Monday, August 25, 2014

We Bear-ly Survived! Yellowstone Family Vacation 2014

It has been about a month now since we all set off on our 2014 family vacation to Yellowstone National Park! Below is the journal I (Stephanie) kept of the trip and a few pictures to go along with it. The pictures are from Matt and me, but maybe (?) Mom can post some of their pictures at another time!

Friday, July 25

3:45pm: We left Mediapolis about a half hour ago on our way to Montana! The plan is to drive through the night for twenty hours and arrive at our cabin in Big Sky tomorrow afternoon. Uncle Tony & Aunt Peggy's and Uncle Bruce & Aunt Penny's families are also staying with us in a big house. Everyone is excited for another family adventure! This is our first year in the new van. Everyone has their devices hooked up so maybe it will be a quiet ride.

The van's charging station- Yikes! Lots of devices on this trip...
Hopefully our next stop will be Charlie's Steakhouse in Carroll, IA. Matt has a gift card for this restaurant that seems to be in the middle of nowhere, so we are hoping to use it up!

The boys set to go! 
Later: We got to Carroll and ate an amazing supper at Charlie's Steakhouse- a restaurant meal this family isn't used to eating, but we'll take anything for almost free! At the end they even gave us a couple desserts on the house because the computer was down and we had to wait for our bill. Everyone was stuffed, but when ice cream appeared, it was devoured instantly. Jesse also got a cookie with his meal that he got to decorate himself at the table.

We left the steakhouse a little after nine, ready for the fifteen-hour drive ahead of us. Everyone tried to settle in for sleep. They stuck Matt & I in the back for the night with Justin. Mom and Dad swapped driving privileges a couple times (for the record, Mom drove for four hours, from 1 to 5am CDT. No stories turning that into five minutes again...ahem Dad). Billy brought the book "Moonwalking with Einstein" and is really looking forward to listening to it. The boys require that he listen on his headphones because they think it sounds boring...for some odd reason.

Saturday, July 26

We made it through the night and the sun rose in Wyoming, where we got out some breakfast goodies Mom brought. Then Dad entertained us with the microphone over the AUX in the van describing our route and being our tour guide.

Our tour guide through the mountains! 
The first scenic lookout. 
...and some other odd looking creature.
The rest of our trip went smoothly as we took the scenic route to Boseman, where we went grocery shopping at Safeway and the boys drove around town for a bit. Just as we were leaving, the Schmidgalls and Aschemans pulled in so we got to say "Hi" to them before driving to the cabin. We had a little difficulty in finding it, but arrived sometime around 4:30pm. Everyone claimed their rooms and toured the house and got settled in until suppertime. For supper, Matt grilled chicken and we also had green beans and salad to go with it. Everyone is in charge of a part of a meal every night. Today was Penny's birthday, so we sang to her and had cake and ice cream for dessert.

"It didn't seem like very much was left until I started drinking it..." 
Our first meal at the cabin! 
Happy 26th (or so?) birthday on the 26th, Aunt Penny!
This ice cream bucket was cool because it popped out of its container from the high altitude. 
After supper, some of the older kids went for a walk and saw a black bear up on a hill-so exciting to see our first bear!

Racing up the hill
The kids stayed up in the downstairs theater watching Twister while the wiser of us went to bed after our twenty-hour trip out here. So glad to be in Montana!

Sunday, July 27

Matt & I woke up this morning and made pancakes for the kids since that is what Mom's schedule said (and Moms packing list and schedule MUST be followed to a tee; just ask anyone on this trip!). Once everyone was awake and dressed, we went out to the back porch and sang several songs and Dad read the Bible and we had a lesson for church since there wasn't a church to attend nearby. Its not too often you have church with an inspirational beautiful mountain view before you! Dad got a little altitude sickness afterward, but was better after a short nap.

We went inside and had sandwiches for lunch and then headed out to Ousal Falls for a nice hike with some waterfalls at the end. Between cell phones, cameras, and ipods, it seems that every person has their own personal camera, so there are probably already at least a couple thousand pictures taken of this trip! Well-documented, to say the least!

