Friday, August 22, 2014

Out West 2014: Yellowstone's Canyon and Yet Another Geyser Basin

We were up early again this morning for a trail ride, which means there were more animals to be spotted:

My brother-in-law finally got to see a bison from a distance that didn't require binoculars. It was ridiculous--that first afternoon that Matt, the kids, and I spent in Yellowstone, we saw loads of bison, even one in the next lane of traffic(!), but as soon as Matt's family came to meet us there, all of a sudden the only bison to be seen were all reeeaaaallly far away, and that was practically the only animal that his brother had really wanted to see!

We saw bison on this day, though. Whew!

After the trail ride, we some driving and hiking along the Canyon:

There is another Young Scientist program specifically for the Canyon, but since this was our last full day, AND the kids were already still finishing up their Junior Ranger stuff and Will was still finishing up her Young Scientist stuff, I skipped it. Don't tell Will, though. She'd freak!

I was able to prove that I'm not a liar on one of these hikes; earlier, Matt's brother had commented on the fact that I mainly wear jeans rolled up to below my knees, and he'd be too hot to wear that. I replied that I'm really quite clumsy, and the less skin that I present to be skinned on hard, vertical surfaces, the better.

I happily, then, showed him my skinned palms after our first Canyon hike, when I decided that it would be awesome if I bounded up the trail's stairs--the roughly-hewn, irregular stairs. I of COURSE tripped and skidded *up* the stairs, banged up my denim-clothed knees, and scraped up my hands. 

I did not fall into the river and die, however. Yay!

The next day, Matt, the kids, and I drove through Yellowstone one last time on our way back to Indiana. Well, we *meant* to just drive through, but there was one more geyser basin that we hadn't yet visited! Can't have that! 

Okay, NOW we can leave.

Oh, fine, might as well stop at Old Faithful and check out one more eruption, and hit the gift shop for presents for the kids' friends back home, but then we're absolutely leaving.

Yeah, we didn't really make great time that day...

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Out West 2014: Yellowstone's Hot Springs

Mornings in Yellowstone are good for animal-spotting:
Mule deer! We also saw more bison, and an animal that I think was a fox but the kids want to believe was a coyote.
It was also a great morning for a hike of the Mammoth Hot Spring Terraces--

--although I did think it prudent to fortify ourselves with ice cream beforehand:

Ice cream lets kids RUN up massively steep walking paths instead of weeping up them! It also, unfortunately, lets kids run doooooown the massively steep paths, and we actually offered a band-aid to a family of tourists whose kiddo had wiped out on the path. As the band-aid bearer, I quickly realized that I know of no word in any of my languages that even approximates the word "band-aid," or "bandage," or "owie," but fortunately simply wielding a band-aid is a universal sign of first-aid, like the Red Cross, and the German mom, washing her kid's knee off with water from her water bottle, seemed happy to have it. 

And now I'm curious as to what the German word for "band-aid" is. Anyone?

The hot springs are all, you know, HOT (what I wouldn't have given to have had the infrared thermometer on this day!!!), but in my travel research, I had heard tell of the Boiling River, a place where a hot spring flows into the Gardner River, and you can soak and wade and play there. 

We got directions to the Boiling River area from the Mammoth Hot Spring Terraces visitor's center, and drove and hiked over there (the directions will tell you that it's about half a mile. It's WAY more than that, in my opinion, but whatever). Somehow, out of the four adults present, it turned out that I was the only one who was actually planning to enter the water with the children. 

At first, I figured it wouldn't be that bad. The icy river ran around our feet, and to our left were several spots where the boiling river emptied into it, forming hot pools and then spilling over to warm the water where everyone was wading. The river bed was super rocky, but although there were people painfully picking their way and stumbling and wincing all around us, we were all wearing our sandals, so we were relatively good, except for the weird giant rocks in our paths and the sudden drop-downs, etc. 

Will stumbled over one of those rocks, and in the approximately five seconds that I took my eye off of Syd to attend to her, Syd managed to walk away from me, step off of a sudden drop-down into a pool of very hot water, and then scramble up out of the water onto a quite narrow ledge, barely wider than one of her sandals, in between two of those boiling inlets, totally out of my reach. 

I didn't even see her at first when I looked up, and I looked around for a few seconds before I saw her, thinking, "Huh. Did she go back to the shore?" I finally saw her standing on the ledge and sobbing silently while a woman stood outside the hot water and gestured to her not to step down again. 

Just as I started to splash over to her, and gawd knows what I would have done other than wade through the boiling water myself, retrieve her, hike back to the car, and then ask to be taken to the nearest emergency room, another random guy saw the commotion, stepped with one long leg into the hot water, reached way over with his long arms, lifted her off the ledge, and was handing her to me by the time that I got there. 

