Oct 24

Scotts Bluff National Monument

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Remembering the fond days of sitting in the computer lab starting at the green screen of the Apple IIE and watching Johnny get diphtheria.  Ahh the days spent on the Oregon Trail.  Getting the chance to see some of those landmarks at Scotts Bluff National Monument was a real treat for me.  Yes, I am a history buff.  However, a non-history loving person can enjoy the area and the fine views from a top of the bluffs.
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Scotts Bluff National Monument rises above the surrounding landscape.  Sitting 800 feet above the North Platte River.  The bluffs served as a visual landmark for the countless number of people heading West.  Emigrants on the Mormon Trail, California, and the famous Oregon Trail all used it as a visual stepping stone.  It is amazing to think about the sacrifice, the hardship and blinding faith those pioneers needed in their path west. Heck we get upset if the WIFI is slow.  Imagining the day to day struggle those early settlers faced is unimaginable in our convenience driven lifestyle.
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I knew that the Scotts Bluff National Monument area was rich in western history.  What I did not know was that it is also a rich fossil area.  The visitor center had several examples of prehistoric bones located in the national monument.  The visitor center does a good job explaining all of the Scotts Bluff National Monument history.
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There are a few short hikes in the monument two at the rim, the Oregon Trail Pathway complete with wagon ruts.  The best trail at the Scotts Bluff National Monument was the Saddle Rock Trail.  Unfortunately, that trail has been closed since a rock slide in 2015.  Half of the trail can be completed from the bottom while from the top you can walk part way down before it is closed.  I talked to one of the volunteer rangers that was there and there was no time table on when it will reopen if ever.
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While there I highly recommend driving to the top of Scotts Bluff or taking the free shuttle ride up.  The view overlooking the Platt and the town below is scenic.  I find it important to think about the sacrifices those before us undertook to seek a better life.  It really puts into prospective the small problems I face in my truly blessed life.

To see our reviews of other Nebraska attractions, click here

Scotts Bluff National Monument
Located at 190276 Old Oregon Trail Rd Gering NE
Hours of Operation The grounds are open from sunrise to sunset while the visitor center has more limited hours
Cost as of this Posting $5 per vehicle or $3 per motorcycle or person
For more information visit the Scotts Bluff National Monument  website at https://www.nps.gov/scbl/index.htm

Oct 23

Teaching Tip: Student Feud

Survey Says Teaching Tip: Student Feud

I am always looking to come up with a new study game for the students to use.  After 12 years of teaching the same subject a little variety becomes the spice of life.  Jeopardy is an oldie but goodie though it has been done to death.   I have used 1 vs class to some success.  However, after the second or third time it starts to get a little stale.  A treasure trove of student study games is located on the game show network. A little tweaking and making it work and the next thing you know there is a new study game.  So after a little television watching I found my next study game. A new take on Family Feud called “Student Feud.”

Now student feud needs a little prep work.  I like to use student feud as study prep for a review test or a comprehensive benchmark.  First thing I do is create a review guide that has two columns.  One column has a DOK level 1 recall question.  The second column has a spot for the definition of their answer.  I would give them 30 to 40 questions.

For Example


Define Your Answer

  1.  Name an amendment that expanded rights?   19th Amendment
Gave women the right to suffrage


Once they completed the review guide I tally up their choices creating a list of the top 5 to 7 answers depending on the total number of students that did the review guide.  To help with the numbers I also share with my fellow 11th Grade US History teachers who help tally up their choices during our PLC (professional learning community) time.

After the tallies are totaled the next step is to play the game.  The game setup is pretty simple I divide up the students into equal groups.  Have one student represent that group come to the front of the room and ask an opening question.  The first student that can raise their hand and answer the question correctly gives their group the chance to play STUDENT FEUD!!!  You have to have a little fun with it.  I then continue on with their group seeing if they can get the top 5 to 7 answers their peers did on the review sheet.  If they get one wrong I move on to the next group and so on.  The group that gets the final answer receives all the tally points from that question.

