As we entered Yellowstone from Gardiner, MT, and passed by the Roosevelt arch, I found myself strangely emotional at my first sight within the national park that has been on my list to visit for so long. Already feeling worn from two full days of travel with three young children probably played a hand in my heightened emotional state, but I think my wife and I breathed a collective sigh of relief and our eyes welled as we began our staggeringly magnificent tour along Yellowstone’s Grand Loop.
Taking our whole family on this trip was important to us. We want travel and a sense of adventure to be a part of the fabric of our family structure. We want our three boys to feel competent and confident in exploring our world. To know that there’s a whole lot more to life than suburbia. To know that it’s worth the sacrifice of time, effort, and finances to make great memories together. So, off we went.
We made our first planned stop within just three miles of the park’s entrance at Boiling River, where a hot spring flows into the frigid Gardner River, creating spots warm enough in which to bathe. We encountered a few elk in the parking area, and let the boys snap as many photos as they wanted. Their excitement was palpable, and we all knew this trip was well worth the trouble it took to arrive. Clad in our bathing suits and river shoes, we made the short hike to the river’s access point, noting the numerous signs of animal activity and scat along the way.
We arrived still pretty early in the morning, so there weren’t very many fellow bathers. I held our two year old and took my first steps into the frigid, rocky water as my wife locked hands with our five and seven year olds and followed behind. The water was cold. So cold. My feet began to go numb from the cold, and just as I began to think this might have been a mistake I reached the first area where the hot spring feeds into the river, at roughly knee-high level. I got a bit too close to the heat and felt like I was scorching my leg. I quickly scurried out, still holding the two year old, and found a little resting spot a little further downstream for our family where the water felt more regulated. We all nestled in for a soak, surrounded by steam and the smell of sulfur, and fought to hold each other against the alternating currents of cold and hot. We sat and simply beheld the enormous beauty surrounding us. Absolutely astounding beauty.
We soaked in Boiling River for over an hour before we braved the frigid exit, and made the trek back to the parking area. We encountered more elk right next to our car, and felt the exhilaration that comes from being deeply connected to nature and freed from the weight of domesticated life.
I can’t imagine a better couple of hours introduction to the park. After drying off and changing clothes, we resumed our drive along the majestic Grand Loop, confident that the next few days would be memorable, renewing, and important.