Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Odyssey: 2015 Edition - Part 6

St. Anthony and more Yellowstone. That should just about do it for this year of The Odyssey.

After a full day of Yellowstone, we decided to take a break from so much time in the car and tried something new. Have you heard of the St. Anthony sand dunes? Right smack in the middle of Idaho, there is a 10,000+ acre sand dune wonderland. It's the craziest thing. And it's tons of fun. We all rented an array of 4-wheelers and dune buggies and tore it up for about half a day.

After driving the 30 year old 3-wheeler around the yard in Canada the week before, the kids were perfectly primed for taking it up a notch. I was impressed by the ease with which Emma got the hang of shifting gears and using the clutch, I was impressed at how brave and adventurous the boys were climbing up steep hills, and after spending most of the day as a passenger, Lydia even got to have a go driving at the end of the day and did great. Afton was happy to go on a few rides and play at the side of the small lake where we had set up home base.

We were hot and dirty after racing through the sand all day, so we were super glad to find a swimming hole in the same town. We were extra impressed that it had a diving board, water slide, and beach area set up.

The next day we were up early again for one last hurrah around the upper loop at Yellowstone. We saw Mammoth Hot Springs, which looked other-worldly like the geyser area. But the best part of this day was probably a random pull-off that we found on a mountainside covered in boulders. The kids scrambled and climbed and explored all over that place, finding little caves and plenty of peaks to stand proudly atop. We stayed a good long time and probably could have stayed even longer.

We took one nice side road that was probably the prettiest area of the whole park...grand views, wildflowers everywhere. The upper loop in general was definitely better looking than the lower one. Our last stop was Boiling River, where a natural hot spring (like really hot, it will burn you hot) flows into a regular cold water river. You walk in the water in the cool area feeling all normal, then you accidentally stick your leg too far in to the hot side and have to jerk it back quick. You can find a spot in the middle of these converging temps that feels just right, or enjoy the weird sensation of having one leg hot and one leg cold. The adults just waded in a bit, but the kids brought bathing suits and had the full hot tub experience.

I call this one: Sisters in Hot Water

There is not much that we'd change about the Odyssey this year. We liked doing fewer stops but spending a longer time at most of the destinations. Having so much uninterrupted time together as a family with very few distractions was a blessing. Hours and hours in the car gave Scott and I a chance to talk about every single thing there is to talk about. Days spent outside gave our kids a chance to unplug and be creative and have fun together. Cousins and aunts and uncles at every turn made it a great shared experience that we'll remember forever. We'd do it again. We will do it again. We planned out our next Odyssey on the ride home. I can't wait.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Odyssey: 2015 Edition - Part 5

And then, just when normal people would be calling it a good vacation and heading home, we went to Yellowstone. We have never been there before and were excited to check out our nations first national park. (Fun fact: Canada's first national park was Banff, we got to visit them both!) Conan and Cally stayed in Canada to have more time with Cally's family (her other sister and her brother arrived the day we left, party!), but we didn't have to start feeling lonely or anything. We met the Langfords and Sextons at a cabin we rented in Island Park and the party continued!

Travel story: Montana has edged out Kansas as our new least favorite state. The majority of the driving we did there was on desolate highways that went on for miles and miles and hours and hours surrounded by absolutely nothing but a flat, brown landscape. The ugliness would have been a bummer, but significant portions of these roadways were actually missing the road part. For miles on end we found ourselves crusing down dirt roads highlighted with the occasional constructions vehicle or orange barrel, and wondering why anyone thought it was a good idea to just rip out the highway completely to repair it. This annoyance came to a head on our way down to Island Park from Canada. We came to one of these sections of dirt road, except it had rained the night before and the road had to turned into a muddy nightmare. Luckily, there were not many cars around, because those we saw, like us, were sliding all over the place, the thick mud was as slick as ice. We saw one unfortunate RV that had slid off the side of the road at a perpendicular angle and was stuck in the ditch.

So it was a great relief to arrive safely at our destination! We spent two days touring Yellowstone, one day on the lower loop, one day going around the upper. We were really glad we got to see everything we'd wanted to check out. We heard numerous horror stories about the traffic and the crowds, but we started our days early and were able to avoid any major delays.

Day one: lower loop. Geysers, geothermal wonders, and the Canyon.

I didn't realize there were so many geysers! We got lucky with our timing and saw several go off. And the hot springs were everywhere. So much of the park was like an alien landscape, unlike anything we'd ever seen before. The kids enjoyed seeing the colors of the rocks and held their noses in the stinky zones (there were many). It was all really interesting to see, it still seems crazy to me that such a place exists.

We got our fill of wildlife as well. Bison were all over the place, as were elk and various deer. We were lucky enough to see a mama grizzly bear with two cubs on our first day, and a black bear with one cub the next.

I regret not purchasing this helpful reminder on a water bottle. 

We made a fun stop on the banks of Yellowstone Lake. The kids started out with their usual fare of dipping toes and skipping rocks, then Scott invented a game. He would heave a large rock into the water, and the duty of everyone else was to try to hit it in mid-aid with a smaller rock. I love everything about a spontaneous game like that. The rock throwers kept at it for some time, but no one ever made contact. Every time someone got close there was a roar of excitement and a confidence that a hit would be made on the next try for sure.

Our last stop for day one was the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. That was my favorite thing we saw. While all of the geothermal stuff was interesting, it was ugly too. The Canyon was pretty, and really impressive. We went on just a short hike to a few good vantage points.