The next round starts with a new student from each group coming up to the front and repeating the process.

I like this game because students get to review not once but twice.  For me that is a big deal because getting students to study at home is an herculean effort.

STEPS: Student Feud

  1. Create a Review Sheet
  2. Tally up the student’s answers
  3. Create a game sheet with the question and top 5 to 7 answers from the review sheet
  4. Divide students up into groups
  5. Play the game by having 1 student from each group answer a starter question
  6. The student that got the starter question right gives his group the chance to start Student Feud
  7. Ask a question from the review sheet to that group until they either get all 5 to 7 choices or if they miss a question move on to the next group until all choices have been said. Repeat step 5-7

To see my other teaching tips click here

Oct 22

Wyoming Dinosaur Center

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My oldest daughter is dino-crazy.  So, we just had to make the drive to the Wyoming Dinosaur Center one of the premier dinosaur museums in the United States.  She was not disappointed.  Giving McKenna the chance to see over 30 mounted skeletons including a Supersaurus which is super by the way.  At 106 feet there is a bit of shock and awe factor going on.  Besides the museum area the Wyoming Dinosaur Center also has dig sites, a viewable fossil prep lab, and nice gift and snack store.
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“M” is an avid fan of the PBS show Dinosaur Train. She does not get to watch a whole bunch of television and she still has not seen a movie yet.  When she does get to sit in front of the TV or computer screen it is Dinosaur Train all the way.  M has become our little dino-expert.  She knows them when she sees them, corrects me every time I say a name wrong which as it turns out happens a lot, and is an expert at their creature features so a visit to the Wyoming Dinosaur Center was high on our vacation to do list.
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My wife Karen and I were also impressed with the Wyoming Dinosaur Center.  On the outside, it did not look like much.  Just a big Morten building.  However, the inside was a much different story.  One of the best dinosaur museums that we have been to.  Had skeletons of all the famous dinosaurs Triceratops, Stegosaurus, T-Rex, and Velociraptor.  It also had one-of-a-kind-displays like an Albertaceratops. As well as the only archaeopteryx skeleton in North America.  The archaeopteryx is the “missing link” between dinosaurs and birds.
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There’s nothing like looking at dinosaur skeletons to bring out the child in us.  As great as the mounted skeletons were to look at and it was pretty inspiring.  What makes the Wyoming Dinosaur Center so special is the chance to work with real paleontologists in their lab or on an actual dinosaur dig.  They have a “dig for a day” excursion to an incredible bone yard.  Where over 10,000 bones have been excavated.  Unfortunately, we could not partake in that at the time.  A limited budget and the girls are just not old enough yet.  However, if McKenna keeps up with her dinosaur ways I could see a very special birthday surprise in about 8 or so years.
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Wyoming Dinosaur Center is a great visit for those that are interested in prehistoric world.  They have lots to see on display.  A very informative walk thru time exhibit that explains the stages of ancient life.  Over 30 mounted skeletons and dozens of displays and dioramas.  As well as holographic Archaeopteryx raising up from its bones.  The entire family enjoyed this trip.  Well worth the time and effort to see the Wyoming Dinosaur Center. To see our reviews of other Wyoming attractions, click here
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Wyoming Dinosaur Center
Located at 110 Carter Ranch Rd. Thermopolis Wyoming
Hours of Operation: 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. during the summer 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. during the winter
Cost as of this Posting Adults 13 and over $10.00 Kids 4- to 12 and Seniors 60 and over $8.00
For more information visit their website at http://www.wyodino.org/

