REAL TRAVELERS SERIES
A Good Old Faithful Family Vacation
Yellowstone National Park gets millions of visitors each year. We spotlight six types of families who recently made the trip.
As rangers at Yellowstone, Beth Taylor and Ivan Kowski estimate that a mere 5 percent of visitors venture off the walkways onto the 1,000 miles of trails. Beth works in the education department, teaching people to identify jackrabbit footprints and fairy slipper orchids. And out of Yellowstone's Backcountry Office, Ivan oversees 301 spectacularly situated campsites, each reachable only by foot, boat, or horseback, and free for the asking. The family lives in tiny Gardiner, Montana, just outside Yellowstone's north entrance. During the five-mile drive to school and work each morning, they tally the animal sightings: bald eagles, bighorn sheep, elk, and the occasional moose. On the weekends, there's the world's largest collection of exploding geothermal oddities to explore. Maya's favorite is Anemone, a geyser that, according to her, "fills up with water and then flushes like a toilet." Like everyone else, they love to stop at the Old Faithful Inn, the park's landmark lodge, for people-watching and ice cream cones. "Locally made ice cream-by Wilcoxson's, of Livingston, Montana-is sold at all the parks' general stores," Beth says. "It's outstandingly good."
Johanna and David Swidrak are hands-on types: He's an artist and contractor whose business slogan is "CPR for Your Home," and she homeschooled their two girls for nearly a decade. Five years ago, when a neighbor in Bend, Oregon, posted a for-sale sign in the window of a 1992 40-foot Fleetwood RV, they saw a chance to take vacations into their own hands, too. Johanna's mother chipped in toward the purchase and uses the parked RV as her quarters when she visits for a month every summer. David's father and stepmother, who live in Tucson, have their own RV, and the two groups often convoy. At least once a year, the family takes a big outing; their favorite was the triple-header to Bryce Canyon, Zion National Park, and the Grand Canyon. (True, the trailer gets only 15 miles to the gallon, but there have been surprisingly few hidden costs.) David's parents were along for this particular adventure and parked a few pine trees away at Grant Village, one of 12 Yellowstone campgrounds with RV areas. The group biked and hiked by day, and barbecued and played card games by night. To celebrate Starla's 11th birthday, Johanna baked a chocolate cake in the RV oven, and they all sang around a bonfire built by David. Says Johanna: "Wherever we go, it's so nice to have our own place-and pillows!-to return to."