Thursday, July 19, 2012

Top 5 Family Adventures in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks

Snow ball fight on Rendezvous Mountain
Hike on Bunsen Peak
         Discovering our national parks with my children is a dream that I am making a reality one summer at a time. Two summers ago, we started with Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado. Last year, we went to Acadia National Park for four days ofadventure in the rain and sun. This summer, we ventured to Grand Teton, Yellowstone and Rocky Mountain National Parks. The following are the best family adventures in both Grand Teton and Yellowstone.

  1. Ride the tram in Jackson Hole Mountain Resort and hike the Rock Springs Trail into Cody Bowl - Although this is just outside of the Park, it was the most fun our family had while there. We rode the 100 passenger tram from the base of Jackson Hole to the top of Rendezvous mountain, a four thousand foot climb. We packed a picnic lunch for our day's adventures at the top of the world. We descended along the ridge line on the Rock Springs Trail into Cody Bowl. We spent our afternoon having snow ball fights, sliding down the glacial snow and rock scrambling. Afterwards, we treated ourselves to homemade waffles at Corbett Cabin. Yum!
  2. Kayak (or canoe) Colter andHalf Moon Bays -  We rented two two-person kayaks from the Colter Bay Marina for half a day of paddling and wildlife viewing in Colter and Half Moon Bays.
  3. Hike around String and Jenny Lakes to Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point - We hiked 7.8 miles along the north and west sides of both String and Jenny Lakes. This route is gentle with minimal elevation change. The best part of this hike is taking in the mountain peaks and the lake vistas.
  4. Raft the class I and II rapidsof the Snake River - This activity was my son's choice. Grand Teton LodgeCompany was our guide down the Snake River in the Park. This float is gentle enough for a six year old. Daniel, our guide, was experienced at navigating the river and very knowledgeable about the natural history of the Park. We were fortunate to spot two moose, a beaver and an eagle.
  5. Camping - Camping is the best way to truly experience everything a national park has to offer from scenery to education. Grand Teton offers five first-come-first-serve campgrounds. They do not take reservations; however, visitors are able to easily get a site in one of the campgrounds. At the entrance stations and visitor centers, there are campground boards providing information on the availability of sites and at what time the campground became full.


1.    Circuit hike along the south rim of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone to Lily and Clear Lakes - The best way to see the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone is to take a hike along the South Rim Trail, in addition to Lily Lake and Uncle Tom's Trail. The Lily Lake trailhead is at the far end of Artist Point. The trail follows the steep ledges of the Canyon before it enters a pine forest and by two small lakes and thermals. Uncle Tom's Trail gives all visitors a cardo workout climbing down and up 328 steps. At the bottom, you stand at the base of the lower falls to feel mist on your face.
2.    Take a picnic dinner to an overlook in Lamar Valley to watch animals - If there is one national park known for wildlife; it is Yellowstone. We grabbed fixings for a picnic dinner and drove into Lamar Valley. This valley is stunning. My children learned a valuable lesson from animal spectators fitted with their large scopes about why preserving this valley's habitat is vital for the balance of the ecosystem. In the valley, we watched hundreds of buffalo and looked for bear and wolves.
3.    Hike to Bunsen Peak - Have you ever want to bag a peak with your kids? Bunsen Peak is a good one to do. The hike is a moderate 2.1 mile trek to the peak on switchbacks. The views at the top are well worth it. The climb was a good challenge for my kids but they loved skipping down the mountain.
4.    Walk the Fountain Paint Pots boardwalk - This was the touristiest adventure of our time in Yellowstone because everyone wants to see the geological thermals. They are well worth the crowds. This was my son's favorite part of Yellowstone.
5.    Camping - Yellowstone offers both reservation only and first-come-first-serve campgrounds. The reservation only campgrounds usually fill well ahead of time. The first-come-first-serves are in beautiful locations in the park but have limited, such as vaulted toilets.

Many of these adventures enabled us to leave behind the crowds and explore each park to discover the beauty, peace and solitude. The more we trekked down the trail the more we drew back the curtains on the amazing scenery all around us. I loved sharing each of the above adventures with my kids and watching their faces light up with huge grins. We hope you enjoy them too. 