Oct 21

Hot Springs State Park: Wyoming

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Thermopolis… sounds like the hometown to a magma inspired superhero.  It just might be your marvelous spot after a soak in its free bath house.  Hot Springs State Park is Thermopolis best attraction.  Famous for being the home to the world’s largest mineral hot spring.  Where everyday over 8,000 gallons of mineral water bubble up from the ground below and flow over the terrace. Thermopolis’s Hot Springs Sate Park probably will not give you super powers but it will leave you super relaxed after a dip in its 104 degree water.
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A scenic state park that offers more than just a bath.  Hot Springs State Park has 6.2 miles of hiking trails, a small herd of bison, river access to the Bighorn River, and the chance to cross a suspension foot bridge known as the swinging bridge.  Incredible that the park is free to visit.  Karen and I are always on the lookout for great free attractions and Hot Springs State Park is certainly one of them.
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We were having a drive by visit to Hot Springs State Park. Our family was on our way home from Yellowstone National Park.  After a few hours on the road it is always a good thing to get out of the car.  Especially if driving with little ones.  Hot Springs State Park was the perfect stop for us.  It had some easy accessible places to walk around, picnic tables, and enough scenic spots to keep us entertained.
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Our family spent a little over an hour at the state park.  That gave us enough time to explore around but not long enough to enjoy the therapeutic water.  We did see several people enjoy the outside pool as well as walk into the bath house.  I took my youngest for a walk along the elevated boardwalk that sits above the mineral hot spring.  I also enjoyed taking a stroll across the swinging bridge which offers a nice view of the large mineral spring.
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Hot Springs State Park is a great little stop when heading east from Yellowstone National Park.  We used it as a lunch time break on our way to Cheyenne for the night.  Traveling with little ones we like to limit it to less than 8 hours of driving per day.  So, if we can go 4 hours and break for an hour and then drive 4 again and stop for the night it is a good day.  Any longer than that it becomes a punishment for all those in the car.    Hot Springs State Park gave us that respite.

For our other Wyoming attractions reviews, click here.

Hot Springs State Park
Located: at 538 N Park St. Thermopolis, Wyoming
Cost: as of this Posting: Free
Hours of Operation: Bath House M-Sat 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. opens at noon on Sundays
Grounds Sunrise to Sunset
For more information about Hot Springs State Park visit their website at http://wyoparks.state.wy.us/Site/SiteInfo.aspx?siteID=9

Oct 20

A Season of First Starts

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McKenna my oldest at 4 years old is starting so many new things.  Just in the past two months she has begun Kindergarten (homeschool with her Momma), dance class, as well as her first season of soccer under her belt.  We are thrilled and couldn’t be any prouder of our little girl but at the same time it is gut wrenching to see her growing up so fast. It seems like just yesterday she was a helpless little infant and we were total newbies at this whole parenting thing.  Now she’s a three and a half-foot-tall little ballerina standing so straight with her blonde hair pulled up in a bun chatting with her Mom about the new dance move she just learned.  And we’re old parenting pros (at least we like to think so).
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She’s such a brave little sweetheart, happy to try any and every new thing we throw at her.  She doesn’t know how nervous we get for her.  Will she have fun?  Will she make new friends?  Will it come easily for her?  It has been such a pleasure watching her bloom.

She received her first medal of many (we anticipate) for completing her soccer season.  She was ecstatic and could not wait to show her Daddy.

She is our treasure and while we love seeing her grow we can’t help but pray for it to slow down just a little.

