Thursday, August 20, 2009

YeLLoWSToNe: family vacation 2009

Vacation! Oh what a delightful word. The thought of it can excite one for weeks in advance, the memories can last a lifetime. In fact, I've read that workers who take vacation make better employees than those who work year round, and that vacationers are "happier" than people who spend their extra money on "stuff" (nicer cars, homes, clothes, etc.). Regardless of whether those studies hold any merit, we like to vacation. :) Last year Brian and I vacated without the kids, taking a much needed break and having a wonderful time with our besties. The year before, Brian and I spent a weekend in Kansas City.

A couple of months ago Brian told me he thought we should all go to Yellowstone. Okay... I was hesitant. We've talked about it for a few years; neither of us has ever been there, and isn't that the destination of the all-american-family-vacation? So what was my problem? Well, it's a long drive. LONG. And I don't like long drives. Especially with kids. I don't like having bags upon bags at my feet, digging for a different book or a snack, or stopping again to change a diaper or go potty, or stretch my legs, etc. Not to be a complainer. :) It's just not my favorite thing. Anyway, driving to Yellowstone takes a long time. Flying is faster. Flights got cheap, my dear hubby noticed, pounced, and before I knew it he was excitedly planning our very own all-american-family-vacation.

The kids' excitement built. Brian did a fabulous job prepping them. He borrowed a few books from the library, we watched videos online, and we talked a lot about what we might see and do while on vacation. Xander's enthusiasm for wolves and bears grew, and Libby was looking forward to geysers. I was a little worried that they might get bored with trees and mountains. Don't get me wrong, I love trees and mountains. But a 4 and almost-2-year old? Dunno.

Fear not and praise the Lord! Kids do love trees and mountains, but even more, they love elk, deer, sheep, wolves, bears, buffalo, moose, geysers, waterfalls, steam, swimming pools, hotel rooms... The Lord provided vacation blessings in abundance! Needless to say, we had a really wonderful time. It was such a gift to have 5 consecutive days with just the 4 of us. Brian hasn't been able to spend that much time with the kids since Xander was born, and the benefit of his presence was evident. Wouldn't it be fun to have him home with us all the time!

I took a lot of photos, those below are some of my favorites. :)

The time? 4:00 a.m. The kids? Awake for about 15 minutes and very excited that it's finally time for YELLOWSTONE!

Libby was practically giddy with excitement. I couldn't help but grab my camera and snap a picture of her beaming smile. Xander sat next to her a little bit droopy eyed, sucking his thumb. Acting a bit more appropriately for the hour of the day, especially considering that the night before, neither of the kids went to sleep easily. Poor Libby was so excited that she couldn't sleep and was still awake when we checked on her at 11:00 p.m. Anyway, after taking a picture of Libby, I decided to hold the camera over my head and take one of Xander, who was sitting directly behind me. You know, to document my sleepy headed babe.

wait?! what!? silly kid. he saw the camera and gave one of the cutest and wakeful camera smiles he's ever flashed at his photographing mama.

two hours later, we're in flight. xander's first. libby's... well, i've lost count. something like 34th. she used to be a bit of a frequent flier, though she hasn't flown since she was 18 months, so she was just as excited as xander to board the plane.

almost immediately, the Lord provided beautiful scenery, to our delight. what a gorgeous sunrise.

Lamentations 3:22,23
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.

libby tried to rest. she was admittedly tired. of course, her attempt didn't last very long. there were cartoons to watch in the seatbacks. . .

we arrived in denver, laid over for a couple of hours, and daddy noticed that the truck outside the window near our gate was one pictured in the book we'd been reading. the kids thought that was pretty cool. already, vacation was proving to be extraordinary. by this point, libby has mentioned more than once that she loves vacation.

this was us. thankful for the big double stroller that served to tote the kids...and everything else.

smiles on my sleepy kiddos' sweet faces

boarding our flight to bozeman. this is really NOT what you want to see as you climb the stairs to get on your little prop plane. . . maintenance? ugh.

