Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Ramblings by Jes, Part 6 - The Kids

So many things I could say about the kids.  I had hoped that having all this togetherness would help fix some of the negative behaviors of the kids.  I don't really think it worked.  Even though I am well aware that consistency is the key to getting the behaviors you want from kids, it is hard to have some consistency on a trip like this.  We had tried a couple punishment techniques early on and finally settled on video game restrictions (or restrictments as Matthew said) in the car.  The kids would get 10 minutes for each infraction, unless we deemed it worth more.  They did not have free access to games or movies in the car, so their restrictions would start when playtime was allowed.  That worked pretty well, although, if they were next to someone without restriction, they would just watch whatever that person was doing. 

One of the great things about a trip like this is the lack to chores.  There is no lawn to take care of, no dishes to do, no meals to cook, no animals to feed, no dog poop to pick up, but the kids still managed to complain about the small tasks that we asked them to do.  Every morning, we needed to pack up our clothes and our sleeping bags, if we used them.  We needed to wash and fill the water bottles that I had bought (great purchase, by the way) with ice and water.  And, then we needed to carry the stuff to the car.  Real difficult stuff!  Whines all around, most mornings.  It really drove us crazy.

But, I have to say that the kids were very good overall.  They were great in the car.  They could watch movies or play for hours, if necessary.  And, they were good even when we were listening to a book on tape.  When we headed into a national park or city, we would require the kids to turn everything off to look around.  This usually got some objections, but then they were fine. 

They were amazing about hiking.  I can't believe how well they did.  Occasionally, we would get a little whine about hiking from Matthew, but we'd just tell him we were just walking.  Then, he would be fine and head off to lead the pack.  There were times when we were hiking a lot, but no one really complained.  I was impressed with the kids over and over. 

They also never complained about food.  Buying the water bottles and filling them every morning really allowed us to always have cold, fresh water in the car.  This saved us a lot of money in buying water, and it kept the kids hydrated and from complaining about being thirsty.  But, I didn't do a good job of buying snacks for the car. So, we all had to wait until we could find a place to eat.  But, the kids just never complained.  It was amazing to me because at home we get lots of complaints about hunger.  But, it made the trip much better than it could have been. 

I think that the kids really enjoyed all these adventures.  There were moments when Alex would walk up to me and put his hand in mine.  I know that those days are probably short-lived, so I was cherishing every chance I got to walk hand-in-hand with him.  Rachel, too.  She and Dave have a great relationship, and they had many opportunities on this trip to head off together to check out something.  I know it makes her feel special and as much of that as possible at this stage of her life must be good.

Stay tuned for Dave's post on Cedar Point and the final update with all statistics about our trip.

Monday, May 30, 2011

America's Rockin' Roller Coast

Jes asked me (Dave) to guest blog about our day at Cedar Point.  Before I get to that, I wanted to comment on something that happened earlier in our trip.  We were driving along U.S. 195 through eastern Washington on a beautiful sunny day.  I got pulled over for speeding (shame, shame).  Fortunately for us, the nice lady police officer seemed more interested in our license plates than the fact that I was doing 72 mph in a 60 mph zone.

She lamented the fact that Washington was too politically correct to allow such a plate, she asked us whether we were a Catholic home schooling family, and she said that we were brave to be doing the cross country trip in a minivan.  (Apparently, she is planning a similar trip but is planning to rent an RV.)  She let me off with a warning in spite of Matthew urging her to write me a ticket.  I credit the license plates, though I'm sure the 4 kids in the back of the van helped.

Back to the regularly scheduled blog post ...

Cedar Point was truly the perfect exclamation point for our trip.  It has a scenic location on the shore of Lake Erie in Sandusky, Ohio and is aptly called the roller coaster capital of the world.  About the only thing that could have improved upon the day was for Matthew to have been about an inch taller in order to make him eligible for the slew of rides with a 48" height requirement.