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Oct 01

Yellowstone Bear World

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Home to dozens of bears and the sweetest little bear cubs.  Yellowstone Bear World was a real vacation treat for us.  Located about an hour away from Yellowstone in Rexburg, Idaho.  A great little start to the trip there or a way to cap it.  Yellowstone Bear World is a drive through wildlife attraction.  A wonderful facility that includes the famous animals from Yellowstone National Park.  Grizzly and black bears, bison, moose, elk, and wolves all have a place at Yellowstone Bear World.  They also have a fine petting zoo.  An amusement park for the under 10 crowd.  Last but not least a nice educational exhibit area.
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We drove the wildlife loop twice though a nice feature of the Yellowstone Bear World is they allow unlimited re-entries during the visit.  Really nice and helps, at least in our mind, justify the admission.  Though we found Yellowstone Bear World price comparable to other drive through safari’s we have been to.  The drive through area was jammed packed with animals.  Dozens of bears but also home to a number of hoof stock like deer, mountain goats, bison and elk.
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As nice as the drive through area was it was certainly beat by the baby bear enclosure and petting zoo area.  The petting zoo area in a little over an acre of space was a blast.  Our daughters went through it 3 different times.  Getting to pet the variety of barnyard animals made all of my girls squeal with delight.  My youngest just couldn’t get enough of the chickens and ducks.  Walking after them only to be tempted by another that crossed her path.  The petting zoo also featured two fawns and its parents.  Overall a great petting zoo experience.
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The baby bear enclosure housed around eight little cubs divided up into two areas.  Those little bears would just wrestle and play, lounge around a bit, and do it all over again.  I really enjoyed seeing them.  As much as the petting zoo kept calling to my wife and girls the baby bears kept drawing me in.
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Also in the same area they had an educational building.  Inside they had furs and taxidermy animals.  As well as informational displays.  It was really nice to see them have an educational component to the entertainment side of things.  Along that train of thought we found the staff to be well informed and very friendly.  It was easy to tell those that worked there really enjoyed what they were doing.  Which also adds to the overall visit to Yellowstone Bear World.
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Something that sets the Yellowstone Bear World apart from other places like it is its amusement park.  Not large but big enough to delight my four-year-old.  Watching her smile light up my heart as she dropped, spun, and twirled on the rides made this attraction for me.  Designed for the younger kids their amusement park area was a nice added touch to an already fun trip.
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Now a little too expensive for us but if you have money to burn something you might be interested in is their bottle feeding experience.  Different times of the year and a limited space per day visitors can bottle feed some of the baby animals they have.  During our visit which was early June there was the opportunity to feed the baby bears.  Yellowstone Bear World also has a curator tour and the opportunity to feed the adult bears.  They also have a large gift shop they call the 3 bears.
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Nothing beats seeing North America’s finest animals in their natural habitat.  However, seeing them in a drive through safari is a close second.  Especially when traveling with little ones.  We have found it hard to keep our little girls attention when out in a national park looking for where the wild things are.  Luckily my daughters, overall, are great little travelers.  So my wife and I like to reward them by going to places like Yellowstone Bear World.  Animals around every bend up close and personal.  While we might remember seeing the elk crossing the spring our daughters will recall the cubs at Yellowstone Bear World wrestling much more quickly.

To see our reviews of other Idaho Attractions like Yellowstone Bear World, click here

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Yellowstone Bear World
located at 6010 S 4300 W Rexburg, ID 83440
Hours of Operation 9 to 5
Cost as of this Posting: Adults 11 and over$16.95, Seniors 65 and over $15.95, Children 3 to 10 $10.95
For more information visit their website at http://yellowstonebearworld.com/

Sep 29

Firehole Cascades: Yellowstone National Park

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Firehole Cascades is a twenty-foot drop off the Firehole River.  A small raging cascade that makes a nice little conclusion to the Firehole Canyon Drive.  Located along the canyon drive the Firehole Cascades is just another of the many roadside waterfalls that can be found in Yellowstone National Park.

Located just south from Madison and right before the Firehole Canyon Drive meets back up with the Grand Loop Road.  The Firehole Cascades just adds a little bit more to the very scenic drive.  If you are a waterfall enthusiast the Firehole Canyon Drive is worth your precious time.  Now if waterfalls are not that high on your priority list there are far more interesting things to see in the park.

  • Waterfalls of Yellowstone

There are many waterfalls in Yellowstone National Park to choose from, some are roadside falls like Firehole falls mentioned above Crecelius CascadeFirehole Falls,  Undine FallsVirginia CascadeMoose FallsGibbon Falls, Rustic FallsTower FallsLewis Falls  Kepler Cascades, and of course the extraordinary Upper and Lower Falls while others require a hike to see like Wraith FallsLost Creek FallsFairy Falls or Mystic Falls. Whatever your plans are when you visit Yellowstone National Park make sure you seek out some of the great waterfalls that can be found in the park.

