Madison campground is everything I want in a campground - namely it is pretty and has shade. There are fire rings. It does not feel like a parking lot. It does lack several amenities that I did not realize were important to me - mostly showers and cell phone service. In short, it was a difficult evening. Benjamin and I were both exhausted and the kids were being psychotic.
I keep feeling like I am trying and failing to recreate the Camping Experiences I had as a kid. Somehow, despite being a family of four in a 25 foot vehicular home, it still feels a little lonely. The camping trips of my childhood were clan-wide affairs with 5-10 kids running in a pack through the woods, huge circles of people roasting marshmallows and telling ghost stories around the fire. Our campsite (ideally several adjacent sites) looked like semi-permanent installations with outdoor kitchens, dish-washing areas, clotheslines, and architectural tarp placements. The campsites of my childhood felt like home in a way that pulling up and parking does not. I'm struck now by how much work my parents must have put into it all, though they always made it look easy.
But the real benefits of the RV shine in situations like this: as I write this, the kids are asleep in the back. Benjamin is taking the 0.5 mile walk to the geyser basin while I sit in the cab and write. There is a moment of solitude and quite that I wish I could bottle for later.
But later there is another moment, when we return to the campground and make a fire and Bear snuggles into me and I smell the smoke on his hair and he says, "I love camping," and I think ok, we are doing this right after all.
Norris geyser basin turned out to be one of my favorite parts of Yellowstone, despite looking sort of ho-hum in the guidebook. I followed a sandy foot-path through the forest of lodge pole pines - it was very quite, far from the road noise and nearly deserted. And then every 20 yards or so, there was another thermal pool. Deep turquoise water in the white sand with a rim of green or orange Archaea. (This would be a pretty sweet high school level biology homeschooling field trip - lots of cell bio between the Field Museum and here.) The path transitioned to boardwalk and I made my way slowly back to the RV, having taken the long way around by accident.
Old Faithful was pretty neat and I'm glad to have seen it to be able to check it off my American Experiences bucket list (TM), but is by no means the most impressive feature of the park. Also, very crowded even though it is the off season. Benjamin took a picture of the four of us waiting for the eruption that fills me with happy family feelings and may be an even better family portrait than the one we had professionally done before we left.
Grand Prismatic Spring was another of my favorite areas. Pax and I explored this one on our own - it's just a short boardwalk loop around the large spring which is indeed both grand and prismatic. The people-watching was almost as interesting as the thermal feature. I heard English, Spanish, French, Dutch or German, and Japanese. I could identify the Japanese because somebody counted to three to take a picture, which right there used 60% of my Japanese vocabulary.
The fashion choices represented a wide spectrum. I sort of assumed my clothing (mom jeans, T-shirt from another national park, sneakers, dopey hat) would be sort of standard, but there was no agreed-upon uniform. My favorite was a young woman in a cream-colored body suit of some flow-y fabric, cinched at the waist with a thin black belt and see-through enough to show her white bra and shorts. She wore high heeled boots that came up only to her ankles and held a paper parasol. I think I stared at her long enough for it to be awkward but I was just thinking about the very different choices we had made, not just when we got dressed this morning, but throughout our lives. And yet we both found ourselves here together at this spot, watching water heated by lava bubble to the surface of the earth.