Wolf Welcome

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For the second day of our recent trip to Yellowstone, we decided to focus on the Northeast section of the park, specifically the Lamar Valley. We were hoping to spot some wolves, so we headed out early to the Slough Creek Campground and were not disappointed. The scores of people set up with spotting scopes was a good first sign that we would have luck, and soon we could make out the wolves testing the bison grazing by the Creek. Once late-morning set in the wolves retreated to their den up in the hillside, but we still had plenty of energy left. We continued into Lamar Valley, hiked the wonderful Trout Creek Trail, and then found a spot for lunch on the banks of the Lamar River. From there we set out for the Roosevelt Lodge Cabins to reach the trail head to the Tower Fall and Lost Lake hikes. By the time we visited the falls and spent some time on the banks of Lost Lake, the afternoon was winding down, so we made a final stop at the Lava Creek Picnic Area on our way back to Mammoth. A yellow-bellied marmot kept us company as we ate dinner, and Five Spice and Five String felt a sense of accomplishment that we had finally worn out the Younger Fives 🙂

 

Slough Creek
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Trout Lake
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Tower Fall and Lost Lake
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Lava Creek Picnic Area
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Bison Bedtime

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Ever since our unexpected trip to Yellowstone National Park almost three years ago, we’ve been looking forward to a return visit. Some warm early-May weather prompted us to make the three-hour trip from Helena to spend a few days in one of our absolutely favorite places from anywhere in our travels.

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Some of the park roads are closed this time of year, but even three days would not give us enough time to visit all the areas we wanted to see. We decided to focus our arrival day in the Mammoth Hot Springs area, the next day in the Lamar Valley, and our final day in the Norris Geyser and Old Faithful areas (regrettably, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone would have to wait for another visit).  DSC01405 DSC01406 DSC01413 DSC01415

Our first stop after entering the park was the Upper Terrace Drive at Mammoth Hot Springs. Walking the boardwalks through the massive geothermal formations is always a treat, and we eagerly visited some of our favorite travertine terraces and brushed up on the history and geology of the area at the Visitor’s Center.

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Choosing a place to stay had been a challenge, as it was still too cold to camp and our usual family-friendly choice, the Yellowstone Gateway Lodge, was already booked. In the end, we were surprised to find the rate at the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel inside the park was actually cheaper than the other options in Gardiner. Since they were fine with the five of us in a singe room, we decided to give it a try. There were definitely some considerable downsides, including a shared bathroom, thin walls, and central heating that made the room quite warm despite turning off the radiator. In the end though, these were definitely manageable (the meditation app on our tablet came in handy throughout the night to block out the people above and next to us), and staying right inside the park added a whole new dimension. The kids loved sitting in front of the fireplace in the lobby, viewing the many works of park-inspired art on the walls, and exploring the Map Room, a large reception hall with nightly events, live music, and places to read and play chess and checkers.

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The other main plus of staying at the Hotel is the wildlife visible from right outside the window. While reading to the Younger Fives at bedtime, we had a wonderful interruption in the form of a herd of bison grazing just below us. The grass must have been quite tasty because they took their time and gave us plenty of opportunities to watch the several babies grazing with their mothers. Definitely the type of experience that could only happen at Yellowstone 🙂

Hiking the Lewis and Clark Pass

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After getting a start on exploring the 65+ miles of trails accessible from downtown Helena, we decided to take a longer drive and explore the Continental Divide. The Lewis and Clark Pass (Alice Creek Trail) seemed like a great place to start, being a 1.5 mile round trip hike that approaches the Rockies from the west. The history of this well-worn trail is fascinating; it has been used by Native American tribes for thousands of years as a gateway to the plains and buffalo hunting, and Meriwether Lewis crossed here with 14 others (William Clark took a different way) in 1806 en route back east.

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Our hike started off well, and the kids were excited to view wildflowers, form snowballs from the scattered patches of snow, and cross a gentle stream. While the incline is gradual, the path is quite straight and you can see the path ahead for almost the whole way. Without switchbacks or other changes to the scenery, the Younger Fives’ interest slowly faded. By the time the path made a 90-degree turn to the right to make the final climb, the snow was quite deep which made pressing forward slow and difficult.

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Coming down went more smoothly, and we stopped for lunch at the base of a small waterfall. The kids liked spending more time exploring the stream, following it through patches of cottonwood trees. Despite the setbacks, it felt amazing to be following footsteps that stretch back thousands of years.

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Directions
* Take Alice Creek Road, just over a mile west of the intersection of Rt. 200 and Rt. 279 (Lincoln Road). From there go about 7 miles on a good dirt road to a sharp left by an interpretive sign. Then the road narrows and goes another 3 miles to the end where the gate, picnic area, and restroom are located. 4-wheel drive not needed, but at least when we went the road was muddy in spots.
* Directions from other sites underestimated the distance from the Rt. 200 / 279 intersection to Alice Creek Road. Also, other directions said the dirt road went 7 miles, but that was only to the first forest service sign. It is really another 3 miles further to the trail head.
* The closest town is Lincoln, about 7 miles west of Alice Creek Road.
* From downtown Helena the total time to the trail head was about 1 hour 20 minutes.

Holiday Handicrafts

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With the first snowfall of the season, we thought it the perfect day to bring out the beads, felt, and pipe cleaners to festoon this year’s repurposed Christmas tree. Not having the space to travel with holiday decorations, we’ve found there’s nothing quite like making our own.

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BBQ Bead Suncatchers (click for directions)
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Pipe Cleaner and Bead Elves, Candy Canes, and More (click for directions)
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Felt Handprint Reindeer (click for directions)
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Our Tree, Before and After

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A Spooktacular Halloween at Seattle Center

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No doubt about it, Seattle is a fantastic place for families at Halloween. The 74-acre, pedestrian-friendly Seattle Center (built for the 1962 World’s Fair) is a flurry of free Halloween activities, all steps away from one another. Providing 9 hours of back-to-back activities and crafts, Seattle Center definitely gave us a run for our money this Halloween.

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In the week leading up to Halloween, Five Spice was hard at work painting skeleton costumes (that glow in the dark!) and experimenting with different all-natural face paint recipes. When the big day arrived, each Five had their homemade skeleton outfit (expect High Five’s sweatshirt, found at a second-hand store), ready to customize. Five of Hearts and Five Ball also wanted their faces painted, and the recipe (above) is almost safe enough to eat! To get the black paint, Five Spice mixed some activated charcoal powder into a separate batch.

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The city’s annual Dia de los Muertos celebration spans two days and is filled with crafts, exhibits, and live performances. We left Mexico last year before the holiday, so this was a better-late-than-never chance to learn more about the traditions. There were live performances every hour, and when we needed a break from sitting there were several activity stations (decorate a sugar skeleton, print making, etc.). This is definitely one of the most impressive all-volunteer, free events we’ve ever seen, and it really is a wonderful service to the community.

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Just outside of the Armory is the Experience Music Project’s playground, also completely open to the public. The structures were not for the faint of heart, but the Younger Fives thoroughly enjoyed climbing and sliding in the shadow of the Space Needle (and the light rain only made the slides even faster!).

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We ended our long, action-packed day back in the Armory, this time at the Children’s Museum Halloween Open House. Another wonderful free, volunteer-led activity, the Open House was full of Halloween-themed games, plenty of treats, and a chance to explore the Museum’s regular exhibits. By the time the kids made shields, built structures out of foam building blocks, and tried their hand at pumpkin mini golf, they were finally ready to head back to our rental. Even with the Halloween treats, all the fun made for a sound night’s sleep 🙂