Everywhere

We’ve taken to watching a little football at our house on Sunday afternoons and when the talk turns to the Super Bowl, I remember the day I found some unexpected beauty in Yellowstone. Oh, I expected to find beauty, but not indoors, not around the television, and not watching football.

In memory of that day, a repost–because great good is on my mind, and it can be found in the most surprising places.


We DSC00291dragged ourselves into Yellowstone’s Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel according to plan, just after midnight Sunday morning. We’d driven twenty hours and that last one was hard. We were all road weary and my husband, who had driven most of the way, was done.

I took the wheel as the temperature plummeted, the wind whipped up and the clouds descended, alternately perching atop our vehicle and on the road in front of us . As I drove, the temperature climbed from fourteen below zero back to thirteen above, the clouds lifted, and snow began to blow across the road, shrouding it more fully than the clouds had done. This cycle–plunging thermometer, cloud-cloaked roads, warming temperatures, and blinding ground blizzard–repeated itself once more, then cleared as we entered Yellowstone through the Roosevelt Arch.

The next morning we slept as late a family of early and late risers crammed into a hotel room could expect to sleep and spent the dawning hours of Super Bowl Sunday walking together through the small community at Mammoth Hot Springs. Soft and substantial flakes floated to the ground, joining the fresh few inches that had fallen in the night. It was cold, not polar vortex cold, but crisp and clear and lovely.

My parents introduced my brother and I to Yellowstone’s winter when I was in high school and my husband and I made a winter’s visit a few years into our marriage. This trip with our children had been brewing since 2002. As much as we enjoy Yellowstone’s autumn, the intense beauty of Yellowstone’s winter is unsurpassed.

We returned to our room for warm layers suitable for exploring away from the civilized settlement. Our destination was the mountainside hot springs of the Upper Terrace. Just two miles away, it was where the grated road ended and the groomed one began. We drove to the end of the road, strapped on our snowshoes, and spent the late morning on our family’s first mountain snowshoe expedition.

The hot springs at Mammoth are different from others in the park. At Mammoth, water rises through limestone and becomes saturated with calcium carbonate along the way. When deposited at the surface, it transforms the constantly growing and changing travertine terraces. Some springs are grey and dry, some white, and others, hues of orange and red, colors indicative of the thermophiles which reside within.

As we walked along a steamy stream of thermal run-off by the road-turned-trail, two mule deer peeked through the trees, then darted deeper into the forest. Our youngest daughter had to be coaxed up one hill, where we found the source of the stream, a spring which resembled Snuffleupagus in both color and shape.

Upper Terrace, Mammoth Hot Springs Yellowstone National Park

Upper Terrace, Mammoth Hot Springs
Yellowstone National Park

The excursion, was enough for the girls. My husband and son drove Yellowstone’s one open road deeper into the park in search of a more challenging trail to conquer and we went to the map room at the hotel where we read and played games. It was Super Bowl Sunday, so at 3 p.m. an employee entered the map room, unlocked the hotel’s one television, and found the game.

No matter where I am, I never really watch the game. I sit near the game. I visit. I watch the commercials and the half-time show, but I don’t watch the game.

Today was no different. As I read, I heard Queen Latifah’s soulful rendering of “America the Beautiful” and I absent-mindedly wondered where our national anthem had gone. Buried again in my book, I eventually heard its familiar melody and I noticed some movement out of the corner of my eye. People were standing. It could have been a replay of every high school athletic event I’d ever attended.

This, though, was different.

Of the thirty people gathered on couches and around tables, almost half stood, heads bereft of hats and hands covering hearts. They stood, not because they were surrounded by standing spectators; over half remained seated. They stood because apparently they thought it was right and good and were compelled to do it. As I watched them, I saw the American flag flying between the Post Office, the Visitor Center, and Federal Justice Center through the map room’s paned bay window.

It was beautiful, and it made me wonder how long it had been since I had been compelled to do anything. It was an uncomfortable question.

DSC00288 You know I’m watching. My eyes are open. I went to Yellowstone last week and expected to see beauty, but I was looking outdoors. That I found it indoors, in front of the television, surprised me. And that, I suppose, is something I needed to learn: inspiration is everywhere.

If you’re watching with me I’d love to hear what you’re seeing.

