Monday, September 5, 2011

Chico and Yellowstone

Just when we got settled back in to town we took off again.  This time, it was a Labor Day weekend getaway with friends down to Pray, MT to stay at Chico Hot Springs.
Christina and Steve had been several times before, but for Clara and Elena it was their first time.  And how could we have guessed they'd love it?  Well, there are two big things Chico has in its favor.

First, a stable full of these guys!
Even though you had to be six to do a trail ride, we spent quite a lot of time visiting with the horses.  The first day we found that if we picked grass just out of the horses' reach, they'd be happy to come see us if we dropped it at their feet.

They also enjoyed the long stalks of wheat grass that Elena and Clara were happy to supply!
The second day there the girls gathered crab apples from the property (and also Elena's partially eaten apple from breakfast) and we asked if we could feed these to the horses.  Not only was the answer yes, but they were given a free "local" ride (instead of a trail ride) where they got on one of the horses and were walked around near the stable area.  That will work until we can all go ride together in two years!

The other main attraction that drew the girls to Chico?  The pool!
The natural hot spring on the property is partially funneled into this pool, which is open all year round and is outdoors.  The steam above is what it looks like when the hot spring collides with a 40 degree morning in Montana!  The look below is of a girl who couldn't care less how cold it is outside as long as we'll let her swim.
It really is gorgeous there - we went in the pool several times each day, and it was always the first thing we did as soon as we woke up in the morning. 
And it's even better with friends - it was fun to watch our friends get up each morning at each of the times that was "normal" for their family.  And it was great to have many people to play with all the kids!

Here Clara is mid-direction for Elena.  We played a version of "Red Light, Green Light" in the pool where we made up new "lights" to liven up the game.  We had several different families we had never met before playing with us by the end!  In case you want to join in at home, green light was go, red light was stop.  Purple light was blowing bubbles in the water, black light was splashing with your hands.  Pink light was ducking underwater, and orange light was a nonsense bit taken from a Dora episode where you say: Boom boom shake-a shake-a boom boom SWISH!  You have to shake your bum when you do the shake-a parts, and jump out of the water when you do the swish part, just in case you really are striving for authenticity.

We could have spent the whole three days never leaving the resort, but on Sunday we decided to strike out to the very nearby Yellowstone National Park. 

Waving wheat greets you as soon as you enter the park:
And so do herds of antelope!

We really enjoyed looking at all the different mineral deposits and structures created by all the water flowing through the park.

But our favorite was looking for animals.  Here's Clara with her spotting scopes ready, and her map of the animals in front of her.  We were keeping a checklist.  Seven hours driving through the park can be a long time, but we didn't want the girls to turn on movies in the park and so we adapted a game the other kids in our group were playing.  They were all spotting animals for money (a nickel for a buffalo, dime for antelopes, $20 for a bear, etc.) but a bigger motivation for the girls was candy, so Steve gave them candy amounts they could get for each animal.  We never got to the tootsie pops (which we were giving out if we saw a bear, and were just as happy to have skipped!) but they did make their way through two rolls of smarties!
(A funny side story - we saw either a coyote and a wolf or a coyote and a fox, though not together.  It was hard to tell from where we were in the car, but we knew with the height differences we saw two of those animals.  We looked for a long time before we saw the coyote, and we don't think Elena and Clara ever really saw it.  Steve told them it was there, but not moving much.  We gave them candy and drove on.  A very short time later, Elena pointed out the window and exclaimed, "Look, a coyote!  I get a candy!"  When we asked where the coyote was she said "Oh, he wasn't movin'.  He was over there, though" and pointed in a general direction of the woods.  Then Clara chimed in: "I see a coyote!  Under that bridge!!  I get a candy!"  So, the coyote is now a mythical sort of beast in their minds, we suspect.
Steve and Clara - not looking at a coyote.
Each girl fell asleep for some portion of the trip through the park.  Sadly, Elena slept right when we got to Christina's favorite part, the Artist's Paintpots.  So this time just Steve and Clara went to see them, while Christina hung back, prodding poor Elena every few moments to see if she was ready yet.  When you see the warnings as you head down, it almost makes you think Elena was right to skip it!
They are beautiful, though.

And Clara seemed to really enjoy her time on her own with Dad.
We were all awake when we got to Old Faithful, but sadly the faithful geyser had just gone off, so we had to wait an hour and a half to see it again.  In that time Elena helped Steve set up the tripod so we could get a shot of us all together.
And Clara framed the geyser behind her beautifully with her ice cream cone.
Here we all are, before it erupted:
And thar she blows!
Trust Elena to make a dog friend anywhere she goes - here she cozied up to some college student and helped them take care of her puppy at Old Faithful.

On the trip out of the park we relented and let the girls watch a movie.  Clara had the sun right in her window, and the resourceful girl pulled out her spoon she had apparently held on to from her ice cream earlier, and cupped it to her eye without a complaint.
The last thing we saw on our way out of the park was a herd of elk who had come down to get a drink and cool off in the Gardner river.  Christina was driving, so Steve got this shot, which includes her nose, the railing of the bridge over the river, a little bit of elk, and the hilarious sight in the rearview mirror of all the people stopped on the side of the road to get a picture of this!  We have seen a lot of elk in our days, and so pushed straight on to get to some dinner, but we hope the others got better shots than we did!

We've probably about pushed the girls to their limit now, and so we're going to stay home until Christmas.  But it sure was a wonderful end to the summer!

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