I'm one hundred percent sure that I told them thank you, because I have excellent manners, but I'm absolutely sure that I didn't thank them enough, and by the time I had finished making Syd soak her legs in the freezing river water to my satisfaction (a LONG time later), those two people were either long gone or completely lost in the anonymity of a river full of strangers. 

Thank you, Kind Strangers! You deserve all the good things.

Syd had to sit in the very cold water for a VERY long time before I could assure myself that her legs wouldn't blister, and an even longer time before I could comfort myself that they wouldn't even end up pink, and it was an even longer time before she was back to happily playing and had forgotten the entire incident. That's why in this single photo of the river, taken by Matt from the SHORE, thank you very much for being zero help here, Mister, the kid can be seen playing contentedly in four inches of water and I can be seen totally on edge, lifeguarding between her and Will, just off camera, also playing contentedly in about four inches of water:

I think this is even before Will stepped, on purpose, onto a rock sticking out from one of the boiling pools, and was offended beyond words when I hauled her back again. You're just going to have to imagine what I looked like after that--shoulders up to my ears like Prufrock's crab, head on a swivel of high alert like Hank the Cow Dog.

As I'm writing this now, I'm thinking, "Why the hell didn't I just leave the damn Boiling River?"

Because the kids were having fun. And then I was rendering emergency first aid for an hour. And then they were having fun again. And I said to myself, "Surely nobody will almost boil their skin off AGAIN." And then after somebody did, I said to myself, "Okay, NOW nobody will almost boil their skin off again."

And they didn't! So... yay?

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Out West 2014: Yellowstone's Geyser Basin

On our first full day at Yellowstone, we headed straight for the Upper Geyser Basin, and basically stayed there all day:

Of COURSE the first thing that I did was stop by the ranger station and purchase (they're not free at Yellowstone!) Junior Ranger books for both kids--
Syd is sketching bison poop.
and a Young Scientist book for Will. This Young Scientist book was specific to the Upper Geyser Basin (they also offer another one for the Canyon area), and when I purchased it, I was also able to borrow a backpack for Will that contained lots of awesome tools and supplies and resources. It had a chart in it, for instance, to help Will use the color of algae to measure the temperature of the water that it lives in:

The BEST tool in the backpack, however, was an infrared thermometer. You need an infrared thermometer. EVERYONE needs an infrared thermometer! It is the coolest. Thing. EVER. You point your infrared thermometer at something--

--and it tells you that thing's temperature:

And it's even extra cool in a geyser basin where, you know, everything is a weird temperature. Seriously, we could not put this infrared thermometer down:

Hiking along, looking at stuff, infrared thermometer in her hand
We also stopped traffic with this thing. Tourists would be hiking along, see one of the kids pointing the infrared thermometer at something, and stop in their tracks to ask what that was, what they were doing, ooh, you can measure the temperature of that? How hot is is?!?

Utterly engrossing.

The backpack also contained a stopwatch so that Will could time one of Old Faithful's eruptions:

That was especially cool because it turned out to be a "long" eruption, which is a thing.

We managed to catch the eruption of Castle Geyser, which was quite lucky, as it only erupts every 13-15 hours:

I only know that because a ranger stopped to chat with Will about what she was working on (they often did, when they saw the kids either working on their books or wearing their Junior Ranger badges, and it was awesome), mentioned that information to her, and then she told everyone else.

A couple of days later, a wrangler on our trail ride would tell us that we were among a very small percentage of people who came to Yellowstone and ventured into the backcountry; most people simply drive the circuit and walk the well-known paths. The thing about staying on the well-worn paths, though, is that the well-worn paths are REALLY COOL. If you're only going to be in Yellowstone for a few days, and if you haven't been to Yellowstone much before, you can see many fabulous things of wonder without stepping off the boardwalks, and there's nothing wrong with that. There's nothing touristy and uncool about walking well-worn paths to visit the largest concentration of geysers in the world.

And it's still okay if you stop at the gift shop afterwards:

Because pencils and postcards are essential travel souvenirs, of COURSE.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Work Plans for the Week of August 18, 2014: Dinosaurs and Pioneers

MONDAY: We still had family in town this morning, so I didn't plan a formal school day for today. Instead, in about half an hour I'll call the kids away from the hour of free play that they always have after we get home from our volunteer gig (right now Will's playing Horse Farm on the computer, and Syd's playing with the Geomags), and set them to work on their chore list and just a couple of informal school assignments--work on Girl Scout badges, and going over some mistakes that Will made on Friday's math. Ah, that darned multi-digit multiplication!

