Saturday, August 13, 2011

3 more of our Top Ten Moments

Continuing with my theme of Top Ten Moments of our 2011 Road Trip, here are 3 more (again, these are in no particular order)....

4 - Mount Rushmore
Seeing Mount Rushmore both during the day as well as at night was amazing. Beautiful. Breath taking. Made me feel patriotic. I loved thinking about the artist that had the original idea and the thousands of man hours spent on the project. I also thought it was interesting to see all of the Asian tourists at Mount Rushmore. I guess I was just impressed that they were curious enough about American history to want to see it. 

We hiked up the 350+ stairs to see Mount Rushmore. It gave us an entirely different vantage point. 

Mount Rushmore is also THE BEST PLACE to look for license plates. I bought the 99 cent iPhone app to keep track of license plates and we cleared about 30-35 in the parking lot. 

5 - RAINBOW!  
This moment is one of those "ya gotta see it to believe it" moments. When we left Montana on August 1st to head to the Idaho house we all agreed on 1 thing: the government shutdown could put a major kink in our travel plans. If there were a government shutdown that could very well include the national park system, including YELLOWSTONE!  So we agreed that we would see as much of YNP as we drove through it, even though that was against our original plan of spending the 1st day unpacking, finding the grocery store, etc. 

We spent the day at Mammoth Hot Springs and Old Faithful (more on that later). By the time we arrived at the house it was dusk. After fumbling around trying to find the house for about 45 minutes (have you ever thought to yourself.."so close, yet so far away?") we pulled over and started talking to this 11 year old kid riding a 4 wheeler. He tried to figure out where we were going but he was just as confused by our directions as we were. The house is brand new so we couldn't find anything online. 

About that time one of the kids noticed a rainbow. We all got out of our cars to find THE MOST BRILLIANT RAINBOW we had ever seen. It was a full rainbow and appeared to be painted in the sky not with the typical pastel colors. It was brightly colored, the brightest I have ever seen. Inside it was a smaller rainbow. It was amazing. If you've seen our pictures on Facebook, trust doesn't do it justice. 

Yes we eventually found the house. The directions sent us down a gravel road for 2 miles to turn into a new subdivision. We drove for 3 miles before we gave up. Finally we tried it again and we found it after 4 miles. Our house sat on 6 acres in a gated community. It was perfect for the 18 of us. It was 3 levels. The 8 girls shared the basement. There were twin over full bunk beds and a pull out couch. The main level had the main living area and master bedroom (the Soroski family won the coin toss!). The upstairs had 2 more bedrooms and a loft for the 4 boys. 

6 - Junior Ranger program
I am so thankful to the national park system. Our tax dollars are well spent protecting and improving our national parks. They are worth protecting. Stepping off soapbox now. 

The kids earned their 10th junior ranger badge in Yellowstone. They also earned Devils Tower, Grand Teton, and Little Bighorn Battlefield this trip. Before this trip they earned White Sands, Natural Bridges, Grand Canyon, Petrified Forest, Bandelier, and Carlsbad Caverns. 

The Junior Ranger program gets kids involved in learning about the national park versus just "visiting" the park. The Yellowstone badge was definitely the hardest that they have ever done. It was a 13 page packet!  If you are planning a trip there I would request to have the packet mailed to you ahead of time so the kids could work on it on the way there. 

Funny story:
When we arrived at Little Bighorn our 1st stop (as it always is) was the visitor center to pick up the junior ranger packets. I told the ranger, "I would like 12 junior ranger packets, please." First his jaw dropped, apparently he had never seen 12 kids before. Then he basically said that yes, they had a JR program but that it would be too hard for the kids and that we should just skip it. I respectfully told him that we would have 12 disappointed kids if we didn't do it so again, politely asked him to fork over the packet. He reluctantly agreed and left the counter to go get them. While he was gone we endured the usual questions from the other park ranger as well as other guests. "Where are you from?  Are you related?  Do you have a different shirt each day?  Do you do this every year?"  Apparently when 18 people in matching shirts arrive on the scene it always turns heads. Especially when the adults are outnumbered by kids 3:1. But I digress. 

