Yellowstone is a treasure trove of natural beauty and encounters. The park is infused with wild life, which, if you are brave enough to wake up in the wee hours of the morning, can be spotted in places such as Lamar Valley. Lamar Valley is north of Hidden Valley. You access it going up North toward Mammoth Hot Springs and making a hard right at the last intersection there.
In Lamar Valley, literally thousands of bisons are grazing as far as the eyes can see. It is quite a fascinating spectacle. In the beginning of August, when we went, there were lots of calves roaming with their mamas, the vast plains of Lamar Valley as well. What a sight!
However, a bit like in South Africa, after seeing thousands of impala gazelles, you are craving for something more elusive... Like a wolf, or a grizzly bear maybe...
But for that, again, you have to get early (like 4:00 am) and be on the road at dawn; this is when your best chances of spotting wolves will be. Sadly, our family's priorities were voted 2 sleeping in against 2 waking up early and so we did not wake up to go, and did not see wolves, but heard of people who did!
Mammoth Hot Springs is a fascinating formation, created by the accumulation of limestone, deposited by hot acidic, carbon dioxide infused water, pushing through the underground of the caldera, a super volcano that erupted about 600 000 years ago. The limestone accumulates into travertine platforms and creates this amazing stepping landscape filled with bubbly hot water and smoldering gas coming out of the mouth of Earth.
The fun part of Mammoth Hot Springs is to walk all its trails. Quite a nice physical exercise, especially in summer when it is hot, as it goes up and up quite a bit.
Kids really enjoyed running the trails and discovering these incredible formations that at time seem more like pools you'd like to jump in, although of course, unless you want to get burned to the 2nd degree, you should totally NOT give in to its attractiveness!
A nice lunch in the only hotel main dining room, which exudes the old charm of a balneotherapy hotel, and we were on the road again driving down the loop that was going to bring us back to our hotel in Canyon Village.
Another day filled with wonder and happiness!
For the last 30 years or so I have been organizing corporate incentive trips, events and conferences all over the US, and in other countries such as France and South Africa, but I have always wanted to send clients to Wyoming, because the sheer beauty of nature and the culture and traditions of Native peoples originating from this area, are just fascinating.
I never was able to do so, because, frankly logistically speaking, it is not the easiest and most obvious corporate destination in the mind of marketing directors, and CEOs.
In these days and age of trying to reconnect with our fellow humans, with nature and with the spirit of animals that shape an entire region, Wyoming and Yellowstone are THE PLACE TO GO; whether it is a business retreat or simply a family trip with or without your children. (It is a must for kids though!). I dare say, even alone, the soul of Yellowstone encompassing all its beings past and present, is more than enough to keep you company along your journey.
So our family and I went, this past August.
We started with Cody, Buffalo Bill's town. William F. Cody, was not a very nice person when it comes to respecting nature and understanding the consequences of his decimating bisons for the Native American people living on the land of their ancestors. He was a hunter, and an entertainer who brought fame to the town, where today the famous Irma hotel (named after his daughter) still stands in all its outdated glory.
We are deep in farming and western country here... Typically nature provides for everything, and hunting is a big part of the deal. So we tried to avoid talking about this with our children, as this is an upsetting subject.
However, Cody's Buffalo Bill's Center of the West museum is outstanding and really worth every minute spent in it! The Native Americans of the Plains exhibit is just beautiful.
They are doing a lot there for conservation as well, so it is a good thing.
We stayed in a quaint and cute B&B called K3 Ranch. We had to drive on a trail to get there, exactly what I was looking for, for our children. A few horses who are here for moral support, treated like kings and queens, and the owner Jerry, an 82 year old jokester who keeps a tight ship but oh a funny one, live there. Breakfast cooked outside on the fire, old wagons as beds in the room, and plenty of fields to run free for our children! Perfect! We took a trip to go check a herd of wild mustangs about 40 minutes away in a reserve where they are protected. Quite fascinating to learn about these magnificent creatures. Even more perfect, pronghorns visiting the edge of the ranch on the day we left!