bozeman! we arrived and would you believe we saw a bear almost immediately?! xander was a bit hesitant, he didn't want to sit up with libby, but he was a sport and posed with a big grin. he got a bit more into the "game" when he noticed there were several middle-aged ladies cooing over him on a bench nearby. :)

after getting to bozeman, we rented a car and headed down to the park. before we even got to the north gate, we saw our first wildlife. at the time, we called them antelope. we later realized they were pronghorn sheep. :) either way, we were excited.

libby was thrilled to see the baby

the North Gate! we'd seen it pictured in books, but it was even more impressive in person
by now, i was fascinated with montana sky. it is striking. "big sky" couldn't be a better term. you'll probably notice a theme in the photos i took throughout the week. sky. magnificent. (and kids. cute. :)

in the park. heading to mammoth hot springs we spot more pronghorn sheep. libby is able to use the binos daddy bought for her to use on the trip (purple, no less). she'd been practicing at home before we left and was ready to put her focusing skills to good use. (sorry, neighbors.)

now we've arrived at mammoth hot springs and boom, elk. wow. the kids are loving this. and so are the parents. there's a lot of bang at yellowstone! we've only been in the park 30 minutes!

libby was really excited to pose with the elk, until daddy read the sign out loud. you can probably see the hesitation on her little face.

maybe it was these guys, maybe it was the bull elk we saw later, but somewhere along the line, xander developed an affinity for elk. at the mention of Yellowstone, he's sure to pipe in, "elk!" followed by, "wolf, bear, deer, bullofe (buffalo), wa-fall, team (steam) yuck!,...."

here's a hot spring, at dusk. the springs smell like sulfur, which is why any and every time we saw steam rising from the ground over the next 4 days, xander would say, "team, yuck!"

heading back to town after leaving the hot springs, more pronghorn sheep

from xander's seat he couldn't really see them perched on the mountain. instead, he checked out the view of the river.

by this point, libby had discovered the delight of checking animals off the checklist provided at the gate as we entered the park. at least every 2 minutes she would ask, "if you see any animals, will you tell me so I can see them and check them off my list?" "the list" became her new purpose. after she asked that about 10 times, i replied that i'd already seen bears, wolves, elk, yellow-bellied marmots, etc... She didn't appreciate my humor, and gave me the look you see above. :)

i can't imagine a better way to end a day than eating a big burger at Helen's Corral Drive-In. A part of daddy's vacation research was great little finds when it came time to eat, and on night one, daddy was right on. Helen didn't bother to indicate on her dry-erase menu that the cheeseburger basket included a burger that must have been at least 1/2 pound of beef. Nor did she mention that it would be as delicious as it turned out to be. Every last bite of it. No, not really. But I did the best I could and ate till I was stuffed. So did everyone else.

We returned to our hotel, and daddy took Libby swimming. I put Xander to bed around 9 (Libby was still at the pool) and that concluded our day that began before 4:00 a.m. What a day!

here we are in front of "the sign" within the north gate entrance

our first adventure of day 2 was a 1/2 mile hike to Wraith Falls.
when we came around the last bend, it was pretty steep and daddy gave everyone permission, "we'll just take this slow." Libby's response, "I can RUN!" and she could. *sigh*

at the overlook

headed back down

Xander had his first personal "spot." He found a caterpillar. It's that little black fuzzy thing just to the right of center. (click on the pic to make it larger - if you're looking on the blog. facebookers, you're out of luck, unless you go to the blog and click.)

Psalm 36:7
How precious is your steadfast love O God!
The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundnce of your house,
and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light do we see light.

this was the little spot we found for our picnic lunch

water feeding into the upper falls

score! we got to approach a bull elk. we joined a crowd with hushed voices and snuck around him to get the best pics we could. then the park ranger started yelling at people who were blockin off the big guy's means of escape, should he decide to escape, and we realized he couldn't care less if we were there. no need to be quiet, just don't fence him in!

one of the things i found so amusing about the kids was that they were just as fascinated by the grasses, or sticks, or bugs as they were the wildlife that brought us out of the vehicle. they quickly began entertaining one another as the elk grazed in the background.

xander has a fuzzy ended grass in his hand. i don't know my grasses.

