Day 15- Jackson Wyoming

We woke at 5:50am to freezing temperatures- 20degrees! After bundling up in winter coats, we made it into the minivan with teeth chattering. Daryl was so generous she let us study at her parents home- a beautiful spot close to our RV park and everything in Jackson Hole. Daryl also hooked us up with great spots in town. I picked up cowboy coffee and later bagels for breakfast.

By lunch time, it was 60degrees and sunny. Not a cloud in the sky. We finished afternoon class work in the RV and had lunch in the park.

Then we hit the road for a hike at Jenny Lake in the Tetons-

The nice thing was that we were able to catch shuttle boat to point across the lake. So we didn’t have to hike in and back. Got to see so much more.

The kids mandated the bear spray- they read too many signs and heard too many bear encounter stories.

Half mile up hill to Hidden Falls-

The 3.5 mile hike blew by. The kids could not stay on path…. Kept hiking up boulders along the way. Fantastic afternoon. Perfect 70 degree weather. The sun was shining and there were smiles the whole time.

We ended the hike with an obligatory photo at one of the four elk arches in Jackson.

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Day 14- Bozeman and drive day to Jackson Wyoming

Ciela took her math test in the comfort of the Element Hotel. After school we strolled Bozeman streets.

Everyone agreed we love this town.

Lunch at Nova and then drove 225 miles, 4.5 hour down 287 through Idaho to Jackson Hole. Beautiful blue sky drive… passing small towns and loads of farms along the way.

Mica happy to add the states to our travel map (Thank you Reeds!)

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Day 12- Yellowstone continued

We passed through Mammoth en route to Lamar Valley. Rangers were there protecting the tourists from getting too close to the elk.

Along the route we stopped to check out a petrified tree-

Driving alongside a pronghorn-

Then we got our heart strings pulled… driving along we came upon cars and animal paparazzi.

The kids got confident to go up to the photographers and ask “what are we looking at?”

The night before, a driver had hit a bison and killed it. The rangers came and moved the body far from the road. Apparently three bison stayed near the body, apparently guarding it all night. When we got there, the one was curled up on the ground around the body.

The photographers were there waiting for action to happen. They knew that other animals would soon come in to eat the dead bison.

We traveled on with sad hearts. Soon coming upon another bison traffic jam. Somehow we lucked out and always ended up being at the front of the line, getting best view of the animals.

Our next bathroom pit stop had the kids playing along the river. Every stop more breathtaking than the last.

The kids liked stopping at the Montana- Wyoming border- being in two states at once.

Another MUCH needed exploration and burning of energy. We stopped in Lamar Valley and let the kids run along the river, skipping stones and balancing while walking across fallen tree.

Ciela managed to fall in while trying to reach for a rock she wanted to gather. Now we had a wet kid, with soaking wet shoes, pants and shirt- in cold weather. We stripped her down and rung out the pants, allowing them to dry while tied to the rear view mirror as we drove.

Some of us LOVED the views.

On the way back to mammoth we stopped by to see the bison guarding the dead body. He know was standing over it, resting his head on the body.

It was hard not to be moved by the act and made us recognize that they clearly had a bond with each other.

Back in Mammoth, we got a surprise show of Mac Daddy (the alpha massive elk) chasing off Big Boy (the slightly smaller elk who was always trying to get in on the herd.)

Then Mac Daddy just stood in the road so we could get a close up view of his massiveness.

Then he let out a bugle to be clear Big Boy know it was his herd.

Dinner with elk females hanging nearby.

We realized that we had a long several hour drive back to West Yellowstone (and return the following morning) and we knew we wanted to visit Lamar valley at dawn… so we checked into a cabin at Mammoth. The only thing they had left was a tiny room with two queen beds, a full shower and no heat. We slept in our winter coats and laid horizontally three to a queen bed.

Everyone was ecstatic not to have to drive all those hours and loved the spontaneity of sleeping with no change of clothes. After procuring some tooth brushes, we walked around exploring Mammoth. The elk battle between the two boys- still going on.

We had fun parking the car to get a front seat view. Loved hearing the bugling battles.

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Day 12- Exploring Yellowstone

Renting the minivan was paramount for our travel through Yellowstone. There are so many windy roads and so many times we pulled off on the side of the toad to watch animal life- BigE would have never been able to maneuver it all.

We left our hotel at 6:00am and drove in the snow into the park, entering at West Entrance. Driving north on 89 and east on Norris Canyon road, our intention was to go directly to Lamar Valley but found the Grand Loop was closed going north and had to abort that mission. So instead we headed south to a Hayden Valley in search of the Grizzly that had taken down a massive elk the week before.

Sure enough, like all things in the park, we easily found him by the barrage of animal paparazzis along the road.

The video of the injured (broken leg) elk kill by the Grizzly was caught on camera by a grandma:

And photos all over Instagram of the Grizzly-

By the time we arrived, the original bear had eaten his share and abandoned the kill. Two other Grizzlies, one very dark, were eating and guarding what was left.

It was a beautiful spot along the Yellowstone river.

paparazzi were everywhere, trying to capture a battle between the bears or whatever animals came to get to the kill.

