Yellowstone, plus books read in August 2018

We just got back from an amazing trip to Grand Teton, Yellowstone, and Rocky Mountain National Parks. I’m still processing all the memories, but suffice to say, there were a lot of them.

We elected to bring just the three older children. Leaving the little guy for a week was hard, but in retrospect was definitely the right choice. We could not have done our hikes, stood near geysers and wildlife, or made our long drives, with him. He had a marvelous week visiting Digger Land, Sesame Place, an apple-picking farm, etc.

Anyway, some highlights:

Visiting Sacajawea’s grave. We flew into Denver, both because there was a direct flight from Philly, and it was literally $600 cheaper per ticket than flying into Salt Lake City from Newark. (It turned out there was a direct flight to Bozeman from Newark, but we somehow missed this in our search – alas). That $3000 savings covered our hotels and rental car! However, it is also a loooong drive through some rather desolate stretches to the Grand Teton/Yellowstone area from Denver. We stayed in Grand Teton the first night, and on the way there, stopped at a gas station in the Wind River Indian Reservation. While there, my husband spotted a sign pointing the way to Sacajawea’s gravesite. Since our 11-year-old was somewhat obsessed with Lewis and Clark’s guide a few years ago, we stopped. The site itself wasn’t spectacular, but the trip got us off the highway to see more of the reservation and the colorful decorations people leave on graves (of less famous folk).

Staying in Signal Mountain Lodge/hiking Jenny Lake. Our first accommodations – the ground floor of a cabin right on Jackson Lake – was not quite as famous as Jenny Lake Lodge (which was full) but a nice stop for the night. We were right on the water, seeing the gorgeous Tetons in the distance. The next day was rainy, which had some downsides, but limited the crowds. We drove to Jenny Lake, took the boat across, and then hiked back to the car, about 3 miles along the lake, with some climbs into the mountains for great views. What a beautiful trail. When we drove back through Grand Teton on our second-to-last day, we saw hundreds of cars at the parking lot and realized how lucky we were to have the trail mostly to ourselves!

Staying at Old Faithful Inn. The accommodations aren’t particularly luxurious, but the grand wood lobby is fascinating. And since the hotel is right by the Old Faithful geyser, we would just be walking around and — poof! — it would go off. The crowds are huge during the day but I walked out to run at 7:30 a.m. one morning and saw an eruption with almost no one else around.

The geysers in general. Going to Yellowstone and just seeing Old Faithful would be like going to the Louvre and just seeing the Mona Lisa. You know people do it…but you laugh at them. We loved the West Thumb Geyser Basin (right on Lake Yellowstone) and the Fountain Paint Pots, which we saw at sunset (check out my Instagram account for a shot). The Artist’s Paint Pots were also a nice walk, and the “mud volcano” set of hot spots made delightful sounds. My husband and boys spent some evening time sitting by other geysers near Old Faithful with longer prediction windows. (I skipped this; I don’t do well with cold…and it got really cold at night. Like down to 30 degrees.)

Bison. We drove the length of the Lamar Valley, and saw the herds, and took some close-up photos when they crossed the road. Other animal sightings: Bears (including a mother and three cubs), elk, wolves, and a badger.

Hiking the Beaver Pond Loop. This loop is officially 5.5 miles, but by the time we got to our car, it was more like 6 miles, with some reasonable elevation changes. The kids were such troopers! There was some complaining (and a few nerves — it’s bear country) but we made it. I was so proud of them. We also hiked much of the North Rim trail on the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, which had some stunning overlooks (which I would not have enjoyed with the 3-year-old). I was continually amazed in Yellowstone how few people we’d see anywhere that required walking more than half a mile off the road. Twelve years ago, my husband and I got a back-country permit and did a 17-mile round-trip hike/camping trip to Shoshone Lake, and we pretty much had the lake to ourselves (fun fact: it is quite possible that’s where our 11-year-old first came to be, if you get my drift). We are not ready to do overnight hikes with the kids yet, but someday.

Taking a dip in the Boiling River. Not really boiling — but an official swimming spot where the cold Gardiner river meets a hot spring. It wasn’t my favorite, but my husband and the kids loved it (see my problem with cold, above. The air was only 70 degrees, so not really prime swimming weather).

Trail Ridge Road. We stayed in Estes Park, Colorado, for our last night (a long haul from Yellowstone…but we had to get back to Denver somehow). Then we visited Rocky Mountain National Park before getting on the plane back home. The park was understandably mobbed for Labor Day weekend, but we got a short hike in, and the road over the Rockies was still impressive. In the valley, it was summer. Up above the tree line, we hit a hailstorm. I haven’t seen anything quite like those glacial-carved valleys. It was a wonderful way to end the trip.

