Friday, September 30, 2016

Day 5 afternoon: Grand Teton National Park

Golden Eagle
Jackson, WY

We were surprised to sail right into Grand Teton National Park without showing our card. We were headed south. Later at the southern end of the park we saw a line of people stopping to pay or show cards at the entrance. Not sure why we were never asked from the north.

The weather has been off and on all day, but it was completely overcast by the time we reached Colter Bay Village. At the visitor center we watched the 30-minute movie Yellowstone Aflame about the huge 1988 fire. It was expecially striking after seeing all the recovered fire damage in Yellowstone and coming through the recently burned out area. I kept visualizing Windlifter, Blade Ranger and the others from Simeon's favorite movie, attributing their personalities to the planes and vehicles fighting the 1988 fire.

It was still cloudy and cold when we came out, so instead of picnicking, we ate at the local restaurant. Expensive with slow service, but by the time we came out, the sun was shining!

Here's our first view of the Teton Range.

We turned off US 89 to take the park road. Our Secrets of the National Parks book suggested Signal Mountain. We thought Mom would enjoy the hike. Okay. So we drove up, and she only hiked the last 200 feet.

But the view was worth it.

Turned off toward Jenny Lake, the Lake Louise of the area.

Sunshine was coming and going, and Steve wanted to take the Moose Wilson Road, a beautiful backroad through the forest in and out of the park. It came out at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, the famous ski area. We only got a splattering of rain.

Steve accuses me of always wanting to know what is around the next corner when I hike. He wants to know what is up the next road. When we reached Hwy 22, instead of turning east toward Jackson and our hotel, we turned west toward the town of Wilson and Teton Pass. It really was worth it.

Now we are settled in a grossly overpriced motel (3* room for 5* price), but that's what you get in a tourist community still in high season. I plan to have Mom's leftover caesar from lunch with cheese and crackers for supper.

Tomorrow is more exploring the area.

Thank you, Lord, ...
for sunshine sometimes.
for these spectacular mountains.
for Mom's spunk.
for yummy imporvised supper.

Day 5, morning: Yellowstone

Golden Eagle
Jackson, WY

 This was our last morning in Yellowstone. We backed up, ate another great breakfast at our Best Western Desert Inn, and headed east into the park. The bad thing about staying in West Yellowstone is that you are driving east (into the sun) to the park in the morning and west (into the sun) to get back to your hotel in the evening. That into the sun part is a pain. I suppose we could have hung around the hotel until later, but there is too much to see--including the early sun on the mist along with the elk in Madison River.

We were headed south toward Grand Teton National Park. The plan was to stop at places we missed yesterday on our way. Of course, there is way too much to see and it wasn't possible to see everything we had missed. 

We took Firehole Canyon Drive, a one-way side road up a canyon with a waterfall. Wonderful views and even a swimming hole among rock pillars above the falls. I HAVE to go back in summer and swim there!

Here is one of my favorite mud holes at Lower Geyser Basin.

The real name it turns out is Red Spouter, on a sign at the far side. It emerged after an earthquake in 1959. Midway Geyser Basin was completely closed in with fog. Mom sayed in the car, but we didn't go far. Just a short distance down the road the Biscuit Basin had blue skies.

We did run into stopped traffic. Quite a herd on both sides of the car.

Kepler Cascades was spectacular and right by the road--an easy walk for Mom, but she said it needed a sign saying, "View in the afternoon" since it was in the shade this morning and pictures not worth sharing. We headed south with no more stops.

We left the park for national forest land. We saw lots of evidence of past fires in Yellowstone, but today we went through an area of recent damage. 

The ground was still black and clean-up vehicles were pushing around fallen logs just like in grandson Simeon's favorite movie Planes: Fire and Rescue. By tonight's TV news, I think it is still going on. Simeon, we need Dusty to come help! 

By lunch time we were into Grand Teton National Park. So, today has two posts.

