Joe Levi:
a cross-discipline, multi-dimensional problem solver who thinks outside the box – but within reality™

2006 Yellowstone Vacation

Day One: The Drive Up

Well, we packed up the van and headed to Yellowstone National Park. We entered from the West and arrived at our cabin Lake Inn just at sunset. We saw many buffalo and elk along the way, and had a 30 minute traffic jam headed up by two bison walking down the road in our lane. Very cool, but I kept wondering where I could pick up a bag of buffalo jerky…

We stopped by Sulpher Cauldron on the way in before settling down for the night.

Day Two: Old Faithful

Ahh… sleeping in! That’s what vacations are all about. Once awake we puttered around the cabin for all of, oh, five minutes. We then headed up to Mud Volcanos where we took a nice little walk around the bubbling mud and Dragon’s Cauldron. We walked up a path into the hills and got pictures by a buffalo grazing a dozen feet from the path. Once near the top we looked out over a bubbling lake of mud. The kidos loved it! Who wouldn’t, it was mud, it was bubbling! On the way down we got to walk through a thick curtain of smelly steam. After that the path headed back down the other side of the hill; all the trees on the hillside were white ghosts of formerly majestic lodgepole pines: killed by a change in the geothermic properties in the area decades before.

From there we headed to Old Faithful. We checked in to the historic Old Faithful Inn: the largest and most majestic lodge I’ve ever seen! Without further delay we hopped on our tour bus; the Fire Hole River Adventure (“guided tour”) took us along the Fire Hole river and to many cool and interesting “only in Yellowstone” sights. We saw beautiful cascades and waterfalls, geyser basins a-plenty, and the world-famous Paint Pots of Yellowstone: More bubbling mud! An instant hit with the kids.

On our return we passed a really cool swimming hole: closed due to high water. Maybe next time… When we disembarked from the tour bus we headed over to Old Faithful. Within 15 minutes or so we were neck deep in the hordes of tourists from ever corner of the globe, waiting for the timely eruption of the geyser. I’d tried to tell the kids what to expect: “you’ll see a steaming hole in the ground, then all of a sudden it will spit buckets and buckets of water WAY up into the air.” They didn’t believe me, but all doubt was removed once Old Faithful began her show. The kids loved it! Jessica (5.5 years) even commented “Wow, Dad! It was buckets and buckets, but without the buckets!”

The shadows were getting long so we retired to our room and lounged until drifting off into a blissful slumber. Okay, okay… Porter made sure we didn’t get too much bliss, or too much slumber. 😉

Day Three: The Bear on the way to the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

We started the day with a short hike (read: the kids were complaining that their legs would fall off if they walked any further) around the Old Faithful geyser basin and had breakfast before heading to Grant Village for our third (and final) night in the park.

We walked down to Yellowstone Lake, dissapointed that the water was too cold for swimming (that didn’t stop us from wading though!), and had a picnic lunch back at our lake lodge. With sunset briskly approaching, we headed North to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.

On the way we saw a young grizzley cub not far from the side of the road. Natalie immediately jumped out, camera in hand, while the kids climbed up into the front seat to see what all the commotion was about. Several pictures and several “Wow, Dad! It’s a bear” comments later we were back on course to the waterfalls on the Yellowstone river. We hiked a short distance to Artist’s Point, got several more pictures, and Natalie swooned over the sheer immensity of the canyon. We saw another look-out on the east side of the river, right at the brink, and headed over… to the trail head, that is. 😉

If you’ve ever seen a large waterfall you know how big and beuatiful they are, but you haven’t seen a single one until you’ve stood at the brink and watched as the countless thousands of gallons per second flow over the top, drop for hundreds of feet, then crash into a surrealistically blue-green pool engulfed in a fine mist of spray. All of us were awe-struck; some of us were a bit overcome with emotion at the raw power of the sight.

With dusk upon us we return to Grant Villiage, just beating a summer rain-storm. The thunder and lightning stayed our sleep for a bit, but the sight out the window of bight flashes back-lighting the thick brush of pines was worth it. Besides, we got to sleep in the next morning.

