10 Traveling Lessons – Small Children, Camping, Adventure

Travels and Travails of the Great Eco-friendly Summer Road Trip

I learned a lot when I took my Great Eco-friendly Summer Road Trip. I learned a lot about myself, my kids, and what I believe is important in life. I found I liked making all the decisions without having to discuss it with anyone else. I also learned that having another adult around makes certain things so much easier.

I hope these children remember our summer of travel far into the future, even if that is mostly due to photos and reminiscing. We went on an adventure and experienced all the wonder and headaches that come with that. And we did it together.

I had hoped to blog about our journey as we went along, but one lesson I learned quickly was just how many places throughout our seven state journey had no cell service, no 3G, and certainly no wi-fi and when we found a place that did, experiencing the present with my kids was infinitely more important than writing about what already happened.

It is a cloudy day here and it certainly seems like that last piece of summer is slipping through my fingers as I type. The perfect day to wrap-up the Great Eco-friendly Summer Road Trip… And Summer.

10 Traveling Lessons – Small Children, Camping, Adventure

Almost All The Truth - Farragut State Park in Idaho
Farragut State Park near Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

1. The first night is hard, especially if you drove beyond the capacity of even the most patient kids. You will likely think that you have lost your mind when you see how much farther you have to go, but persevere anyway. You will be tempted to call your husband and have him drive through the night to pick up that child that just. won’t. sleep. She wants you to take her to the bathroom every ten minutes to look at the stars, many of which she has never seen before. Breathe.

Almost All The Truth - Craters of the Moon in Idaho
Craters of the Moon National Monument, Idaho.

2. Going off the beaten path can lead you to incredible discoveries.

Almost All The Truth - Cody Nite Rodeo
Cody Nite Rodeo in Cody, Wyoming.

3. Choose to support local businesses wherever you go whenever you can. Experience local culture to the fullest, including shopping, dining, and even tourist attractions.

Almost All The Truth - Old Faithful
Old Faithful Geyser in Yellowstone National Park.

4. This country has some amazing places. Some are famous, some are nearly undiscovered. Doing both brings children to understand their country, their world, better and their place in it. The awe of seeing what you have only read about is magical. The wonder of discovery is incomparable.

Almost All The Truth - Natural Change in Yellowstone
Yellowstone National Park. Mammoth Hot Springs is always evolving, changing. The effects of the 1988 wildfire are still apparent, and so is the recovery.

5. The natural world is always changing. It should be protected when possible, but there are places that will change with no intervention from us and to do so would be arrogant and potentially harmful to that place.

Almost All The Truth - Wolves and Yellowstone Lake
Officials are trying to save the native population of cutthroat trout of Yellowstone Lake by killing the invasive lake trout. Wolves, the controversial predator were recently delisted from the Endangered Species Act in Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana.

6. In order for an ecosystem to be healthy, humans may need to learn to adapt their behavior. We are constantly learning more about the world around us and where and when we should intervene: wildfires, wolves, native fish… I hope my kids realize it is important to never stop questioning, never stop thinking, and never stop learning.

Almost All The Truth - Black Sand Basin in Yellowstone
Cliff Geyser in Black Sand Basin – Yellowstone National Park.

7. Children are braver, stronger, more capable, and understanding than we often give them credit for. They deserve our respect and that includes offering them greater independence and responsibility, even if they may resist sometimes. Ok, a lot of the time.

Almost All The Truth - Great Salt Lake
Camping in the Great Salt Lake showed us a gorgeous sunset, but the smell, heat, bugs, howling coyotes, and thunderstorms weren’t quite as majestic.

8. Camping may be more difficult, but is also more rewarding. It connects us to nature and gives a greater sense of place wherever you visit. You have to deal with the natural hand you’re dealt (thunderstorms, bears, heat, bugs) and appreciate the comforts of modern life.

Almost All The Truth - Buffalo Bill Historical Center
Visiting the Buffalo Bill Historical Center.

9. It may not seem like kids are paying attention to, or interested in, historical facts about people, places, or events. It may be true, but they take in more than we realize. It is important to connect them to our country’s history – both good and bad – in age-appropriate ways. We continue to talk a lot about Buffalo Bill in this house and whether he is really buried in Cody, WY or Colorado. It is a mystery.

Almost All The Truth - Famous Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park Treasures

10. Whether you venture far away or stay close to home, adventure awaits. They will only be this age for such a short time. Take advantage of it. Start small, go big, go somewhere and best of luck!

What are your favorite traveling memories as a child or with your own children? Have any new adventures on the horizon?

Do Wolves Belong in the West?

Almost All The Truth - Road into Lamar Valley

Wolves in Yellowstone National Park

I wake to the sound of crickets courtesy of my iPhone at 4 am. It was pitch black when I loaded three sleepy children in the car wearing the clothes I dressed them in to sleep. I had a little foresight to make the early morning a little easier. We were spending our first morning in Yellowstone National Park in search of the wildlife it is so famous for, both elusive and abundant.

We saw bears, pronghorn, bison galore, mountain goats, elk, but most of all we were fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of a controversial ghost.

Almost All The Truth - Gray Wolf
By Gary Kramer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
There is no middle ground when it comes to wolves. They must be the most controversial animal in existence today. Whether you love them, fear them, or wish they were all put in zoos, if you live in the west you have an opinion. The high emotions and politics of wolf reintroduction, lethal removal, and rancher’s rights rival that of any presidential election.