Thank you, Lord, ...
for sunlight on the misty river.
for elk in the mist.
for canyons and water falls.
for those placid bison among the cars.
for firefighters protecting our forests and towns.
that more didn't burn.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Day 4: More unexpected adventure

Great Western Desert Inn
West Yellowstone, MT

I knew this would be an incredible day. There was so much I wanted to show Steve. We started east along the Madison River. The mist rose from the warm water into the cold morning. Steve joked that we couldn’t leave before he saw his bear. We saw a big horned sheep yesterday—in the shadows where we would definitely have missed it if there hadn’t been a half dozen vehicles stopped all looking the same direction. But so far no bear or elk. Lots of bison. Bison are sort of like impala in Africa—as awesome as the first sighting is, before long it is “just another...”

At Madison we continued east along the Gibbon River. Stopped at Gibbon Falls, but too long a walk to be worth the effort for Mom. She did get out at Beryl Spring. It’s right on the road. The steam was so thick in the cold it was as if the boardwalk went into some magical fantasyland.

We left her in the car for Artists Paintpots. We remember that being a bit far for her last time we were here, but I wanted Steve to see the colors. The day was often cloudy so the colors weren’t as cool as I remember, but still beautiful. I tried some videos this time.

Turning east at Norris, we took the sideroad to Virginia Cascade. Very narrow, one way, drop off to the right. Not much time to see the falls because there was no place to pull off and another car behind. (Must be way worse in high summer!) But super cool.

At Canyon Village we turned south. Steve was duly impressed with the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.

At the Grand View along North Rim Drive, I decided to take the trail to Inspiration Point. Steve and Mom would drive—only the trail was blocked. “Closed for construction.” I dashed back to the road in time to see the back of our car rounding the corner out of sight. I started out walking the road, but when I came to the sign that said “Inspiration Point closed for construction,” I turned back, thinking they would come looking where they dropped me off. But they didn’t. Cell service is terrible in the park. How do you contact someone without a cell phone?!?

I had a couple bars so I sent a text to both Steve and Mom, saying, “I’m where you dropped me off” although I had little faith that they would get it. Then I thought maybe I should start walking after all. This time I got a ride. Sure enough the car was parked at the blocked road to Inspiration Point. Except Steve wasn’t there.

Mom told me he had started down the road to meet me (as he supposed) coming across on the trail. Did I mention that it was threatening rain?

I started walking down the road. It was beautifully isolated, and easy walking since it was paved. Then I saw it ahead of me, crossing the road.


And me without my bear spray! (Back home with my zoom camera.) All I could think was poor Steve is missing this! Except he was just around the curve in the road, having found the trail blocked at the Inspiration Point end as well and hoping I had walked the road instead. North Rim Road is one way and it would have taken a long time to go all the way around.)

So the time searching for each other wasn’t wasted, and it never did more than shower during the day.

And later we saw elk. (When a bunch of cars are pulled off the road and people are all looking the same direction, it’s a pretty good clue.) This one was right in the middle of the Gibbon River where it empties into the Madison, but pretty far away for a picture without zoom. Then a little further down the Madison we didn’t need cars and people to show us (although they were there) because the elk were right on the road as easy to spot as bison.

Between the bear and the elk we stopped at Old Faithful. Surprise, surprise! It erupted faithfully. We had a while to wait, so I hiked the trail that goes around that geyser, getting views of lots of other phenomena. There are more than 50 geysers on the hill behind.


After Old Faithful, I took another trail and ended up at Castle Geyser. Before I got there, from across the basin, I could see someone in a red jacket out on the thermal crust, clearly trying to take pictures of Castle Geyser from a different angle. Then I heard someone with a Grandpa Hardy voice yelling, "Get outa there!" and “illegal.” Steve had walked a different way and saw it was a Chinese woman. She may not have spoken English, but climbing over a barrier to an area where no one else is walking was dumb even if she couldn’t decipher the elaborately illustrated signs about breaking through the crust to boiling water. Sorry. No pictures of that adventure.

We were ready to head for "home," but couldn't resist exploring Firehole Lake Drive. At Firehole Lake (by no means the only interesting stop along the way) the steam poured over us like a Turkish bath.