TUESDAY: The kids have a playdate scheduled, and social play counts in our school, so this will be a slightly shorter school day, too. Their horse breed for this week is the Knabstrupper--it's Syd's turn to research the breed, and Will's turn to research the geography.

In math, I plan to teach Syd how to play Diffy, a fun little solitaire game that uses subtraction--her Math Mammoth for some of last week and all of this week is subtraction. Will's kind of miserable with the multi-digit multiplication that makes up her current Math Mammoth lessons, so we're doing lots of reinforcement, repetition, and manipulatives. We used Cuisenaire rods and a super-long centimeter ruler last week to practice multi-digit multiplication and division, and on Tuesday I plan to teach Will how to also do it with area models. She hates all of this, by the way--she ONLY wants to do the pencil-and-paper calculations, but I can tell that she doesn't understand what she's doing yet, so I muscle her through the manipulatives until it clicks.

In art last week, I did start Waldorf-style form drawing: concentric circles are our first form. I should be having us repeat this form daily, but I still haven't managed to incorporate daily, repeated activities into our school schedule, so we'll just repeat the form this week and go from there.

This week's read-alouds are both pioneer living history books. The kids each read the first chapter to me, then are responsible for finishing the book on their own that week.

WEDNESDAY: Horseback riding! Free play!

THURSDAY: I'll have the kids continue working on their postcard swap through this month--hopefully someday correspondence can take the place of cursive in their subject list, but until that day, cursive is still being learned slowly but (sort of) steadily.

FRIDAY: The kids will be sorting carnivore and herbivore teeth, as an extension of last week's lesson on what we can learn from what animals leave behind. Depending on how the day goes (last Friday's school somehow managed to take all dang day!), I may get out their fossil bags from our dinosaur dig and have them sort out their edmontosaurus teeth and fragments from the other fossils. Part of our paleontology unit will definitely consist of cleaning, preparing, cataloging, and displaying these fossils, but that project will likely consist of many, many school days all on its own.

Chapter six in A History of US covers wagon trains, so I'll be having the kids put together these cardstock covered wagons and then, if the glue dries in time, I'll set out and label several small objects (pennies that are bags of flour and salt, unit cubes that are salt pork and bacon, toothpicks that are rifles, building blocks that are stoves, etc.) and have the kids try loading their wagons and seeing what they'll hold.

SATURDAY/SUNDAY: The kids are keeping a weather eye on the drive-in's marquee, which they know one of the Freeman kids will be over to update any minute now. We're hoping for Guardians of the Galaxy as the first film--we've already seen it (of COURSE!), but would appreciate the chance to see it again two days in a row!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

My Latest: Deer, Crayons, and Sandpaper

Okay, maybe it's not the "ultimate" power tool, but I sure as hell have spent a ton of time with it this weekend! Matt and his dad dragged out the two most beautiful storage shelves from the old general store; they're both filthy, but one of the shelves still has labels penciled on from the period that it was used as a store display--screw sizes, mostly--and so I just hosed that one off and will seal it as-is, ground-in dirt and all. The other shelf, however, only has one handwritten label that I needed to leave intact, so the palm sander and I spent hours of quality time together yesterday as I sanded off 80+ years of grime. I'll be putting a clear polyurethane-esque sealant on both of the shelves, to strengthen and preserve them and maintain the details involved in their original creation and usage. 

Remind me that when I have more time I need to edit my CAGW post to add that you probably want a breathing mask while you sand, or at least a bandanna tied over your mouth and nose like a bandit. This was also the first time that I sanded for such a long time without stopping (seriously, like hours) that when I finally did stop my entire right arm tingled uncomfortably.

Probably not much nerve damage, though...

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Out West 2014: Through Wyoming to Yellowstone

Long drive. Loooooooooooong drive. Longdrivelongdrivelongdrivelongdrivelongdrive!

Short drive?


Actually, the kids handled the drive really well. Will has a Nook, and we brought the ipadalong as Syd's e-reader, no playing apps allowed (or they'd fight over it and she'd never get to use it as an e-reader). Our public library is a member of a digital library that includes all the ebooks and audiobooks that you'd ever want, and all you need is wi-fi to return them and check out new ones.

I've also got a Nook, but for most of this drive I was engrossed in Robert Galbraith's The Silkworm. I love myself a good, hard-boiled detective novel, and when I read Galbraith, there's the extra fun of anticipating that maybe, just maybe at some point in the book a certain bushy-haired chick, or black-haired dude with a lightening bolt-shaped scar, might pass Cormoran on the street. It hasn't happened yet, but don't you think that it should?