We got up bright and early, had a quick breakfast of zone bars and fruit snacks, and were at the park gate before 9am.  Because we were staying at a Cedar Point resort hotel, we got to enter the park an hour before the general public.  We raced around in order to ride as many rides as possible while the lines were short.  When Jes and I were at Cedar Point in 1996, we waited over an hour to ride the Raptor, an inverted coaster with 6 loops.  This time, we rode it twice in 10 minutes.  Running around frantically in order to do as many rides as possible was one theme of the day.  Rachel managed to squeeze in about 30 of the best rides the park had to offer.  Matthew rode 40-50 since he was riding smaller rides with shorter lines.  We squeezed in two quick meals but were otherwise on the go from 9am to 10pm, often running from ride to ride.  We did have a couple casualities from the frantic pace.  When racing to get in one last ride before 10pm, Alex banged his mouth on a steel railing and split his lip.  We also ended up sacrificing the traditional end-of-the-day funnel cake treat in favor of a few extra rides.

The other theme was brave kids.  I guess after risking life and limb on the edge of 300' cliffs, the tallest and fastest roller coasters in the world were not so intimidating.  Zack was initially pretty nervous and even spent a restless night tossing and turning worrying about riding the Magnum, a great coaster that Jes and I talked up in advance.  But after seeing the biggest hill of the Magnum, a 200' drop that accelerates riders to 72mph, he exclaimed, "I was worrying about that?!?".  By the end of the day he had ridden the Millenium Force twice.  That coaster features an 80 degree 310' drop and reaches speeds of up to 93 mph.  It was also voted the best steel coaster in the world, something he likes to tell people when talking about the trip.  Alex and Rachel rode the Top Thrill Dragster twice.  This coaster was intense enough to even make Jes and me nervous.  It launches riders from 0 to 120 mph in 4 seconds before climbing 420' at a 90 degree angle and then descending an equally steep drop.  Check out the point-of-view video.  It is a pretty amazing ride.


The other point-of-view videos on the site are worth watching too if you are a roller coaster fan.

The Iron Dragon was the biggest coaster that Matthew could ride.  He rode it 6 times.

"See, I'm tall enough to ride the Raptor!"  (He was 2" short.)

Matthew venting some of his frustration about not being able to ride the big coasters.

One of my favorite parts of the day was listening to other riders make comments like "look at them, they're so little" (refering to Zack and Alex sitting in the front seat on the Magnum) or "wow, you're going to ride this?" (refering to Alex on the Top Thrill Dragster).

"They're so little!"

At the end of the day, I was really tempted to suggest that we stay for another day.  But I knew that (a) Saturday was bound to be more crowded and (b) there was no way to improve upon our great day.  As a family, we love visiting amusement parks, and at least from the perspective of the thrill rides, this day stands out as the best visit yet.

Ramblings by Jes, Part 5 - Weather

I spent a lot of time looking at average weathers for all the places that we were headed. I was planning on snow and cold temperatures in Yellowstone, 50’s and rainy in Oregon, hot and sunny in Utah and Vegas, and varying temperatures at most of the other places. As it got later in April and in to May, I was planning on wearing short-sleeve shirts with jeans or shorts with a sweatshirt. So, I brought layers – a lot of short-sleeve shirts with a couple sweatshirts. This year proved not to be average for anyone. We had way below average temperatures in Niagara, suffered through flooding rain and tornadoes as we headed through the plains, got caught in a freak snowstorm in Colorado, warm but not hot temperatures in Utah and Arizona, a windstorm in Death Valley, some actual sunshine in Oregon, relatively mild temperatures in Yellowstone, and thunderstorms and tornado warnings again back through the Plains.

All along the way, except for Vegas, we had lower than normal temperatures. As a result, we were hurting for clothes. I wore shorts in Vegas and that is all. The others braved the cooler temperatures in shorts a few times. But, we all wore the same sweatshirts over and over, day after day. And, given the boys’ propensity for climbing and sliding down rocks, we ruined at least 5 pieces of clothing. I tried to find extra pants at Target, but they don’t really sell pants this time of year. I’m so sick of all the clothes that I brought. I think many of them will not make it back into our drawers. If only I had known the actual temperatures, we would have been equipped with a much better selection of clothes.