Now… on to Books read in August:

Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace

Clocking in at over 1000 pages (and allegedly 30 hours on the Kindle), this book pretty much consumed the whole month. The plot, such as it is, traces the interactions of students at an elite tennis academy in Boston, residents of a drug and alcohol recovery center nearby, and a mysterious, violent group of wheelchair-bound Quebec separatists, who are trying to get their hands on a video, made by the late husband of one of the tennis academy administrators, which is so entertaining that people lose their ability to function after watching it. While set in a slightly dystopian near future (“Subsidized time” — with the years named after sponsoring products), this story reminded me of that 19th century tale of Moby Dick. There is a quest (for a whale or a video), but that’s really just an excuse for lots of different short stories about characters, and set pieces (on whale hunting or, in David Foster Wallace’s case, pharmacology). Infinite Jest is hilariously funny in places, occasionally poignant, and sometimes just drags on through various tangents undertaken because hey, when people consider you a literary genius, you can get away with it (there were some similarities to Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom in that way.) I’m glad I read it, though I’m still trying to get over the abrupt ending (I had to go back and re-read the beginning to understand what was going on).

A sociology/psychology/American life book I’m reviewing for a publication. More on that when it runs.

I’d Rather Be Reading, by Anne Bogel

I’m a long time Modern Mrs. Darcy fan, and this book — out this week! — is Anne at her best. In a series of essays, she writes of her reading life, covering everything from living next door to a library, to finding the right book for the right moment, to book acknowledgements. I was tickled to see a line from one of my book acknowledgements cited as an example of one of those quirky things writers do (I was reading this on the plane to Denver and forced my children to look. See, mommy is in a book!)

(Note: An earlier version of this post incorrectly said books read in September 2018, not August)

11 thoughts on “Yellowstone, plus books read in August 2018

  1. Consider this a question for the podcast: how does one choose to leave behind one member of the family for a family vacation? I ask with open curiosity, no agenda. We have just one toddler now, and it was glorious to leave her behind with my parents for an adults-only vacation last month. And I understand the limits we naturally have for outings with her now. But it’s harder (for me, today, with only one child) to imagine opting for a family vacation that requires one kid to stay behind. But I think that’s my mom guilt talking also, because I still remember that time my parents took me, the older child, to Disney while my toddler sister stayed behind with Grandma; it was one day, but so great to have them to myself.

    1. @Cynthia – fair question. It is one of the compromises I make with having four children. I want to expose my children — particularly the older ones who will really remember it — to interesting things around the world. Some of those things would be very difficult to do (along with exhausting/unpleasant) with a small child. Our upcoming trips will involve him (like Disney this winter!) and I think by a year from now he may be better able to deal with long plane flights and walking. Hiking in particular would have been almost impossible. He will only walk a little way before he needs to be carried, but at 35 lbs, carrying him in a back pack for many miles would have been hard.

      I’m not surprised that your day at Disney was an incredibly fond memory from childhood. One of the reasons I do my Mommy Days each summer is to give kids time apart from their siblings. My 3-year-old is a pretty demanding child, and I spend a lot of time focused just on him because of that. Sometimes vacations are about getting to spend time with the other kids.

  2. I love US national parks! I suspect that in three trips to the US (one of which is as Hawaii) I’ve been to more parks than the average American – and a vast majority of them are astonishingly beautiful. And you’re right about the concentration of tourists – we’ve had the same experience on multiple trails including in Yosemite and Yellowstone.

    1. @Tyra – the parks are incredibly beautiful. And yes, we did joke about the roads to some summits being the American version of hiking. If it can’t be seen from the tour bus…it won’t be seen.

  3. Hi Laura and Sarah, I love the podcast and consider you both as friends. Here’s a question, I know you both are avid readers and I wondered do you read one book at a time? Thanks, Jodie from Australia

    1. @Jodie – I generally try not to read more than one book at a time. I know some people can read multiple things simultaneously, but I find it frustrating. This was actually an issue this past month as I was making my way through Infinite Jest, but actually had to read some other books for reviewing, blurbing, interviewing the authors, etc. I basically had to finish the shorter books before I could resume Infinite Jest.

  4. One of my favorite family vacation memories is a trip we took with our son to the Tetons and Yellowstone. He was old enough to hike, we had snow on our first day (in June) which thrilled us all since we’re from Florida, and kept the crowds down. My remembering self is so grateful for that trip. So glad you had a wonderful time too!

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