Monday, September 6, 2010

Home Again - Sunday, August 29, 2010

End of the three week road trip. Randy argues that the trip actually ended on Saturday, as we had left on a Sunday. Bryn likes to stretch vacations out as long as possible, so she argues that since we left just before lunch on a Sunday, the actual trip end is also on Sunday. It's a debate that will never be resolved, as Randy's logic and Bryn's will don't always reach the same conclusion. ;-)

Bret was happy to re-visit his favorite Valley Hungarian Sausage Company in Littlerock for the famous ham and cheese sandwich. As we drove the familiar route home, we took some photos of Vasquez Rocks through the window. Definitely more dramatic than yesterday's Mormon Rocks.

We got home late afternoon, then went to Bryn's parents house for dinner, and the boys had fun playing with 5 little furballs. One of the neighborhood feral cats had kittens again, but her parents were able to tame them. There is a long story that goes with catching, fixing, and finding homes for kittens, but
that's not for this blog. Anyway, these are 2 of the little cuties; 3 of the 5 have been adopted already.

When we got home, our cat were happy to see us. Storm liked cuddling up with some stuffed animals on the couch.

Everyone was happy to be home, except for Bryn. I would much rather be out exploring, visiting friends, museums, and other interesting sights and attractions instead of returning to work and school schedules, multiple scout meetings, housework, museum projects, etc. Although I do like having more options on what I can wear! As you can tell from the photos, we packed lightly which meant lots of fashion repeats (if you can call our wardrobe of t-shirts "fashion!").

I hope to get the boys to sit down and write some of their highpoints of the trip, so there could be another post....

Aug 28, Sat - boys' favorites, pinball & fireworks

We said good-bye to the red rocks of Utah as we exited that state
and took a quick trip through the northwest corner of Arizona. The
Virgin River Gorge was beautiful, quite a bit of water still flowing in
it, but no spot to pull over to get a proper photo. Just past it we found
these mountains with fine visible stratigraphy and a scattering of Joshua
trees in the foreground (top photo). In Nevada, we had a planned stop at the Moapa Paiute Travel Center. If you go, the gas is a tad more expensive than in Las Vegas, but they make homemade potato chips in their cafe and they make the stop worthwhile. Plus the boys get to salivate over fireworks, and
Bryn gets to admire the baskets and other artworks in the shop.

Our one and only Las Vegas stop was the Pinball Hall of Fame.
They've relocated since last year, and are much easier to get to.
Take the exit near Excalibur and drive east to 610 E. Tropicana.
The place is filled with vintage and new games, most are 25 cents,
and all of the profits go to charity. Like last year, we had fun using up
all of our extra laundry quarters that we had saved up.

Late in the afternoon we left Vegas and headed up to the San
Gabriel Mountains. The 3rd photo is of the Mormon Rocks near the
Cajon Pass, the eastern extension of Vasquez Rocks near Agua
Dulce. Mormon Rocks are more rounded, not quite as dramaticly
tall and tilted as Vasquez, but still nice to look at.

We stayed overnight in Wrightwood. The enthusiastic boys shot off
a small fountain firework in the fireplace. Very exciting, but it threw
off a lot of sparks despite it's tiny size, and that won't be happening again!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Aug 27, Fri - Idaho to Utah

We're definitely on the tail end of this trip. Bryn and Bret had a disappointment when we found out that the Idaho Museum of Natural History would be closed until Oct. No dinos nor fossils for Bret. Bryn was sad to miss the extensive collection of Shoshone and Bannock basketry formerly displayed there. Oh well, another thing to add to the future trip list. Plus the Golden Spike National Historic Site in Promontory, Utah. We were within about 30 miles of it, but just didn't have the extra time.

Pocatello isn't too far from the Utah border, but this stretch of Interstate 15 had a disproportionate amoung of road kill and tire re-treds compared to the other 3,000 miles that we've driven thus far. Maybe the tires blew apart and hit the animals? Maybe the animals caused the tires to blow? Probably neither scenario, just an interesting note (or not).

Our big outing of the day was the Museum of Ancient Life at Thanksgiving Point, south of Salt Lake City. Bret was very excited about seeing this big dinosaur museum, and he really enjoyed the 3-D movie about ancient marine reptiles. Randy expected the place to be lame, but was pleasantly surprised. We all had a good time going through and looking at things. The museum is 10 years old, it looks very slick and superficial, but there were some great exhibits, dinosaurs, and fossils.

