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|
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.