Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park is in a category of nature superlatives all by itself.  It is one of only five places on earth with spectacular geysers, hot pools, and paint pots. AND it has a powerful presence of megafauna—grizzly bears, wolves, bison, and elk. This combination rightfully earns the park the title “one of the seven natural wonders of the world.”

One of many gorgeous hot pools in the upper geyser basin near Old Faithful

My Nature Grannie self naturally wanted to share the park with our two grandchildren. How do you help two city kids experience modern Yellowstone in three days?

Step #1—secure lodging. Most of the accommodations within the park were already full by last November when I launched this search. We settled on staying in a cottage on the Yellowstone River in Gardiner, MT at the north boundary of the park.

Step #2—Understand that driving through gorgeous scenery does not especially thrill children. Christina and I could drive for days on the backroads of the west and be completely mesmerized. Not so much our grandchildren. I planned days with lots of short stops and exciting things to see like geysers and big animals.

Step #3—Help them understand that nature is not a theme park. The animals are not “cued up” to provide sightings for us. We have to keep our eyes open, work together, and trust how things unfold.

What actually happened?

Jaden (14), Sasha (8), Christina and I left Great Falls, Montana and the wonderful Baldwin Family reunion  (https://peerspirit.com/bones-to-the-ground/) and drove south to Gardiner, MT.

The next morning, we four got up early and headed to Old Faithful, a long drive through the park. Joining with other visitors we oohed and aahed as the geyser erupted skyward about 130-140 feet—within 10 minutes of its predicted time. It felt important to begin our journey with one of the most famous of the park’s volcanic features. Sitting in the company of some 500 strangers all focused on this miracle of nature was inspiring. After the 3-and-a-half-minute eruption, everyone clapped.

Hundreds of viewers wait for Old Faithful’s eruption

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We continued our day of geyser awe by walking the boardwalk of the upper geyser basin.

The four Yellowstone explorers: Ann, Jaden, Christina, and Sasha taken by another visitor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The noticeable thing about the weather that day was wind and sun. Sasha and Christina walked arm in arm to literally help our youngest member keep from being knocked off the boardwalk in a gust of wind.

Jaden and I were wandering behind them when he made two observations that clued me into his attentiveness. First, he and I had stopped to look at a particularly large geyser cone that was listed as “erupting irregularly.”

“What would happen to all of us walking on this boardwalk if one of those unpredictable geysers went off in this wind?” asked Jaden. I asked him what he thought, and we agreed that there would be a mass exit in the opposite direction that could get pretty chaotic.

Jaden contemplating a geyser

Wildflowers were growing in abundance alongside the boardwalk. After a while, Jaden asked, “Is this plant yarrow?”

“How do you know what yarrow is?” I asked a bit incredulously.

“It’s one of the plants we collect for our medicine bag in Red Dead Redemption.” Background: Christina and I understand something about this favorite video game of Jaden’s and actually partly conceived the idea of showing him the “real” old west because of his fascination with the virtual west of this popular game.

 

In a landscape of superlatives, it can be something tiny that connects us to that which matters. In that brief exchange I believe he saw the connection between “real” life and the fantasy world of his video game.

Always, always when in Yellowstone we were looking for wildlife. In this shot we found three bull elks grazing very close to the roadside near Old Faithful.

Bull elks grazing close to the road

 

Jaden and Sasha watching the elk safely from the car window

On our wildlife day driving through the Lamar Valley in the northeast part of the park we found ourselves in the middle of a “buffalo jam”. Huge thrill for all of us and a reminder of what the west once looked like. Yellowstone has the largest concentration of “conservation bison” in North America with a herd numbering near 5,000.

Buffalo crossing the road

 Activity, activity, activity. Young people remind us to be active and engaged. The day we rode horses into the Yellowstone high country was a highlight for all four of us. Christina and I, who both owned horses as teens, felt like we had never ridden in such stunning country. And Sasha and Jaden for whom this was a first rode beautifully during our two- hour adventure. Afterwards back in our cabin, Sasha said, “When we are with you, we do lots of firsts!”

“Yes, we do, and you were very brave today,” said Christina.

The four of us riding in Yellowstone

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another fun activity for all four of us was soaking where the “Boiling River” flows into the Gardiner River. The walking trail to this unconventional swimming hole is easy and straight forward but the actual immersion into the soaking place requires walking through cold, fast-moving, knee-high water over slick rocks to find a safe place to sit. White hands helped brown hands. English speakers helped Chinese and Spanish speakers, older folks reached for the steadiness and strength of teenagers. All were looking for a place where the really hot water from the underground thermal feature flowed directly into the Gardiner River creating a mixing place of warm water. We were all “in it together”. Once again, a community experience of nature.

Thermal river flowing into the Gardiner River near the popular soaking spot

Soaking in the warm interface where the “Boiling River” meets the cold Gardiner River

Becoming a junior ranger, our 8-year-old, needed the help of her family.  She was required to attend a ranger talk, recall information from different educational exhibits, participate in an “animal Olympics”, and pledge to be a part of caring for the earth. We spent some real time meeting those requirements that, of course, informed the rest of us.

Sasha being sworn in as a junior ranger

 

Jaden and Sasha trying to be mimic  herons standing on one leg while sleeping

It was such a privilege to spend concentrated time with our grandchildren, to be a part of helping them know and love the earth. I miss their curiosity and fresh perspectives and their ever-present reminder to make things relevant.

Evening on the patio after putting the grandchildren on the plane home

 We know their lives are heading into territories we can’t imagine. They will be faced with huge challenges. We hope every time we are together increases their sense of wonder, resilience, and trust in the earth itself.

