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Though we got a healthy dose of mountains driving through Yellowstone and hiking with Jack’s family, we still wanted to explore more of them while we were so close. The Devil’s Staircase (ever notice how pioneers named everything Devil’s something or other? Devil’s Tower, Seven Devils Mountain [although named by native peoples], Devil’s Washbowl, Devil’s Bedstead…) was on our shortlist of hikes we were considering but I was hesitant because of the distance and the fact that it had switchback trails up to the top of the peak (flashback to the Smokey Mountains and the warning along the trail to not let kids skip along ahead). Eventually, I worked up the courage to go. I mean, you only live once, right? If nothing else, I could always chicken out and turn around and run tucktailed back to the car.

The drive wasn’t particularly far. Once we passed the wheat and alfalfa fields closer to the city, agriculture turned to almost strictly potatoes. They were starting to flower and were planted as far as the eye could see. Idaho has very much earned it’s right as the potato capital of the world.

We left a little later in the day than anticipated (yards and gardens need to be irrigated when it’s your turn) so it wasn’t until about lunchtime that we were approaching the head of the trail. We had thought about packing peanut butter and jelly sandwiches but after days and days of literally eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in the car as we drove, I’m afraid I may have ruined everyone on them. We decided to take advantage of a small touristy town and instead enjoyed a delicious lunch from a cute little cafe.
That gave the family members that were trailing behind due to chores a chance to catch up. Everyone got their own lunch (gasp!) and we had everything from appetizers to waffles to hamburgers to fill us up.
The drive to the trail was a bit unnerving itself. It was a bumpy, windy gravel road that went up and down and up and down all the way to the parking lot. By the time we parked, Kate got out of the backseat, said she didn’t feel good, and promptly barfed up her lunch. Bummer.

It was either motion sickness, mountain sickness, or a combination of both. We thought about turning around there but Kate decided she was well enough to continue. I mean, it’s not like we have a chance to hike in Idaho every day.

The mountains call Claire.

From the getgo, the scenery was beautiful. We got great views of the Teton mountain range, waterfalls, and the pine forests. We took a little side trail to crawl around a waterfall and take a quick break to try out our water pump before continuing.
Once we crossed over the mountain stream we’d been walking next to, the trail started heading up. Kate gave her best but she was fading fast. She was running on almost empty because we hadn’t packed many snacks and still didn’t really feel like eating. I would have turned back for the car but some of the kids wanted to keep going and if I was being honest, so did I. There was so much to see in every break of trees that I wanted to keep wandering. Kate sat down on a rock, Jack said he’d stay with her and catch up with us or meet when we turned back, and the rest of us reluctantly continued.
The trail kept getting steeper but in general, was an easy trail. Enough people walked it that the vegetation wasn’t encroaching onto the trail and the dirt was packed hard and smooth. In a couple of spots, all the large trees had been swept down the mountainside, leaving only the flexible saplings tilted and growing. Avalanches had swept through the area sometime over winter and it was incredible to see the sum of their sheer power. Glad I wasn’t there when it happened.
It wasn’t much further until we reached the first snowfield. Granted, it was dirt-covered and mostly gone, but it was still snow. We threw a few fithy snowballs at each other and the adults decided what to do next. I would have loved to have pushed on to the top but being a mother means I don’t always get to do what I want to do, when I want to do it. Most of the kids were slowing down and were getting tired enough that our breaks were becoming so frequent that we weren’t making much progress and as strong as I like to think I am, carrying Peter, who is a big kid, would have been rough.
The only one of my kids who was insistent she could make it all the way was Claire. She had taken to the mountains like a mountain goat and begged to be able to go on with her cousins and uncles the rest of the way. So, we did an exchange of kids–one of the younger cousins was going to come back with us while Claire went on with the older ones. I loaded her backpack with whatever socks and sweatshirts we had (remember, we came all the way to the mountains without any real warm clothes…it was almost July! I thought we’d be safe but nope!), snacks and water and told her to please not die. Then we said goodbye to her and started back for the car.
Only about five minutes after leaving Claire, we ran into Jack and Kate, who was feeling much better. She’d taken a short nap in a small cave they came across (how’s that for a childhood story) and she was feeling amazing again. I told Jack he could catch up to Claire and her group but he didn’t want to leave me to walk a fleet of kids back to the car, then drive them home by myself. Dad’s don’t always get to do what they want to do when they want to do it either.
Even though the trail was mostly downhill, the breaks became even more frequent. We’d probably walked a good several miles and everyone’s feet were sore. We ate whatever few snacks we had left and continued retracing our steps.
A small offshoot of the bigger mountain stream was the perfect place to cool our feet and fill up waterbottles before we pushed on through the last mile back to the car. When we arrived, everyone piled back in and most of the kids were asleep before we even left the park.
When Claire got home later that night, she told me all the excitement she’d had going up to the top of The Devil’s Staircase. Not five minutes after parting ways, they saw a moose–I still hadn’t seen any new wildlife since coming out west (unless you count one measly bison in Yellowstone)–no bighorn sheep, moose, bears, mountain goats, elk…NOTHING. After the moose, it was winding trails up to the top where they slid down the clean snowfields, had an amazing view of the surrounding peaks, and in general, felt accomplished.
Yeah, well we got ice cream in warm cinnamon sugar donut cones on the way back. Basically the same level of satisfaction, I imagine.
The trip was a little different than we had imagined but that’s part of the fun of the journey. Someday, I’d love to return when the kids are older and I don’t have to carry them up and their stride isn’t so small and conquer The Devil’s Staircase. But if not, we had a scenic journey that made for sore legs and good stories.

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True stories of raising children, remodeling, braving the elements and plotting out life, all while living on a humble acreage in central Indiana.

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