After this stop, we went to the town of Orem to see an army-surplus store and an air-soft store that Reed had researched on the internet. The next 3 hours were spent driving to Cedar City, our stop for the night. We have some favorite stopping spots planned for tomorrow, and will be home on Sunday.

Photos: grasslands vs. irrigated land in northern Utah; T-Rex chased the boys into the museum; Bret found Bigfoot - it's a diplodocus; Reed wished to buy things at this store but didn't.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Aug 26, Thursday - Grand Teton, Snake River, & Idaho

We crossed back into Grand Teton National Park and had some beautiful views of the range and Jenny Lake. After lunch we joined Mike the Guide on a Solitude Float Trip. We put in at Deadman's Bar on the Snake River, and went south for over 2 hours. Reed helped pull the raft out at the end. Still no moose, but we saw bald eagles, Canada geese and merganser ducks - the fastest swimming ducks in the world. One gave us a fine demonstration! The photo is of the glacier on Mt. Moran, named for the artist Thomas Moran who helped popularize and therefore preserve the area through his paintings.

Following that fine afternoon activity, we drove west and crossed the Rocky Mountains at Wilson Pass. In Idaho, we were surrounded by wheat farms instead of potatoes. We were too late for the Potato Museum, and also for the Shoshone - Bannock Museum on the Fort Hall Reservation. Two things to add to the agenda for a future trip. We arrived in Pocatello at 8:30 pm and had a swim before bedtime.

Aug 25 - more Yellowstone, part 2

After lunch, we decided to meander back to the Great Fountain Geyser area to see if maybe we could get lucky with the eruption. Yes indeed! Randy's geyser book described the pre-eruption sequence, and it had started just a little bit before we got there. This wondrous geyser is the fan-type, which means instead of going straight up like Old Faithful, it fans out. The hole where the water shoots up is about 14' wide. And Great Fountain erupts between 5 – 7 times in a sequence, then lies dormant for about 12 hours. We were again lucky – there were 5 episodes today. About 40 ' wide and 100' tall at its biggest. I hate to say “impressive” again, so instead I'll settle on breathtaking.

We took a vote and decided that Randy is like the Great Fountain Geyser – he erupts 5-7 times (sneezing) in the morning and then is more or less human for the rest of the day.

We visited the Fountain Paint Pots area next, enjoying more geysers, fumaroles, and nice colors due to the bacterial mats and minerals. Then we stopped in the Old Faithful area – and it was going off again! We managed to see Old Faithful Geyser erupt 4 times during our Yellowstone visits. As Randy said, we had great geyser karma! We stopped to see the new Visitor Center. Impressive new building with a huge window that overlooks Old Faithful. Cork floor in the exhibit area – a nice touch. The boys liked the Young Scientist area. Good information and a nice presentation, although it was a bit juvenile for their age. We finished up with some huckleberry ice cream at the Old Faithful Lodge, a sweet end to the day at the geyser fields.

We drove back to Flagg Ranch and had dinner in the restaurant there. Then Bryn, Reed and Bret took the van along the Grassy Lake Road to watch for wildlife. We turned around when the road narrowed, turned to gravel, and the sign said “Idaho 47 mi.” So we drove back, and saw one deer from the road. We went back to where Randy saw the moose, no luck. But we saw a likely-looking road that went along the river, the sign said Teton National Forest – Sheffield Creek. So off we went. After awhile the road got very narrow and we couldn't turn around, so we had to back out! The boys were full of giggles when I nearly hit a tree (pine needles and branches don't count), and it was a fun adventure. Unfortunately, no moose or other animals. After we were back, Bryn and Bret took a short moose-hunting walk, but again no luck. Fingers crossed for tomorrow, we're returning to the Grand Tetons.

Aug 25, Wed - more Yellowstone, part 1

Randy had an early morning walk by the river, and thought he saw a moose through the haze. There was a car on the road above, that driver also stopped and took a look. Randy later went back with Bret, but didn't see anything. As we left the Flagg Ranch area, we all drove by that area again. We saw a pair of deer, but no moose.