So the ranger comes back with the packets and again asks us, "Are you sure you want to do this?  There's a lot of questions on this paper. Plus it's about a battle and it was a gruesome battle." Seeing as how our gaggle of boys were already drawn to the tomahawks and guns, I didn't think they would be too disturbed. :)

We all laughed when we saw that there were only 10 questions on the sheet!  They finished it pretty quickly. We watched the video and then walked around the battlefield grounds. It was really cool!  When we were done we went back into the building so the kids could be sworn in as junior rangers and get their badges. The park ranger was so amazed that 12 kids earned it that they took their picture and posted it on their Facebook page!  So if you are in Montana please go earn Junior Ranger badges at Little Bighorn Battlefield...apparently they don't get much business. 

Look for my 3rd and final installment of Top Ten Moments of the 2011 Road Trip soon. 

Thursday, August 11, 2011

TOP TEN MOMENTS - Here are the 1st 3 (in no particular order)

Okay I am a terrible blogger. I had high hopes of blogging every moment of our vacation but that obviously didn't happen. I will try to catch you up. We are currently on the road from Island Park, ID enroute to Colorado Springs, CO. I have 10 hours to get caught up. 

We all agreed that the highlights of our trip were our 3 "excursions" and seeing animals in their natural habitat.  Here are our Top Ten Best Moments of vacation:

1 - Seeing a Mama Bear go "all Mama Bear" on a male bear that dared to get too close to her cubs. Thankfully we were in our car when it happened but just moments prior to that Barry was standing photographing the Mama and babies. A park ranger happened to pull up right behind us and he used his speaker mounted on top of his car to tell us "Stay in your car, folks. This Mama has a conflict with a male in this area.". About that time we saw the Mama scoot her little cubs straight up a tree and then the Mama came tearing across the road right in front of our car, chasing that male. They were fast!  It was amazing!  The babies were still waiting in the tree for Mama to return. We took several good pictures and Lauren has a video of the babies. I wish I could figure out how to get pictures on here. 

2 - Horseback riding through Pleasant Valley for the Roosevelt Wild West cowboy cookout. The views in the valley were truly breathtaking, the weather was perfect, the horses were well-behaved, and the dinner was delicious. At the end of the dinner a cowboy quoted cowboy poems and sang a song that he had written for the Cowboy Dinner. Then we rode back home on a different trail. It was a perfect evening. 

Dinner was a typical cowboy dinner served on heavy metal plates.  Made to order steak, corn, apple cobbler, potato salad, cornbread muffin, fruit, and (according to Lauren) the best BBQ beans ever. She claims they were even better than the ones I make?!?

3 - White water rafting was swawesome, as Carter would say. The water was low so it wasn't as exciting or scary as I thought it was going to be, but it was very fun and parts of the river were definitely scarier than others. When our guide found out that he had a Carter on his boat he asked us if we wanted to jump off Carter's Bridge. He didn't know how high it was but he said it was "only a few feet". Carter said he wanted to do it so when we approached the bridge he pulled off on a sandy embankment and pointed where to walk over to the bridge. I assumed he was going to wait for the adults to go and watch the kids jump off. But I had forgotten that we were in a raging river so obviously the current would take them downstream pretty quickly. So basically we had NO CHOICE but to jump.  As we were walking out onto Carter's Bridge I began to PANIC. It was about a 15 foot jump into 50 degree water with a strong current. I remember saying, "WHAT ARE WE DOING?  THIS IS NUTS!"

Steve Kelley jumped first and he made it look pretty easy (although he did admit later that he was scared). By this time our guide Jay had already floated down underneath the bridge and was paddling like a madman (using guide oars--really big oars that are used on both sides at a time). He was hollering, "You gotta jump now. I can't hold this boat much longer!" One thing we hadn't noticed (not that we had a chance to back out) is that there was a set of rapids just past where Jay was steadying the boat. In other words, if we didn't get into the boat before the rapids then we would have to swim through them. At this point I realized we had to start jumping. The fear of swimming through the rapids was bigger than my fear of jumping. 

In order to jump off the bridge we had to climb over the railing first. That was almost scarier than the jump itself because we were wet and climbing over a slippery metal hand railing is kinda dangerous. Lauren and Emily jumped next, screaming the whole way down. It was Carter's and my turn. He had absolutely NO FEAR whatsoever. Every gray hair on my head is from him!  I looked at Elijah and he had a look of total fear on his face and that's when I really freaked out. I asked Barry, "If he doesn't jump then how will y'all get onto the boat?" That's when trust came in. I was really scared!  He told me not to worry and that they would catch up somehow. Our guide was still yelling "You gotta jump NOW!" He was really struggling against the current. Keep in mind that this kid was probably 22....does he even HAVE a frontal lobe yet?!