Cute detail story: Trey and Moe came up from Utah to join us too! It was fun to get to hang out and get to know Moe a little better. From the moment we arrived, Afton basically adopted them. Everywhere we walked she wanted to hold one of their hands. Whenever we sat down, she wanted to sit by them. "Because I don't get to see Trey and Moe very often!" she would explain over and over. They were kind and welcoming of their little shadow.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Odyssey: 2015 Edition - Part 4

Banff National Park in Alberta Canada is breathtaking. I'm so glad we decided to spend a day there, well worth the extra drive (what's four more hours on a two-week long road trip?).

Originally we'd planned to drive there and back all in one day, but as it got closer decided that sounded lame and it would be better to go up after dinner Thursday and spend the night so we could have more time to enjoy it. Unfortunately we made this decision a little late in the game, and with it being the week of Canada Day, there were absolutely 0 hotels to be found. So we got extra adventurous and decided that it might be fun to camp instead. Luckily, there were exactly two open camping spots, so we snagged one of them. So Thursday evening we ate dinner with everyone, then packed up and went north up to Calgary then hung a west over to Banff. We got a later start than we wanted to and worried it would be hard to set up camp in the dark. Silly us. It didn't get dark till after midnight so far north at that time of year. I took this picture at 10:00pm.

It was not a good night's sleep. Some of us were freezing cold, others could not get comfortable no matter how they tried, some of us suffered multiple mosquito bites on the face, most of us counted down the hours till the sun came up. Not Lydia and Afton though, they fell right to sleep and didn't stir till morning. BUT, totally worth it for the fun we had on Friday.

First of all, it was our anniversary. Happy 17 years to us! We didn't actually plan it that way, but I was glad we ended up having this one day mini excursion with just our family. It made me feel all happy and loving all six of them extra.

We woke, dressed, and broke camp right away, anxious to get going, and ate breakfast in the car as we drove to Lake Louise. Pictures don't do it justice. The water color is so vibrant yet serene looking all at the same time. It's hard to explain. It's just gorgeous. (We took our pictures with a variety of cameras and phones, so the color looks a little different in all of them.)

After admiring it and getting a few pictures we headed off on our planned hike. It was really crowded there, far more than Waterton, so we were glad to get away from all the people. We walked 1.3 miles around one side of Lake Louise, then 1.9 miles up Big Beehive Mountain. That climb was super steeps switchbacks all the way, and tough on our youngest hikers and we took a lot of breaks to catch our breath.

Near the top we heard what sounded like a long peal of thunder, and were bummed we were still in the trees, because it turns out we missed seeing an avalanche on the neighboring mountain by just a couple of minutes. Once we reached the top we were greatly rewarded with the view down on Lake Louise.

Next we continued 1.5 miles down more steep switchbacks on the other side toward Lake Agnes, a smaller lake with a different but equally ethereal color.

For this portion of the trail we passed a couple of snow patches that were full to climb and slide on. On the other side of Lake Agnes was a little mini-restaurant that was set up on the trail. We'd heard this place was so pretty and nice to stop for a meal, so we were really looking forward to it. Plus, we'd been hiking for almost five miles already and we were starving. Unfortunately when we arrived it was overflowing with people, and when we saw the scanty menu I almost wanted to cry. Cucumber sandwiches, chips and salsa, and other such light snacks were all they offered at $10 a pop, and we each felt like we could eat a moose. We waited around about fifteen minutes for a table to open up, then waited a few more for someone to notice we needed to order food (there wasn't a lot of structure), then a lady who was leaving told us she'd just waited a full hour for her peanut butter sandwich. That's all we needed to hear. In an hour we could finish the hike and get real food for half the cost. So on we pressed, 2.2 more miles to end up back where we'd started. It was one of the harder hikes we've done as a whole family, and I was incredibly impressed that everyone finished with no piggy back rides. I hope they remember that hike and it will remind them that they can do hard things.

We found some burgers in town and spent some time checking out souvenir shops before heading back down to Beazer. I love you Banff. I love you Canada.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Odyssey: 2015 Edition - Part 3

Waterton Lakes National Park was stunning. Majestic beauty everywhere. The first day we spent there was cloudy and cool, but our spirits were undampened. We stopped by a waterfall that Conan and Cally stop to take pictures by every time they visit (I've forgotten the name). Then we headed to Waterton Lake for a picnic lunch. That may have been my favorite part. The picturesque quality was off the charts, and it was so relaxing to sit by the water skipping rocks and eating. Afton loved forging trails through the tall grass, all of the younger kids enjoyed the makeshift tree house just behind our picnic spot. There was a short cliff area just challenging enough to be fun for the older kids to climb up and just steep enough to make it somewhat terrifying to descend for those of us who harbor horror for heights. After the lake we went on a short hike to another waterfall with some beautiful backdrops and some more climbing around opportunities along the way. Next Grandma Jackie and Grandpa Devon met us for dinner, souvenir shopping, and ice cream (always ice cream). We stopped at one more scenic overlook right next to the Price of Wales hotel, then went home and cleaned up a bit before driving over to the small town of Cardston to watch their fireworks display for Cananda Day. It doesn't get dark there until about 10pm, so the fireworks didn't start until 11:00. While we waited the kids played on a nearby playground and we got some more ice cream (always ice cream).

Here is the photographic evidence of the majestic beauty...