Remember the grizzly by the elk yesterday? Apparently they were both still there. The road in was a difficult drive – impacted with cars and slow traffic. There was a ranger out there yelling at people to get back in their cars and to keep moving. Slowly we inched through the area. Then we noticed people looking uphill and pointing. Another bear was coming down! It crossed in front of us, then continued down the other side toward the river and the elk carcass. Wow, two bears on this trip!

Today was the big dedication of the new Visitor Center in the Old Faithful area. We didn't want to be in the mess, so we drove right through and went to the Firehole River – Midway Geyser Basin area. Bryn and Bret saw A-0 Geyser go off. According to Randy's geyser book, that's a rare one. We liked Gemini, a pair of small geysers that go off in tandem. Most impressive was Great Fountain Geyser. It was due to go off between 12:25 – 4:25, so we decided to gamble and come back later. Bret really liked the White Dome Geyser in this area. It is very old and quite tall, like a white pyramid. The opening is very small, so it shoots a thin stream high upward - see above. Firehole Lake and next-door Black Warrior Lake were beautiful, so many colors due to various bacterial mats and minerals. The photo of the 4 of us above was taken by these lakes.

We returned to the Madison Junior Ranger Education Station for our picnic lunch. We did see a really fat squirrel here, but we didn't feed it. However, the wind knocked Randy's plate over, so there were probably some tiny chips left in the dirt. We tried hard to pick all of them up.

Next, we went to the Jr Ranger Ed Station. The same ranger was there, so the boys were awarded their Scouts and Rangers badge. This is what it consists of: over 10 hours spent with rangers!

A boy scout needs to have at least 10 hours spent with a ranger – as talks or hikes, or as other programs such as volunteer projects. We have a log book in the car that we took on our big road trip last year, so we took it out. We had a list of the junior ranger badges they earned in 2009, and approximate dates because we also had our mileage log that recorded the city and date when we bought gas. After dinner last night, we sat down and reminisced about all of last year's national park visits, which ones had ranger programs, what they were about, and how much time they took. Almost 10 hours. Then we added two projects that the boys did this year. Each had a school field trip to Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. Bret planted trees, and Reed did air quality and weather projects in the Parks as Laboratories program. That took them well over 10 hours each!

The ranger was from Ohio, and was the mom of an Eagle Scout. She chatted a bit about Hopewell Mounds and Dayton Aviation, two of the badges that the boys earned last year. This is a great new award available to scouts, so Reed's troop and Bret's pack will both be hearing about it when we start back in September.

Aug 24 - Tuesday, Yellowstone part 2

We had a picnic lunch just north of Grand Canyon, near Cascade Lake. As in Grand Teton National Park, there were warnings about bear activity and cleaning everything up. As a result, there weren't any scavenging chipmunks or squirrels. Needless, to say we did our part by cleaning up the picnic area. Leave no trace!

The Norris Geyser Basin was next on the agenda, we took the Back Basin Trail and saw some spectacular sights. Along the trail was Steamboat geyser, the highest spouting active geyser in the world – it can shoot up to 300 feet in the air. It only has major eruptions rarely and we didn't see one; however, it shot up in a minor shot for us. Bret is pictured by it. Most of the trails are boardwalks, but you can still get steamed by geysers. And there are warnings everywhere to stay on the path, don't throw things, no pets, etc. In one place the trail had been relocated because new hot springs had appeared right beneath the boardwalk. Reed is pictured by the Porcelain Basin.

The boys had their Junior Ranger booklets, and the only thing left for them to do was attend a ranger talk. We stopped at the Junior Ranger Education Station in Madison, and the boys had fun playing “Who Wants to be a Wolf Watcher,” a game-show style informative presentation on wolves which we all enjoyed. After this, the boys were awarded their junior ranger badges. The ranger asked if the boys were scouts. With an affirmative answer, she told us about the Scouts and Rangers program that started in 2009. More on this tomorrow!

We stopped at some more turn-offs as we headed down to the Old Faithful area. When we arrived there, Old Faithful was going off again! Always a fun thing to see. We headed into Hamilton's, a shop and diner. There was a small herd of bison near one end of the store. After our dinner there, we noticed that one of the bison had wandered over next to the Sportsmobile! We had to hang out a little longer until it wandered away.

