Day 23 – Yellowstone to South Dakota

Day 23 – Yellowstone to South Dakota

At 3 a.m., I woke up to rain drops slowly hitting the tent.  Pretty quickly, the drops came faster and faster, turning into a pouring rain.

It was cold too – a low of 38 degrees was predicted.  But I had jeans and sweatpants on my lower half, four layers on my upper half, and a winter hat.  I was comfortable.

I fell back asleep in my sleeping bag until Luke and Nate woke us up suddenly at 4 a.m.  It was still pouring.

“Mom and Dad, there’s an animal outside our tent!” – they screamed in a whisper.

Me – “What?!?    Get in the middle of tent!”

We had to work hard to get Emma Grace up – but once she heard the noises, she got to the middle of the tent very quickly.

The noises – they sounded like snorts or growls at the backside of our tent.

Maybe it’s just a friendly bison, I thought.  We’re gonna be fine.

Then more snorts…

Jimmy thunderously clapped four times to try to scare off whatever was outside the tent.

More snorts…

More loud claps.

Admittedly, I was scared.  My heart was racing and I was shivering all at the same time.

The lady that checked us into the campground came to mind.  She told us that there had been a bear in the camp earlier in the week.  Could we be experiencing the next bear sighting in camp?

My imagination can run wild in these types of situations.  I could envision a grizzly bear outside our tent, with his large claw poised to rip through the fabric.

As we huddled together, I prayed – asking the Lord to protect our family.  We can’t all die in Yellowstone.

We were all freaking out!  Here’s some of the famous quotes:

“They’re surrounding us!”

“Why in the world did we camp at Yellowstone?  There’s too many animals here.”

“Where’s my knife?”

“Can we get in the van?”

Then we heard what sounded like someone (or something) knocking over a table – metal clanged to the ground.

Oh boy – keep praying!

As we prayed, the tent was being compromised by the heavy rain.  Rain drops were slowly hitting our pillows and sleeping bags.

Eventually, the noises slowed down and then stopped.

We unzippered a very small corner of the tent door to see outside.  We didn’t see any animals.

I only saw our silver van shimmering in the rain and the moonlight.  It was the only safe zone in sight.  It looked so good.

I was dreaming of making a dash for the van and getting inside to safety.

But that 20 feet or so seemed like miles.  How would we all get there in time?

Then Nate yelled in a whisper, “It’s a ranger, he’s coming with his light!”

“He’s coming to save us!”

It was an old man coming back from the bathroom with a lantern.

It was 4:55 a.m. and we were convinced that the animals (whatever they were) were gone.

All of sudden, another loud animal-like noise.

That’s weird!

It sounds like water hitting the tarp under the tent.

Jimmy then hit the roof of the tent to dislodge some collected rain and sure enough, a loud noise that sounded like snorting/growling occurred.

It was the rain falling on the tent the whole time.

The kids were not convinced.

At this point, the sun was beginning to rise and birds were beginning their morning calls.

I suggested that we all go back to bed – even if our beds were soggy.

Nate wouldn’t have any of it.  He decided to stay up to keep watch for the family.

Jimmy was joking about how silly we must have looked to God from His vantage point.  He must have been laughing at us as He looked down on our tent and saw no animals – only figments of our imaginations.

Again, Emma Grace was convinced that there was at least a wolf outside the tent.

Either way, the $26 I spent for the campsite was the best money we spent all trip.  The kids will have many tales (even if they are tall tales) to tell their kids someday.  Looking back, it was a great family memory, even if it was scary.

Who knew camping could be so entertaining and frightening?

As we slept, Luke and Emma Grace got into the van to sleep.

At 6:35 a.m., the van alarm screamed into the quiet campground and I bolted up in the tent.

“Jimmy, where are the keys?”

Thankfully, he had the keys in his hand as he slept and could turn off the alarm pretty quickly.

Leave it to the Stoppers to wake up the whole place!  Oh boy!

By the time of the van alarm wake-up call, we had a small version of Lake Yellowstone at the base of our tent.  It was treacherous trying to pack as thunder, lightning, and fits and starts of rain came through.

By the time we got back on the roads in Yellowstone, the rain had slowed to a chilly, light mist.

Our first recommendation for wildlife viewing was Hayden Valley.  Almost as soon as we turned in the valley, we saw male elk.

Along the way, we saw huge herds of buffalo as well as some right next to the road.

Did I mention that it was Father’s Day?  I had totally forgotten because the days tend to run together when you’re on vacation.  Jimmy loved getting to see all the animals in Yellowstone – a sweet Father’s Day gift with his family.

We also walked down the “Brink of Lower Falls” trail to see the 308 foot waterfall.  The .4 mile trail descends quickly to the viewing area.  You get a great view of the powerful, rushing water descending into the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.  Amazing!


As we headed on, we found a parking lot where we could touch the snow.  We got out the two sleds we’d carried around the country and let Jimmy, Nate, and Seth sled down the hill.  Sledding in June…


Then we hit a back-up…

a black bear in the road.  Her cub was up in the trees.

