Even though only a day would be spent there, Yellowstone really was the crux of motivation for making this trip happen. I spent the summer of 1992 working in the Canyon Village cafeteria through a work placement program put together by Campus Crusade for Christ. I was part of a team of about 40 people, 20 guys, 20 girls - and it was the most life-changing summer I'd had up until that point. It was really the first time I was out on my own without anyone else I knew at my side - particularly Michele - and therefore my first opportunity to "redefine myself" beyond any of the stereotypes and perceptions I'd previously established. No longer was I "one of the twins", "the academic" (nerd), - or whatever else folks thought of me - I was just brand new "me".
That summer stretched me immensely, and really, it was the first time I was ever led to believe I could be a "leader" - particularly spiritually. In the work setting, I was dreaming of being hired on as a wrangler, or perhaps a waitress at the upscale restaurant in the village - but, instead, when they passed out uniforms, I got a chef hat, chef jacket, and black and white polyester plaid pants. I was mortified. My summer employment was to be a cook in the kitchen for the cafeteria. I'm pretty sure my shift began at 5am - which allowed me to be one of the first of my "team" to get off work, but it wreaked havoc on my sleep as I couldn't bear to miss out on one ounce of fun to be had in the late hours. Eventually, I was promoted to "head cook", not because of my immense talents, but for lack of better employees - particularly in the character, integrity, & trustworthy departments. It was work, it was an experience - I learned how to prepare bacon on a cookie sheet - but truly, the memories of that summer go so far beyond my time in the kitchen.
Now that I've touched a bit on memory lane, it's time to refocus on the present and chronicle the adventures my own family shared here in Yellowstone - some 21 years after I had first visited this incredible place.
On Monday morning, instead of going due east to enter Yellowstone from the south (through the Tetons), we headed north which would allow us to claim Montana as one of the states we visited. We entered through West Yellowstone - a town that has really grown up in the last two decades.
Along the way, I spotted this - John was initially bummed to have to turn around, but quickly found the reward as he zoomed his camera in - a herd of antelope. Good start to the animal viewing day.
Hawk or Falcon? Not sure....
Entering into Montana - the drive was spectacular - John and I just kept saying, "Oh, that's rough living", or "I could probably make it work here" as gorgeous log homes sprung up along meandering rivers in photo-worthy forest backdrops.
Just a hop, skip, and a jump from West Yellowstone, you go through the park entrance.
John was practically drooling with all of the photography opportunities, which warmed my heart, but I knew what a long day we had ahead of us. It still took us about 2 hours to get there from the hotel, so we were already limited by that - not to mention a promise to dine at Wingers to see Steve again that night in Rexburg. We could only afford so many scenic stops - especially if they didn't involve animal sightings.
And there you go - the first bison viewing of the day -
I want to say this is Gibbon Falls - but I really can't be sure.
We headed north to make our first stop at Mammoth Village - I wanted the kids to see the elk that I knew lived there, not to mention the white terrace formations....
Not much had changed around here since I'd been last (when Brayden was 18 months old) -
At first I thought we'd been skunked in terms of the elk - but, with keen eyes - I spotted them in the employee lodging area - so glad we didn't miss these "icons of Mammoth".
Then, after some gift shop purchases, we did a very abbreviated tour of the Mammoth area....
"Go, go, go!" was the motto for the day - so we hopped back in the car, drove back south and then east to the Canyon Village. No skimping on this area....
A much closer view of "Mr. Bison" - I love his gentle eyes...
I had heard that they were doing construction at Canyon and was pleased to see they kept the nostalgic themes and didn't remove what was already there...
Would have loved to have eaten lunch here - but the line was a mile long.
So, instead, we opted for the Cafeteria - where I worked. Pretty sure I've never eaten there, though I've sampled tons of the food they prepare.
Oh, that's what the other side of the kitchen looks like....
This was the dorm I lived in through the summer - viewable from the Cafeteria dining room.
More bison in Canyon - I never bored of seeing these majestic creatures.
Finally, to the namesake of the village - the "Grand Canyon of Yellowstone" and Upper and Lower Falls Viewpoints....
Taken with John's zoom lens - we definitely didn't have the time or energy for that hike!
Next stop - "Artists' Paintpots". I had looked in advance for a hike that would get us out of the car for a bit and still offer things to look at that would be unique for Yellowstone. This was the best I could come up with. It's one of my regrets of the whole trip, though. It was beautiful and other-worldly to see the colors, but there is a bigger and better "pot of color" that we ended up trading this for that I wish we would have seen instead. This hike was a mile round trip, largely in the hot sun - and wore us out physically, as well as causing me to overheat. It would have been better to fight the crowds and stopped off at the more popular feature.
Last stop of the park was "Old Faithful". We came at an ideal time as we were forced to wait only about 15 minutes before it showed off.
As we left the park, it was fun to see folks actually using the river as a wading pool.
You know you've worn the family out when you see this sight - Brayden was almost taking a nap - which only happens about once a year.
We got hit with some road construction coming out of the park and a glance at the time told us we wouldn't be able to make it to Winger's before the restaurant closed in Rexburg. So we settled for dining in Jackson. Due to the later hour, we were able to score an ideal patio seating at a grill style restaurant overlooking the town square of Jackson.
We ended up stopping off at a few mercantile-style shops (bought a couple of cowboy hats for Mikayla and I to wear when riding on Wednesday...at that point, I was seeing the legitimate need to protect me from the heat of the sun...) - and then we did end up stopping by Winger's three hours later to meet Steve in the parking lot. (He was still on shift taking care of closing). He had texted that he had a gift for us, so we swung by, received the Winger's sauce he thoughtfully presented to us, looked at the calendar to determine the best weekend for his family's visit in the fall and gave hugs to our new friend. We ended our time in Rexburg in much the same way we began it.