My SLR camera body broke somewhere in transit- likely getting tossed around in the cabinet in the RV. Major bummer for shooting wildlife in the distance. But we learned to use the binoculars with iPhone-

I have Mica and Franco to thank- for looking around them and not on their phones (which they don’t have) – and spotting this vertebrae on the path where we were standing and watching the Grizzly. There were people all around us and no one had seen it.

We think it is an elk vertebrae but the verdict is out.

Our first close encounter with Bison on the side of the road-

Even though we drove 8-12 hours each day while in Yellowstone (I didn’t keep track and hard to know because of all of the stops,) we never felt it because the views along the way were so spectacular. We kept stopping to take photos. In the morning it was COLD… but by midday the kids were content in light jackets.

Our breakfast spot along the Yellowstone River- The boys loved watching the tiny duck like birds that bobbed and stayed under water feeding and then popped up randomly in a nearby spot.

Our first buffalo traffic jam was epic. (We would soon encounter these multiple times throughout the day but didn’t know yet.)

We decided this was a good spot to have a snack and watch the bison in the pasture below.

From there we stopped by the Yellowstone Canyon and waterfalls. We were able to drive up to this view from above. Park and hike around the opposite side of the canyon.

Then we took a hike along this side of the canyon. A much needed burning of energy. We took an extra long hike in both directions.

From there we had to decide- since grand loop was closed, would we stop for the day or drive all around the park to get to Lamar valley… we voted on moving on.

It was a 110 miles and 2.5 hour drive (because the grand loop was closed and had to go all the way around.)

Pulling into Mammoth was a fantastic surprise- a giant elk with a massive elk was napping in the sun.

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Day 11- first day sleeping in and Geisers in Yellowstone

I have Ciela to thank for the suggestion that we sleep in on Saturday morning. We had been up every day for school before the sun rose, so she wanted to sleep well one night in the hotel. I really had not considered it because I wanted to get a full day in at Yellowstone since they didn’t have school. Then realized she was right.

Mama slept in until 8:45am central time- virtually unheard of for me.

Ciela studied for her math and social studies test while we did some laundry and then walked the town. We were dragging our feet to leave because we love Bozeman.

We hit our favorite store- Heyday-

I got groceries at the CoOp and we loaded and left. Drove down 191 through Big sky- and boy did we see blue skies…

Checked into Holiday Inn, the nicest hotel I could find in West Yellowstone because we needed to test the WiFi for school the following week. Our intention was to stay in RV camp the rest of the week and just drive to the parking lot of the holiday inn and use their WiFi. Sadly- we quickly learned that their WiFi was also terrible and no chance virtual schooling was going to happen from there.

We ditched the RV and drove the rental minivan into Yellowstone early afternoon.

We watched trout swim UPstream-

Then hit the geisers. At Fountain Paint Pot Trailhead- we saw hot springs, geisers and fumaroles (smoking holes in the ground.)

At the black sand basin we got to see more color. The ground is actually a very thin crust in areas- with boiling water below… so you have to stay on the walking path.

We timed our visit to Old Faithful perfectly but entirely by accident- arriving minutes before it was set to go off. And true to its name- it did right on schedule.

The photos don’t do it justice but it erupts 10-180 feet high.

We ended our Yellowstone afternoon with Grand Prismatic- which was our favorite hot spring however we were limited at seeing its full splendor because it was so cold outside that the ground was obscured by the fog that was generated.

Hard to imagine finding all the bison tracks in the area. Not clear how they don’t feel the heat or how they don’t crack through the thin areas.

We spotted a herd of elk in the distance. One bull and many females as to be expected.

We heard our first bugling by the bull elk.

Sky on fire on the drive back to west Yellowstone.

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Day 10- hanging in Bozeman

The kids did their virtual school thing with ease because WiFi so strong.

I caught up on planning. It has been a challenge for me not to have every second planned out ahead of time. But it has been difficult to know how long we stay in each spot and even harder to be sure school effective for the kids. But I was able to schedule a few more nights of RV places… and then we walked to town. Our hotel, The Element, in perfect location, walking distance to everything.

Jam for lunch was outstanding. Worth the wait in line. The kids loved deciphering the mural behind them.

The toy store was a huge hit. The kids loved spending Tia Dani’s trip cash- because I was not allowed to have any say on what they purchased since it was THEIR cash.

Surprise, surprise- who did we run into while walking down Main Street but the Skoglund’s coming back from a soccer game- We walked around aimlessly looking for a dinner spot but because it was a Saturday night, there was a crazy wait everywhere. We ended up here and had subpar bar food- mom fail.

Walked past some kids jamming out on the street on the way home- too cool. Mom enjoyed a Bozeman (Manhattan / Old Fashioned) at the hotel before bed.

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Day 9- Skoglund’s Bison Farm

Easy hour drive into Bozeman. Checked into Element Hotel after getting rental minivan at the airport. Then drove to visit the Skoglund’s.