Carter was saying, "Come on, Mom!" so.   We.  Jumped.  Time stood still. We popped right back up. We were all wearing Class V lifejackets; I think they are the highest bouyancy?  I'm a pretty strong swimmer. So is Carter but his little 80 pound frame was quickly whisked to the opposite side of the river from where our guide had finally pulled over to get out of the current. I think he had given up on us ever jumping. We started swimming for the raft but there was NO WAY we were gonna make it. Carter was on the left side of me and getting further away from me with every stroke. I grabbed that kid by the life jacket and put him on the other side of me. I saw that if we didn't change course quickly that we were going to miss the boat and head into the rapids. Steve, Lauren, and Emily had all made it into the boat. 

I looked Carter in the eye and commanded, "Son we have to swim harder than we ever have to make it to the boat!". I think when he heard the fear in my voice it might've gotten to him a little bit because he swam HARD. I looked over my shoulder and saw Elijah and Barry climbing down the steep embankment to get into the water to swim towards the boat. I couldn't worry about them and I had total trust in him to get my baby into the boat safely. We arrived at the raft and I could finally catch my breath before realizing that I had no strength to get into the boat. Steve and Jay basically drug my behind onto the raft. I'm sure it was very ladylike. I turned towards Barry and Elijah. Eli had a panicky look on his face. I'm not sure how they got to the boat so quickly (or maybe time stood still when C and I were in the water and it wasn't really as long as it seemed).

--- Barry here...Eli and I stepped down the rocky embankment and waded into the icy river water. It was quite shallow at first with no current, so it was hard to get going. As soon as he felt how cold it was in this part of the river, Eli started to freak out, but we had no other choice for getting back to the boat. I grabbed his hand and we swam together out into the swift current in the middle of the river where we really started to make good time. The boat tried to wait on us, but continued to drift downstream. For a brief moment it seemed like they were continuing on without us. I recall waving at the boat to make sure someone would see we were in the water. The current continued to speed us along: my hand clasped firmly onto Eli's, Eli panicking from the cold water and the now obvious predicament that the two of us would have to float at least a portion of the upcoming rapids in our lifejackets! If you have a picture of whitewater rafting going in your head, let me reassure you these weren't Discovery Eco-Challenge-quality rapids, but when you're literally just keeping your head and your scared child's head above water they were rapid enough. Eli and I assumed our feet-forward safety float and after only three or four waves crashed over our heads (making it hard for me to catch my breath, which made me nervous) we made it to the side of the boat. Eli was quickly pulled up, then Steve hauled me in. We of course were both fine, and Eli, who was worried everyone else would brag about jumping off the bridge, achieved the dubious distinction of being the only kid to swim the rapids. I think next time the two of us will just jump off the bridge.
Now back to Brenda...--- 

Once we were all safely back in the boat we all agreed that it might not have been a bright idea. But then again, we all agreed that we would have done it again. 

It was just one of those moments that I'll never forget and I'm so glad I got to share it with my 4 favorite people on the planet. Plus Steve and Emily, I'm pretty partial to them, too!

I will write the next 3 Top Ten Moments later!

Friday, August 5, 2011

DAY NINE: Grand Tetons and Jackson, WY

So I will answer the questions on everyone's mind first: we did NOT see Harrison Ford, much to the disappointment of 4 teen/tween girls. We DID have a great time and a very full day.

We got a really late start from Island Park. Everyone was so tired from our long day in Yellowstone the day before. We left the house around 10 am. Our first stop was Bubba's BBQ in Jackson. They had one of the best salad bars I have ever had as well as yummy BBQ and delicious chocolate chip cookies. From there the 3 families split up as we wanted to see a different part of the park. The kids were also interested in earning their 10th Junior Ranger badge so we needed to attend a program for that.

We left Grand Tetons around 5 pm to head for dinner and the Jackson Hole Playhouse production of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. We ate at Mile High Pizza Pie...yummy! We were only about a block from the playhouse but Lauren was so excited that we had to go really early.