But, despite the cooler than average temperatures and crazy storms that seemed to follow us, we were able to do almost everything that we had planned. The weather would let up for us to get in most of the cool stuff. We would have liked to explore Yellowstone better, but the snow possibilities kept us from venturing any further. But, we were still able to see much of the park. The only big miss for us was the fact that we did not see Mt. Hood when in Portland. The cloudy skies prevented it, and I am sad to have missed it because that is a beautiful mountain with an impressive presence.

I think, though, waiting a couple weeks would have been the best for the weather.  But, it would have meant taking the kids out of school for the end of the year, and they really wanted to participate in the end of year festivities.  And, the Boston Marathon really defined the beginning of our trip.

Chicago and Alternate Plans

Chicago…the plan been to stop in Chicago, but I had not thought about what we would do there until we were driving there. The internet is a wonderful thing, but it is full of so much information that you can get bogged down with it all. I was trying to figure out what we were up for and where to stay accordingly. It took a lot of work to decide what to do and then find a hotel. Finding a hotel means checking Expedia and Hotwire and comparing it to where you want to go. It has taken hours for us to figure out where we are sleeping at night. Kind of a pain, really. But, as Dave was getting frustrated with the horrible traffic getting into the city around rush hour, I eventually picked a 4-star hotel for $81 on hotwire. It was a weird price, so I was nervous. But, the hotel was truly a 4-star with a great location. It was a spectacular deal!

With the traffic, we got in later than we had hoped. So, we planned on just going to dinner. We walked to a pizza place that urbanspoon had recommended because you have to have Chicago-style pizza when in Chicago. The place was nice and had the Bulls basketball game on to entertain us. It took a really long time for our dinner (apparently they had lost our pizza ticket), so they gave us some cheesy garlic bread, our pizza for free, and a free cookie pizza dessert. It was one of those days, too, where the kids were pretty well-behaved (maybe that was the 2 beers that Dave and I had each had), so we didn’t mind the wait so much. And, we liked the final bill. Afterwards, around 10 PM now, we figured we would go check out the famous “bean” in the Millennium Park. It was quite fun for the kids. They had a really good time running around it, “teleporting” from one side to the other. We were pretty tired, though, by the time we made it back to the hotel. Thankfully, the hotel did not offer breakfast, so we slept in awhile.

The next morning, we woke up to severe thunderstorms and crazy rain. I was glad that the car was under cover at the hotel. We decided to head to the science museum. I wish we had had a couple days to go to that place. It was enormous and full of so many things. The kids had a good time there for a few hours, but we wanted to make it to Ohio that night for a reasonable bedtime, so we had to leave before seeing it all.

Driving to Ohio, I was rechecking the weather for the next day, our amusement park day. The weather report was grim – severe thunderstorms with downpours, near 100% they said. We had decided that we were going to stay at the resorts at Cedar Point to get discounted tickets and an early entrance to the park. But, it was a little expensive and silly if we weren’t going to the park the next day. And, what would we do the next day if it indeed stormed all day. After searching Expedia, I found good rates at Great Wolf Lodge. We went back and forth on this. We had to commit to our plans for the next day. If we stayed at Great Wolf Lodge, we were swimming, even if the weather ended up nice. If we stayed at the other hotel, we would miss out on swimming if the weather was bad. Finally, we sided with the weatherman. Since we checked in around 11 (so much for a reasonable bedtime), Dave was able to negotiate a very nice rate for the big suite.

The next morning, it was overcast but not raining. It was sprinkling as I checked out of the hotel and ran a few errands, but then the clouds went away. The sun came out a little, and I was starting to get angry. We were giving up a good day at park when only the few crazies would have been there. Even though the kids were enjoying the waterpark, I was worried that Friday would still have bad weather and/or crowds. It did eventually thunderstorm around 6 for a short while. But, we had committed and were hoping for a good day on Friday.