Day Four: The Wolf at “no-Fishing” Bridge

We headed out of the park through the East Entrance, over Fishing Bridge (it was funny to see a sign that said “Fishing Bridge” and beneath it another sign that said “Closed to fishing.” If we’d have had a place to pull out we’d have gotten a picture of it. Instead we headed over; in the meadow just North of the bridge was a lone, gray wolf. A wolf!

That brought our animal tally up to a bunch of male buffalo, a heard of female buffalo, countless elk, a mouse that escaped being caught on film, a grizzley cub, a suicidal chipmunk, swans, Canada Geese, leaping fish, mosquites the size of elephants, and a long gray wolf! Wahoo!

The East Entrance to the park takes you out around the east side of the lake and up the caldera rim. From there one can see the size of the super-volcano that once covered all of the West with lava and ash, and now sleeps some 5 miles beneath the park, “overdue” for another showing.

Due to road construction we had to travel on bumpy dirt roads for what seemed like an eternity. Natalie handled the driving expertly. We drove through a very cool, very long tunnel, then headed to Thermopolis, Wyoming: home of the world’s largest mineral hot springs.

We pulled in to the local Holiday Inn, grabbed our suits and hotel towels, and headed to the Teepee Spa which has cool, naturally heated mineral pools and water slides — indoor and outdoor!

After taking in our fill of the hot baths, having all our stearling silver rings turn goldish-blue, we drove in to town. The local wax museum was closed, but 36 bars, saloons, and other alcohol-serving and/or smoke-filled establishments were very open. We opted to dine at the Pizza Hut, then played at a very cool all-wood playground until it started raining. We went back to our room, watched Jaws (fitting, don’t you think?), and Natalie played a well needed round of Sodoku.

Day Five: The Drive Home

We drove home over the South Pass, made famous by the passers of the Oregon Trail, then through Rock Springs (luckily without running out of gas!). I joked that we were lucky that we didn’t have to re-enact a portion of the famous trail due to my short-sightedness in heading out through uncharted no-man’s land (on the map they’re called Fosom and Eden, Wyoming, I think; if you have a map handy look for the most barren place on the map, the furthest point from civilization: that’s where we should have gassed up, if we’d have run out of gas scenes from the movie Breakdown ran through my mind).

We passed by an amazingly huge wind-farm, snapping a few pictures along the way. We were then met with light rain until Devil’s Slide (just outside Morgan, Utah) which turned into a torrential down-pour through Weber canyon, ruining what plans we’d had for large-scale fireworks. Luckily we’d picked up a few “souviners” just north of Evanston which we’ll ignite tonight, weather permitting.

All in all, that was one of our most memorable and best vacations of all time!

Geek Gadgets Used

Two-Way Radio's
Worn as watches, these "Watchey-Talkies" (or are they "Talkie-Watches"?) proved to be more a conversation piece and peace of mind than anything else.
Inside the park we strapped one on each of our oldest kids, knowing that if either got separeted from us they could contact a parent through the radio strapped to the non-lost kid's wrist, conversely, either parent could keep in contact with the other through the radio on their kid-escort's wrist.
Pocket PC with GSM Phone and Global Positioning
The GPS section of this handy little device led us up and back from the park. Human intervention was needed only a couple times, though I'm sure we'd have gotten to our destinations eventually had we not opted to stray from its turn-by-turn directions.
Phone (and GPRS Internet) access were only available in West Yellowstone, Montana, and
near Old Faithful. We were roaming (and on vacation) so we didn't use it much (just to check in back home every once in a great while).
Just don't drop it into a bubbling cauldron. I almost did. Luckily it fell inside the wall, and only needed a reboot to bring it back to life. Newly scratched and dented, this only added to the character of this useful tool
In-Car DVD Player with Dual Screens
Gone are the endless hours that we as children had to spend looking out their windows wondering "are we there yet?" Today we can rot the brains of our offspring while visiting the nation's most beautiful scenery.
On a positive note, we were able to watch videos about Yellowstone's wildfires of 1988 in our room, which answered a lot of questions and made the rest of our trip more educational.
Digital Camera
We snapped nearly 300 pictures on this trip. With an ordinary film camera, in addition to cost substatially more in film an development costs, we probably wouldn't have recorded some of the funner, more spontaneous events of the trip.
512MB of compact flash storage and 3.2 megapixels with a rechargable CR-V3 battery made all the difference!
Photos have been posted online


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