Reading about thermal cones

Lower falls in the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

Looking for wolves in Lamar Valley

Kayaking in Colter Bay

Friday, July 13, 2012

Mother Nature's Adventures: Check Your Attitude

   Have you ever ask yourself, "why do I camp?" I have. Even though I love to camp, there have been a few times when I thought, "camping is a pain in the butt." One those times was recent when camping in the National Arapahoe Recreation Area outside of Rocky Mountain National Park.
   Mother nature can really throw a curve ball sometimes. It did the three days we spent camping and hiking in the Rocky Mountains with mine and my brothers kids. Each morning we woke to a beautiful blue sunny sky but by early afternoon the storm clouds rolled in during two separate hikes in the mountains. Both storms produced thunder and lightning: one with rain and the other with hail. All eight kids have never hiked so fast. Even though it was scary, it provided a great teachable moment for them.
   By late afternoon when we returned to our campsite from hiking, those same storms rolled into the basin of the mountains. Our campsite was beautiful; a 360 degree view of the mountains and Lake Granby. Best view ever! The downside was there were no trees. The pine bark beetle killed all the trees in the campground. Therefore, when the storms hit each evening; winds gusted up to 60 mph. Sometimes rain and lightning came with it. We could see the storms approaching from the west, providing us some time to prepare for cover.
   Of course, the storms hit us during dinner preparation on all three evenings. On the first evening, we used the backend of our car as a wind shield when cooking the beef for burritos. We were interrupted by rain. We shoved the pot under the car and ran to the tents. On the second night, the storm hit just before dinner prep. After a late start, we thankfully had a beautiful and relaxing dinner of which we didn't have to worry about flying food, napkins and spilled drinks.
   The third night's storm was the worst with the highest winds - dirt swirled around us and the tents poles bent against the wind begging to snap. My sister-in-law and I thought the dark clouds to the west were far enough away that we could prep dinner and eat. The chili was made and we were reading the directions to the rice when the strong gusts began.  The winds threw the garbage, utensils, paper towels, stove windscreen, and the entire one pound box of rice off the table. We scrambled to pick up everything, move the stove and chili into the fire ring, salvage some of the rice on the gravel, place the remaining items into the cars, prevent the tents from flying away, and instruct the kids into the tents.  My sister-in-law and I got into our tent to anchor it down. My husband braved the high winds to cook the rice in the fire pit with the wind screen. The kids laughed and created their own adventures in spite of the storm.
  After thirty minutes of holding up the tent, it was time to eat. We were losing day light and were hungry. We devised and executed a plan to move the cars to create a wind shield. We gathered the food and utensils and called the kids. All twelve of us, sat on the asphalt, in a circle, sheltered by the wind, to eat chili and rice. It was the best dinner.
   After three frustrating afternoons and evenings of dealing with Mother Nature, we laughed at the ridiculousness of our situation and ways of coping to maintain a smile on our faces for our children. Mother Nature can through us curve balls when we camp but it is the attitude for which we choose that creates the experience.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Wildlife Wonders in Yellowstone and Grand Teton

Grizzly Bears
Bison laying next to a thermal at Mud Volcano
Yellow-bellied Marmot
Red Fox
Female Sage Grouse
Mountain Bluebird
Male Moose
     For two weeks at the end of June, my family embarked on an amazing outdoor adventure to Yellowstone, Grand Teton and Rocky Mountain National Parks. After a few days in Grand Teton, my husband, kids and I started reflecting on the animals that we had seen thus far and were amazed at the list we had generated. Everyday afterwards, we added to that list.

Elk – male and female
Yellow bellied marmot - many along Jenny Lake
White pelican - on the Yellowstone River at Fishing Bridge
Moose - one at Willow Flats and one female and
male on our raft trip
Bison and bison calves - hundreds everywhere
but the most spectacular was in Lamar Valley
Snowshoe Hare
Coyote - surprised one while hiking the Howard
Eaton Trail along the Yellowstone River
Black bear - multiple times in Yellowstone
Wood duck
Grizzly bear - two adult and one cub off the road 
near Canyon Village
Red fox
Wandering Garter Snake
Wolf - in distance at 8:45 pm near Pleasure Valley 
in Yellowstone
Ground squirrel - these burrowing animals are everywhere
Sage grouse - on our hike up Bunsen Peak near Mammoth Springs
Mountain Bluebird - on our hike down Bunsen Peak near Mammoth Springs
Cinnamon black bear - side of the road at 9:30 pm on the pass south of Roosevelt Lodge
Bald eagle - on our raft trip down the Snake River in Grand Teton
Beaver - on our raft trip
Loon - kayaking Half Moon Bay on Jackson Lake
Bighorn Sheep (ewe) - Colorado River Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park

    I am so grateful to have been able to share this wildlife experience with my children, for them to understand that we are visitors in these animal's homes and that we must do everything in our power to respect and protect them and their habitats.