Sep 26

Animals of Yellowstone

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America’s Serengeti.   The animals of Yellowstone National Park make up the largest concentration of wildlife in the contiguous United States.  Nowhere in the lower United States is there a better chance to catch the interaction between predator and prey relationships on such a large scale.  Now realistically is there a chance you will see wolves taking down an elk, no.  However, there is a great chance of seeing some of the most famous animals in North America.  The animals of Yellowstone include bears both black and grizzly, wolves, moose, big horn sheep, elk, and of course bison.
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My first trip to Yellowstone National Park happened around the time I was five. The great family road trip.  Unfortunately, I do not remember much of the trip but some things I do remember are the animals we saw there.  The animals of Yellowstone can have that lasting impact on a young child.  Some of those fond memories include a large moose that decided to lay down in the clover behind our cabin, seeing what we thought was an eagle but probably an osprey in flight swooping down to catch fish in a river, and big horn sheep climbing a rocky cliff.
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Each successive trip to the park has netted me a chance to see most of the animals that call the place home.  While I have not seen all of them I have had the chance to see a lot.  Every trip, each time is as special as the first.  In particular, our last trip to Yellowstone we were feeling a little bit of a bust because we had not seen a bear yet. Don’t get me wrong we loved our time in the park and it was ending up as a special trip.  However not seeing a bear was leaving us with a feeling of wanting.  Then as we were driving out of the park on the East Entrance Road we came across a mother grizzly and her cub.  That encounter was the icing on our vacation cake.
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Animals of Yellowstone (Quick Facts from the National Park Service website)

  • 67 different mammals live here, including many small mammals.
  • As of 2014, between 674 and 839 grizzly bears live in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.
  • Black bears are common.
  • Gray wolves were restored in 1995. As of December 2014, 95 live primarily in the park.
  • Wolverine and lynx, which require large expanses of undisturbed habitat, live here.
  • Seven native ungulate species—elk, mule deer, bison, moose, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, and white-tailed deer—live here.
  • Nonnative mountain goats have colonized northern portions of the park.

One of the great things about Yellowstone National Park is each trip is unique.  A visitor never knows what might be just around the bend.  A visitor must have a sense of adventure when seeing the park.  Be ready for the unknown.  Otherwise they will walk away disappointed.  Karen and I have never had the same visit twice.  The first time we went we purposely looked for wildlife and found it in abundance. Several bear sightings, wolves in the Lamar Valley, baby elk and bison.  The last few times have been more about the park’s geological features, dropping our number of animal sightings.  The duration of your trip and what you plan to see will likely determine the number and species of animals you spot.  The main thing is don’t get disappointed if you don’t get to see all the animals you want to see.  Just enjoy the ride.

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While anywhere in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem has the chance to yield spectacular sightings of animals, there are a few areas of the park that give a better chance of spotting some of the free-range wildlife on display.

Top Spots to see the Animals of Yellowstone

  • Lamar Valley
  • Hayden Valley
  • Northeast Side of Yellowstone Lake
  • Tower-Roosevelt
  • Swan Lake Flats

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Yellowstone is a spectacular park and part of that is seeing the incredible animals of Yellowstone.  Hearing the thundering herds of bison, bears and wolves on the prowl, or a bulk elk establishing a harem are just some of the experiences that you could be having in Yellowstone National Park.  Though those experiences come with responsibility.  Wild animals are unpredictable especially if they have young with them.  Keep a safe distance from all wildlife.  Never approach bears or wolves within 100 yards and 25 yards of other wildlife.  All of Yellowstone is bear country so be bear aware and prepared especially if hiking any trails.  Remember if you cause an animal to move and take notice of you, you are too close.  A safe trip is always a better trip.