All the kids prepared for the hike. 
The Uncles! Uncle Bruce, Dad, and Uncle Tony.
The Massner kids (+ the inlaw).
Abby and Sami 
Ousal Falls 
The only set of sisters on this trip! Mom and Aunt Peggy
Matt & Steph
The Aschemans: Aunt Peggy, Abby, Ryan, Ross, and Uncle Tony. 
Sami and Jesse 
Jesse and Gage 
Jonathan, Ross, Justin, and Mason 
Travis and Parker 
The Schmidgall siblings! Mom, Uncle Bruce, and Aunt Peggy 
Mom and Dad 
Gage and Jesse 
Uncle Tony and Aunt Peggy 
The three-big-white-van-caravan arrived back to the cabin in time for a chili supper and brownie sundaes for dessert. Another evening of hiking, talking, sitting in the hot tub, watching movies, and playing games followed before bedtime.

Monday, July 28

Mason woke everyone up with his 5am wake-up call for our 6am scheduled departure for Yellowstone Park. Impressively, the Big White Vans were pulling out by 6:15. We all wore our matching bright yellow shirts so everyone could see we were together. This came a little difficult when Penny was trying to get a picture of us and said "yellow people, turn around!" All of us kids ignored her, but the Asians all around us turned and looked...oops! :-s

First stop at Yellowstone! A little chilly! 
Jesse and Gage (again!) 
The group went to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and hiked to the lower falls on Uncle Tom's Trail - very strenuous, but thankfully short! Next, we drove through Hayden Valley, where we came upon a Bison road jam! They were all over around us and stopped traffic by running all over the road! It was exciting to see some wildlife up close!

Yellowstone Falls at the Grand Canyon 
At the end of Uncle Tom's Trail 

We took a scenic drive along Yellowstone Lake, stopped and walked around West Thumb Geyser Basin, looked at a bunch of geysers, and then went to Old Faithful and arrived just about fifteen minutes before it erupted. The parking lot was packed, so the Dads dropped us off and then parked and made it just in time. Old Faithful was quite a sight! After that, we went to the visitors center and looked around before heading off again. We did meet some people there from Mediapolis who recognized the names on the backs of our shirts!

We got some great close-up views of bison! 

A whole herd of them! 
...they even held up traffic for quite awhile. 
Taking baths. 

The girls!!!
The group at Old Faithful 
We were going to make a couple more stops, but the other places were too crowded now that it was afternoon, so we went back to the cabin. On the way, we came upon a small traffic jam (which usually indicates wildlife and we were hoping for a bear) so we pulled over, got out and looked when someone informed us they were watching a bald eagle. All that for a bald eagle??!! Whatever....

When we got back to the cabin around 5pm, the mothers whipped up a taco dinner with angel food cake for dessert. After cleaning up and watching a movie, it was close to time for wildlife to come out, so Matt & I, Justin, Jesse, and Gage went on a "bear hunt" where we got to see a couple moose, some deer, and a double rainbow. Then, once again - bedtime came around. What a day!

Rainbow!! (Look close...) On our bear hunt.
Double Rainbow!! (Look even closer...)
Tuesday, July 29

This morning, we got to sleep in a little because we didn't leave until 9:15 to go white water rafting. We arrived around 10 and checked in, signed our lives away, and got our water boots, life jackets, helmets, and coats before heading out on the bus. We arrived on the scene, took off the rafts, had our safety talk, and headed off on the river. Matt & I, Abby, Sami, and Johnny ended up with a guide who had fun tipping us over several times in the first half hour.

The group stopped for lunch early on - cold sandwiches, chips, and cookies. Yummy! The rest of the trip had a lot more rapids and was a lot of fun! Everyone loved it! After arriving back at the Montana White Water place, we unloaded our stuff, looked at our rafting action shots in the photo booth, and then left. Ross and Johnny both got shirts that said "I enjoy a good dump." The shirt made us think of Johnny when we saw it and Ross offered to get one too if Johnny would!

By the time we got home today, it was again time for supper. The parents went out to eat and ordered in nine pizzas for the 14 (minus Mason) kids to eat. There were two pizzas leftover to use for future meals. Later, we made popcorn for a snack just as the aunts and uncles were getting home.

Travis didn't like the pizza sauce, so he ate everyone's crusts for supper. 
Wednesday, July 30

Woke up this morning again around five and left a little after six. Today's Mason wake-up call was "Guess What Day it is!? Hump day, yeah!"