While I was running the errands, I was thinking about what a crazy trip this was - like an endless party.  Here, we had planned on an expensive day at Cedar Point, but that couldn't happen.  Rather than just hanging out at the hotel and doing homework or some other mundane tasks, we go to Great Wolf Lodge, a real treat at any other time. 

The Trip Home

The trip home was a little more difficult that the one out. I think of Oregon as the middle point since it was the ultimate goal and the place at which we turned around toward home. But, I need to remember that it took us 4 weeks to get there, and we were trying to get home in 2. As I said before, I had not really planned past Vegas, so in Oregon, I started to really look at the schedule for the trip home. It was at this point that I realized that our plan to be flexible on a return date was not really reasonable. On Tuesday the 31st, my parents were coming to Charlottesville, so it would be easiest to pick up Coda. And, Zack was having a field trip on that day, rescheduled from a couple weeks before. So, getting home before Memorial Day seemed the best.

The stop the kids were most looking forward to was the trip to Cedar Point in Ohio. We had watched a show about the best rides in the world, and it talked about the ones in Vegas and the ones at Cedar Point. They couldn’t wait. But, it was silly to plan to go over Memorial Day weekend, so we needed to get there to go on the Thursday before the holiday. This put us on a tighter schedule than I would have liked. I really wanted to take it somewhat slow and enjoy ourselves the way we had on the way out. But, we would not make it on time. And, getting to Cedar Point before the weekend was way more important.

It is a lot of miles…of nothing, really. We drove 300-500 miles a day every day but one from Oregon to Cedar Point. We tried to fit in stops along the way, but it definitely got old driving so much every day, usually late into the evening. We made the typical South Dakota stops along the road. We stopped at Wall Drug. That offered us one of the funniest things on our trips. Wish I had had my video camera on. They have a big T-Rex that feeds every 12 minutes. Dave told Matthew he was going to feed him to the dinosaur and picked him up. Almost immediately, the dinosaur started making noises and his eyes lit up. Matthew started screaming and hitting Dave violently to put him down. He was terrified. And, Zack had took off running as fast as he could in the opposite direction. It was really funny – to us, anyway.

We had to see the Corn Palace in Mitchell. We had stayed in Mitchell (because there are not many hotels in SD), so it was an easy stop in the morning. Of course, we found a geocache in the area.

We stopped for lunch in Sioux Falls to check out the falls and do another geocache. The kids enjoyed walking on the rocks and putting their feet in the water.

For school, Alex was assigned a state to learn more about and make a banner to display.  He got Iowa.  You'd be surprised how little there is in Iowa to put under the "Attractions" heading. One of the things we saw, though, was the Grotto of the Redemption.  It is a huge collection of grottos built from rocks all over the world over many years.  It was impressive and made for a good, get out of the car and stretch your legs stop.

We definitely had laundry issues. I had done laundry in Oregon, but this schedule was not allowing a stop for laundry. So, my plan was to make it 2 weeks without washing clothes. But, we were running out. At the end, the boys wore the same pants at least 3 days, maybe 4. Who knows what they were covered with. I had to buy them underwear because despite the temptation, I could just not make them wear dirty underwear.

I think 6 weeks is about the perfect amount of time. Toward the end, we were really starting to want to be home. I was getting sick of packing up each morning, living out of the car, and eating out every meal. Rachel was missing Mittens and her friends. And, I think we just wanted to be at our house. But, that is so much better than coming home and wishing you had another week. Now, we will be home with a couple days before school starts to finish up our homework and get some laundry done. And, Dave still has 2 wonderful weeks at home to just relax and hang out with me and Matthew while the big kids go to school. Even the big kids get to go back to school during the end of year festivities – not exactly difficult days. Field day will be on their 3rd day back. And, in 2 weeks, they’ll be off for the summer. It should be a nice step back into reality. We’re already planning our next sabbatical in 6-7 more years – Hawaii next time, if Rachel and I get our wish. But, we’ll see.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

A rare sight

I'm awake, and the other five are still sound asleep.  Very unusual!