he really wanted it in daddy's ear

kids play, elk grazes.... ah yellowstone

well now we were really en fuego. back in the car for about 5 minutes and there's a buffalo in the road. back out of the car. wise? maybe not. but we were young.

okay, believe it or not, we pulled into the lower falls parking lot and who is there? bull elk. same one we just saw from around the corner. libby gets another chance to practice with her binos.

xander kinda got in her way...

this picture kinda makes me smile. a really sweet lady offered to take one of all 4 of us. always a kind offer. after it was taken we looked at it and realized, it could have been anywhere. she kind of missed getting the waterfall in the background, but bless her heart, she was a bit shorter than we are. :)

someone else shorter than we are LOVED to take pics of us whenever we were stopped.

upper falls

libby peers over at the river below (this pic might make grandma anna sick)

see? see? see river? naturally, little brother is next.

as we're driving away through the valley. this buffalo had a friend who stepped right into the river and headed across. we got a video of it. it was pretty impressive how he walked/swam across, but makes for a boring video.

Driving by the Tetons that evening...

Psalm 19: 1-4a
The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.

picnicking for dinner. Tetons in the background. it was a perfectly beautiful evening.

the name of the place was, "the chuckwagon." we intended to keep on driving and have dinner in Jackson. But, about 20 minutes out we really needed to make a stop, and as Libby and I headed to the ladies room, we walked past this wagon, and smelled the delicousness brewing behind Libby in the picture. . . After a moment of investigating we decided this was the perfect place for dinner. The ribs and beef stew, mashed potatoes, veggies, salad bar, dessert, etc buffet was prepped over a wood burning stove and eaten outside in the beauty.

anyone who has been to jackson (hole) has a pic like this

that night we had a cabin at togwotee mountain resort. xander slept in a big boy bed for the first time, and again, he was so wiped out that he wasn't too tempted by his new freedom. the kids were so sweet sleeping together. x loooved having libby with him, and libby was so mature, "xander, could you please lay on your own pillow. i am trying to go to sleep."

Day 3

the next morning daddy took the kids for a stroll. i got an extra 45 minutes of sleep. later, daddy informed me that it was below freezing when they were out and about. boo.

Psalm 96:11-13
Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;
let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
let the field exult, and everything in it!
Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord, for he comes,
for he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness,
and the peoples in his faithfulness.

xander dropped his blankie along the route and daddy had to go back for it. the 3 of them did not have a bear encounter on this walk, which was good or bad, depending upon who you ask.

there's our lovely little cabin. when we stayed here, as where we stayed every other night, libby declared excitedly that this place was better than the last, and yes, she wanted to live here! she LOVED walking into our hotel room/cabin every night and checking it out, amazed with the big tv at the foot of the bed and interested in making pretend calls on the weird phone. she asked us one night, "do you think we could lay in bed and watch cartoons tomorrow when we wake up?" well libby, that's JUST the sort of special treat we can oblige while on vacation. seriously, that next morning the kids were so excited about sitting on the beds and watching cartoons while we got ready for the day. :)

okay, so we're back inside the park and stopped for a photo op in front of the tetons. they are breathtaking.

then on, and on, and on, and on, to... Old Faithful!

I don't want to be a stick in the mud, but I didn't think it was all that great. Am I alone? At least it wasn't stinky. (insert Xander: team, yuck!)

out through the west gate and into the little town of West Yellowstone. a lovely little place! xander and i took a little nap while daddy and libby went swimming and playing at a local park. i might have slept longer, but xander cuddle up on my arm and i woke to numbness and tingling and couldn't resist taking a picture of his sweet little self.

we concluded the day with a delish dinner at a pizza place brian had read about. i so apprecited all his work prepping and planning for this trip!

