We haven't been on too many LiLo adventures lately. We've been out a bit this summer and have more plans for the fall (and next year...always next year!) But after all these years of working toward our big trip aboard, we thought this would be a good year for a family road trip!
Our first day out, we drove I-84, only recently re-opened after a closure due to wildfires in the area. It was smoky and grim. Blackened grass and smoldering cinders lined the freeway. A few miles before we got to Boise, the smoke lifted a bit. By the time we reached the night's accommodations, an airy yurt in a beautiful setting, it was clear enough to breathe.
The yurt was only part of what made this backyard so magical. There were outdoor fireplaces and a small stage, just big enough for intimate concerts. The yurt started out as accommodations for traveling musicians but the hospitable owners have opened it up to non-musical travelers as well. A covered kitchen looked out on a collection of outdoor seating. In the evening, a constellation of fairy lights and solar lamps sparkled around the edges. I sat down at the piano for a few minutes and joined the ranks of all who have made music in this place.
Too soon the next morning, we had to leave. We wanted plenty of time to drive the scenic route up through Craters of the Moon but the girls put in a special request for breakfast at Cracker Barrel, so we stopped there first. They've each had the opportunity to travel with Bryan's mom and her sister (aka: The Crazy Grandmas) through this area and were horrified that I had never had the privilege of eating at a Cracker Barrel.
We headed off from there up to the national monument and spent several hours hiking through lava fields, climbing spatter cones, and spelunking in some lava tubes. The landscape is otherworldly, black and red and seemingly barren.
But we tagged along with a ranger on one of our hikes and she helped us see the subtle variations in the lava flows and spot flora and fauna in unexpected places.
Back in the car, a few more hours and a lot of road-trip snacks got us to our cabin in Island Park. The town boasts the longest main street in the U.S. but if we had been expecting a bunch of cute shops and ice cream stands, we would have been disappointed. Island Park, population 276, stretches over 33 miles through north east Idaho. Apparently, Idaho liquor laws prohibit alcohol sales outside of the city limits so the many resort owners in the area incorporated this long, skinny town—only 500 feet wide in some places—to stay inside the law and keep the visitors happy.
We arrived in late evening but our travel companions, Bryan's brother and his family, were already there to welcome us. They had driven over from their home in Redmond, WA all in one day and had dinner on the table, a welcome sight for weary travelers.
The next morning we kicked off our week in Yellowstone with a drive up to the Mammoth Hot Springs. The hot water carries dissolved minerals to the surface and deposits them in strange and amazing formations over acres of hillside. What a great introduction to the power and mystery of this unique area!
We stopped at a few more outlooks and small hikes, Gibbon Falls and the Artists Paintpots. Much cousin fun was had along the way.
The next day, after a hearty pancake breakfast (thanks, chef Josiah!),
we drove to Old Faithful. By the time we'd found places to park and navigated through the crowds, it was time for lunch. We set up a buffet on the benches outside the visitors' center—a Lee-family favorite, tacos-in-a-bag. Someone noticed that Josiah was perfectly dressed to blend in. Can you see him in this picture? His camouflage worked so well, he startled the wits out of some fellow visitors!
While they finished their walk,
Soon, we got a call from the hikers and we regathered at the Black Sands trailhead.
All the busyness was beginning to wear us a bit thin and we needed at least one day of rest to remind us this was actually a vacation. Plus, a twinge in Bryan's neck had escalated into a full-blown spasm and he was happy to be off the road for the day. We found a chiropractor in the small town of West Yellowstone, one who came with an unusual recommendation—apparently, he'd once adjusted the neck of a grizzly bear!
The next day, we took it a bit easier, staying on the west side of the park and walking a few short hikes here and there.
We gathered everyone back into the cars and turned south to visit mud volcano and sulfur canyon.
This noisy cave was aptly named for the dragon's breath it resembles. We stood for a long time imagining the various fantasy stories the sights and sounds inspired.
We ended the day with a drive down into Hayden Valley where, we'd been told, the bison herds roam. And sure enough, there they were. The day had been long, the wind was blowing hard, and the bison were quiet and distant. So we soon turned around and drove back through the park, west toward a spectacular sunset and home.
For some reason, the park didn't offer guided back-country hikes this summer, so we decided to head out on our own. We got a little sidetracked by the bison herd in the parking lot...
...but we found a safe place to park, quickly gathered our gear, and skedaddled before they came our way.
On a back-country hike, there are no boardwalks or warning signs to keep us safe. Eric gave us one last reminder to watch our step and we headed off toward the steam. Right away, some of our crew stumbled through a marshy spot in the faint trail so Bryan took off toward higher ground to try to find a dry way around. Hannah and I followed him as he picked his way around hot springs and mud pots. We tried to walk lightly over the surface, knowing that the whole area was prone to collapse and explosion. Bryan found a series of bison prints in the thin crust and let them lead us, assuming that if the heavy bison had made it across there safely, so could we.
Back with the group, we meandered through a field of nameless geothermal features.
The next morning, we said goodbye to our Washington family and we all headed back toward home. We took our time driving back and stopped for a couple of nights in La Grande, OR to visit some dear family friends. The girls immediately took over the hotel room with a card game...
The last morning, we met at a little cafe just a block from their apartment. They sent us off with stories and smiles and a invitation to come back again soon.
All in all, I think we managed road-trip success. We may have to try it again sometime!