Note: These photos were taken with respect to the wildlife using a high power zoom lens.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Be Grizzly Bear Aware

This sign is on all bear boxes in Grand Teton and Yellowstone.
    Many people have written blog posts about camping in bear country. I am going to add another. I have spent many years camping and backpacking on the east coast. This summer, my family and I experienced camping in the west for the first time, in Grand Teton National Park. This is BEAR country. Being a Master Educator and MD State Advocate for Leave No Trace, I have learned and taught others about respecting wildlife when hiking and camping. Respecting wildlife includes recreating in bear habitat.
   There isn't a difference between how to camp and hike in bear country on the east as opposed to the west. However, there is a huge difference in the attitude and proactive education that is done by the National Park and people who live in grizzly country. Campers on the east receive minimal education on how to camp among wildlife. Most state and all National parks on the east post the Leave No Trace principals on trail head signs and in campgrounds. Some may extend beyond: to remind you to put food in a car or hang it when not in use, dispose of trash properly and stay a safe distance away from bears.
   I am sure many of you have heard the horror stories of people being attacked by bears, whether they suddenly come upon a mother and cubs or the bear enters a campsite wanting food. These scenes are unfortunately true but not prevalent. One reason is because many of the western National Parks are doing a fantastic job educating hikers and campers about being safe in bear country.
    "Be Bear Aware" is Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks bear safety educational campaign.
  Be Bear Aware educational displays include: a trailer at Willow Flats, display boards in all the visitor centers and campground offices, a pamphlet distributed at the entrance stations, an article in the Grand Teton Guide, posters in all park bathrooms, billboards in populated areas and placards on all park picnic tables. The message saturates the Park.
This sign is on all picnic tables in
Grand Teton and Yellowstone.
  At all campsites, picnic locations and strategically placed spots (where people tend to picnic along lakes and in scenic locations), large steel bear boxes are located for people to place their food.
  Bear proof trash and recycling cans are located in all populated locations.
  Rangers educate visitors at all presentations and activities.
  Rangers check campsites each evening, either receiving individual education or a warning notice when violating the bear safety rules. The warnings can include a paper notice of your violation, confiscation of your gear and/or a fine. On our first night in the Park, we received a warning notice because we left our site with the water bottles still on the picnic table.
  Each backpacker receives a bear canister when obtaining a backcountry camping permit with full instructions on how to use it.
Be Bear Aware includes:
  Never allow a bear to get food. If in the presence of a bear, store your food and move away to a safe distance.
  Place all food and scented items in a bear box or hard-sided car. These include: food, cooking dishes and utensils, coolers, water bottles and dispensers, drink cans and bottles, wash bins and soap, stoves and grills, toiletries and pet food. Never leave these items in your tent or out if not present.
  Never leave your backpack or dry bag, if on the water, unattended. Bears can swim!
  Dispose of all trash, even micro-trash, and recyclables in receptacles.
  Rat-out your fellow campers who are not following the bear safety rules. I did. At Jenny Lake, fellow campers left a grocery bag of garbage hanging in a tree. Yikes!
  When hiking, talk, sing or clap often to make your presence known (this is more effective than bear bells). Bears will move away when they hear people. Don't use head phones or ear buds when hiking. Hike in groups and during the day. Bears are most active at dawn, dusk and at night.
  Carrying and using bear spray is a proven strategy if charged by a bear. Carry it on your waistline for immediate use.
  If a bear approaches or charges you: first, DO NOT RUN; second, stand still. When bears charge, they will often veer off into the woods before attacking. If so, slowly back away once the bear is in the woods. Bears charge because hikers surprise them when they are protecting a food source or their young. If attacked, lie on your stomach with your legs slightly separated and your hands held together over the back of your head. Be silent and don't move. When the bear stops attacking and leaves, lie still for a few more minutes.
   Source - "Grand Teton Guide," Summer 2012
   The campgrounds, picnic areas, high use trails and scenic areas in Grand Teton were very clean; much more than ones on the east coast. Often campsites in state and national parks in the east have micro-trash scattered around, in the campfire pits and around picnic tables. Micro-trash is often also visible on high use trails. Contrary to many national parks in the west, trash, including micro-trash, is hard to find. I attribute this to the presence of bears, grizzly and black, and the educational campaign that saturates the minds of most visitors.
   It is important that people are proactive in their recreating practices to minimize the habitation of bears in our parks. A habituated bear is a dangerous one that must be killed. Bears are essential predators in their ecosystem's food web, in addition to being natural wonders. Before this trip, I considered myself knowledgable about recreating with bears. However, camping and hiking in the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone has allowed me to experience recreating in grizzly country and increased my awareness and knowledge to "Be Bear Aware."