 

 

18 replies
  1. Kathy Harrington
    Kathy Harrington says:

    Ann, I loved reading about your trip to Yellowstone with Christina, Jaden and Sasha.
    Yellowstone is truly a natural wonder. You captured it well with your photos and adventures. 😊

    Reply
  2. Katharine Weinmann
    Katharine Weinmann says:

    Ohhh, dear Ann, your story has evoked sudden love-filled memories of time with my Oma who taught me (as a little girl, maybe even younger than your Sasha) about carrots growing in the garden and took us on road trips to Letchworth State Park , NY (which years later, when visiting the Black Forest with my parents and sister, I realized must have reminded her of “home”).
    Goodness how my heart (and eyes) fill with gratitude for her, and how she, in a similar way as you both, created experiences for me grounded in an appreciation for Mother Earth. She, as you and Christina, made such vital memories, which, in some ways, resonate even more deeply for me now. Hardly a time in the kitchen when I don’t think of her, because of so many little kitchen items she’d pack up in her notoriously carefully wrapped, “care boxes”.
    Thank you for evoking so much love in me today.

    Reply
  3. Sara Harris
    Sara Harris says:

    I am not certain why, but the photo of Sasha taking her ranger pledge brought tears to my eyes. The look of her face…the new, the future, the feminine, looking so open in the face of the old, the outgoing man. Very , very sweet.

    Reply
  4. Marti Beddoe
    Marti Beddoe says:

    “When the Grandmothers speak the Earth will heal.”
    What a gift this trip was for all involved and your readers, Ann. Thank you for sharing this example of teaching reverence for Nature. Looks like Jaden will soon tower over you and Christina!
    Thank you for your inspiring ways! All my purple Love, Marti

    Reply
  5. Bonnie Marsh
    Bonnie Marsh says:

    I really learn about the earth and it’s two- and four-leggeds thru your posts, Ann. Maybe you’re writing for the youngsters, but this 77+ year old learns much, too!
    Love that you were able to have this experience on the heels of spreading Leo’s ashes and before Amazing Gracie breathed her last. Must have been a beautiful reprieve for both of you!

    Reply
  6. Jeanne Guy
    Jeanne Guy says:

    What a deepening you create out of an already experience of a lifetime. Thank you for sharing it with us in words and pictures. Love you and love those kids so much.

    Reply
  7. James Wells
    James Wells says:

    Marvellous! There ought to be a Nature Grannies network so many more young (and even beyond-young) people can become better acquainted with dear Mama Earth in such an intimate and enjoyable manner. I wonder if Existence whispered to each, just before their arrival on this planet, “Oh, by the way, you’ll encounter beings there called grandparents. They’ll be fun and wise, and they’ll make every moment of your earthwalk worth the trip.”

    Reply
  8. Diana Scambler
    Diana Scambler says:

    Oh my goodness, dear Ann! I couldn’t believe the synchronicity when I opened your blog. Geoff and I will be in Yellowstone for one week from just after US Labor Day weekend. In reading your lovely account, I felt like one of the excited kids whom you so beautifully introduced to the wonders of this unique place. We did get accommodation in the park, and will be hiking in the Lamar valley where I hope we get a glimpse of wolves, as well as other amazing wildlife. Thank you for sharing how you shared this extraordinary place with your young grandkids.

    Reply
    • Ann
      Ann says:

      Dear Diana,
      You will love it! Adventure tour guides are often pulled over at the stops in the Lamar Valley and are very generous at sharing both their spotting scopes and information. That is how we saw a grizzly and her two cubs and 6 wolves—quite a distance away.
      Travel safely!

      Reply
  9. Pamela J Sampel
    Pamela J Sampel says:

    Such a cool piece about your trip! LOVE LOVE LOVE. “Is that yarrow?” FAVORITE comment! So amazing you are able to do these things/trips with and for them! (All my older relatives went on cruises and brought me back tchotchkes! Oy.) xoxo pamela

    Reply
  10. Yvonne Palka
    Yvonne Palka says:

    It was so moving to read about your adventures as Nature Grannies! Thank you for all your care and spirit that are so present in your journeys with your lovely grandchildren!

    Reply
  11. Gretchen Staebler
    Gretchen Staebler says:

    I love this so much. You and Christina are brave! I hope my boys will still want to adventure with me when they are teenagers. Is Jaden about 12-13? My Max is 13 (I told you 12, Ann). But I’ve never been able to adventure with him. Thank you for this.

    Reply
  12. Rose Hood
    Rose Hood says:

    What marvelous grandmothers you are!! I enjoyed the trip “vicariously” and plan to share with my daughters who have daughters of their own that will one day be taking this trip! Thank you. Sending greetings of ongoing admiration and love to you & Christina!

    Reply
  13. Anne Stine
    Anne Stine says:

    Like I’ve said before, where do I sign up for the next nature grannie trip? So wanna come…
    wonderful to know these children are inheriting your love, joy, wisdom, etc. with the earth. love to all a

    Reply
  14. Kate Lipkis
    Kate Lipkis says:

    Ann and Christina,

    Four weeks ago I became a “nanny” as we would say in our family. Rowan was born here in Seattle and spent 2 weeks in the pediatric cardiology ICU while they performed what they hoped (and we hope) were his first and last surgeries on his heart. All the heart metaphors are alive for me now and all the longings to do “wonder wanderings” with this little one as soon as we are able. My own mum modeled this, searching around moss and rocks for fairies. I hope to continue the tradition. Thank you also for modeling this for your young ones, Ann!

    Reply

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