After living Cody, we went straight to Yellowstone National Park and crossed Hayden Valley! BREATHTAKING! Bisons, which were on the brink of extinction in the late 1800's (only 100 remained in 1880!) are now grazing by the thousands in the valley and cross the roads to occasionally cause a Bison Traffic Jam. Rangers shrug their shoulders at people complaining (yeah... some people complain, can you believe that?). It is a pretty amazing thing to see and hear (see video above, we were car N2 behind such a jam of 2 bisons, arguing with each other and refusing to cross).
We set camp in Canyon Village for 3 nights at the Canyon Lodge. We just wanted to stay put and be able to just drive the different loops of the park and come back at night to rest in the same place. I recommend this stop, because it is centrally located to all interesting areas of the Park. Lake Village is nice, but if you have kids and you are not particularly attracted to water sports or water in general, you will find this part of the park less fun because there is less obvious wild life, and practically no geysers. Mammoth Hot springs is a nice place to be, because of all the elks that roam free in the 2 street town, but it is much further North... So really Canyon Village is best in my opinion. Plus, you have access to groceries, a few (touristic but practical) restaurants at the next crossroad...
Below images of our 1st few days in Wyoming and our 1st day in Yellowstone... Just amazing.
Part 2 and Part 3 to come soon...
I have always wanted to take my children to the Pic du Midi, because at about the same age they are now, my parents took me there and I still can remember it so vividly.
Going up in the gondola and walking around the grounds of the observatory and listening to the astronomer in charge, left an indelible memory in my mind. I still have postcards of photos of Jupiter, Saturn, and solar spots bought at the observatory some 40 years ago! I treasure them!
Speaking of solar spots, and solar flares, when we went with our family, one year ago, I was able to book for us an entire night up there, complete with observation, and a backstage ("Interdit au Public" = "Forbidden to Public" area) visit of 3 different domes including the H alpha coronograph, one of the key instruments involved in the study of our Sun in the world. What is a coronograph? It is an instrument invented by Bernard Lyot, a French astronomer (born Feb. 27, 1897, Paris, Fr.—died April 2, 1952, Cairo, Egypt), in 1930, which allows the observation of the "crown" of the sun, the surface area that you see around the sun when there is a total eclipse. The coronograph recreates a permanent eclipse that allows the observation of the sun's crown for solar flare activity for example. The Pic du Midi Coronograph and other instrument, the "Lunette Jean Rösch" with the eShel spectrograph are teamed up with the Mauna Loa Solar observatory in Hawaii and the two observation sites have been clocking 24/7 Spectrographic Sun chromosphere observations, for years, studying magnetism activity of our very own star and its famous "spots" that seem to happen regularly every 11 years. Other telescopes at the Pic du Midi, include the 1 m telescope open in 1963 and partly funded by NASA, which helped map the lunar surface in prevision of the lunar module landing. How cool is that?
Below, I am showing pictures of my children standing in front of the 2 meter mirror reproduction, for the telescope of the same size, that came into service in 1979. It's hard to believe that at the time it was one of the biggest mirrors ever created for an optical telescope! Today, it is on the small scale compared to the Gran Telescopio of the Canaries Island and its 10 meters of diameter!
My children are still talking about their experience at the Pic du Midi, and I am confident it will stay with them their whole life. It is important to provide our children with "other and deeper perspective" in this world, so that they can understand the value of our planet and of ALL the beings on it! If you can't go to France, look for the closest observatory in your city, or town, or even a planetarium. Take them there... It will make them think... I promise you! Sometimes, any way, a closer trip is best, as the altitude is not conducive or great energy (see my son below, pooped after walking around the grounds of the observatory, trying to acclimate to less oxygen in the air LOL).
Observing our night sky has always been a fascinating thing for me. When you perceive the faint light of a galaxy billions of miles away and you think of how this is actually quite close compared to the scale of our local group of galaxies and to the even bigger scale of the larger Virgo cluster of galaxies we belong to. It is not only mind blowing, but it also helps put in perspective the non-sense, greed, and hatred that some people exhibit on our planet, most certainly caused by their ignorance and their navel gazing.
Personally, I prefer star gazing... What about you?