We told the kids that the Badlands were where we take bad kids and leave them.  I think we had Matthew convinced for a little bit. 

The Badlands in South Dakota are very interesting. I didn’t really get my question answered, which was why in the middle of all these plains did this area happen to look like this. It was formed by water getting below the surface and eroding the rocks. These rocks show all the different environments that existed in this area over the past million years or so. But, it is weird because on one side of the road, you will have grass plains as far as you can see and this on the other side. Very interesting!

Unfortunately, the weather was not perfect. It had been raining a lot, which is very unusual for this area. The dirt of the Badlands turns to sticky mud when wet, so we all got very dirty. The rain stopped, though, so we were able to take a couple trails. We started with the ones that are paved, but the kids wanted to venture out further (no surprise!). So, we were walking out on the mud and rocks. If you were careful and stuck to the rocks on the ground, you could have pretty good footing. But, the kids, especially Zack, just charged ahead full speed. Needless to say, they had a few accidents along the way and ended up considerably muddier.

 At one point, we reached a place where there were cracks everywhere around us with significant drops. The kids were being a little too scary, especially with all the mud. Here, Dave is out on a fairly scary edge with the kids. I don’t know why he feels the need to get the kids in these places for pictures because you absolutely cannot appreciate where they are from this picture.

Zack - being Zack

 I didn't bring my camera on our last hike.  It was labeled as treacherous after heavy rains, so I figured we would not get far.  It was a trail that Dave and I had done years before.  It had a ladder that we had to climb that Dave thought the kids would love.  We set out to look at it with my instructions that we would not climb it because it was not really safe.  But, as soon as the kids saw it, they took off up it.  There was nothing I could have done, short of death threats, that would have stopped them.  So, we ventured up.  The stairs were a little far for Matthew, but he managed well.  They thought it was pretty cool. Here is a picture I found on the internet since I have none of our family.

We've seen a lot of animals on our trip, but we could not find the elusive big horn sheep.  I've been watching out for them everywhere.  We'd even gotten to the point that Dave was offering the kids money for good animal sightings.  Finally, at literally our last possible chance, I saw them off in the distance.  You have to look close.  We stopped the car and tried to hike in a little to get a better view.  But, they heard our very loud group coming toward them.  They are females, so they don't have the cool horns.  But, they are big horn sheep, so I was happy.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Future Leaders of America

Dave's cute picture idea.  They aren't perfect unfortunately.  It was rainy and the kids were standing on a wall that they probably weren't supposed to be standing on.  So, we were trying to hurry.  Too bad because with a little photoshop work, these could be pretty funny.

 The first woman president?  If I had to bet, I would say not.  Not really her line of work.

Ok, the real one!

Reptile Gardens

Rapid City, South Dakota, is definitely a tourist trap of a town.  It was full of all kinds of touristy stuff. One of these was the Reptile Gardens.  We had watched a show on Animal Planet one night about a man that was killed by a crocodile (didn't see that one coming until it happened or we might not have watched it), and so my kids, of course, were all interested in crocodiles.  So, we thought they would enjoy this place.  It had a lot of crocs and snakes - not my favorite things in the world.  But, luckily, I did not have any nightmares.  I've had a few snake ones in my life.

Petting the python -- only Alex and Zack would do this.

The prarie dogs - we saw some in the wild later in the Badlands, but seeing them up close like this is the best view.  They are very cute little animals.

This is my kids acting like they are being squeezed by a snake.  Alex is smiling and Matthew is trying to bring the snake down.  Very Matthew like, I guess.

Oh no, Flat Zack is going to be eaten by this reticulated python!

One of the best exhibits in the whole place - old mirrors from some really old World Fair.  The kids had a blast with these.