Of course when you attend a play with 18 people in matching shirts and you are sitting in the front row, you are bound to become a part of the pre show! Barry was drug out to dance with one of the characters and then given a huge kiss on the cheek, complete with a lipstick stain on his cheek! Then they interviewed Lauren. When asked which character "brother" was the cutesy (they were all lined up) she hammed it up and said, "they're all pretty good looking"!

The show was amazing and it only fueled Lauren's desire to be an actress. We had a great time. Being on the front row definitely made us part of the show. Several times the actors fell into our seats during fight scenes. During the dance social scene one of the "brides" asked Elijah if he had ever been here before. He said "no" and she asked him to dance. She acted all disappointed when he sank down in his seat, embarrassed. It was pretty funny.

It was almost 1 a.m. when we got home. It was a full day but worth it!

DAY TEN: Relaxing at the house

Today was a very quiet day at the house. Have I mentioned that this house is amazing? Since each of the kids has a friend group they find ways to entertain themselves. There are basically 3 groups of kids: big girls (Emily, Lauren, Rachael, and (Ruth), boys (Carter, Elijah, Ki, and Isaiah), and little girls (Elisha, Jena, Erin, and Enslee). Today we swam at the lake, the big girls made a scavenger hunt for the boys, the little girls played house, the big girls had a karaoke contest and makeovers, etc. We are definitely making memories!

On tomorrow's agenda: Roosevelt Wild West dinner. We will ride on horseback in Yellowstone National Park to a chuck wagon dinner. Our tour leaves at dusk which is the best chance to see wildlife.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Grand Teton and Harrison Ford!!!!! Written by Lauren

So you have probably guessed that today we are going to The Grand Teton and hopefully will meet Harrison Ford!! :D I am so excited for both! Yellowstone was beautiful and it was SO worth the drive! We are on our way right now to the Grand Teton and than later tonight we are going to see the play Seven Brides for Seven Brothers which is my favorite musical! We will see the play in Jackson Hole, Wyoming ( which is where Harrison Ford has his ranch). We (The big girls)don't know for sure if we are going to see him because of his new movie Cowboys and Aliens. So we are hoping but even hope can be crushed under the strength of reality ( I just made that up myself )Well I got to go if we do meet him I will blog immediately and tell about it! :)

Monday, August 1, 2011

DAY FIVE - Wyoming and Montan

We left Custer at 9 this morning. We were all a little sad to leave. Custer is a beautiful town with much to offer and see. Wish we could've stayed longer!

We headed west and arrived at Devils Tower after a short 3 hour trip. Devils Tower was amazing! I really expected a big rock but it turned out to be so much more. The history and mystique surrounding Devils Tower is very intriguing. We hiked all the way around...did I mention it was HOT? The kids earned their Junior Ranger badge and we stamped our National Park passport.

We stopped for lunch in Moorcroft. We had fun playing "What's Her Story" with an interesting young woman eating a footlong sub in the back of her SUV at Subway. We were thrilled because she gave us the ever-elusive MAINE license plate. We decided that her "story" is that she is leaving her small-town life in Maine to pursue an acting career in Hollywood. Yep, pretty sure we will see her on the big screen someday.

After we solved THAT mystery we entered Montana, our 7th state. We saw some amazing scenery, vast expanses, snow-capped mountains, and desolate homesteads. Barry kept mentioning how gorgeous it was. Of course I just couldn't help but think about how miserable it must be in the winter. Carter even said, "Mom, you'd hate it here in the winter, wouldn't you?". He knows me too well.

Our next stop was Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. It was sobering and solemn. The park ranger showed us a cool movie about the battle and specifically the Last Stand Hill. It was cool to then walk that hill, visit the cemetery, and read the different accounts from both sides. Did you know that's where the phrase "won the battle but lost the war" was first coined? The kids earned their Junior Ranger badges. The park ranger tried to talk us out of doing the Junior Ranger program because the packet was "really hard and it might be too graphic for young kids since it's about a battle." Ha! Apparently he doesn't know the DeKelSki kids! I didn't have the heart to tell him that their "worksheet" was one of the easiest ones they had ever completed.

Well I am off to bed. Tomorrow we enter our 8th state...Idaho. I'm really looking forward to checking into the house and "staying put" for 10 days. 5 nights in 4 hotels is enough for this Mama! Thanks for checking on us.