indoor and one outside. It was COLD that day, but we decided to brave the outdoor pool anyway.

There was a small slide and a diving board and I thought those might be a good place to start. The water was warm. And there were several spots where the water was being fed into the pool which was significantly warmer. Both kids were fans of the slide, and C mastered that high dive after just a small bit of hesitation.

From the outside pool, there is a large tower with a tube slide going around it. After watching several people go down, C decided he was on it and off we went to find the entrance. He came back down once, saying it was too high… but after a few minutes decided he was at least going to try it. D followed him up. After that, I’m not sure I saw them again for 3 hours. They just kept going up and down. I parked myself in the hot tub area and that’s basically how we spent the day.

Now, I grew up in Florida where water parks are giant things with lots of slides and fancy wave pools. This was not that. But, considering we had spent the last 3 days freezing in our sleeping bags, it was exactly what we needed. If you’re in the area and have an afternoon to kill, go for it.

Day 12 – West Yellowstone

On Day 12, the weather had cleared enough that we made the move to West Yellowstone. When we left in the morning, ALL of the park gates were closed to anyone without snow chains, so we took the long way around. It was a beautiful drive but I would have much preferred to head straight through the park. However, we arrived early enough to get checked in and still have part of the afternoon.

Right by the West entrance to Yellowstone is the Grizzly and Wolf center. We had seen a video a few months back showing how they do bear testing for trash cans and coolers, and this is where it’s done. It was also part of our zoo’s reciprocal program, making it half price to get in.

I could do a whole post on this place alone, but I will try to give you a brief overview instead. This is not a zoo. This is a refuge. They do no handle the animals in anyway except when medically necessary. Their goal is to keep them as close to their wild counterparts as they can.

These animals have been removed from their home either due to being orphaned or being nuisance animals. Meaning they get into trash and become dependent on humans to eat. A lot of these animals would have been destroyed if there wasn’t a place like this for them to go. In addition to their 7 grizzlies, they have 3 wolf packs and an aviary that includes 3 bald eagles, as well as several other similar birds. 

One of the neatest things I discovered while wandering around was a log book in one of the educational buildings that showed all of the tagged bears in Yellowstone, as well as their stats. Sex, age, if they had cubs. Some of them showed as killed or deceased and is showed how.

Along with this book was one for the wolf packs. Not as detailed but still showed the different packs in Yellowstone and what territories they covered. In case you don’t know, wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone in 1995 and now there are several different packs.

Day 13 – Back to Yellowstone

Day 13 saw us back in the park. My kids wanted to see Old Faithful again, so that’s what we did. We also took the time to finish their Junior Ranger books and get those turned in. Did you know they use a tree that sits outside of the Education Center to estimate how tall the geyser goes? They also record the start time and the duration, which is used to estimate the next eruption. We spent some time walking along the boardwalk to see the other geysers and made it back in time to see Old Faithful erupt again.

Earlier in the day, the kids had heard me talking about one of the kids programs that the Grizzly and Wolf Center does. Which includes a 30 minute bear lecture, plus the opportunity to go into the bear habitat and hide food for them. There was no way the kids were going to miss out on that, so instead of a hike, I was out voted and we headed back to the Grizzly and Wolf Center.

Our paid admission was good for 2 days, and the kids program was a $5 add on. Totally worth it. On top of the educational program and the experience, they both got to select their favorite animal from the center and were given buttons with that animal on it. Even though they were there to feed the bear, both of my kids picked a wolf. Figures.

The kids spent 15 minutes or so in the enclosure hiding food and turning over rocks. We learned that they do this before each bear comes out because it mimics how they would forage for food in the wild.

Day 14 – Our Last Day in Yellowstone

Day 14 was our last day at Yellowstone. Honestly I could have spent another week at least exploring all the things I wanted to see, but we needed to get on with our trip. It was a cold snowy day, and I thought for certain there would be many complaints about hiking in the snow. But the kids did great.

We did 3 different hikes, plus a stop at the prismatic pool. Unfortunately, in the weather, we didn’t get to see it in all it’s colorful glory, but it was still a neat experience. The heat coming off the pools combined with the cold temperatures created a lot of steam.

We also ended up back at urgent care since C’s finger wasn’t healing well. We ended up with a stronger antibiotic and new dressing instructions. Knowing we had a long road trip ahead of us, we headed back to camp early to start getting things packed. Of course it was snowing, so that really meant that I got things packed while the kids complained.

Day 15 – Heading to Montana

On Day 15 we left bright and early for Polson, Montana. A friend had offered us a place to stay and honestly the thought of a warm bed, and a shower sounded really good! It was only about 1.5 hours from Glacier National Park, which was our next stop, so it worked out great.

This has gotten incredibly long, and its getting late. So I’m going to say goodnight for now. You’re still about a week behind, but I will try to get you all caught up in the next day or so!

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