Tonight we ate microwaved Completes with raw veggies in the room. Steve just went for a soak in the hot tub. I plan to join him.

One of the features on Geyser Hill with Old Faithful in the background.
Thank you, Lord...
for bear and elk sightings.
that there was no incident with the bear on foot.
that we found each other WITHOUT cell phones!
for this fantasyland of hot springs and geysers.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Day 3: Beartooth Pass and Yellowstone

Best Western Dessert Inn
West Yellowstone, MT

We took 212 south just west of Billings, MT. Fabulous road up through the beautiful Beartooth Pass.

Steve wanted me in the front to be sure I didn't get car sick. (Not sure if I should tell him I didn't feel the least bit car sick. I think I've outgrown that.) Mom had the back seat, but there was enough to see in every direction that I don't think she felt cheated.

Near the top of the pass were glaciers (left) and pools (right). We figured even on the hottest day, they were probably too chilly for swimming.

I came off without my "real" camera. Everything you are seeing is from my phone. It does better than the real camera for general shots, but doesn't do zoom. The real camera was one of those things I thought of in the middle of the night, but didn't get up at 2 AM to pull out of the closet, so ... I missed it over and over today. The pointed rock that gave Beartooth Pass its name, shows up as a tiny nick in the mountain ridge. Not worth showing here.

From the pass we came down through the tiny tourist towns of Cooke City and Silver Gate to the NE entrance to the park. We stopped at the first picnic spot mainly because we needed the bathroom. It was fine, but a few miles down the road were a row of picnic tables along Soda Butte Creek that was much prettier.

The Lamar River Valley was gorgeous with yellow birches (junipers?), herds of Bison and wading fly fishermen. (Yes, herds of them, too.) I resisted making Steve turn off for pictures.

We turned right at Tower-Roosevelt since we won't get back that way. It was beautiful, but after Beartooth Pass, nothing special, so we cut back on Blacktail Plateau Drive, a one-way gravel road across the top. (The N/S from Gardener is closed for construction so that wasn't an alternative.) It felt like total wilderness (except when we came up behind other cars). Grassy plateau with mountain views.

Turned out for the Petrified Tree. Impressive, but disgusting to think there used to be three of these giant sequoia-type trees mummified in a volcanic eruption a million years or so ago. Tourists chipped  the others away for souvenirs. This one is surrounded by an iron fence like an old cemetery. Mom could see it from the parking lot without getting out of the car.

Heading south from Tower-Roosevelt, we got our first glimpse of the Yellowstone River canyon. (Mom stayed in the car.)

At Norris Geyser Basin, we dug out Mom's walker, but it was further than we were expecting and the path was pretty rough. When we got to the lookout, it had steps and there were no benches, so she decided to go back. Partly, it was in the shade and she was afraid of being chilly. A little ways further on there would have been a good place to sit and the steam from the hot springs made it hot and humid. (Also smelled of sulpher, but you could smell that in the parking lot!)

We decided to call it a day and head for our hotel in West Yellowstone. But we got caught in this traffic jam. :-)

Thank you, Lord ...
for safety on winding mountain roads.
for a car with a powerful enough engine to climb.
for $10 lifetime passes as senior citizens.
for breath-taking views from the pass.
for marvelous bubbling mud and pools that crackle with releasing steam.
that we didn't have to see it all in one day. We get to go back tomorrow!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Day 2: Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Ledgestone Hotel
Billings, MT

We discovered Theodore Roosevelt National Park on our way to Alaska a few years ago. It is the North Dakota version of the Badlands of South Dakota--grotesquely eroded revealing fabulous stratigraphy.

On that trip, we explored the southern part of the park. I-94 goes right through it. If Steve hadn't been able to see fabulous landscapes from the highway, I doubt I would have been able to convince him to leave the main road. But I did, he enjoyed it, and it was his idea to go back. This time we drove an hour north to enter the northern part of the park. (There is no way to go north/south inside the park except on hiking trails.) The main park road makes our National Geographic Scenic Highways and Byways book which motivated us to go the extra mile(s).

It was worth it. I told myself that I took so many pictures before that I didn't need any today unless it was something totally unique. So I only took 50+.