We passed Lewis Lake as we drove down to the Park's south gate. At one point, there were a lot of cars and people out looking down the slope. We asked what was up, and the answer was “grizzly bear in the river eating an elk.” So we turned around and parked and joined the mob. By then the bear was on the beach, we could just see it's head in the shadow of the trees. We could see the elk carcass in the river, stripped ribs pointing skyward. Not much of a view of a grizzly, but we saw it and that was amazing.

We stayed at Flagg Ranch. That's located in the Rockefeller area, a patch of land between Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park. John Rockefeller Jr bought the land and donated it to the government, but it is not part of either National Park. We hoped to see moose, but twilight walks above the river and marshy areas only brought mosquitos out.

Aug 24, Tuesday - Yellowstone part 1

Cody is less than an hour's drive to the East Gate of Yellowstone. What a beautiful drive up into the Rockies. We saw a bison and a bald eagle soon after we passed through the park gates. Our first stop was at Fishing Bridge, a small visitor center with natural history exhibits. From there, we went north and saw the stunning Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone (pictured above). Not as deep nor wide as Arizona's Grand Canyon, yet very impressive. More trees and blue water.

We were excited to see scattered elk and bison through this eastern part of the Park. Then, as we rounded a corner, cars were stopped. Stampede! A herd of bison was crossing a street and heading off to the Hayden Valley area, but some of them decided to take a run down the middle of the road. We pulled over like everyone else, and had fun watching the bison walk within a couple of feet of the car. The other photo is of a buffalo wallow in the Hayden Valley.

Aug 23 Monday - Cody and Ann Marie

Our 2-day museum pass was put to good use. We arrived around 9, and met up for lunch around noon. The boys went off to see more firearms - Bret likes the door handles! Bryn tagged along with Ann Marie, met some staff, and toured the storage (baskets, of course!). Now we're talking about writing a grant sometime to bring me up to help update their basket records.... Above is the Whitney Art Museum's Frederic Remington Studio exhibit, complete with baskets.

After lunch, the boys had some pool time while Bryn did laundry and Randy caught up on things. Then Bryn went back for more museum time while the boys did some grocery shopping, and had another stop at the Fireworks Factory. Ann Marie met us for dinner, and we all shared sticky honey-covered sopapillas for dessert. A repeat of Sunday night – the boys went home, Bryn went to Ann Marie's for a couple of hours of chatting. Thanks Ann Marie, it was great to see you!

Sun Aug 22 - Billings MT to Cody WY

We had a lazy morning in the hotel, then hit the road for Cody. As we headed east, the land changed from wheat fields to corn fields, then more sage prairie and some badlands. We saw another pronghorn. The kids got a kick seeing the big bat mascot at the school in Belfry. Bye-bye Montana, we had a great time in this state.

We pulled into Cody WY, had some lunch, got settled in, then went to the Buffalo Bill Museum for a 2-hour overview. It can be viewed as one museum or as 5: Plains Indian Museum, Cody Firearms Museum, Draper Museum of Natural History, Whitney Art Museum, and Buffalo Bill's History Museum. We walked through 3 ½ galleries in our 2 hrs, spotting the areas we wanted to return to the next day. Reed's favorite is the Cody Firearms Museum. Bryn and Bret are standing by artist Joseph Henry Sharp's studio/cabin. And...a little visit to the Fireworks Factory Warehouse. Reed has been looking forward to this for over a week, ever since he saw an ad for it the first time we came through Yellowstone. As we drove to town to Bryn's friend's house, we saw a number of deer walking through neighborhoods and chewing on lawns.

Ann Marie gave us a warm welcome at her home on the hill. We met Jeni the dog, and had a little tour before Randy started sneezing. Time for dinner! Off to town to try an Italian place that had changed hands since Ann Marie had been there before. It was yummy, all was well. The boys walked home, stopping at Wendy's for a frostie dessert. Bryn returned to Ann Marie's house to catch up on years of museum talk. Bryn met her cat Cinnamon, too. No wonder Randy had a problem at her house!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

8/21 Crow Fair and Little Bighorn, MT

We met Stan and Betty, and they led us in to Crow Fair. This is one of the largest pow wows in the plains, and it is held at Crow Agency. We enjoyed the parade, the regalia, the vendors, and the food.

