This is the big M on the hill at Montana University.


After 11 tough switchbacks we did manage to make it to the top to realize just how big the M really is.  The short answer, it’s really big.  It was about 75 degrees and sunny which made for a spectacular view as well as a whole lot of sweat, and a little bit of complaining.  I never really imagined that we would be complaining about heat in Montana in mid October.

And as per usual this guy was the first to the top. Man o man this kid can move!  It’s one of the things I admire about him, his determination to finish what he has started, no looking back.



And here are the girls, we made it, in our time, closing in at the end.



I believe this was the point in time where Jeff felt the need to explain to the boys the importance of not throwing rocks down a mountain where many people are hiking.  It was also the same point in time when I was hit by a rock.   Lesson learned!



Even with this beautiful view the most impressive part of the hike for Korben was the aerial view of the Montana University football stadium, which I found quite impressive too.




Here is Jeff trying to make a plug for Twilio, if you can read his t-shirt.



But what goes up…… and going down is always harder.



Till next time Missoula, it’s been fun!


I’m not sure which Montana city I enjoyed more Bozeman or Missoula.  Each city has a fun vibe but offers its own unique experience.  I am told Bozeman and Missoula are arch enemies, at least in the college football world.

This is the town where I cut about 7 inches of my hair off so I will always remember Missoula for that.  I choose a place called the Cowgirl Salon.   I wasn’t sure what I was going to get from a place with the word cowgirl in it but I hoped for the best.  And the Cowgirl Salon delivered with a great cut.



Missoula has a great park on the river front with a large climbing structure.  I don’t recommend attempting to come here right after a Montana University football game ends. We were at this park twice.  Once in the evening (around 7) with one other family and right after the football game.  This place was a sea of maroon and white and quite frankly I was feeling a bit out of place.



We headed over to the carousal, which is located directly next to  Mayhem Park  Dragon Park.  The KOA we are staying at gave us free passes to ride the carousal.  The neat feature of this carousal is this.


Can you see the rings coming out of the dragons  mouth?  Each ring is colored, and as you come around (on the second fastest carousal in the US, I know we are talking carousals here) you can reach out and grab a ring.  If you grab the golden ring, you win a free ride.  Here we are ready for action…



Well, guess who grabbed the golden ring?… yep, that would be me! 



Here is Jeff trying to pull off the same golden ring grab that I performed.  He wasn’t successful, I guess I have skills at pulling rings out of a dragon’s mouth.  That must be worth something, right?

We also spent some time at the Barnes & Noble here in Missoula.  I point this out because I managed to whip up this cute hat while we were there.  And although my model isn’t happy, isn’t the hat great?



She is happy here though.



I have to mention the Big Dipper Ice Cream.  Every Missoulaian (is that word) told us about this place.  I must say they had the most unique ice cream flavors I have ever seen and tasted.  The super friendly staff will give you a sample of as many flavors as you ask for but you must ask.  The line is always extremely long, go knowing you will wait for a bit.  Start talking to some other families on the line (like we did) and you will get to the front in no time.  And when you get there try everything, you won’t be disappointed.  Some of the flavors available were, huckleberry, white mint oreo, rasberry amaretto chip, banana, and eggnog.


This was a fun day and I’ve been enjoying Montana way more than I ever expected to.  I still can’t imagine living in a land lock state.  A couple girls at the Cowgirl Salon said that they could never live on a coast.  They were telling me that the fear of earthquakes on the west coast and hurricanes on the east coast keep them living in Montana where there are no real fears of natural disasters.  She then mentioned that they get an average of 34 feet of snow each winter and for me, that is a natural disaster.


The 45th parallel is the border of Montana and Wyoming.  The owner of the campground in Bozeman told us about a swimming hole found directly on the border.  We were looking for this spot before we entered Yellowstone but came to realize the border is found inside the park. We didn’t see anything clearly marked at the border so we continued on.

Reluctantly I asked the ranger at the visitors center if she knew of this place.  She did and offered us a small slip of paper with the directions to the spot.  I’m not sure she would have offered us this information if I hadn’t first asked about it.  Because in all the time she was telling us about things to do in the Mammoth area not once did she mention this spot.

We followed the directions and found the Boiling River.  A quick change into bathing suits in the van and we were off down the trail, anxiously in search of this swimming treasure. 

The Boiling River is where Mammoth Hot Springs meets the Gardiner River.  And where hot water meets cold, a natural hot tub is formed.  And where the hot tubs form people pile up rocks to mostly enclose this magical water.  I felt like I had just found a piece of heaven when we came upon this.   This natural sanctuary was just as relaxing as it was invigorating.








This was a special day for our family and what better way to end our time at Yellowstone!  So it goes that my family and I, on October 14th, went swimming on the 45th parallel.


This day, it’s hard to find the right combination of words to describe it.

We entered Yellowstone today from the North, through a little town called Gardiner.

We entered through this arch on this picture perfect chilly morning.



We stopped at the Mammoth Hop Springs visitors center and right as we were leaving we were greeted by this beautiful group of elk.



We headed east on Grand Loop Road.

