Saturday, June 13, 2009
Yellowstone National Park: Day 1
We decided to enter the park from the north entrance, which is the original entrance. It has a huge arch called the Roosevelt Arch (built in 1903). The top has the words, "For the Benefit and enjoyment of the people."
We arrived at Yellowstone around 11:00 a.m. on Tuesday morning after a short drive from Bozeman, MT.
The first thing to do from that entrance is to go to one of the many visitor centers to watch a short film about the park. I was surprised to see a huge post office and beautiful old military fort buildings, which were well maintained, and used for park buildings. The thing that surprised me most about Yellowstone was all the people from all over the U.S. and world with huge cameras. It was not hugely crowded because of the cool weather they were having and some of the campgrounds were still closed for the season. Mammoth Hot Springs was our next stop. There were lots of signs explaining the area and also a trail guide with all the scientific explanations for the land formations, with photos and diagrams. There were at least a miles worth of boardwalks and stairs to walk on to explore the area safely, because it was not safe to do so otherwise.
After we left there we saw a bunch of people in their cars stopped, watching a small black bear on the side of the road. Shortly after we stopped it crossed the road and Cliff got a photo. It was really neat to see a bear. The kids were in awe too. While we were stopped some other unschoolers from San Diego gave us a shout out after seeing our cool bumper sticker. They told us big group of unschoolers were at the park. I secretly hoped we would meet more at our campsite.
We loved all the boiling thermal pools along the side of the road, lakes, bison, elk, trees, etc. It was a beautiful, partly cloudy day. After that we decided we better get to the campground we decided to camp: Norris. We picked Norris (7,500 elevation) because it was only $14 a night. They had bathrooms (no showers or electric), a beautiful winding creek, trees, and it was centrally located between Old Faithful, the Canyons, and Mammoth Hot Springs. We arrived there around 2:00 p.m. and all the sites by the creek were taken, but we were able to set up across from the bathrooms. The highs were in the mid-50s and the ground was not as wet as I had expected it to be from all the recent rain. It was the lows of the 30s that worried me the most since we'd be tent camping for a few days or longer. The first night felt really cold. I quickly found that sleeping by myself on a comfy cot would not work. I ended up on the ground next to one of my little heaters. We all slept close to each other in our sleeping bags. The next night was much better.
The only real frustration we had with camping was trying to light our campfire. We did not pack lighter fluid and that was what we needed to get it going. Some people camped behind us and let us use theirs. We also met some unschoolers at our campground who knew Heather and David (people we stayed with the night before in MT). It was really cool. We got their email address and had fun chatting with them. We also met a dad and his son, Steven (10) who were there from Illinois. Steven wanted to sleep with us in our tent. He loved hanging with our boys. Of course, he didn't sleep with us, but it was really cool that he felt so happy and welcomed with us.
That first night at our campground a ranger gave a really neat campfire talk about some of the lesser known animals at Yellowstone, like the pika, coyotes, and wolverines. He had been a ranger in Alaska for about 12 years as well. He has many personal encounters with wildlife that were incredibly fascinating. It was cool to hear about the coyotes since we had actually seen one near our campsite that evening. It was eating something off the ground and then ran off. It looked like a large grey fox, but the camp host told us it was probably a coyote. We ended up seeing quite a few coyotes over our visit at Yellowstone, but that was the only one we saw at our campground. We also saw a pika when we were at the falls near the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. Everyone else thought it was a squirrel, but we knew better since we had seen photos and learned quite a bit about them from the ranger. It was pretty neat. The ranger told us when we see one it will look like it has a mustache made of dried grass it collects for winter food. And sure enough that is just what it looked like. They are really cute.
The nature connections were quite surprising when they happened and wonderful. We never felt unsafe. We never tried to approach the wildlife. Yellowstone was everything I had hoped it would be with the wildlife. The park was much larger than I expected. It was about 45 minutes or so of driving between each major point of interests with many points in between. We loved seeing fly fisherman in the rivers and streams, and all the other ways people found to connect with nature. Cliff did a little fishing the first day. He didn't catch anything, but it was still fun.
We made bean burritos on the Coleman stove the first night. It was really tasty. We used canned refried beans, flour tortillas, and sour cream.
My dream of going to Yellowstone came true and it is something we will remember fondly. We will go back to do some hiking when the boys are older. There were many things we skipped and would like to go back to see. Camden really needed to be a few years older to hike some of the long trails of boardwalks, and other areas of interest. I can't wait!!!
Love and gratitude to all!
P.S. We are not back to Iowa and I am on borrowed vacation time. I need to get back to that now. So please forgive my typos. I just wanted to get this down before I forgot details. I need to blog day 2. That will come tomorrow, maybe.
(Pika photo from: http://salamandercandy.files.wordpress.com/2007/09/pika.jpg and coyote is from: http://media.wkbw.com/images/coyote%20wkbw.jpg)