A hike in the Tetons

While still camped in West Yellowstone, we took a day trip to Grand Teton National Park. When Staffan took a solo trip out west more than 10 years ago, one of his most memorable moments was when he first saw the Tetons as he drove to Grand Teton from Yellowstone. He describes pulling over and sitting on the hood of the car just to take it all in for a while. After all these years of hearing this story, I was looking forward to finally seeing this view for myself.

But the wildfires burning across the west, particularly the one about 15 miles from the Grand Teton range, had other plans. A haze of smoke obscured the view almost entirely until we were right up at the base of them. The occasional glimpse of hidden majesty taunted us. We knew we were there and suspected that it would be a magnificent view, if only we could see it fully.

Smokey Tetons in the background

With some advice from a ranger, we found a hike that would be a good length and climb for the whole family that would have some good views. We hiked up to a waterfall and enjoyed some great scenery along the way. There were different kinds of plants and animals, the Tetons on one side and a lake on the other for much of our walk. Round trip, we hiked about 4.5 miles, and Emelie walked at least half of it by herself. As she started to get a little tired on the way back down, she tripped over a rock and scraped her arms up a lot. We thought for sure she would want to be carried the rest of the way after that, but she refused. She cried just a little, then went right back to hiking.

Ready for a hike!

Bridge over the creek


“Isn’t it beautiful!?”

Family photo at the waterfall

It turned into a long day with the drive back to West Yellowstone and a stop for some groceries and dinner along the way, and it was a little disappointing not to see the Grand Tetons in their full glory after hearing so much about them for so many years. But it was a great day on the trail with my family in a beautiful location. What more can you ask for really?

Experiencing one of the joys of hiking: dipping your hot, tired feet in icy cold water

Napping in the backpack while we dip our feet in the water


But where are all the yellow stones?

Most mornings, when Emelie wakes up, she asks the same questions: Is it morning? Did the sun come up today? Where are we? Where are we going today?

On the day we were leaving Billings to drive to Yellowstone, she was very excited by the answer to that last question. “Yellowstone! Yay! That sounds very, very fun!” We thought it was because of her book about the national parks. She has often looked at the picture of Old Faithful at Yellowstone and been excited about going there.

But as we drove through Yellowstone National Park on our way to our campground, pointing out interesting things to see as we drove, she was disappointed. She did not see a single yellow stone, and she had been waiting all day to go to a park with yellow stones that she could climb on. Steaming hot springs were not impressing her. The buffalo that literally brushed up against her window as it walked down the middle of the road did, at least, make an impression though.

Objects beside mirror are exactly as close as they appear!

Honest. No zoom here.

But as we spent the whole next day exploring the park, Yellowstone seemed to grow on her as we drove from one amazing geological feature to another. Hot springs, prismatic pools, mud pots, and colorful bacteria mats all captured her imagination and left us all in awe of what an amazing and diverse creation we live in.

She likes laying down on the walkways. And tracing letters on signs.

She’s saying, “Look at all the hot water and steam!” 

Family photo thanks to the tripod

We decided to head to Old Faithful and have a picnic lunch beside it while we waited for it to do its geyser thing. It is fairly regular, but if you time it badly, you can end up waiting up to about 90 minutes to see it. Not bad for an adult, but a really long time with kids. So as we were in the parking lot packing our lunch, suddenly we see a geyser starting to erupt. Oh no! We’re missing it! We took off running and got as close as we could before quickly staging a picture (just me and the kids – no time for the tripod and a full family photo). We didn’t get it at its full height but it was enough to get the idea. No way were we going to wait around another 90 minutes to see it again.

So as the crowd cleared, we found a bench where we could sit down and eat our picnic. Then we happened to notice a sign: Beehive Geyser. This was not Old Faithful? So… where is Old Faithful? We finished eating and started walking a loop through the geyser area. There are many more active geysers than I was expecting. Suddenly, as we were walking, another geyser went off right in front of us. “Hey look, there’s another one,” we said, snapped a couple of pictures of it, and kept walking. When we got around to the other side of it, we realized that that one had been Old Faithful. So we have a whole lot of pictures of a geyser no one’s ever heard of, and just a couple of the famous one. They look about the same, though, and if I hadn’t told you, you probably wouldn’t have know the difference.

Ranger presentation at Old Faithful. Someone made herself comfortable!

But no matter how many beautiful and amazing things we’ve seen on this trip, some of our favorite memories will involve the people that we meet along the way. The new friends we met at the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone that afternoon are a good example. We’d hiked a short trail down to the brink of the lower falls, and as we were taking pictures, a nice man offered to take a family photo for us. His wife was nearby and asked us the kids’ names so she could call them and get them to look at the camera. He took a really good picture for us!