The drive also included some lovely places to stop and stretch our legs a bit, such as one dirt road that we found that led to the most beautiful pasture, and the coldest mountain stream we've ever dipped our toes into--

Check out these freakin' wildflowers!!! Holy hell, Wyoming!!! Indiana wildflowers are like... black-eyed-Susan. Daylily. Wyoming wildflowers are like those bouquets that we buy in grocery stores in Indiana to give people on their birthdays.
 --and this pull-out at the summit of a mountain, where we watched the storm rolling in that later, desperately in search of another pull-out on our way down the mountain, since the brakes were acting a little loose and also we could smell them, I was pretty sure that we'd also die in:

Yellowstone was a blessing to attain, finally. We saw the bison that the kids had been DYING to see--

We saw lots of bison in Yellowstone, but only the solitary dudes, never the herds of females.
 --and hiked around one of the larger geothermal areas that I'd been looking forward the most to seeing:

The highlight, however, was something that I had told the kids over and over not to anticipate, because we more than likely wouldn't see it.

But see it we did, and our first day out, too!

Yep, we saw a bear. My Yellowstone rule is that when you see cars pulled over looking at something, you, too, must pull over and see what it is they're looking at. This rule gradually relaxes the longer that you stay in the park--if you've seen a couple of bison up close, you no longer pull over when you see more bison, and the same with elk, and mule deer, etc. But if you can't tell right away what people are pulled over to look at, you always pull over, too, and check it out, and that's how we ended up at this totally chaotic pull-out, in the pouring rain, with dozens of other tourists and one harassed ranger trying to keep them from actively becoming bear bait, watching this bear eat on a moose carcass, get a drink from the stream, walk around a bit, and then slowly amble away.

We never actually saw any wolves, although we did see wolf-spotters with their high-powered scopes hanging out at a couple of pull-outs, so I'm sure they were around. Tangentially, one of Will's favorite computer games is Wolf Quest, which takes place in Yellowstone.

We could only stay in the park for a few hours that afternoon before we had to head out for the night and drive into Montana to our hotel reservation, but even leaving the park at sunset, just on the backside of that big rainstorm, turned out to be a stunning event:

All that, and we still had three more days to enjoy Yellowstone!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Out West 2014: Devils Tower

Matt and I have been to Devils Tower before, over a decade ago on a summer road trip after we were married but before we had kids (on that trip, actually, we stopped to visit a friend from college who'd just had a baby. They lived on a lavender farm in Washington, and their little farm baby was soooo cute, and, um... two months later I got pregnant with Will). We only saw the tower from a distance, though, because by that point in our trip we were so broke that we were sleeping in the car and didn't want to pay the entrance fee.

So I was STOKED to go back to Devils Tower and actually go in this time!

We saw our best prairie dog town here at Devils Tower:
I caught this prairie dog in the act of sounding an alarm call!

Honestly, we probably would have made the detour just for that prairie dog town, but Devils Tower called to us--

--and although we didn't sketch it or make mashed potato sculptures of it, heed that call we did:

We hiked completely around the base of the tower--I hadn't expected the hike to take that long, as it's only a couple of miles, but I also hadn't banked on the base of the tower being almost completely surrounded by a glorious boulder field, suitable for climbing and hiding and jumping and sliding and exploring:

The kids had an absolutely glorious time, especially Syd, and managed to make our two-mile hike last approximately five hours.

Check out the Native American prayer flags:

On the far side of the tower, we also managed to spot some rock climbers, and hung out to watch them summit:
Can you see him on the right? That's the maximum reach of my telephoto lens. He's almost at the top of Devils Tower!
 And, of course, the kids spent plenty of time working on their Junior Ranger badges:

Other hikers kept giving us the side-eye, taking our kids out to the beautiful wilderness and then making them work on workbooks like that--shame on us! But I can't imagine what you would have to go through if you tried to tear these books away from these kids, and they learned a ton about geology and history and Native American culture earning this badge. Side note: check out the curriculum resources for Devils Tower. I haven't looked through them myself, yet, but I will be revisiting Devils Tower in our geography study this fall, so I'll take a look prior to that.

The wow factor of Yellowstone geysers aside, Devils Tower is probably the kids' favorite national park/memorial/monument. Jumping about on those boulders, they were happy as clams, absolutely in the flow of their activity, enjoying their bodies and exercising their imaginations. If we lived near here, I'd take them every single day.

But our reality is the opposite: we actually had a looooooooong drive ahead of us, over the mountains of the moon and across Wyoming and into Montana. Thank goodness we had happily exhausted kiddos in the back of the van!


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