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Travel: Where the Bison Roam

Disneyland or Las Vegas may be popular for multigenerational family vacations, but this year, our extended family of 16 (eight adults and eight kids ranging in age from 5 to 13 years old) headed farther west, to Yellowstone National Park. For almost a week, our typically suburban family disconnected itself from Internet access, cell phones and cable TV. In return, our senses were heightened and relationships strengthened as we drove a total of 600 miles through varied terrain, scanned the landscape for animal sightings, strolled geyser-side boardwalks and hiked up scenic mountain trails.

Traveling with a group of kids also meant absorbing their contagious excitement over the simplest things, like dandelions to make wishes on, then blow away. Or squirrels willing to sit still for a photo op. "It's just a squirrel," we heard a little boy say, as we snapped about a dozen pictures. "We're from Hawai'i," my sister-in-law explained. Or the preponderance of bison poop along a hiking trail. "Look at THAT! It's the size of your head!" We took a picture of that, too.

Near disappointment over gray clouds on our way to Old Faithful turned to excitement as my husband announced, "I think it's wanting to snow!" We pulled over to let the kids catch snowflakes on their tongues and make tiny snowmen with the little snow that had fallen on the ground.

It turned out to be good practice, as our group hiked up Mount Washburn (elevation: 10,243 feet) a few days later. I stayed one mile up the three-mile trail with my 6-year-old son and 5-year-old nephew, high enough for snowballs and yet close enough to see alpine mountain ranges.

While the three adults focused on reaching the summit, the kids lingered at the halfway point, sliding on their chests down a hill of snow.

Because the sun set close to 10 p.m., the kids happily played together outside while the adults had nightly after-dinner meetings, which took on the flavor of laid-back pau hana, as we sipped beer and discussed our plans for the next day. We may have given up our modern conveniences for the week, but we communicated more with each other, on more consecutive days, than we had in many years. Six days after we arrived, we flew out of Jackson, Wyo. with heavy hearts, knowing that we couldn't come back soon enough.

Flying in: In Montana, commercial flights can take you to Billings, Bozeman and, in the summer, to West Yellowstone; in Wyoming, you can fly into Jackson and Cody.

Getting in: $20 per private car for a seven-day pass, through both Yellowstone and the Grand Teton National Park.

What to wear: Comfortable shoes, layers of fleece and rain gear, regardless of the season, because Yellowstone’s unpredictable weather can mean sudden drops in temperature.

Where to stay: Nine lodging facilities, ranging from $60 for Roosevelt cabins to $200 frontside rooms at Lake Yellowstone Hotel.

Source: American Parks Network, www.TravelYellowstone.com
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