Sep 22

Crecelius Cascade: Yellowstone National Park

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Crecelius Cascade is one of the many unmarked waterfalls found in Yellowstone National Park.  In fact, some have said that Yellowstone has the most waterfalls per square miles in the world.  With over 300 waterfalls and counting many of them unnamed and off any marked trails Yellowstone is a waterfall hunter’s paradise.  Crecelius Cascade like so many other waterfalls will not be labeled on any national park map.  However, unlike those, Crecelius Cascade is a wonderful roadside attraction. Located directly off the East Entrance Road on the south side, just before Sylvan Lake.  Unlike many of the other roadside waterfalls Crecelius Cascade has no pullout or sign that marks its location.  It is possible to park on the side of the road and take a closer walk to the falls.  Crecelius Cascade is a pretty two-tiered waterfall that might be seasonal.  We have only been on the East Entrance road twice, in early summer and Crecelius Cascade was flowing during both of those trips.
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The abundance of natural richness is all around in Yellowstone.  Looking for things not found on the park map is one of the great things about the park.  A personal new discovery is just around the corner in Yellowstone.  That is why I love the park and can’t wait to get back there.

  • Waterfalls of Yellowstone

There are many waterfalls in Yellowstone National Park to choose from, some are roadside falls like Firehole falls mentioned above Firehole Falls,  Undine FallsVirginia CascadeMoose FallsGibbon Falls, Rustic FallsTower FallsLewis Falls  Kepler Cascades, and of course the extraordinary Upper and Lower Falls while others require a hike to see like Wraith FallsLost Creek FallsFairy Falls or Mystic Falls. Whatever your plans are when you visit Yellowstone National Park make sure you seek out some of the great waterfalls that can be found in the park.

Sep 21

Mammoth Hot Springs Historic District: Yellowstone National Park

29218424764 7eb764feec z Mammoth Hot Springs Historic District: Yellowstone National Park
To take a walk through history is to take a stroll through Mammoth Hot Springs Historic District.  This area of the National Park really hits home the fact that Yellowstone is really old.  It is hard to imagine but in 1886 the U.S. Army marched into Mammoth Hot Springs to protect Yellowstone’s natural resources.  So to take a walk and see the old cavalry barracks and the parts of Old Fort Yellowstone that are still up is like taking a promenade through the past.
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Now if you have never been to Yellowstone National Park I do not recommend spending a lot time in the town and villages found in the park.  The park is huge.  There are just so many things to see, do, and hike.  That large amount of time spent not doing those things will probably end up feeling like a waste.  The towns can be a good place to learn about the park, but take it from this teacher, the best way to learn is by doing.
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However, if you have been to Yellowstone, checking out the visitor centers, historical museums, and villages can be a great way to get a fuller picture of the parks history.  A great place to do this is the Mammoth Hot Springs Historic District.  There they have guided and self-guided tours or if time is pressing take the online tour of Fort Yellowstone. For families with young children a stop here especially the Albright Visitor Center can be a nice treat for the kiddos.  They have a dedicated children’s area with hands-on displays, dioramas of the animals found inside the park, as well as their famous junior ranger’s programs.
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During our first two visits to Yellowstone National Park we spent as much time as we could on the trails and seeing the sights.  On our most recent visit we spent a little bit more time in areas like the Mammoth Hot Springs Historic District.  One of our kids loves touch tables and interactive exhibits and just learning things in general.  We have been lucky in that area.  Secondly as awesome as seeing hot springs and waterfalls are sometimes it is nice just to go someplace, sit down and relax a little.  Working on a junior ranger’s worksheet provides a little bit of a break between drives not only for us but our kids as well.
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Mammoth Hot Springs Historic District is a nice little stop if you have the time.  Mammoth Hot Springs should be a place on your list to visit when in Yellowstone.  The Hot Spring Terrace are an incredible sight.  Also the resident elk lounging about the buildings and homes is fun to see.  While a visit to Yellowstone will probably afford you many chances to see elk there is something about seeing them munching on the grass lawns in Mammoth that makes Yellowstone a unique experience.
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