One Down, Five to Go

I am living out a dream today.  I have ventured out alone to spend some time writing at the Old Faithful Inn. This tremendous log building, complete with an 85-foot stone fireplace, first opened its doors in 1904. It has been called “the first of the great log lodges of the American west,” and it remains one of the only old-time log hotels still standing.

Near the end of our time here last year, I did some work for the Old Faithful post office, and that is how Lydia and I discovered the Inn. To be more specific, we discovered the espresso cart. We also discovered a sneaky way to park in the front of the Inn and cut through, avoiding the notoriously over-crowded Old Faithful parking lot. Finally, we discovered these adorable antique writing desks sprinkled throughout the second floor, but until now, I’ve never had the chance to use one.

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We’ve been spending more time at the Inn as a family, too. Last weekend, we packed up our camping stove and some ingredients, and parked ourselves on the balcony here to cook lunch (and drink espresso). I’ve seen Old Faithful blow many times, but this was my first time witnessing it from the balcony.

Then, we hiked the steep, 3-mile loop trail up to Mystic Falls. On our way to the top, we saw Old Faithful blow again, this time from a different perspective. The waterfall was lovely. The weather was beautiful. Lydia slept on my back for the entire hike.

We’ve been here in Yellowstone for a full month already, and every weekend has been an adventure. Every weekend, we load up the car and take a road trip to another border town. We’ve been to Jackson, Cody, and West Yellowstone taking in the local eats and entertainment. Every weekend also brings breathtaking hikes through the divergent ecosystems of Yellowstone. We’ve hiked the south rim of the canyon through giant puffs of snow, climbed to the top of Elephant Back Mountain, and taken in the world famous fountain paint pots (bubbling mud pots of colored clay).

 

Yesterday was no exception. We ventured north through the village called Mammoth Hot Springs, and out to the border town of Gardiner, Montana. It is a slow moving, two-hour drive through the park, and Lydia wasn’t enjoying it, so on our way, we stopped and walked the two Norris Geyser Basin boardwalks (about 2.6 miles combined). Although the structure of these thermal features was familiar, the brilliant colors (like baby blue and forest green) found in Norris are unlike any others I have seen in Yellowstone so far.

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When we reached the stylized, Wild West tourist town of Gardiner, we enjoyed some lunch at the Yellowstone Café. Then we capped it off with espresso and chai at the Tumbleweed Bookstore. Here we befriended Jason and Max (a father and 7-year-old son who were killing time while mom and the other kids went white water rafting). Lydia and Max played with blocks together, while Jason, Rafal, and I talked. Wouldn’t you know it, they had driven all the way here from Chicago. Jason and Rafal actually attended the same high school. The world, as ever, holds fast to being small.

The main road of Yellowstone moves in a figure 8, with Mammoth Hot Springs in the top-left corner, and Grant Village in the bottom-right. So rather than heading back the way we came, we took the opposite side of loop toward home. As we traveled south through the village of Tower-Roosevelt, we stopped for a short hike up to Lost Creek Falls. For the second time that day, I found myself in a landscape different from what I’d come to expect in Yellowstone, with lush green vegetation swirling around my feet. Yellowstone is impossibly vast, and she continues to surprise me.

Lydia hasn’t been sleeping lately. (By “lately,” I guess I mean, since the day she was born.) But miraculously, she fell into a deep sleep on the half-mile waterfall hike, and she didn’t even wake up when we transferred her to the car seat.

Then, as we rounded the curve heading south through the Beartooth Pass, we found ourselves in a animal-jam, where we saw a gorgeous mama black bear, and two TINY bear babies! Rafal stayed in the car with Lydia, while I ventured out with the rest of the awestruck tourists. (I tried to snap a few photos, but ultimately decided to just take it in.)

Eventually, we made it home. We ate dinner, built a fire, and gave Lydia a bath. We had a few laughs, put the baby to bed, and watched a movie. Some things never change.

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On the home front, things are going OK. It’s still hard to be home alone with a small kid all week, but it’s easier than it used to be. We go for a walk (or two) every single day (no matter how cold or how snowy or how damp), and I think it is doing great things for us.

I bake muffins and give them to my neighbors. I run into people I know and chat with them. (You really know you’re in the mountains when it is 50 degrees outside and everyone you cross paths with exclaims, “This WEATHER! It’s incredible!” and you cannot help but agree.)

The post office is open now, as well as the general store, and the tourists have started to descend. We have (sub-par, over-priced) satellite internet, and I could not be more thrilled. Lydia’s vocabulary has tripled, her motor skills have advanced, and her general disposition is joyfully contagious. We have a lot of fun together. She still wakes up about 3 times a night, and after 16 months of sleepless nights, I can’t help but feel that it isn’t fair. But then I look into those hazel-green eyes of hers, and pour myself another cup of coffee, and forget about sleep for a while.

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Yellowstone Season Two is off to a glorious start. One month down, five more to go.

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