Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Mountain Animals Do Five National Parks

Rocky Mountain National Park

The experience on our road trip this summer that was the most memorable for both Brian and me happened at Rocky Mountain National Park—the first stop on our national park lineup of five parks. We had great memories of exploring the park four years ago on our last cross country road trip and so we wanted to take the boys there on the way through Colorado. When we pulled into the park we asked a ranger which hike he recommended for kids. He told us there was a small one by a river where a dam had broken years ago and the river now flowed over and around huge boulders. We took his advice, and after a picnic, we put on real shoes and went hiking. That was when Cal gave everyone our climbing names: he was Mountain Horse, Clark was Mountain Cow, Brian was Mountain Goat, and of course I was the more flattering Mountain Dog.

The trail was cute and small and the view was astoundingly beautiful especially after having been in Kansas so recently. As we hiked around we saw that a bunch of people were not only walking on the paths below the river but were climbing the boulders and going right up the river. It looked fun, but of course with the boys we wouldn’t be able to do it. We started exploring—just seeing how far we could go. Then the boys started loving it—they were gritting their teeth and finding footholds for their feet and pulling themselves up. They were delighting in everything they saw and did (Mommy! Look how far I stepped this time! Look at that butterfly! I’m climbing a mountain!) and were caught up in the climb. So we did some boulder scrambling with three year-olds and it was delighful and only a little frightening at times. At the top we didn’t quite know what to do so we opted for the more dangerous choice of carrying the boys on our shoulders across the river and hiking down the other side of the boulder field.
Checking out the surroundings

The river flowing over boulders. Notice the climbers up in the right.

Boulder-y river

Here we go!

Bold climbers

Behind the boulders

View from the top. See the tiny people below.

Taking a break

We turned around and Cal was drinking from the river.
Braving the rapids

Made it to the other side!
By the end of the journey, Mountain Horse and Mountain Cow were decidedly done with hiking, but they had loved it and they loved pointing up the mountain and saying, “We climbed that!” It was a super cool, unexpected family adventure. After that, we explored Rocky Mountain park a bit more. We drove up a one-way road with a million switchback turns up a giagantic mountain. At the top we saw elk and caribou and put on our jackets. After a couple more hours of soaking in the scenery we headed to our nighttime destination—somewhere in Wyoming.

Wrong side, Cal.

Scratchy and Smoochie take in the view.
The drive up toward Wyoming from the park is amazing—along a roaring river in a beautiful canyon. The boys missed it because they slept, but it we watched the sunset bounce off the brilliant orange sides of the canyon walls. Great day.

Grand Teton National Park
I had never seen the Teton Mountains before, and once I saw them  from miles and miles away, I couldn’t take my eyes off them. As we drove into Jackson, Wyoming, I was excited to explore the park—well, as much as you can explore a national park with twin three year-olds. We took a tram ride up the mountain at Teton Village—right near where we stayed at Brian’s cousin and aunt’s house. I hate heights but I don’t want to pass on my fear to my kids so I sucked it up and we went up the mountain—as I envisioned falling and being skewered to death on giant pine trees . At the top we walked around a little and the boys played with snow for only the second time in their lives.

Tram ride up Rendezvous Mountain at Teton Village

Nice view

Lil' bit colder up here

On top of the world!

Then they had a meltdown on the way back to the tram. They wanted nothing to do with hiking. Brian and I put them on our shoulders for the last 100 yards or so. There was a waffle shack (weird?) at the top so we got waffles with Nutella and they stopped being little punks. Bribing isn’t pretty, people, but it works.

Waffles with Nutella- the key to happiness
When we finished our trip up and down the mountain we drove into the actual Grand Teton National Park (Teton Village is just outside the park). We took a boat ride across a lake at the base of the mountains and went on a hike to a waterfall. The hike was advertised as being a little over a mile. Should we do the whole thing? Going on a hike to a waterfall and not making it to the waterfall is so lame, but if the boys had a meltdown like the one they had a few hours prior, there would be For some reason they were little hiking angels on this hike and it was beautifully fun in the mild mountain summer. Mountain Cow and Mountain Horse had resurfaced! On the way back in the boat, Cal named the boat motors R1 and R2 in honor of his two favorite Robonauts (Pretty sure those are NASA’s only Robonauts). As soon as we turned on the car they fell asleep all the way back to the house. A successful and beautiful day in the Tetons.