 

On Trials Shared

Gary Smalley, founder of the Smalley Relationship Center, says that the secret to a “close-knit relationship is shared experiences that turn into shared trials.” He mentions camping as one source for shared trials and a potential relationship-building activity. Makes sense. Camping is fraught with potential for trial.

wraithfallsstairs

There’s the weather. The bugs. The work. The hard ground.

He grants that you don’t have to camp to invite such trials. I agree. A picnic will do nicely.

The year of the October heat wave that turned to snow, we adapted to the rain with less time on the trail and more time on the road. Lunchtime still always found us nowhere near a restaurant. We picnicked in spite of the weather.

We stopped during sporadic sprinkling rain at an understandably empty picnic area, unloaded our supplies and got ready to make lunch: fruit, veggies, and—because it was cold—soup from a can. All was well until no one could find the can opener.

Long before this, back when we had one or maybe two children, we took a weekend camping trip five miles from home. By the time I had everything packed, piled, and ready to load, it filled two vehicles. My easy-going husband was less than happy. Now I try to be more reasonable when I pack.

The can opener was necessary, and not purposefully left behind. It probably sat alone and overlooked on the kitchen counter, utterly useless to my hungry family.

My husband is a creative guy, not easily flapped because he knows that there’s usually a solution if you stay calm and look at all the possibilities. In this case, the possibility was my son’s axe, which he lifted and struck the can—hard enough to open, yet gently enough to keep from spilling the contents everywhere.

The whole family watched him work on the can, too engrossed in what he was doing to notice the rain that once again began to fall until we heard the crunch of gravel. We turned and saw a Yellowstone Association minibus filled with students enrolled in a wilderness class. They drove past, staring but not stopping. My kids suspect the sight of a man hacking open a can with an axe turned them away.

It’s an image that sticks in the mind.

At least, it sticks with my kids. They weren’t mortified by it. It was just another family adventure and just their dad being their dad, saving the day in his quiet and slightly off-the-wall way.

Life’s an adventure, one filled with trials–otherwise known as opportunities to knit relationships closer together. Sometimes it’s our relationships with people that are strengthened and other times it’s our relationship with the God who created us. It’s hard to remember that in the midst, but worth it when we do.

A question for you: Do you see trials as something to be avoided at all costs or as opportunities for something good?

This is the first post in a 3 part series on the pitfalls and joys of life outdoors, especially those related to camping. Why post about camping in September? Fall’s weather is perfect for camping.

Sharing stories at Unforced Rhythms and Coffee for Your Heart.

Yeah, Little Girl, It Is

This is a revised version of one of my first and favorite posts. I’m revisiting it today because when it originally posted, Along This Road had all of five subscribers. (Thank you, by the way.) It’s different from the original because I’ve learned that no matter what the blogging experts say, bullet points are not my style.


When my oldest daughter was four, we loaded our life and our stuff into a semi and moved across the state. One morning, while I unpacked, my dad took her out to explore the neighborhood. As they investigated the curved and convoluted sidewalk system that made up our new world, he taught her the last stanza of Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken.”

Every time they came to an intersection they would recite together:

I shall be telling this with a sigh,
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood,
And I, I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Then he would let her choose which way they would go. As they meandered along they became delightfully lost.

It was a great day in the life of a four-year old adventurer.

She learned a poem. She’d been the leader. She made it back from the brink of danger.

08-09 pictures 467 - Version 4

Several months later, our family hiked the Natural Bridge trail in Yellowstone National Park. A section of that trail is a loop. We stood behind her at the fork. She recited her poem, chose our road, and set our course. After a few hundred feet down the trail she looked up and declared, “I think this is the road less traveled.”

Yeah, little girl, it is.

It is, literally.  Of the three million people who visit the park each year, most never set foot off of the boardwalk.

It is because she chose it. She stopped. She considered. She followed no crowd nor caved to a false sense of urgency. I have no idea what went on in her young mind, but I know that to stop and consider is too rare and will help her live well.

It is because she was willing, in more words from the same poem, to “keep the first for another day.” She let go of the good for what she thought would be best. I could learn from that girl.

It is because she stood in front.  In that moment she was the leader.  Leaders navigate uncharted roads.

That little girl is now a teenager and I hope she remembers.

I hope she remembers that day with her Pa and everything they discovered about the road less traveled. I hope she remembers that there might be another road to take and recognizes it when she sees it. I hope she knows when to take it and pray she’s strong enough to live with the fallout.

And if ever it seems that the world around her doesn’t quite fit with her or she with it, I hope she regards her road for what it is and declares to herself as she did to us out on the trail, “I think this is the road less traveled.”