Mom used her walker and joined us on the Little Mo Nature Trail for maybe half a mile.

She and Steve graciously let me walk on ahead and go further out into this awe-inspiring wilderness.

It's erosion that sculpted it with a little nudge from our Creator God. Still at work with the latest rains.

When we were here before, it was spring and the bison were shedding. They all looked as mangey as stray dogs. So of course, I needed more bison pictures today.

Right by the road. Here Mom watches one of the babies.

Then it was back in the car to drive five more hours past wide-open prairie with endless blue skies all the way to Billings. It was 83 degrees! (49 at home according to Steve's weather ap.) We passed field after field of white and oragne pumpkins ripe for pies and jack-o-lanterns. Then field after field of sunflowers with bowed black heads. When we changed states and the speed limit went from 75 to 80, Steve stuck with 75. 

When Mom stopped at Wallmart for more hearing-aid batteries, I picked up a couple short sleeved T-shirts. (I was expecting more fall weather. Not 83!) I know which shirt Bella would have chosen for me. I know which shirt Alex would have chosen for me. But I chose the other one.


Tomorrow? Yellowstone, part 1!

Thank you, Lord...
for a chance to stretch my legs in the midst of your incredible world.
that Mom could enjoy a short walk too.
for yellow juniper trees in the valley of the Little Missouri.
for the awesome formations of stone and gravel.
for the colorful stratigraphy of the rocks.
for those endless blue skies.
for Walmart prices.
for KFC extra crispy even though it isn't healthy.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Day 1: Unexpected Adventure

Dickinson, ND

Today was supposed to be the uneventful day. Just a ten-hour drive to get west where the fun stuff would begin.

We left home yesterday. I had a Minnesota NICE (local chapter of American Christian Fiction Writers) meeting last evening in Saint Paul. After the meeting we stayed all night at our daughter Katie's. This morning we saw her husband off to work, but left before Katie and the kids got up.

We drove to Cambridge to pick up Mom and were on the road a little after 9.

The goal is Yellowstone National Park. Mom and I were there several years ago. We kept thinking how awed Steve would be as well. This is the first chance we have had to get back. Of course, we will stop a few other places along the way like Grand Tetons. And who can drive past Theodore Roosevelt, the Badlands, Black Hills or Mount Rushmore without a stop?

But our first stop came today. Unplanned. It was an incredibly windy day. 30mph we heard. That made for challenging driving and terrible gas mileage. About 1:30 we were driving west on I-94. Steve was feeling around the dashboard, trying to figure out what was rattling so badly so that he could stop it, when the tire blew out. So that was the rattle!

He kept the car under control and pulled off to the side. Of course, the spare was in the trunk under all our stuff for the trip. The spare is one of those little temporary things that looks like a toy, but gets you there. You hope.

I pulled Mom's walker out of the back seat so she would have some place to sit. A sweet local lady saw Mom clinging to the front of the car (in a wind that threatened to blow her into the ditch) and me struggling to get the walker out), and she pulled over, assuming we were alone. Steve was invisible down on the ground pumping the jack. I was glad to be able to tell her we were not alone. Steve asked where we should go to buy a new tire. (It was definitely not a matter of repair. The tire was shredded.) Her instructions were excellent. We limped to Valley City, North Dakota, and bought a new tire.

Tonight we are in Dickinson, ND, propped in bed, watching the pre-game show. And I'm not talking football. Oh, yeah. This place that houses so many oil workers, keeps a pot of soup in the breakfast room, so we pulled out our cheese and crackers and veggies to supplement.

The view from along side the road while Steve changed the tire. You can see how the wind bends the reeds.

Thank you, Lord...
that the blowout didn't happen in rain or snow.
that it was a rear tire with less impact on steering.
that it was the right rear tire so Steve could change it from the shoulder of the road, not the middle of the highway.
for the kind lady who stopped to see if we needed help.
that semi's pulled over and didn't hit us.
that the Goodyear people didn't say, "We can get to it in a couple hours."
for yummy beef vegetable soup for supper.