Next we drove through Lamar Valley – another good area to see wildlife.

We saw thousands more buffalo.

We were hoping to see a grizzly bear along the river but we were not successful.




But we did get to see another black bear with her three cubs.

Then we saw a buffalo momma and her calf.  Apparently, June is the time to see females and their babies.

We also saw a groundhog…

and a pronghorn…

and a fox.

We had a banner day of wildlife.  Thank you, Lord.

From there, we exited Yellowstone at the northeast entrance and headed toward South Dakota.

Once again, we had to drive through the mountains, this time in NE Wyoming.  The visibility was about 30 feet in front of us because of thick fog.  We were thankful to drive into Cody, WY and get some lunch.

About an hour past Cody, we saw a McDonald’s in Buffalo, Wyoming (see a theme?).  I decided to stop for a bathroom break and Jimmy treated himself to a Father’s Day dessert.

I got back in the driver’s seat and as Jimmy was getting back in the passenger seat, an obviously upset woman walked in front of our van.  Jimmy asked her if she was okay.

From my vantage point, I could see that she had bruises all over her face and neck.  The rest of her body was covered up.  She told Jimmy that she had been beaten by her boyfriend and she was running away to her mom’s house.

I got out of the car to join Jimmy in the conversation.  This lady’s name was Leslie.

She looked at me with a strange look on her face.

She said, “I know you.”

Me – “No, I don’t think so.  I’ve never met you before.”

Leslie:  “No, you’re the lady who helped me this morning.  You let me use your cell phone.  The blond hair, your height…I know you.  Don’t you remember?”

All I can say is that I think it was one of God’s small graces – I looked familiar to her so I immediately had favor in her eyes.

We explained to her that we had prayed before our trip for God to bring people into our path that He wanted us to minister to.  It was not an accident that we ran into her.  God was pursuing her.

We talked to Leslie about what true love is.  It’s not being hit by someone who says he loves you.  It’s the pure love of God.  She cried.  She told us that she kept looking over her shoulder, afraid that he was following her.

Jimmy shared the gospel and she said that she’d been saved about nine months ago in Portland, Oregon.  She confessed that she wasn’t following God.

Leslie was on her way to her mom’s house in South Dakota.  She’d taken a bus to that point and was going to catch the next bus in the morning.

We asked her where she was staying.  She told us that she was going to hang out in the gas station across the parking lot until they closed and then just sleep outside.

At that moment, I looked up and saw a Super 8 motel across the street.

We asked Leslie if we could put her up in the motel for the night.  She agreed after a little convincing.

Once we cleaned out a spot in the van, we were able to drive her over to the motel and get her a room.

While Jimmy went in to get a room, the kids and I talked more with Leslie.  She has a 19 year-old son.  The kids were very welcoming to this lady that we just met.

When Jimmy returned, we all stood outside the van holding hands in a circle and prayed for Leslie.  The prayers the kids offered up to the Lord were a sweet chorus to Jimmy and me.  Even the youngest, Seth, prayed in such a tender yet biblical way for this broken woman.

We walked Leslie to her room (so she’d feel safe), showed her the complete Bible the receptionist said she could keep (normally they don’t let guests take them), and marked a few verses/chapters for her to read.  We had already encouraged her to find a Bible-believing church in South Dakota and go straight to the pastor for help.  We implored her to let God’s people, God’s Spirit, and God’s Word minister to her and help her to walk with God.

Her boyfriend smashed her phone so I couldn’t get her number.  We begged her not to go back to him – not to believe his lies.

As I thought about her situation, it reminded me of the new song, “Fear is a Liar” by Zach Williams.

Here’s a part of the song:

When he told you you’re not good enough
When he told you you’re not right
When he told you you’re not strong enough
To put up a good fight
When he told you you’re not worthy
When he told you you’re not loved
When he told you you’re not beautiful
That you’ll never be enough
Fear, he is a liar
He will take your breath
Stop you in your steps
Fear he is a liar
He will rob your rest
Steal your happiness
Cast your fear in the fire
‘Cause fear he is a liar
When he told you were troubled
You’ll forever be alone
When he told you you should run away
You’ll never find a home
When he told you you were dirty
And you should be ashamed
When he told you you could be the one
That grace could never change
Fear he is a liar
He will take your breath
Stop you in your steps
Fear he is a liar
He will rob your rest
Steal your happiness
Cast your fear in the fire
‘Cause fear he is a liar

Please pray for Leslie, that she won’t be sucked back into this hateful relationship with her boyfriend and that she would seek’s God help to walk a new path with Him.  We know that leaving an abusive relationship is nearly impossible – but God is about the impossible.  In our line of work, we get the privilege of seeing Him do the impossible on a regular basis.

From there, we traveled on to Keystone, South Dakota where we’d spend the night.

Thank you, Lord, for bringing Leslie into our lives.  We ask that you give her strength to seek you and to see that you love to welcome the weary and burdened – Matthew 11: 28-30.

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