Yeah, little girl it is. Enjoy your journey.

08-09 pictures 454Linking this week at  Still Saturday#imperfectprose and Thoughtful Thursday.

Winter in Yellowstone: Things to Do

IMG_1432 Because of our Yellowstone habit, people often ask us what they should do when they are planning a visit to the park. It’s a hard question to answer, not just because of all there is to do, but because we have so many favorites. We have favorite hikes. We have favorite geysers. We have favorite picnic areas. It’s weird. I know.DSC00328

Yellowstone’s winter is an adventure in comparatives. It is more beautiful and less crowded than it is in other seasons. It is more difficult to get around. Even the animals take the road. It is more difficult to do simple and necessary tasks: consider a visit to an unheated vault “comfort station” at nineteen degrees below zero. There are fewer places to go, just two places to stay, and only one picnic area open. This makes it easier to answer the question of what to do in Yellowstone in winter.

Important to Know:

IMG_1485 Of Yellowstone’s 310 miles of paved roadway, only the fifty-two mile stretch between the North and Northeast entrances is open to wheeled vehicles in the winter. All other park roads are either closed or open to over-snow vehicles only.

Things to Do:

IMG_1280 Drive the open road. This will take you through the Lamar Valley, sometimes called the American Serengeti because of its abundant and varied wildlife. Thirty-one grey wolves from western Canada were released in the valley in the 1990s. While some stayed and made it their home, others move in for a share in winter’s prey. Our drive through the Lamar brought us within good viewing distance of  bison, elk, big horn sheep, and even two wolves feasting on a bull elk carcass. The road will take you over the Yellowstone River, along the Lamar River, Soda Butte Creek and Ice Box Canyon, and to the foot of Baronette Peak.

Take a walk. Explore Mammoth Hot Spring’s Lower Terrace; meander through the Mammoth Hot Springs community; along Officer’s Row, named for the homes which housed army officers when the Mammoth area was Fort Yellowstone. The Old Faithful Area has walkable paths between the Snow Lodge and its cabins, the Visitors Center, and the Old Faithful boardwalk. You can watch Old Faithful erupt from the boardwalk or the warmth of the Visitors Center.

Undine Falls Yellowstone National Park

Undine Falls
Yellowstone National Park

Listen. My dad has said that Yellowstone’s winter silence almost sucks the sound out of your head. You don’t have to get far from a building or your vehicle to hear the sound of silence, but you do have to stop. You even have to stop walking: shoes, skis, and snowshoes all squeak on the snow. If you stop, not only will you hear the immense silence, you may hear something you can’t hear in another season. We heard Lava Creek’s water flow below Undine Falls, something we’ve never heard in the autumn.

Nothing. Really. The Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel lobby has chairs drawn up cozily around a fire. Its Map Room, named for the grand inlaid map of the United States, has a wall of windows and a gracious bay, a lending library for games and books, and comfortable seating to enjoy it all, as well as musical entertainment in the evening. (See below.) Those and the Snow Lodge’s chair-lined fire, game tables, and snug seating areas are great spaces to spend an hour or even a day reading and thinking or watching the humanity around you.

Devote an evening to live music and Yellowstone history. Randy Ingersoll came to Yellowstone during the 1970s and knew he wanted to stay there forever. Thirty-six years later, he’s still in the park and most evenings can be found in the Mammoth Hot Springs Map Room, where he welcomes and entertains guests not only with the music that comes from the grand piano he plays, but also his warmth and love for Yellowstone. He closes his evening with one of several programs about Yellowstone’s history, including his riveting story of being mauled by a bear. For our family, an evening in the Map Room, visiting with Randy and listening to his music and presentation is a highlight in any season. If you have a chance to hear him, ask him to play one of his original pieces. They are delightful.

Ice skate. Both the Mammoth Hot Springs hotel  and the Old Faithful Snow Lodge have outdoor skating rinks for their guests to use, as well as skates in all sizes. They are lit, well-maintained, sheltered from the wind, and have an inviting fire each evening. Even if you aren’t a skater, it’s worth an evening stroll to sit for a few moments by the fire.

Snowshoe. Snowshoes are available for rent in the park, as are cross-country skis and lessons for beginners. I’ve done both and prefer snowshoeing. We take trails that we can reach from the road or our lodging: Observation Point above Old Faithful, the Upper Terrace at Mammoth Hot Springs, the confluence of the Yellowstone and Lamar Rivers, and the Upper Geyser Basin at Old Faithful.