Day 4

ho hum, another bison (we called them buffalo, but we are wrong, they're bison)

elk? i can't recall nor tell from the pic. libby disappears from the pics after this one. i think it's because she was wearing flip-flops and got a splinter in her foot. fear not! mom came with tweezers!

more shots of xander playing with deer, i think they're deer, in the background.

on to some steampots (non stinky ones, for those who are keeping score. though yes, we are still gagging when we see steam, just for nostalgia sake.)

sitting aside grand prismatic

okay, so we didn't decide on our day's plan quite early enough. at this point we headed back out of the park, back to west yellowstone, so we could go to the bear and wolf observatory. if we hadn't gone back for that, the kids wouldn't have gotten a chance to see a bear, nor a wolf (well, xander anyway) and it was the last day so we had to make it happen. :) even if it meant more driving.

yep, that's a bear. yep, the observatory is a lot like a zoo.

and a wolf. mission complete. xander simply could not wait to see a wolf, for weeks before we left it was wofe, wofe, wofe. since we've returned it's been elk, elk, elk. i agree xand, elk. and moose.

yes! moose! props to daddy for spotting him in the river. we were back in the park, making our way CLEAR around the whole park to the beartooth highway, and we got to see a moose. this was really one of the highlights for me. :)

then, a little while later, we drove along and something jumped out in front of us. brian exclaimed "WOLF!" and sure enough, we saw a white one dart across the road right in front of us, narrowly escaping his death, and up and over the rolling hills outside libby's window. what an afternoon of thrills! we were still glad, however, that we went to the observatory, because the darting wolf was too quick in the opposite direction for xander's little eye.

we spent the rest of the day in the van (as in, it's now about noon and we were in the van until about 1 a.m.). we made a long drive to beartooth highway, which was made longer due to a *key* road being closed for the season (on day 2). however, the drive was made shortder due to a DVD player and 3 carefully chosen movies prior to our departure. this is the other reality of our vacation and needed to be noted. the kids watched videos. and we praised the Lord for that because let's face it, there are a lot of trees and mountains to see... but for a not quite 2-year old? and Libby did well appreciating the blessing of God's creation, but even she lost interest after a while. :)

FINALLY! beartooth highway. touted as the most scenic drive in America, we just couldn't miss it. and gorgeous views the highway did boast. particularly at sunset...

Psalm 36:5, 6
Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the clouds.
Your righteousness is like the mountains of God;
your judgements are like the great deep;
man and beast you save, O Lord.

meet my little friend. it's now pitch black and we have a five hour drive ahead of us to get back around and through the park to our hotel in west yellowstone. and would you believe, there's a lot of wildlife in Yellowstone? this big guy was right outside my window, i quick snapped a picture as soon as i saw him. my aim wasn't the best because, well, it was dark out, but you get the idea. he's big. and close. and that was nothing.

i would have filmed more, but i kind of panicked and turned the camera off. :) but just so you know, big boy continued walking toward us, and then right by brian's window, taking his sweet time, and snorting and growling the whole way. we were very aware of our vulnerability at that moment!

in additon to herds of bison in the road, brian and i saw deer (thankfully they didn't prance out in front of us, but stayed grazing on the side of the road where they belonged), a yellow-bellied marmot (or beaver), 2 foxes, bats, and a LOT of field mice. thankfully, we had no accidents, due in part to brian's diligent and slow driving. but we made it back to the hotel having seen the most beautiful stretch of road around, and the kingdom of the night of yellowstone. :)

Day 5
no pictures. we got up and made a gorgeous drive back north to bozeman, boarded a plane to denver, another to omaha, and were greeted at the airport by grandma, aunt em, and barns. it was great to be home after a really fabulous vacation!

Psalm 148
Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord from the heavens;
praise him in the heights!
Praise him, all his angels;
praise him, all his hosts!

Praise him, sun and moon,
praise him, all you shining stars!
Praise him, you highest heavens,
and you waters above the heavens!

Let them praise the name of the Lord!
For he commanded and they were created.
And he established them forever and ever;
he gave a decree, and it shall not pass away.

Praise the Lord from the earth,
you great sea creatures and all deeps,
fire and hail, snow and mist, stormy wind fulfilling his word!

Mountains and all hills,
fruit trees and all cedars!
Beasts and all livestock,
creeping things and flying birds!

Kings of the earth and all peoples,
princes and all ulers of the earth!
Young men and maidents together,
old men and children!

Let them praise the name of the Lord,
for his name alone is exalted;
his majesty is above earth and heaven.

He has raised up a horn for his people,
paise for all his saints,
for the people of Israel who are near to him.
Praise the Lord!

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