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…


The 3 remaining museums that I haven’t touched on yet.

Buffalo Bill Museum

I have to be honest, I didn’t know much about Buffalo Bill Cody.  This museum offers you everything you could possibly ever want to know about him.  If one thing was clear it was that he sure did kill a lot of buffalo… hence the name Buffalo Bill.  His life was eventful ranging from a meat supplier to a Pony Express rider to a show man to a hotel owner (the very thing that lead to his bankruptcy).  As a side note, there was a time in history where 600 buffalo remained in this country.  They almost became extinct because they were either being killed for meat (like Buffalo Bill did) or killed to force Native American tribes move. 

My kids seemed to like the game the best here.



Draper Museum of Natural History

The design of this museum was amazing. It is basically a spiral that works its way through time around this map on the floor.


It gives an interactive account of the changes in western land and of the animals who call this place their home.   The design along with the surrounding exhibits transported us through a journey of the west.   The information was clear and simplified so that as you walked through it just all came together and made sense.


The question that was asked here, What does the wilderness mean to you?  This is Makenzie’s response.  These responses get posted on a board for others to read.


Plains Indians Museum

When you enter this museum it feels as though you have entered a different world.  I’ve always been interested in Native American history and I’ve learned so much more on this journey across the country.   There were many areas here where you could sit and reflect on our country’s Native American history .  I marveled at the beautiful bead work and sat here for a bit to listen to a day in the life of a Plains Indian (while the kids pretended to be buffalo).



We also learned a lot about this brave woman throughout our travels.



This museum is 5 museums under one roof.  It consists of the Whitney Western Art Museum, Cody Firearms Museum, Draper Natural History Museum, Buffalo Bill Museum, and the Plains Indian Museum.  In addition there is also a raptor program with live birds of prey such as hawks and falcons that can no longer survive in the wild by themselves. Good thing the admission price included entrance for 2 consecutive days because you really need 2 (or more) days to see everything this museum has to offer.  It's impossible to pick a favorite spot, as each area offers it's own unique experience.



Whitney Western Art Museum

Although difficult, if I had to pick a favorite museum it would have to be the Whitney Art Museum.  This museum offered a beautiful variety of art.  What struck me most here was the paintings that I originally thought were photographs.  This painting of a rattlesnake was one of my favorites.


The art museum also offered an audio tour on about 20 of the paintings/sculptures.  The kids (I had the 3 younger ones with me today) were anxious to do this… I saw disaster in my head… broken audio equipment or worse yet cracked sculptures, fallen paintings.  I finally conceded hoping, praying that the novelty of wearing headphones and playing with the controller would wear off quickly… boy did they prove me wrong.  Each of them went from painting to painting listening from start to finish the details about the artist and their work.  Quite frankly I couldn’t believe it;  so I quickly grabbed a head set for myself and found that I was also mesmerized by the information and details given.  We wound up spending most of our second day here.




They were even listening while doing their own artwork here, with this view as inspiration.


Hard work for a 4 year old.


“Elk in the Shadows” by Makenzie


Cody Firearms Museum

I’m not a fan of guns…period…  which sounded funny to a couple we met in a campground.  “You mean you can’t buy a gun in Walmart in New Jersey?”  Umm…no!  This was the second time I was asked this question.

And although many of the guns all looked the same to me, I was impressed by the wood carvings and metal carvings in some of them.  The detail and intricate designs must have taken these artists many long hours to complete.  The art piece of the guns were really quite beautiful to observe.

But there was something even better at this museum and hands down the kids favorite part of the firearm museum.

The shooting range… the PRETEND shooting range.  Rifles and shot guns!


After a few tips from Dad they didn’t do too badly.


Watch out!!



The raptors we learned about and watched; a great horned owl named Teasdale, a red tailed hawk, a turkey vulture, and the American kestrel falcon.  These birds have been rescued from the wild and can no longer survive on their own in the wild mostly due to a prior injury.  This  is a great way to inform the public about these birds while also getting to see the real thing.  We really enjoyed this program.



A few life lessons:

1.  Spending the night in a Walmart parking lot is not much different than a campground.  You are among a sea of fellow travelers.  But I will say I prefer a campground.

2.  Snow does not look pretty when camping in a Walmart parking lot.

3. 29 degrees doesn’t feel so bad when you have a killer view to go with it.

4.  There is no such thing as a quick game of UNO with 6 people.

5. Puzzles and moving RVs, not a good combo.

6. Tracking down a UPS store in the middle of WY to pick up our van mirror replacement is not as easy as you may think.


Top of the Bighorn Mountain Pass and our first encounter with snow.


Top of the pass



Using the good utensils to chip away ice.

Excitement over doing donuts with an RC car on ice.


Looking for fresh snow to make ice cream.

Who needs ice cream?



I think Freya wants some.

Mountain made chocolate ice cream.


I didn’t supervise this ice cream project.  I was outside helping Jeff replace the van mirror.  I do know that the sugar container was practically empty when I found it.



The views during this drive were spectacular!  There are 2 passes over the Bighorn Mountains and apparently this is the less scenic of the 2.  After being quite impressed with this one I can’t wait to someday see the other one.