Our other huge adventure this past summer was a week-long road trip to Spokane for Mike’s 20th High School Reunion(!!) and a five-night camping trip to Yellowstone with our bfff’s (best family friends forever).
We had an absolutely amazing, magical time. We stayed at a KOA located outside the West Gate’s entrance. This worked out extra awesomely as KOA’s are essentially the five-star resorts of the campground world. There was an indoor pool (hugely beneficial during one of the couple of rain squalls that we experienced), a gift store (awesome for random forgotten items and gift-shopping, of course) and – best of all – a laundromat. This came in VERY handy when – after a day spent in the park – we discovered our tent had flooded and many of our sleeping items were wet. I didn’t see the rainy situation as a problem – especially as I sat in the warm laundromat drinking wine with Rebecca and waiting for our things to dry. Mike seemed to find the rain and our indoor-water-feature tents, a lamer situation as he spent a couple of hours attempting to mop up the wet mess. Huh! Go figure! The boys opted to sleep in the car two nights rather than deal with the SUPER cold, damp situation in their small two-man tent. Mike, Kayli and I wore EVERY layer of clothing possible and still woke up frozen most mornings. (Mental note: must spend the next few months of gift giving – Christmas, his birthday, Father’s Day - stocking Mike up with MUCH warmer camping clothes/rain gear)!
The park was incredible – of course! We saw and did all of the required awesome things: Old Faithful, the Grand Prismatic Springs, floated in a swimming river hole, saw LOTS of geyser/bubbling spots (you really do realize: holy crap! This WHOLE place is a volcano!), the gorgeous Falls, the river/Grand Canyon, the Paint Pots, bubbling mud pots, Mammoth Springs, & the Lamar Valley to name a few. We went for a boat ride/tour on Lake Yellowstone and learned about some of the history of the park as well.
We saw animals galore (and continued my family’s camping trip tradition of getting a Skittle whenever a creature is spotted! The bison are so goofy looking – so big, so weirdly cute. Lots of elk (saw a couple up REAL close when a mama and her baby jumped in front of our car one night). We saw deer, tons of hawks/birds. And from a-far (and with the help of people letting us peak through their high-tech scopes), we saw a couple bears and JUST missed seeing some wolf cubs.
We also managed – surprisingly enough – to spend some time in close proximity to cows. Just beyond our campsite’s fence was a field full of grazing cows. Every morning we woke up to them mooing. One morning, they were so loud in fact, I opened my eyes and turned to glare at Mike – thinking that he was mooing back at them. Nope, he was still asleep, but seriously – the cows were all of five feet away and so loud I thought they were lying next to me! One of my favorite photos from the trip is from one misty morning when Kayliana is slowly waking up with her cup of hot cocoa and having a staring contest with a cow on the other side of the fence.
One of our mornings started exceptionally early. We woke everyone up at 4am (yes, we woke up 8 children ages 13 years and under at the butt-crack-of-dawn). The goal was to drive out to the Lamar Valley so we could be there at dawn – the best time for animal-spotting. Well, it was almost a disaster as we had all the kids up, sitting sleepily in cars eating cups of oatmeal when Jason’s and Rebecca’s van wouldn’t start. The battery was dead. The guys managed to hook our cars up and get theirs jumpstarted. (I’m quite certain our camping neighbors must’ve hated us a bit). Then, as we made our way through the park, the valley was completely locked in fog. We couldn’t see a thing. Thankfully, the kids all handled it quite well. I actually thought the fog was pretty cool, especially as we came across a bison just slowly ambling down the middle of the road in the thick fogginess. And eventually, we did make it back to the valley – on our last night in the park. We managed to be there at dusk instead of dawn and it was stunning.
Perhaps my very, very favorite aspect of the trip was one of those rare family memory moments that you plan for, hope for and that actually succeeded in working out. I’d made a playlist of the classical music from the two cassette tapes we had for long car camping trips growing up. Basically, that music became the soundtrack to large parts of my childhood. In fact, it’s because of one of those cassettes that I decided to play the flute. So, I’d prepped the kids that I would be playing classical music once we got inside the park. And – gasp! – Family Camping Trip Miracle! – not only did the kids accept the plan, they really enjoyed it! It was actually really amazing how the music seemed to perfectly fit the scenery. At one point, I read out loud one of the warning signs about approaching wildlife and – no joke – the music immediately turned ominous and suspenseful.
That morning that we got up pre-dawn and drove through the fog into the park was especially meaningful. I was already feeling moved by the music, by childhood memories and especially thinking about my dad and how much he loved camping and how much I miss him…when we crested a hill and the sun finally broke through the clouds. It was breath-taking.
I felt weird and lame that it’s taken me until nearly Thanksgiving to finally reflect on our big summer trip, but now I see why it worked out this way. Today, the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, will always be the anniversary of my dad’s death. (Yes, it was on Nov. 26th but that date moves around. The Tuesday before Thanksgiving doesn’t). So, on that note, I’m going to listen to my Yellowstone playlist and be instantly transported to a place of beauty and awe – where I can spend a little time in that weird sensation of grief and yet happy memories.