We drove out to Yellowstone again, this time taking a different route through sites including Dunraven Pass, Chittenden Road where we ate lunch, Inspiration Peak, and Tower Falls trail where we stopped for a mile hike and some ice cream. We have not seen a lot of wildlife today aside from a few elk and a bison or two. The bear hunt has been ongoing for the entire vacation and we have yet to see another one.

Anyway, the hikes were refreshing and tiring and beautiful, the ice cream was awesome, and we've seen a lot of scenery today.

See what I mean about too much photography? Three cameras plus mine right here. This was mild compared to usual... :)
Inspiration point? 
The non-inspirational view from Inspiration Point. 
Beautiful view on a hike that day! 
Porcelain Geyser Basin 

Then came the traffic jam in construction on the way to Mammoth Hot Springs. Traffic was stopped to let the other lane of traffic through for awhile. So we were getting out of vehicles when we suddenly heard singing coming from the Ascheman van: The National Anthem! Dad, Mom, and the others got out to go help sing, and at the end Dad decided that was his cue to PLAY BALL! He runs to the van, gets out the football, and tosses it down the road to Ross in a style that has since been referred to as the "Dying Duck" throw, hitting the bumper of a vehicle in front of us. He then sheepishly hid behind the van until Ross returned with the ball with a red face (from embarrassment, not exhaustion of course) and we all hid our faces inside trying not to claim the man in the bright yellow shirt matching ours. The boys couldn't stop laughing about this incident for a long time.

Following the short-lived traffic jam football game, they went back and sang some more songs with the other van as the hundred cars behind us watched in amazement (I think). It got to the point where Dad's bellowing bass was the only voice we could hear. And then the pilot car came around and that scene was thankfully over.

Elk were all over town in Mammoth Hot Springs! 
The drive continued into Mammoth Hot Springs, where the elk live in the middle of town. Pretty unique! We drove around the hot springs and then went to Norris Geyser Basin and walked around Porcelain Basin to see a lot of pretty geysers. By then, we were all fairly exhausted, so we headed back. We stopped in West Yellowstone to look around in several souvenir shops for a bit and were back on the road at six. There was another intense bear hunt on the way home (unsuccessful, as usual). I think the bears all died last week and now there are none to be found.

...although we did find some stuffed bears in West Yellowstone! 
We got home at seven and had hot dogs for supper. We were tired and went to bed early. Others did the usual chilling out for the evening.

Thursday, July 31

Today was hiking day. We got a chance to sleep in a little this morning, although a few of the boys decided to wake up at six and go on a hike up the mountain in front of the cabin. They called the parents at 7:15am and woke them up to say they were up on the mountain! What a warm-up for the rest of the day!

The rest of the crew slept in and had a late breakfast/early lunch. We were supposed to leave around 10:30, but Jesse lost his wallet and we went on a search for that first. With no luck on the wallet hunt, we left for Lone Peak around 11:30. We took the ski lift partway up the mountain from Big Sky Resort, then started on "Bone Crusher Trail" - justly named.

Getting ready to head up! 
This is what most of the trail looked like...very rocky. 
The view from my stopping point. 
This is the mountain we climbed...only a few made it to the top! 
Hiking...twas a little rocky. 
Matt's view from the very top. 
Snowball fight at the top!! 
There was a guestbook for anyone who made it up there (although a lot of people cheat and ride the tram). 
The six boys who made it all the way (with a free tram ride down): Billy, Mason, Jonathan, Bryce, Ross, Matt. 
Riding down the tram... 
Everyone points to where they stopped! 
The hike was much more strenuous than anyone thought: straight uphill, mostly on loose rock. Most of the kids made it up to where the trail became six inches wide with drop-offs on either side, but only Matt, Billy, Jonathan, Bryce, Mason, and Ross went all the way to the top after finding out there was a free tram ride down if you made it there (they were about halfway up when some hikers on their way down told them this). Everyone else turned around and went to the bottom. The ski lift pass was valid all day, so some rode up and down for awhile. Then they made everyone get off the lift because of lightning, so we sat around for awhile while the mothers walked out to where they could watch and fret over the boys climbing the mountain. Justin, Ryan, and Sami got kicked off at the bottom of the lift and we were all at the top.

Jesse and Gage discuss life's pressing matters as lightning detains the ski lift. 
Justin and Ryan enjoying the ski lift! 
When the lift reopened, the boys had just made it to the top and done their victory cheer (cell phone reception was great up there, so they could call their Moms and give them updates). They rode the tram down, walked the path back to the lift, and everyone met up again at the bottom. This is when Bryce caused a rift by accidentally shooting his mother with a bottle cap. ;) (Oops!)

