After 3 days of trying to get a campsite in Yellowstone during the “off-season,” I finally got desperate enough to try to bribe someone out of their campsite. In the interests of full disclosure, they had not yet set up camp but were rather waiting for the current occupants to leave. It was my last chance to get a site before facing the sad decision to leave the park without seeing all the sights (see? I needed a site to see the sights? English is weird!) It was 10:50 and a group had to be out of their site by 11:00. I missed nabbing it by 2 minutes, so I decided it never hurts to ask; neither does it hurt to offer $100. When Nick and Anna wouldn’t take $100, I offered $200 and was massively relieved they didn’t take it! Instead, they offered to share the site with me and my four kids since they were planning to just sleep there and leave at dawn.
I can’t remember the last time I felt as excited as I did securing that campsite for the next few nights! Since they wouldn’t take my bribe and they had already paid for the site, I reciprocated their kindness the only way I could – with an awesome evening campfire of hot hot California Oak. It was a good thing we had a campfire, too, because it was cold!
As I snuggled into the tent with my girls, we discovered that one of the air mattresses had a slow leak. Luckily it wasn’t the one I was sleeping on! Camille and Natalie had an opportunity to build character 🙂 Then the wind really picked up and it started raining. I had a vague thought as I drifted off the sleep that I should really bring our chairs into the tent or put them in the trailer. By the next morning I wished that I had gotten up and done that because it rained hard all night long. Fortunately we had warm sleeping bags and had put our clothes for the day in the bottoms of them so we could just pull them before we got too cold. This was the night that Julia woke up in the middle of the night and decided she wanted to have a little chat with me. It was the sweetest thing to lay there in the dark listening to her little heart-felt conversation without any interruptions! If we were home I never would have been able to do that because there would have been a zillion things weighing on me for the following day, but out there in the woods with nothing to do but see the sights I had all the time in the night to talk with her. I can’t even remember what she told me but I hope to never forget that we had that conversation.
Those are the moments I hold on to and use to get through the more trying times. Like when we were looking for the Morning Glory Pool, and she refused to get out of the car. Since this trip is an everybody or nobody kind of experience (for safety reasons), I couldn’t let one grumpy kid detract us from our mission. So rather than letting her stay in the car, or getting exasperated with her, I simply picked her up and carried her as uncomfortably as possible until she decided she’d rather walk. This didn’t take as long as I thought, and it had the added benefit of warming me up on a cold day (because carrying a fifty pound kid up hill isn’t easy!) I have found throughout this trip that the strategies I use at home, the ones that suck my energy and wreck my relationships, are not effective out on the road. It takes a lot more creativity to problem solve and a lot more spontaneity as well. The spontaneity is the part that I actually find fun. I can’t lay awake at night figuring out the best parenting tricks because I have no idea what the situation will be or what my options will be to solve the problem. And I find that in the moment, my creative solutions are usually pretty fun – which doesn’t feel like rewarding bad behavior like it does at home.
Because we were able to get a campsite, we were able to see all the top sights throughout Yellowstone. Our total bear count ended up at 3 – one grizzly and two black bears. We got to experience a bear jam AND a bison jam AND an elk jam as traffic crawled along past these incredible wild animals alongside the road. I feel like you can’t really say you’ve been to Yellowstone unless you’ve experienced the agony of sitting in a 20 minute traffic jam caused by wild life – at least that’s what I kept telling the kids while swearing at the other drivers in my head. We saw the Grand Prismatic Hot Springs, the Upper Falls, the Lower Falls (wow! what a view of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone!), Old Faithful, mud pots, hot springs galore, river valleys, the Continental Divide, wolves, bears, moose, bison bison bison, lakes, and the most unexpected – wild swans!
Then came the late afternoon. There was one final sight we wanted to find – the Morning Glory Pool – which we had tried and failed to find the previous day. As we hiked along, dark clouds formed and it started to hail (or snow. There is great debate amongst us as to which it was). Past experience has taught me to follow my gut when out on a hike with the kids, so we immediately turned around and headed back to the car. As we drove back to camp, the hail/snow/rain got worse and the weather got colder. We crossed the Continental Divide and the snow/hail was actually sticking to the road. When we had service, we checked the forecast for the night and found that the forecasted low was 18 degrees Fahrenheit – that got a “heck no!” on camping from every single one of us. We booked it back to camp and threw everything into the trailer; I think we set a record in breaking down camp!
This unexpected decision changed the trajectory of our trip. The forecast did not look the improve much in the following days, our campsite was at the South end of the park, and the kids felt like they had seen enough of Yellowstone. There was still more that I wanted to see, but their desires factor in nearly as much as mine (only nearly. At the end of the day I’m the captain of this ship!). We headed south to Jackson Hole after giving our campsite away and passing on the good karma of Nick and Anna. I thought it would be a cinch to get a hotel but instead we ended up sleeping in the car in a church parking lot.
At first the kids were extremely nervous about this decision; once we folded down the all the seats and snuggled in, however, they were pretty good about it. I was sure there would be fighting at some point in the middle of the night as one pulled the blanket off another, but to my delight everyone slept peacefully and quietly. Since we would wake up on a Sunday morning, I felt like the respectful thing to do would be leaving the parking lot before the Senior Pastor showed up; had we not just slept in a car and still been wearing the same clothes we’d put on three days before, I would have liked to attend church. It didn’t feel right, though, to ask the congregation to put up with our temporary homeless state, stinky feet, and increasing B.O.
Besides, the worship we encountered in the wilderness was incredible! Often we would pause at the top of a waterfall or overlooking a valley and say our prayers together. It is impossible to stand before a steaming, rainbow colored hot spring and not feel the Divine. And it is even more impossible to travel safely alone for a week with children and not feel like a Guardian Angel is watching over you.