45 minutes north of Bozeman – the North Bridger Bison farm in Wilsall, MT. The drive was spectacular and easy- one road in. Zero reception the entire drive. The farm is surrounded by mountains and fields of sage. We were overcome but the incredible smell. No poop smell- just sage. Matt gave us a tour and we hitched a ride on the back of his pickup that he uses to harvest his bison. It was not that cold in Bozeman but the wind in the mountains made it frigid. Matt was comfortable in a tshirt while we listened to him talk while under a bison blanket pelt.

He entertained us for hours, teaching us about the animals and his amazing stories of bison farming surrounded by generations of cattle farmers.

We had bison burgers for dinner- and even the plant based me enjoyed it. It was delicious! The kids loved hanging with Otto and Greta. They were playing hide and seek and exploring the land. Ciela went to cut sage to bring home. I asked Matt to send me a pic of what he looks like after harvesting because he doesn’t use gloves- impressed he is as clean as he looks. Check out his hands!!

Glorious afternoon on the farm- we will be back.

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Day 9- challenges of virtual schooling on the road

I called rv parks ahead of time to ask about their WiFi. The Big Timber KOA boasted excellent WiFi because they recently upgraded to fiber optic service. I had prepped the kids that this would be our easiest connection.

We also prepped by consulting with tech guy (as well as several hours at verizon stores prior to leaving) to ask what was the best way to work while on the road. He assured me that the $500++ devices used to boost wifi signal at campgrounds were bogus- that they didn’t work. Hard to believe since there are so many out there but no way to really confirm whether they do work or not. He had recommended getting cellular data on our existing ipads and using them if wifi out. In addition, we downloaded FETCH which is an app that use to tether your cell phone to your laptop with power cord, thus using your cell phones unlimited data without using a hotspot. We all have unlimited data on cell phones and ipads but if using the HotSpots from these devices, we would slow down at 15gb of usage.  In other words, we can use apps on our cell phones and ipads indefinitely because we have unlimited data, but once we use them as hotspots- that cell data is capped at 15gb per month… which we would blow through in only a few days with all the virtual learning.

Sure enough, the wifi at Big Timber was the absolute worst because the entire system was down in that area. Just by chance… Thankfully though, we had excellent cellular data (rare in this area) so they were able to work from the RV. 6am means darkness, so everyone in the RV worked from inside during first hours of school.

The challenge of RV living is that there just isn’t enough space. Every morning, the school bins come down from storage and the sleeping bags and pillows go up on top of the cockpit seats/bunk area. After school, the bins get put back in storage and sleeping stuff comes down when we go to bed.

Bags get moved around from one part of the RV to the other. When the slide is out we have so much more room. But when it is in, we have to constantly reorganize where everything is put. Nonetheless, we still eat healthy. Fruit oat milk smoothies for breakfast!

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Day 8 Crazy Horse and Devils Tower

We hiked half the 1.4 mile hike around Devils Tower and realized we had to get driving in order to get to our Rv camp before it closed at 9pm.

A windmill turbine/ wing loaded on back of massively long semi. These gave perspective as to how massive they are.

The mountains were obscured by the fire haze. Billings Mt looked like a city when in fact it was miles of factories.

We finally arrived at Big Timber Graycliff Koa just at 9pm. Never meant to drive at night but lost track of time on our adventures.

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Day 7- more Badlands and Mount Rushmore

It was a rough wake up at 6am. We had gone to bed too late the night before so alarm was particularly difficult. Our morning routine ensued. Mom up first- brushed teeth/ washed face- boil water and pour into fresh press for my cup of joe. Then I wake C because she starts earliest.

The bonus of a 25′ (small) RV is that it is fast and comfortable to drive. The negative is there is not much space inside and every morning and night we have to shuffle our belongings so that we can function. Sleeping bags are put away and stored on the bunk. The dinette table is re-assembled and the school bins are brought out.

Ciela freshens up and I make her breakfast and she dives into school work. The others slowly wake and have breakfast before classes start.

By far the most challenging obstacle of this trip is WiFi. This RV camp proving to have the worst even though when I called ahead to check they confirmed it was excellent.

So the kids started school like this-

But they soon moved on to the storage garage near the front office that proved better WiFi. I discovered this by asking the teenager who worked there where the best WiFi was. Will use that in the future.

They were able to complete the morning. But it was incredibly stressful because the kids didn’t want to miss school. Sometimes I wish they were a little more less serious about school. 🤪

At 10:30 they were done- we ate lunch and we departed. The badlands bypass was insane-

Fossil hike was the most informative- with educational posters discussing the fossils and age of the badlands. The formations were formed because at one point it was all under water.

From badlands we did a quick pit stop at Wall Drugs- so overrated.

We did buy some great cowboy Indian books.

We did one more loop in Badlands to visit the buffalo. We drove for miles without seeing any and then we found them near the buffalo entrance… chilling, happy, fearless.

At the entrance to Rushmore- girls were asking people to mark where they are from on the world map-

George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln- far cooler in person then we ever imagined. Loved learning the history of their creation.

Franco and Gray got a workout in by walking to the lodge to get wood for the fire which they also started solo.

Firelight makes for nice movie ambiance outside-

Still eating healthy on RV with my salads. Thank you Trader Joe’s.

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