For Emelie, though, anyone who calls her by name qualifies as her friend. So as we started walking up, she insisted on going to her “friend” and eventually walking with her and holding her hand. While our new friends patiently talked to and played with Emelie, we started talking with them and another couple that they were traveling with. They noticed that Staffan was wearing a Young Life shirt and asked if we are Christians. They are too, and that led to a much longer conversation about faith and church, Christianity in Sweden and Staffan’s call to ordained ministry. We hiked back to the parking lot with them and before we went our separate ways they asked if they could pray for us. They were such a blessing and an encouragement to us!

And to our new friends from Arkansas, if you happen to have found our blog from the address scribbled down on a scrap of paper we found in the car, thank you. We found the gift you left hidden in Emelie’s car seat. We still don’t know quite how you managed to hide it there without us seeing, but what a surprise we got later! Since we have no way to contact you directly, we will just publicly thank you here on the blog and hope that you have occasion to read it. Thank you.

The Devil and a Crazy Woman

Leaving South Dakota, we continued west into Wyoming. The plan was to drive to Devil’s Tower, spend a little time exploring there, then continue on to Gillette to camp for the night. We had plans to meet friends in Billings, MT for the weekend.

Native Americans and other early settlers developed many legends and folk tales around the Devil’s Tower landmark. And it’s not hard to understand why. When all the surrounding area is rolling hills, this monolith rises up seemingly out of nowhere. And the unusual structure has inspired stories of giant bears scratching the mountain with their claws.

A little closer view of the “bear scratches”

It is certainly an impressive sight to see, and we really enjoyed walking the loop trail around the base of it, seeing it from different angles and in different light. Around the base, there is no shortage of large rocks and boulders for an active 3-year-old to climb on, jump off of, take rests on… endless adventures.

Adding some people for a little size perspective

It’s amazing how many different games a stick and a rock can become in a 3-year-old’s imagination!

Staffan’s really proud of this one – and with good reason I think!  You may just find this one hanging on our wall someday.

More climbing and exploring. This was truly nature’s playground!

Family photo at Devil’s Tower. What you don’t see here are the 12 others I didn’t choose because one or both kids were screaming, or hitting each other, or struggling to get down.

But the devil, as they say, is in the details. We arrived to Devil’s Tower much later than anticipated, partly because we needed to restock some groceries that morning, partly because it took a little longer than we thought to get there. Emelie had such a good time climbing and exploring on the Devil’s Tower trail that we hated to rush her along. It’s important to us to nurture that curiosity and exploration whenever we can. But it takes time… like twice as long to walk the base of the tower as the guide estimated.

And then there was our second time driving past the “zero miles to empty” gauge on our car. Way past. Way, way, nail-bitingly shifting into neutral in the downhills, middle of nowhere without cell phone reception past. This time, the problem was not that we chose not to get gas, but rather that there was never any gas to be had. Apparently, in Wyoming, you can build a house somewhere and call it a town, complete with a nice big dot on the map. We saw no fewer than 7 “towns” on the map and figured that one of them would have a gas station. None did. So it was already dinner time, thanks to our extra long visit at Devil’s Tower, there was nothing as far as the eye could see, cell phones weren’t picking up any signals, and our car was telling us it was out of gas. With every hill new hill that appeared on the horizon, we thought we might be done for. But we finally made it to a “big” town with a gas station and filled up! We drove 14 miles past the 0 to empty mark. The next day we went out and bought an extra gas can to keep in the car.

It was almost 8:00 when we pulled into our campground for the night – oddly named the Green Tree’s Crazy Woman campground. The website says it was named for an old legend about a crazy woman in a nearby river. Something about her is supposed to be good luck? I never quite understood it, to be honest, but the pickin’s are a bit slim in Wyoming and we were just glad to find somewhere to sleep. We set up in the dark, with hungry kids screaming for dinner in the car. The electricity didn’t work and we had to go get the manager… it just wasn’t our day. When we finally had everything fixed, we headed down the road to Perkins for an unplanned but much needed restaurant dinner. Emelie offered to pray for our food and prayed, “Dear God, thank you for our troubles. It was very fun to be here. And thank you for my pancakes.” Well said, my sweet girl, well said.

I won’t do a full campground review, since we were barely there 12 hrs and forgot to take any pictures. The bathrooms were fine, the site was nothing special but just fine. There was a playground that the kids seemed to think was fun, but where I was actually a little scared to let Emelie play. There were plenty of other kids to play with, though we weren’t there long enough to play much. They apparently had a hot tub, but it closed before we got back from our very late dinner. The wifi worked. It cost $33 per night and they don’t take credit cards (which worked out okay since I had exactly $33.05 cash in my wallet that day).

So there you have it. On the day we visited Devil’s Tower and slept at the Crazy Woman campground, the devil was in all the details and the day just about turned me into a crazy woman.