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Saturday, May 24, 2014

West Yellowstone arrival

Today we packed up our campsite in Arco after enjoying a free breakfast of waffles and cold cereal. We loved eating breakfast on a picnic table under a huge tree while being serenaded by birds.

On our way out of the desert, we passed a nuclear energy research facility, so we stopped for a quick peek at the museum. You can only imagine how dry the tour guide was in the minds of elementary students, so we snuck away from the guided tour and had fun exploring on our own.

Their favorite spot was a replica of the robotic manipulation arms used fifty years ago when scientists needed to move radioactive materials. They were given challenges to solve and puzzles to put together, so we hung around this spot quite a bit. Super fun!

They also loved the mini replica of a control room, where there were oodles of buttons to push and dials to spin.

We drove for ages across the desert as we headed to our next stop, West Yellowstone.

We will be camping in a tent here for ten days while we study the environment and geology. As we checked in at the campground office, we were informed that grizzlies have been visiting our campground in the past few days. They have just come out of hibernation and are ravenously hungry, so they are eager to find food no matter where it is kept.

That makes for a pretty good bedtime story, right? That was the moment I remembered we hadn't yet purchased pepper spray. So, after dinner we were sure to head into town for a can of spray!

Dinner was cheddar potato soup and rolls. We are using dehydrated soup mixes during this trip, so all we have to do is add boiling water from our handy Jetboil stove. It makes dinner prep pretty straightforward. The children have gotten very good at setting up the tent, so its a quick process now.

The night temperatures reportedly drop below freezing even at this time of year,so we have all bundled up in layers of all our warm clothing. And I confess, I also packed along an electric heating pad as backup in case our layers and blankets are not enough.

We are armed with plenty of cocoa mix and hot cereal for the morning, so I am optimistic about facing the cold in the morning.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Kayaking and a picnic

Today we traveled to the Puget Sound to cross off an item on my bucket list: kayaking on the ocean.

First, a funny story.

My sister loaned me her old cell phone that could take pictures, so i could leave my nice camera in the safety of the van. She explained how to use it and off we went. I took dozens of pictures all day, especially when Matthew and I were only inches from a beautiful seal.... Then at the end of the day we tried to view the pictures. And I sort of discovered the unfortunate fact that I had been clicking the wrong button all day, so I never actually caught a picture. Bummer! Becky and I laughed and laughed over it, especially since I had been a bit particular about documenting our adventure.

Luckily I snapped these ones with my own camera outside the marina, right before we rented the kayaks.

 Becky and I each rented a double kayak so we could take a child along, then Brian drove the rest of the children to a park on the opposite shore across the inlet from the marina. The plan was for us to eventually kayak across to their shore, where we would rotate who had a kayak and who had baby duty.

We made our way to an area where hundreds of floating logs were stored on the water, hoping to find some seals. We were delighted to discover a group of seals napping in the sun, and there were babies in the crowd as well! A few seals slipped into the water to investigate us closer. Oh what a magical moment that was for me! The seals would break the surface of the water within inches of our kayaks and just swim next to us, watching curiously. We drifted for some time, just enjoying the interactions and savoring the quiet moment together.

It was a rigorous upper body workout to paddle across the inlet, and I was looking forward to trading the kayak off to Brian, but when we reached the opposite shore we had a bit of a  problem. The low tide created an impassable barrier off sea mud flats extending several hundreds of yards from the shoreline. Brian and the children were only beensy specks onshore, while Becky and Daniel were thoroughly beached in thick mud. 

Luckily cell phones enabled us to communicate to the shore, but we decided the only option was to meet up at the original departure point at the marina, a long journey back across the water. Fun times. I am such a wimp! It was good though- I wanted to get stronger on this trip, so this was perfect for forcing me to exercise. 

For lunch we enjoyed a delicious picnic in a gorgeous park near some waterfalls. The setting was so lovely and we all enjoyed rtelaxong our sore muscles and letting the children romp all over the green field.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Glimpses of our second day of adventures on the Washington coast...

We drove our vehicles onto the Seattle ferry and enjoyed an hour ride back to the big city. Such an adventure.

In Seattle we visited a super unique market called Pikes Place, a maze-like mall made of covered streets and alleys and stores built on top of each other for several levels. We would have been happy to explore for an entire day. 

This place is also home to the famous Gum Wall, so Daniel happily handed everyone some pieces of his special gum collection so we could add our bit to the wall. 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Today we drove to a campground on the northernmost shore of Washington , where we can see Canada just across the water. We are surrounded by towering pines and mountains to the south and the wide expanse of seawayter to the north, and Canada is a horizon of bluish grey mountains to the north.

Today is a very low tide, which enticed us here in the first place. This was our first experience with tide pools, and it was such an adventure


We clambored over boulders, slippery algae, and rivulets of freshwater as we explored the coastline.

We oohed and aahed over the treasures we discovered in the pools. We loved learning about Star fish, crabs, sea anemones, limpets, mussels, rock fish, octopus, and sand fleas.

Matthew and Daniel both caught beensy baby crabs and played with them in their hands.

Everyone gently caressed the lacey tentacles of green sea anemones and squealed ( at least I squealed, maybe I was the only one) at the sensation of suction. We found baby starfish, shellfish of various sorts, and some odd creatures that I couldn't identify but they reminded me of sea cucumbers. Brian was a great tour guide, pointing out different creatures.

We all had a delightful time and look forward to repeating the adventure in the morning at the next low tide.

We pitched our tents before lunch, picnicked together, then played the day away. We lucked out and secured a campsite within twenty feet of the park playground, so we have played there for hours. The boys LOVED using Brian's knife to carve pictures and names into walking sticks.

We played leap frog and duck duck goose in the meadow, explored the shady forest floor under the huge trees, hunted together for firewood, explored old world war two bunkers, and enjoyed roasting marshmallows after the sunset.

The air has been full of children's giggles and shouts of joyful play. It has been such a soul nourishing day.

Oh! Some campground neighbors also gifted us with pecan pie and carrot cake. It had been the wife's fiftieth birthday, and she wanted to share her birthday desserts with our families. What an unexpected and fun surprise it was! We wrote her a thank you card (luckily I had some handy thank thou cards in the van), and caroled a birthday song to her.

What fun times we've been blessed with today!