The color guard led the parade, then veterans and soldiers, then the Queen and Princesses. Then came many (maybe a hundred?) people dressed in their very finest, with beautiful objects of family wealth decorating themselves and their horses. The photo shows a woman in the parade in her deerskin dress; an elktooth dress is draped over the back of the horse; a beaded cradleboard is on the side, along with parfleches and other items. It is a very proud display of family pieces. You can see Reed and Bret sitting in the back of the open van behind the horse, and there are teepee tops behind them. After the equestrians, there were wagons, trucks, and trailers. Many were draped with Pendleton blankets, quilts, and beaded items. Some held children wearing their finest, some held politicians looking for votes, some held drummers and dancers. It was 100 degrees out today, and there were comments about how this is about as hot as it gets. It certainly drained us. We were sitting along the parade route in relatively cool clothes; the parade folks were wearing wool, deerskin and blankets. I don't know how they were able to dance in the afternoon.

Little Bighorn National Monument is just two miles from Crow Agency. We went down there and heard the battlefield talk from the ranger. The boys both earned their Junior Ranger badges. We talked to the ranger who swore them in. It turns out that her sister was Crow Queen in the parade this morning. Due to the extreme heat and lack of any shade, we chose to drive the 5 mile road instead of take some of the winding walkways. The photo of the golden hills shows some white marble markers. They mark where soldiers fell. They were later reburied in the military cemetery near the visitor center. It was sad that Custer, a vain leader looking for his own glory, led his men into a disaster. The Lakota victory was well-celebrated, yet the battle marked the end of traditional life for most Native Americans on the plains.

It was a bittersweet day. We enjoyed our time at the fair and with our friends, but it was with a huge hole in our hearts. In 1992, my friend Faith invited me to Crow Fair. When we were planning this trip, I found out that Faith had cancer. Talking with Stan, a friend we had in common, he decided he'd come up from Oklahoma to go to Crow Fair with Faith and us. Heartbreakingly, she passed away sooner than expected. We paid a visit to the cemetery, thanking a friend for taking such pride in her culture, and feeling so sorry to have missed her.


Happy Birthday to Reed! He didn't get to sleep in, but he was pleasantly surprised by a "birthday in a bag" - some little gifts we carried with us, a couple of things picked up along the way, and the promise of a proper party with a birthday cake when we get home.

For dinner, we went to Jake's Steakhouse with our friends Stan and Betty. Reed got a gigantic piece of mud pie for dessert. It came on a plate with "happy birthday" drizzled in chocolate along the outside edge, and a candle. It was so huge that Reed couldn't finish it!

In the hotel tonight, Reed got to spend time on internet sites that he enjoys - air soft guns, and cheat sites for some of his video games. He didn't get to pick the day's activities, and his lack of complaining about that shows his maturity. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that this sweet start to his teenage years will continue for awhile! Happy Birthday, Reed!

8/20 Great Falls to Billings

We saw Black Eagle Falls, one of the four waterfalls that make up the Great Falls of the Missouri River. The three close to town are all dammed, and the fourth was too far to the north to visit. Making our way to the southeast, we stopped in the town of Reed's Fort. The name of the town was changed to Lewistown many years ago, but to us, it will always be Reed's Fort. We had a stop at an Army-Navy surplus store to pick up some camping things and camo clothes for the boys. Then we visited the Central Montana Museum. Reed found WWII materials, and Bret found a Torosaurus. Bret also found some books on Montana mysteries, legends, and ghosts, and he listened with rapt attention to the museum volunteer tell a story of a ghost that she once saw.

When we were close to Billings, we visited Pictograph Cave State Park. This has a lovely new visitor center and interpretive walk. There are two caves to visit, both with red ocher pictos. Once in Billings, we met up with Bryn's old friend Stan and his friend Betty for dinner. Later the boys all headed up to the room while Bryn, Stan and Betty talked for hours in the lobby.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

8/19 endnotes for Glacier

Here are some more majestic views of Glacier National Park. Today I came up with a comparison - Glacier is Yosemite on steroids! We all love Yosemite. Now, image it with more than one valley and a fraction of the people. We only crossed west to east. There are other areas to explore, plus Waterton - the Canadian portion. I definitely want to come back, and can see why Randy was eager to re-visit after 24 years.
Top photo: Going to the Sun Road over the Three Arches. Traffic was stopped as this was the one-lane-road section. Center: Heaven's Peak. Bottom two: St. Mary's Lake.