It is the familiar lament heard by parents when their cars crawling along in traffic on the roads in Yellowstone National Park – a 466 miles – as vehicles slow to gawk at the flora and fauna.
But we're not driving. Together with our Austin-Lehman Adventures guides, Matty and Katie Kirkland Gugliotta, we kayak on Yellowstone Lake to a wilderness camp called 7M7. We sail five miles from where a fishing boat dropped us off and spy osprey and deer along the way, but not others. We spend the next two nights in tents with outdoor pottys, no showers and no Internet or mobile services, and we can not wait especially since we do not have to put the tents or cooking. Is that a bald eagle fly overhead? Wow!
There are many secluded campsites along the huge lake, which stretches 20 miles north to south and 14 miles from east to west and has 141 miles of coastline – and we are so far away from the crowds on if we can get. Last year, Yellowstone had a record-breaking 3.6 million visitors which visit records for the third time in four years. The National Park Service recorded 906,935 visitors in July – the second highest monthly level ever recorded visit, but a slight decrease in the summer – making reservations at the park lodges sometimes difficult to obtain.
When we visited in the last week of July, the park is filled with families – especially around Old Faithful (only one of 300 geysers in the park) and the new kids discovery area at the Old Faithful Visitor Center. And despite plenty of room to get away from the crowds – Yellowstone covers 3,472 square miles in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho with a 1000 miles of trails – the National Park Service, says the vast majority of visitors more than quarter-mile from the road, though only about 3 percent of the vast park can be seen from that perspective.
The road that was the reason why we chose to Austin-Lehman way. The company is leading families in Yellowstone for 25 years – several hundred a summer – and although they offer tours around the world, including many specifically for families, Montana and Yellowstone is still their most popular travel (look for another route next Montana family more summer camp included) or log on to tour with other families to organize a trip or just for your family just as we have. Our family trip included my cousins Mike and Jayme Sitzman of Denver and their children, Ethan, 9, and Hannah, 6.
"The guides were able to place us where we do not even have noticed if we were alone," said Katherine Shatrau, visiting from suburban Chicago. She had just finished an Austin-Lehman trip with her husband and 7-year-old son at the Chico Hot Springs Resort and Day Spa just outside Yellowstone.
"This trip was not stressful," Shatrau added. "Do not worry about where to get gas, or we were lost. The only thing we had to do was awake and bring our camera / water bottle / sense of adventure! "
Mike Sitzman agreed. The guides meant that he could focus on having fun with his children in such iconic and memorable place instead of sweating the details. "That was huge," he said. Just as important, with the first friendly guides, the children did not moan or Bicker (much anyway), nor does it appear they can not live without electronics like home.
When we bear saw from the road, Matty Kirkland made a U-turn (no small feat in a van and trailer), parked and ran up the hill to set up a room, so we can watch from a safe distance (park rangers say visitors must be at least a football field distance), while he chowed down on greens in a field of wildflowers. When it was time for the kids to sworn in as Junior Rangers, Gugliotta and Kirkland whispered in the ear of the ranger to "a production" of it, thrilling the kids and making everyone around us laugh, when they were handed over to their coveted Ranger badges.
Children engaging our guides knew exactly where to hunt for frogs and old-fashioned balloon animals for a quest at the camp, they had a magnifying glass at the ready for nature walks, so they could close up look at bugs and flowers and they helped the children build a bona fide rock arch along a trail and broke all the photos along the way, making them together on one CD they gave us at the end of the journey to chronicle our adventure.
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"With children, it always is about the journey not the destination," said Matty Kirkland, who has family guide for Austin-Lehman for 15 years.
Sure it costs more to tour the park in this way (usually $ 400 per person per day, less for children), but that includes everything – accommodations (no worries here about getting rooms at the park lodge), stellar meals ( How about a taco picnic while the kids bang away at a piñata at a picnic spot?), activities (we ended the trip with a whitewater raft trip down the Yellowstone River) and the foremost expert guides who not only explain what we see (did you make good pine sap gum?), but the kids entertained with an endless supply of jokes, riddles, songs, piggyback rides and snacks.
Of course there were glitches. The mosquitoes were terrible on our site. The crew who set up our camp did not bring the promised rods for the kids. A hot springs where we plan to swim in the park was closed due to high water. But because our guides were always ready with a Plan B (ready for a kite instead of fish flies) things that could have derailed a journey turned out to be only minor annoyances, and the adults could relax rather than scramble for alternatives.
Other thoughtful touches made us all laugh. Think of homemade ice cream made with a special REI gadget and served in cones on top of a trail with bright turquoise Grand Prismatic Spring – the third largest hot spring in the world – spread in all its glory with us or presented yogurt parfaits on a silver platter under a waterfall.
"Definitely worth the money," said Tim Mast Atlantan, whose Austin-Lehman family outing also overlaps ours. His wife and three daughters had such a good time – the first in a group tour – they are already thinking about next summer.
Our last morning in Yellowstone, 9-year-old Ethan said: "It's better than DisneyWorld! I do not want to leave."
© 2011 Eileen Ogintz … Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc..
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Submited at Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011 at 6:00 am on Family by chuck
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