You might never have guessed any of that when passing a group of people with spotting scopes, binoculars, and palpable excitement when there was word two female wolves were traveling just off the road in Lamar Valley. We decided to turn the historic yellow tour bus around to see if we could catch a glimpse of something, anything, and the black female wolf crossed the road right in front of us.

Almost All The Truth - Yellowstone Wolves

While camping at the Buffalo Bill State Park, we went through the museum in Cody, WY. In one section, there was a place to fill out the answer to a seemingly simple question, “Do wolves belong in the West?” If you know the current state of wolves in this region you can guess what many of those answers might have looked like. I asked my own children who know next to nothing about the recent history what their response would be, as they raced off to see the next part of the exhibit. These children follow my heart and mine dropped as I stopped to fill out a card.

What I would have liked to say wouldn’t fit on the tiny card and wouldn’t have likely made any kind of difference even if it had been posted. In this, most adult minds are already made up.

Facts on Wolves in the West

  • Wolves are keystone predators, meaning they are an essential component of their ecosystem. They have an important role in maintaining balance.
  • Wolves were here long before humans and would have been here all along if not for human intervention designed to drive them to extinction.
  • Wolves do kill livestock, however it is not nearly as many as some would like you to believe. Wolves account for the least number of deaths by predators. Interestingly some livestock losses occur on public land, national forest land, where predators live.
  • Wolves do kill game species. Typically it is the most vulnerable of the species (sick, old) and this natural process keeps herds healthier and stronger.
  • Ranchers and wolves can coexist, but we will need a shift in perspective for the benefit of all.

“Wolves do demand changes from the livestock industry,” said Noah Greenwald of the Center for Biological Diversity. Ranchers have operated for too long on the idea there should be no predators on the landscape.

Wolves, or any predator, must believe there is greater risk of killing livestock than their wild prey. Animals will always choose the path of least resistance. This is why we should not feed the bears and practice leave no trace practices while camping and spending time in the wilderness. This is why we often need to change our behavior for the benefit of the entire ecosystem.

See more photos from the ‘Wake Up To Wildlife’ tour on Facebook.

Do you agree? Do wolves belong in the West?

Mammoth Hot Springs, A Rare Wonder

We came through the northern entrance near Gardiner, Montana. At this point we had traveled 888 miles (not including the first leg) from our home to the entrance of one of our country’s best ideas: Yellowstone National Park. We had about 75 miles yet to go before we reached our campground in the southeastern section of the park. The wild expanse is hard to contemplate if you haven’t seen anything like it before.

Almost All The Truth - Arriving at Mammoth Hot Springs

Since we were going to be so far away from this area, I knew it wouldn’t be likely we would make the drive back up to see the famous Mammoth Hot Springs. Even if we did come back next year, or in a few years, it could very well be different. The product of an ever-changing landscape.

Mammoth was the site of the first park headquarters. The army was in charge of overseeing the park and evidence abounds from their time here in the late 19th century. The general store, administrative buildings, Fort Yellowstone, and Officer’s Row are still in use today, although they may have a slightly different purpose.

Almost All The Truth - Officer's Row in Mammoth

If you wanted to see lots and lots of elk, then Mammoth was the place to be when we arrived. We were walking along Officer’s Row when we heard the strangest sound. I was looking in the trees for what kind of bird must be making that noise when we saw a ranger anxiously herding people away. One baby went off exploring and what we were hearing was that mama looking for her little one. Never get in the way of a mama and her baby.

Almost All The Truth - Mama and Baby Elk

After navigating the various elk detours, we managed to catch up to a ranger talk about the history and formation of Mammoth Hot Springs. There are seven ingredients needed to form these hot springs: heat, water, limestone, and a way for the hot water to reach the surface. To create the fantastic travertine terracing, we need calcium carbonate. All must work together and when one piece is missing (or harmed in some way, usually through human intervention), the entire ecosystem changes.

We know that the wilderness is not a constant and many visitors to Yellowstone are disappointed when a feature they remember has disappeared, dried up, or otherwise changed. I suppose this is where we get a passion for saving the wild, when we really ought to leave it well enough alone. The wild must be saved from us in most cases. It takes care of itself just fine.

Almost All The Truth - Liberty Cap
Liberty Cap is a 37-foot hot spring cone created by a hot spring which remained open for a long time allowing mineral deposits to build continuously for hundreds of years.
Almost All The Truth - Minerva Terrace
Minerva Terrace is what many people think of when they think of Mammoth. Fantastic travertine terraces, bright colors, and boardwalks that almost feel as if you were one of the lucky few to visit in the late 1800s.
Almost All The Truth - Travertine Terraces
When hot water ascends through the limestone deposits in Mammoth it acts as artist, sculpting beautiful travertine and is not found many other places in the world.

I am really excited that my children have now had the chance to see this wonder of the world, even if it really is just a tiny part of it. This is something we will always remember and I hope will continue to spur their curiosity for our natural world. I had a couple of proud moments when my eight-year-old asked a ranger a question or two that certainly took him aback. That is what I wanted from this Great Eco-friendly Summer Road Trip: a sense of adventure, a love of learning more, and finding new experiences together.

Almost All The Truth - Brothers in Yellowstone

We found that all at Yellowstone. Come back next week when we talk wildlife!