Boating across Jenny Lake

Up and up!

Water break

Mommy kisses

Made it all the way to the waterfall!

More water

Tthis cracked rock is way more interesting than the waterfall.
Yellowstone National Park
The third national park we visited is just north of Grand Teton National Park—Yellowstone! I have fond memories of being a kid in Yellowstone, riding around in a mustard yellow station wagon with wood paneling and no air conditioning (known as the Groovy Stuvy Wagon to those familiar to our growing up years)and probably a teenage chip on my shoulder. A walkman in my ears no doubt.
I was also in Yellowstone four years ago on our last road trip—Brian and I drove through it on a whim and spent just a few hours there. We ended up driving between the lake and a wildfire. It was the closest we’d ever been to a wildfire, and it was crazy. There were firefighters all around by the line of the fire, just hanging out eating dinner or whatever, while the mountainside lit up in flames that were consuming the black night. I can’t believe they had the road open still, the fire was so close to it. So. Yellowstone in a station wagon and Yellowstone in a fire were my past experiences.
This year it was of course equally beautiful but it was frustrating that much of the beauty of the place is over the boys’ heads at their age. They were way more into singing songs and eating snacks than the fact that we were on top of a super volcano with wild-colored stones and pools and spitting geysers. We were right next to bison the size of small buses for crying out loud. “Can we watch a DVD?” GRRRR.
We watched Old Faithful, which was cool and they enjoyed. We did some of the small hikes around the springs and geyser pools and I was glad we did. Amazing colors. This makes me almost cry: I lost all of the pictures I took in Yellowstone when my computer died on the way home from our trip. We have only this one from Brian’s phone.

Scratchy and Smoochie at Old Faithful
At the end of the day we only saw a few moose and bison—no bears, which we were looking for. We stayed at an amazing little cabin that I did a review of here. I hope we can take Mountain Horse and Mountain Cow back there when they are older and can appreciate it a little more.
Craters of the Moon
The fourth national park we went to is actually called a national monument, which baffles me and so I’m categorizing it my own way. It most certainly is a park. Craters of the Moon. We had a fun couple hours here, minus the part where Mountain Cow cried and refused to walk so I pulled him.  I wrote about it and put a bunch more pictures of it here. It is such bizarre place—an ancient lava field nestled in rolling farmlands of soutern Idaho. Mountain Cow and Mountain Horse briefly turned into astronauts on the moon at this park.
Astronaut Mountain Horse

Badlands National Park
The fifth and final national park we drove through was Badlands National Park in South Dakota. I also have memories of this park from when I was a teenager in the Groovy Stuvy wagon. I loved our time there. We camped and hiked around on some of the crazy hills. On this trip, however, Mountain Horse and Mountain Cow were not entertained. The Badlands was by far the worst park for us. We simply drove on the loop through the park and early on we decided to get out and walk around a little—show the boys the amazing geologic scenery. The couldn’t handle it. Major meltdown because of something like important a rock in a shoe or a shirt being tucked in when it shouldn’t have been. I think at this point they were done with scenery.

Moments before the epic meltdown
Mount Rushmore National Monument
We also saw Mount Rushmore, and the boys had an equally big meltdown in the midst of all the tourists, but you would never know it to hear them talk about it now. They love to pretend to be the presidents on the mountain and love to point out Mount Rushmore anytime we see a picture of it. (It’s weird how often you see it places)


The stuffed travelers
Post-meltdown Mountain Animals
And that is how Mountain Horse, Mountain Cow, Mountain Goat, and Mountain Dog did five national parks and a national monument this summer.

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