This past July, my family- myself, my husband and our daughters ages 5 & 7, took our first family adventure vacation- the Montana Family Adventure. To say it was life-changing really isn’t far off. But beyond that, our terrific guides- Patrick, James and John- taught us quite a few things… About Montana, about nature and about ourselves.
If you’re lost in the woods, you should start liken’ the lichen
Not that we were in any danger of going hungry (see below), Patrick gave us all a nature lesson the first day about lichen, an edible fungus that, though not the most tasty of substances, is filled with nutrients. Just in case you’re lost in the woods without food. Of course, he also tricked us with mountain goat poo, it was a friendly prank, which tasted surprisingly like carob.
There are no poisonous snakes in western Montana
To say I don’t like snakes would be an understatement. I am terrified of them. So I was (very) nervous about hiking through the wilds of Yellowstone. In fact, one of my first questions was about snakes. Patrick immediately put my fears to rest when he told us that western Montana isn’t warm enough for poisonous snakes. (Yea!)
Don’t run from a griz
“Get your kids and start walking slowly backward towards the vans,” Patrick said.
We had stopped at a pullout- along with at least a dozen other people- due to a Grizzly sighting. As we stood safely at the edge of the road, hoping for a glimpse, others were walking up and over the hill to get an “up close and personal” look. And then Patrick saw one of the men come running back over the hill.
“I was sure we would see an attack,” Patrick told me later. “You never run from a Griz, they will chase you.” So, what should you do? Apparently, you slowly back away, hoping the bear is bluffing. If he does charge, curl in a ball and play dead. (Yeah, I think my “flight” instinct would overrule that, too!)
There’s flat… and then there’s “Montana flat”
We were prepared for most of our hikes. But there were a couple that we were told were flat. Of course, it was our guide John who told us that. What we didn’t take into consideration was that John had climbed Mount Everest, so a somewhat challenging hike to us, was flat to him. About half way through the week we knew to ask, “Is it really flat, or is it Montana flat?” meaning no really steep parts but still uphill.
Humans, though the most intelligent species on the planet, can be incredibly dumb
Not including the bear incident, we witnessed, first hand, the ignorance of people in the wild. I was sure we would see a young man get gored by a buffalo. Tip: stay in your car when a herd is crossing the road. We also saw entire families creeping way too close to Black Bear and quite a few adults walking within feet of a Bull Elk so they could get good photos with their iPhones.
The tales our guides shared put these to shame- and they didn’t end so well. “People can do really stupid things here,” James said. “It’s like they think the animals are tame and the rangers let them out every day for the tourists to see.”
It is possible to be pampered at 12,000 feet when you’re covered in dust
When you’re covered head to toe in dust, some of which is turning to cakey mud as rivulets of sweat trickle down your body, it’s difficult to imagine feeling pampered. And then your guides bring out silver trays of iced coffee. Or they bring you wet wipes followed by sliced apples with caramel dipping sauce. Not only do you feel pampered, but you are so thankful you didn’t have to carry it up yourself!
The Pied Piper is real
Though he wasn’t carrying pipes, Patrick managed to charm all the children on our tour. Wherever he was, they wanted to be. By mid-week the adults had termed him “the Pied Piper” as we knew that if our children weren’t with us, they would be near him.
Sometimes you have to work hard to see magnificence
Sure, you can see amazing things when you stay on the beaten path. But to see truly breathtaking sights, you need to work harder. This was truly driven home to us after we scraped and clawed our way up the steep hill behind the Grand Prismatic. Only 10% of visitors to Yellowstone see this view. It was worth every bruise and scrape.
You’ll never go hungry.
Despite the increased amount of physical activity, you will never feel a hunger pang during your AL vacation. Between the filling breakfasts, fabulous lunches, morning and afternoon snacks on the trail, “just in case” munchies in the vans, and local specialties for dinner each evening, hunger doesn’t stand a chance.
You can trust someone you just met with your kids in less than a week
At the beginning of our trip, we kept near the girls as we hiked. By mid-week we kept them in our sights. By the end of the week, as we were hiking through an area where bears had been sighted only the day before, our girls were separated- one in front of us and one behind- each so far away we couldn’t see or hear them. As Doug and I walked along, we commented on the fact that we weren’t worried at all. We knew that our youngest was at the front of the pack with John, while our eldest was tagging along at the end with Patrick. And we knew that both were completely safe.
Our family so thoroughly enjoyed our Austin-Lehman vacation that we are hoping to do another one next summer! We’re thinking the Yellowstone/ Tetons trip… unfortunately it has no horseback riding- which is a “must” for my youngest, who fell in love with her four legged guide this year.
Jody Halsted is a writer specializing in family travel. You can follow her family’s adventures at FamilyRambling.com.
See Jody's photos from her Austin-Lehman Adventure: Montana Family Adventure Photos