Upper Geyser Basin from Observation Point, Yellowstone National Park

Upper Geyser Basin from Observation Point,
Yellowstone National Park

 More information on planning a visit to Yellowstone National Park can be found here and here.

An Uncomfortable Question

We dragged ourselves into Yellowstone’s Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel according to plan, just after midnight Sunday morning. We’d driven twenty hours and that last one was hard. We were all road weary and my husband, who had driven most of the way, was done.

DSC00291 I took the wheel as the temperature plummeted, the wind whipped up and the clouds descended, alternately perching atop our vehicle and on the road in front of us. As I drove, the temperature climbed from fourteen below zero back to thirteen above, the clouds lifted, and snow began to blow across the road, shrouding it more fully than the clouds had done. This cycle–plunging thermometer, cloud-cloaked roads, warming temperatures, and blinding ground blizzard–repeated itself once more, then cleared as we entered Yellowstone through the Roosevelt Arch.

The next morning we slept as late a family of early and late risers crammed into a hotel room could expect to sleep and spent the dawning hours of Super Bowl Sunday walking together through the small community at Mammoth Hot Springs. Soft and substantial flakes floated to the ground, joining the fresh few inches that had fallen in the night. It was cold, not polar vortex cold, but crisp and clear and lovely.

My parents introduced my brother and I to Yellowstone’s winter when I was in high school and my husband and I made a winter’s visit a few years into our marriage. This trip with our children had been brewing since 2002. As much as we enjoy Yellowstone’s autumn, the intense beauty of Yellowstone’s winter is unsurpassed.

We returned to our room for warm layers suitable for exploring away from the civilized settlement. Our destination was the mountainside hot springs of the Upper Terrace. Just two miles away, it was where the grated road ended and the groomed one began. We drove to the end of the road, strapped on our snowshoes, and spent the late morning on our family’s first mountain snowshoe expedition.

The hot springs at Mammoth are different from others in the park. At Mammoth, water rises through limestone and becomes saturated with calcium carbonate along the way. When deposited at the surface, it transforms the constantly growing and changing travertine terraces. Some springs are grey and dry, some white, and others, hues of orange and red, colors indicative of the thermophiles which reside within.

As we walked along a steamy stream of thermal run-off by the road-turned-trail, two mule deer peeked through the trees, then darted deeper into the forest. Our youngest daughter had to be coaxed up one hill, where we found the source of the stream, a spring which resembled Snuffleupagus in both color and shape.

Upper Terrace, Mammoth Hot Springs Yellowstone National Park

Upper Terrace, Mammoth Hot Springs
Yellowstone National Park

The excursion, was enough for the girls. My husband and son drove Yellowstone’s one open road deeper into the park in search of a more challenging trail to conquer and we went to the map room at the hotel where we read and played games. It was Super Bowl Sunday, so at 3 p.m. an employee entered the map room, unlocked the hotel’s one television, and found the game.

No matter where I am, I never really watch the game. I sit near the game. I visit. I watch the commercials and the half-time show, but I don’t watch the game.

Today was no different. As I read, I heard Queen Latifah’s soulful rendering of “America the Beautiful” and I absentmindedly wondered where our national anthem had gone. Buried again in my book, I eventually heard its familiar melody and I noticed some movement out of the corner of my eye. People were standing. It could have been a replay of every high school athletic event I’d ever attended.

This, though, was different.

Of the thirty people gathered on couches and around tables, almost half stood, heads bereft of hats and hands covering hearts. They stood, not because they were surrounded by standing spectators; over half remained seated. They stood because apparently they thought it was right and good and were compelled to do it. As I watched them, I saw the American flag flying between the Post Office, the Visitor Center, and Federal Justice Center through the map room’s paned bay window.

It was beautiful, and it make me wonder how long it had been since I had been compelled to do anything. It was an uncomfortable question.

DSC00288 You know I’m watching this year. My eyes are open. I went to Yellowstone last week and expected to see, but I was looking outdoors. That I found it indoors, in front of the television, surprised me. And that, I suppose, is something I needed to learn: inspiration is everywhere.

If you’re watching with me I’d love to hear what you’re seeing.

Sharing stories this week at Emily’s #ImperfectProse, Lyli’s Thought Provoking Thursday, Barbie’s The Weekend Brew and Angie’s Inspire Me Monday.