At that point, the hikers were hungry, so Tony, Dad, Matt & I went uptown and got burgers to grill. We had burgers and leftovers for our "clean out the fridge night." Later, Mom made her s'more dip and then Matt entertained the kids by teaching them how to play "Double Homocide" for the rest of the night while the mothers packed, cleaned, and did laundry. We didn't get to bed until just before midnight. The kids played Quelf after that.

Friday, August 1

We cleaned, packed, and did some more laundry and said our final goodbyes to the cabin this morning. The kids played some more Double Homocide on the porch while the mothers did their final run-through of the house and searched some more for the missing wallet (no luck!). We were ready and packed in plenty of time for some final group pictures in front of the house, and left at 10am.

The boys loved the entertainment center in the basement! 
The house had a movie theater built in! 
A great kitchen topped it all off! There were five bedrooms, a one-room apartment above the garage, and five bathrooms. Perfect for the 21 of us! 
The view from our back porch. 
Playing games before we left. 
ATK (All the kids)
ATKA (All the kids again) 
ATKA in front of our house and big vans...ready to leave! 
And the mature ones... 
Once again, the big white vans took their last trip to Yellowstone park to drive through to the Grand Titans. When we got close to the Yellowstone entrance, we figured out why we left at six every other morning- major traffic jam at 11:30! Once we got through the entrance, we were able to keep moving, except when cars decided to stop in the middle of the road to look at elk and such. In once instance, there was a crowd of people getting a little too close for comfort to an elk on the side of a river!

ELK JAM!! Because everyone had to pull off to see it in the river. 
A cute couple in front of the Grand Tetons. 
Along the shore at the Tetons. 
Riding a ferry across Jenny Lake 
We stopped for lunch at a picnic area in Yellowstone and the Gray Jays ate our crumbs. Then, we drove into Grand Teton National Park and looked at the beautiful Teton Mountain ranges. We made a quick stop along the main lake to skip rocks and take in the beauty, and then stopped at Jenny Lake to ride a ferry across the lake and do a short hike to Hidden Falls. The group made it back to the ferry just as it was getting ready to depart and went back to the other side. After another restroom break and more souvenir shopping, we headed to Jackson Hole for the Bar-T-5 Chuckwagon Supper.

The yellow shirt clan arrived a little before six and waited a bit before hearing a short introduction and then being loaded up into covered wagons that took us up into the mountains for our dinner and show. We almost got attacked by Indians on the way, but were able to shoot them with our cameras. This dinner was all-you-can-eat, which was great for our boys! Salad, baked beans, corn-on-the-cob, roast beef, barbecue chicken, buns, and blonde brownies for dessert. The chicken was especially awesome!

On our way to supper in a covered wagon! 

The Indians were keeping a close eye on us. 
Uncle Bruce and Gage were used in performance. 
The highlights of the show were Abby marrying Buckskin (quite forcibly, not of her own will by any means) that ended with a free t-shirt, and Bruce doing "oo-la-la" in "She'll be Coming 'Round the Mountain." Quite entertaining-we were all wearing our bright yellow shirts again, so it was hard for them to overlook us when choosing audience participants!

On the way back down the mountain, our driver had us yee-hawing, singing "She'll be coming round the mountain" again (with Bruce's help, of course!), and telling jokes and riddles. Entertaining! At the bottom, Abby got her t-shirt, we used the restroom, said goodbyes to our cousins, sang the Star Spangled Banner as a farewell, got a standing ovation from the cowboys, and loaded up in our respective vans for a long trip home. The Minnesota crew got to their hotel around 2am and us Iowans drove through the night.

Saturday, August 2

People seemed to do a lot more sleeping last night than last Friday when we also drove through. We stopped at a rest area around 10am (CDT) near Kearney, Nebraska for a stretch and some breakfast. A lady came over and gave us a bunch of muffins because she was trying to make more room in their vehicle, so we ate those for breakfast, and were back on the road shortly thereafter.

We stopped two more times for gas and ate a lunch that Mom had packed yesterday. The Massners arrived back at home around 5:30pm and unpacked. Another wonderful family vacation is now in the books!