Dave's new obsession

A few years ago, our family discovered geocaching.  For those unfamiliar, it is using your GPS to find a treasure box hidden and logged on the internet by someone else.  You’d be surprised how many there are all over the country.  We are apparently getting close to having found and logged 100 geocaches.  Dave has gotten excited about reaching that mark and asks pretty much at every stop if we want to geocache.  The great thing about geocaching is that it is free and usually takes a small amount of time – perfect for stops along a long drive.  We’ve taken to looking for them when we stop for lunch – found one at a Wendy’s and then beside Home Depot and then one near Sonic.  We’ve found them at rest stops when we make a quick bathroom break.  This one was a nice one in Montana, I think.  The film canister had actually fallen (or possibly thrown) under the rock, and it required teamwork to get it out and put back in a better spot. 

Occasionally, we cannot find it no matter how hard we try (even with my sneaking a look at the hints and other logs about it). Zack and Dave are the best hunters. They will keep at it for a long time. The rest of us put forth our best effort for a short while and then settle into watch them look, usually unsuccessfully by this point.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Ramblings by Jes, Part 4 - Dave

At home, I definitely run most aspects of our household. I am the planner and organizer, but that has a lot to do with my personality. Dave likes to leave things up in the air more than me and just see what happens. He also tends to procrastinate things a little. As a result, I’ve usually taken care of things way before he’s even thought about it. Planning this trip is definitely an example. I had mapped out a preliminary plan, including ideas of things to do in all the cities along the way – through Las Vegas. I got burned out and didn’t bother past that too much. That caught up with us a little, as we ended up in places without good plans of what we were going to do. We managed to find things to see and do, but I think we could have enjoyed ourselves a little more with some better planning. But, oh well.

The interesting part for me has been watching Dave. There is so much information about the national parks, and I tend to read about the main attractions and plan to do those. Dave is always looking for the really cool hikes or sights off the beaten path a little. He really got into planning all our hikes. He would actually spend some time researching the best hikes to do and send us on them. Sometimes I thought he was being a little too ambitious, but I think he is a better judge of our children’s endurance than I am. It was nice having him take over the activity planning for some of the days. He also tended to get up earlier than the rest of us when he was excited about these plans. Dave and I are definitely not rise early people, and this trip has adjusted our schedule to sleep in late (so late, in fact, we usually have to set alarms to make it to the hotel breakfasts that end at 9:30). But, Dave would be up opening the window curtains way before any of the rest of us were ready to get us started on the day. He was like a kid at Christmas sometimes.

The other surprise for me about Dave has been his lack of structured working out. For me, this trip has been full of workouts. When we’re not in the car (which, granted, is a lot of the time), we are hiking up steep canyons, climbing over rocks, racing to watch a geyser, or just trekking it through a city, usually at a pretty good clip. I’ve had plenty of days where my legs and butt were sore. But, I think Dave has only gotten in 4-5 runs this whole trip. A lot of it has to do with the fact that we don’t have time for him to run, but I also think he doesn’t need it the same way he does at home. I always say that Dave is just one of those people that needs to run. I can tell when he isn’t running because he is grumpier. I know that running helps relieve him of stresses. I think he’s just been stress-free most of this trip, if you don’t count the snowstorm in Colorado and the traffic in Chicago.

Some people ask me how I can stand having my husband work at home and some probably wonder how our family can spend 24 hours a day for 6 weeks together. But, we are loving it. Dave and I are so compatible. We balance each other well and like to do most of the same things. There has not been a moment when we’ve gotten on each other’s nerves. He pushes us to do everything we can at a park while I’m trying to keep some semblance of a normal eating and sleeping schedule, but we easily reach a compromise. It’s been so easy to be with him day after day. It has been an absolutely wonderful experience for all of us. I so look forward to Dave’s retirement when we get to spend every day together!