First stop Petrified Tree… so cool.  The kids couldn’t believe this was a once a tree, as we know trees to be, since it was as hard as a rock.



Onward we go…



…toward Tower (yet another area of the park with a visitors center) but not before stopping a few times to take in the breathtaking views and to take a couple short hikes.






Made it to Tower visitors center that is now closed for the season.  After a short hike to this beautiful waterfall we stopped to eat a quick lunch before heading back west. 


We wanted to be sure we could spend sometime at Mammoth Hot Springs before sun down.  This park is immense and we found that it was hard to judge how long it could take to get from one area to another… especially when a Mama bear and her 3 cubs are spotted on the side of the road.  We kept pulling over again and again to check out one cool thing after the next.

Approaching Mammoth Hot Springs.


The first thing we see when we turn the corner are these fellows just hanging out.



We stood in awe of Mammoth Hot Springs. These terraces are formed from deposits of calcium carbonate.



We were told that due to earthquake activity the area has drastically changed.  Because the vent has shifted much of the area that was once covered in spring water is now completely dry.  Also, apparently this area was much more colorful at one point.

Here we are at the end of a walk way.  Doesn’t look too impressive or should I say as impressive as it once did.   But I didn’t mind because there is always something new around every corner in this park.  Each place telling a unique story of a space in time.



But then this just a short walk away.



And after Mammoth Hot Springs we got a little taste on just how hot that water really is…. more on that tomorrow.

Till then….


Bozeman, I love this quaint Montana town.  It had such a fun hip vibe to it.  With The University of Montana at the heart of the town this brings lots of great events and activities to the area for all ages.  The Museum of the Rockies is located directly next to the university.  I believe the museum is affiliated with the university.  We had a fun day at this museum.  It had a fun way of learning the history of Montana.  As you walk through the museum you are evolving right along with Montana, starting one billion years ago when there was water where Montana is today.



These models helped me to understand the formation of Montana and the Rocky Mountains.  It also helped that Jeff broke down the fancy verbiage and explained them in “Jill terms”.



And although we aren’t huge dinosaur fans, they did have an impressive dinosaur hall.  They also had a great show on color at the planetarium, which was particularly exciting for Koah as he had never been.  And man, o, man those planetarium seats were super comfortable.  The 30 minute presentation was way too short for me.


The kids favorite part of this museum was the Exploring Yellowstone kids room.  It happened to be one of my favorite parts as well, as I was really impressed with the animals that were placed through out the exhibit.  Each animal was designed and made with items that would have otherwise been trash.  This inspired me to think how I could use items that I would otherwise throw away.



We also stopped into the Bozeman Public Library.  We headed to this library after dinner and I was thinking that we would be gone for about an hour before heading back to the campground.  We were here for 3 hours (until closing at 8).  The kids were just having too much fun, and I had to savor the moment and let them be.

Playing “chester” (against herself).



Doing some art, with her keen artist eyes.



Freya’s masterpiece.



I even got to flip through a few crochet books as the kids were all busy doing their thing.  It is moments like these where I say I could do this forever or at least for a long time but then there are those other days.  But for today, I’ll take this one and cherish it and remember it.


We didn’t know much about this battle before coming here.  We had heard various people on our travels say “Custer’s last stand”.  Well now we have seen where Custer had his last stand.  This monument is dedicated to remembering the Lakota and Cheyenne Indians fight here to preserve their way of life.  And even though the Indians destroyed Custer and the US Army’s 7th Calvary in this battle, the Indians knew that soon they would have to conform to the laws about living on lands set aside for them (the lousy  land).

This monument is a peaceful place set on the beautiful open lands of Crow Agency, MT.


Custer’s tombstone is one with the black on it, among the many other US soldiers.


Junior Rangers hard at work.




This was about on hour drive from Billings but well worth the trip.


We made it to Montana!  First stop Billings, in this ginormous state.



We cooked mini meatloaves on the grill, mostly prepped and cooked by Makenzie and Koah.  The best part was the crispy parts cooked onto the aluminum foil.



We also had a quick bit of hail move through.



The kids had fun at the playground.  And more on that in a moment.



But the best part of Billings was meeting the Higgins family.  Turns out that they are on a similar adventure, traveling in a blue school bus.

Also turns out that they have 4 children as well in the same gender order as us. 

Also turns out that their children are about the same ages of our children. 

Get where this is going…. Kids to play with!

And kids to play with means time to get things done rather peacefully, like cook a meal uninterrupted, fill all the RV tires with air, and have an adult conversation with little disruption. 

These couple days in Billings were fun with the Higgins.  After we pulled out of the campground the kids got a little choked up that they wouldn’t have the Higgins kids to play with anymore.  We are hoping our paths cross again someday.


Oh and playgrounds can be dangerous.  Courtesy of the 2 oldest boys.


Merry Go Rounds Can Be Dangerous



After the attack on Pearl Harbor, when the USA declared war on Japan, 10 concentration camps were built throughout the country to incarcerate Japanese Americans.  These Japanese Americans were forced to leave the West Coast because the United States feared they were dangerous. Heart Mountain is one of the 10 camps that opened to house these Japanese American people. The video shown at the beginning of the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center is an account from the people who lived here at Heart Mountain for 3 years (1942-1945).  This was heart wrenching to watch.  And every time I think about it, I fill up with tears.