Brotherly Love

Monday, May 23, 2011

Ramblings by Jes, Part 3 - Homework

When I talked to the principal of the kids' school about the trip, I was prepared to take them out of school and handle homeschooling them for the rest of the school year.  As it turned out, the principal was excited and appreciated that the kids would gain a lot from the trip.  He said we could talk to the teachers about some projects for the kids to do to get grades while they were gone.  It all sounded good to me.  I actually worked on some ideas of things that I thought would make good projects for the kids.  I figured the kids could keep a journal, send letters back to their class, do book reports on the books that we listened to or they read, we'd learn the states and capitals, do a presentation at the end, etc.  It seemed manageable and easy.  The kids' teachers ended up giving us a significant amount of written work. Rachel had 3 math tests and 4 vocabulary tests that I needed to administer, along with all the workbook pages to prepare her.  Alex had 2 chapters in math and 3 chapters in religion and some reading comprehension sheets.  All this in addition to the stuff that I had suggested.  It was definitely a lot of work, but it seemed manageable. 

But, then, we got on the road.  Rachel can only do short amounts of work in the car before she begins to feel sick.  And, it's hard to concentrate in the car with 4 kids.  Not exactly quiet.  I've tried to have them all doing work at the same time, but then they all need me for something.  It is a huge challenge.  We had days full of activities and then driving late into the evening.  In the mornings, we were usually hurrying out of the hotel room in order to head to our next activity.  It has been almost impossible to fit in homework.  Occasionally, we get lucky and have an early night or a morning that we can dally a little.  I take control of all those situations and make the kids do something.  But, we are running out of days and still have a pile of work to do.  We may have to book it home to have a couple days to really just do homework.  The kids have only read about 50 pages each.  But, honestly, I've only made it through 1/2 my book.  Too much experiencing, not enough paperwork.  But, that's OK with me.  I know that the kids have learned an immense amount of stuff over this trip.  There is no way to quantify it, unfortunately, and the teachers need that for grades.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The day that almost wasn't

We had checked reports of the weather in Yellowstone the day before we headed there and it was showing snow (3-5") and temperatures in the 30's.  After our earlier experiences with snow, we did not want to mess with snowy conditions, so we decided to not push it. We looked for althernative ideas of things to do, but there wasn't anything else to do really.  So, we kept on the shortest path back East.  Fortunately, that path took us within 50 miles of Yellowstone.  We figured we could go to Mammoth Hot Springs, which is in lower elevations, and ask about conditions near Old Faithful.  Luckily, the weather held out.  No precipitation at all and temps in the 50's. 

We first stopped at Mammoth Hot Springs, definitely a unique environment. 

We drove up to the Geyser Basin and made some stops along the way.  This stop was cool..  There was a bubbling spring and a lot of steam coming out of the hole above it.  The kids got a big kick out of the steam.  Rachel dug a couple rocks out of the water.  They were very hot from the water.

 We got to Old Faithful, just as it was going off.  So, we needed to 93 minutes.  Riverside Geyser was due to go off  in 45 minutes, but it was pretty far away.  We thought we might be able to make it, so off we headed.  We were checking out the geysers as we went because we were going to need to turn right around and get back to see Old Faithful.   Our first geyser was Anenome.  It's a pretty small one, but the first one is always exciting.

The kids were getting tired and struggling.  We made it to Riverside Geyser just as it finished, and needed to hurry back.  Dave had to carry Matthew and Zack a little bit to give them the "energy" to make it back.  We got back with about 3 minutes to spare. It iumpressed as much as we had hoped.  Of course, the kids were distracted before it finished it's 4 minutes. 

Other geysers included this geyser that was spraying the kids with warm water as the wind blew.  This one erupted every 7-10 minutes, so we hung around to watch it again. 

This one went off almost continuously.  I thought it was pretty neat.

We saw a bunch of animals on our trip.  We saw elk, bison, deer, a grizzly bear, and a couple black bears.  Overall, it was a pretty eventfull trip to Yellowstone. I was so gald that we were able to go.  It was the kind of day that we needed - interesting things to look at and learn about without a lot of hiking.