Many talked about the businesses they owned in CA.  And about how hard they worked to provide for their families. And about the fact that they were American citizens.  These people, no different from you or me. 

But then one day life changed.  They were told to pack one bag and then they were escorted onto a train, destination unknown.  One woman in the video explained that her family didn’t own any winter gear.  It wasn’t necessary in California.   When they arrived in Wyoming they had an extremely difficult time adjusting to the freezing temperatures.

The camp met their basic needs.  And they played games and went to school.  But they always knew they were surrounded by a fence and the watch tower was always in sight.

One underlying theme during the video was that the absolute hardest part for these families was when they were released from the camp.  They were each given $25 and a train ticket to anywhere in the US.  Some returned to their communities with the hopes of finding some normalcy. But their businesses were now taken over and they had little to work with. 

Others chose train tickets to places entirely new.  A place to start fresh.  But again each family had little money to work with

This place was very touching and moving.  I highly recommend the stop if you ever in the Cody, WY area.

When the woman was showing us a replica of the average size room a family was housed in, she asked the kids, “Imagine if your whole family had to fit, with all your belongings in such a small space to live.”  The kids just stared at her.  I then had to explain that we are living in a 28 foot motorhome.  She said, “Ok, well I guess you can imagine”  I said, “The difference is that we are doing this by choice” … Are we really doing this by choice?…. I’m half crazy!


This station was filled with blocks each labeled with items that the children might have packed when they left their homes for Heart Mountain.  My kids were challenged to decide what items were important to them and see how many they could fit in the suitcase.  The blocks were labeled with things like favorite doll, special toy train, pillow, pictures, books, etc.



These are the only 2 original buildings that still remain at Heart Mountain. 


What can I say?  There aren’t enough words to describe this day.


First up… a grizzly bear!  It was digging hard for something.. possibly breakfast.

Not a great picture but you get the point.


Next up Norris.  The visitors center was closed for the season although it didn’t much matter to us.  As you finish walking the path that leads from the parking lot to the visitors center it’s like you have stepped onto another planet.  This hike was most unusual which made it all the more special.





Steam Boat geyser is also found in the Norris area but on the other side from where we felt like we were on Mars.  This geyser is the tallest in the world.  The only way you get to see it shoot water 400 feet high is to be in the right place at the right time. Unlike Old Faithful this geyser is not predictable.  We waited a few minutes… cause you never know.  We were not in the right place at the right time but this was still cool to see.



Onward toward Old Faithful, cause how could we not.  I’m not sure what I was thinking but I didn’t expect the amount of action and buildings this area of the park had… a large hotel, a visitor center, a general store, restaurants, fast food, a large walkway to the geyser and benches in a semi circle around the geyser, etc.  Was it impressive? Sure it was but were there other areas of the park just as impressive, with much less activity and  no man made structures taking away from the natural beauty? Yes!   Don’t miss Old Faithful but I wouldn’t plan to spend much time there either.   There are too many other things to see, especially if you are not pressed for time, which fortunately we weren’t.  We still had another full day coming our way in Yellowstone when we reached Bozeman, MT, entering from the North.


Waiting on Old Faithful.  I’m not sure the weather could have been any more perfect.


Here she is.



There are so many spots to stop as you travel the road around the park.  A few more beautiful places.



This trip hasn’t always been easy and, in fact there have been extremely difficult days woven throughout this journey.  Isn’t that what life sometimes hands us.  But today was different, it wasn't one of “those” days.  Today was beautiful and dare I say enjoyable.  It’s days like these that I find myself full of gratitude that not only have I experienced this remarkable place but that I have also had the opportunity to do this with my children.  That I have had the opportunity to question, discover, engage, inquire, and learn right along with them.  What a treat it has been!


I knew Yellowstone was big but I didn’t realized it was quite this big.  I’m thinking Yellowstone might be bigger than most of the states in the Northeast.  Who knew that from the east entrance of Yellowstone it would then take an additional 2 1/2 hours to get to Old Faithful.  Old Faithful would have to wait for another day.  Roads are starting to close this time of year and there were only 3 of the 9 visitor centers open but I’ll take that over a crowded park.  I know for sure that this is not a place I would want to come to during the summer.  I talked to someone who told me that they waited over an hour just to enter the park in July.

We spent most of our day in the Canyon area.  We did an awesome hike to the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.





We saw lots of buffalo, mule deer, and elk.  We are hoping to get a sighting of a bear.



I also didn’t know that there is a large lake in the center of the park.  Appropriately named Yellowstone Lake.


Sunset over the lake.


There are 4 hydrothermal features found in Yellowstone,  mud pots, geysers, fumaroles (steam vents), and hot springs.  The worst part for the kids was the stinky smell of rotten eggs.  These 4 features are can be found in many areas of the park, some popping up out of nowhere.  I never knew that so much of this park is over a hot spot and will eventually explode… millions of years from now.  More pictures of these features tomorrow…