I’ve been trying to figure out how to do this blog. A select number of people got to read the following each day as my husband sent out an update; most of my legions of readers (stop laughing) probably haven’t.
As it’s our vacation, and as its old news, it probably won’t interest you all that much. However, this seemed to be the best way to gather everything from the vacation and record it.
Each night, I uploaded photos and began editing, and Timmy wrote a little update.
Timmy likes to write. There are no short updates. :) Our Vacation was astounding, fascinating and beautiful!
(The photos I am putting with the updates don’t truly correspond, but that is because by the time I finished editing, there were 1469 photos on the website. I then broke them down, and felt that subject rather than day made more sense.)
For ease of reading I am breaking even this up into three posts. (This is definitely more for us, than for you, gentle reader, so it’s all good if you just skim!)
If you make it through, good for you!! :) If you like, please, comment!
We started the day by strolling around the main street, which is about the only street, of this quaint little town of Red Lodge. After a short walk we had breakfast at a local spot that was very originally called the Red Lodge Cafe. The interior was a rustic theme with a huge amount of frontier style woodwork trim, as well as some of the most robust wooden chairs I’ve seen.
Five elderly men were seated at a nearby table and they “shot the breeze” the whole time we were there. They told their stories and you couldn’t help but be amused by their cantankerous attitudes, and we simply assumed their wives had tossed them out of the house early in the morning.
Trish ordered a short stack of sourdough pancakes, and the plate delivered to her held two pancakes the approximate size of a Frisbee. Her eyes grew rapidly to a similar size as she gasped, "Oh my! You’re going to have to help!" I must admit they were quite tasty, but even both of us couldn’t finish them off.
After breakfast we fueled up and set out for Beartooth Highway, and Trish read some fun facts from a travel book she got from a fellow quilter. As soon as we entered the valley the scale of the view demanded we lower the top despite the cooler temperatures. We donned our jackets and hats, cranked up the heat, and Miss Ladyhawke spread her wings and began to soar. The ascent to the ridge was dramatic, and not from a speed aspect since about 30mph was all you could muster. The inclines were deceptive, and the S-curves and 180degree switchbacks (many without guardrails) kept you honest. Maybe someone who has traveled this road many times might attack it with verve, but the vistas are so spectacular that carguy playtime took a back seat.
We spent almost three hours covering sixty miles because we stopped so often to try and soak in the overwhelming sights. From the higher overlooks, the road coils below you like a folded extension cord, turning back on itself over and over again as it scales the mountainside. Once past the tree line, you can look down on the places where snow still sits in pockets, some of it pink in color. This comes from algae that grow briefly during the short summer thaw and then freezes and dies when temperatures plunge again. There are also small plateau areas where run-off from the melting snow is caught with no exit, and this forms glacial lakes that are a brilliant sapphire blue color. I had no idea such beautiful places existed so high in the mountain tops.
To stand on an 11,000 foot summit made me want to shout, "Top of the world Ma!" but I know Trail Ridge road in Rocky Mountain National Park is even higher than this one, so I’ll save that shout-out for then.
The Beartooth Highway carried us all the way to the western entrance of Yellowstone National Park, and once past the entry booth, all signs let you know that you are entering a wilderness and you are considered a guest. It didn’t take long for that advice to become reality as we passed Baronette Peak. Traffic came to a halt as a herd of Bison decided to explore grassland on the opposite side of the pavement. Once they broke up traffic started moving again, but with the top down, coming that close to a live Bison was a bit un-nerving.
We moved farther into the park where we had a late lunch at the Roosevelt Lodge. This is the same structure President Teddy Roosevelt had constructed in the early 1900s when he used to visit for hunting and horseback riding. The food was excellent, (I had the Bison chili) and we sat out on the huge front porch afterwards and soaked in the view that President Roosevelt had enjoyed so many times.
Then we moved on to the upper portion of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and Tower Falls. The walls of the canyon at this part of the park are incredibly steep, so just glancing out of the car window gives no hint to the breath-taking sight below. A short hike down some stairs puts you in front of Tower Falls, and the view is like looking over into paradise.
We turned our focus towards the northern section of the park, where some of the lands are still recovering from a large wildfire back in 1988 that consumed almost 800,000 acres. Grasses and sagebrush have returned to the forest floor, but the charred, almost limbless pine trees give the landscape a stark and eerie appearance, as if hundreds of huge arrows had rained down from the heavens.
Once near the north entrance, we stopped to see Mammoth Hot Springs, which is one of Yellowstone’s many geothermal wonders. Scalding hot spring water is forced from underground and it carries deposits of limestone and bacteria which build up terraces on the ground; the resulting hot waterfalls create brilliantly colored formations that resemble stalactites in underground caverns. The pools are a rich turquoise color where the spring steams to the surface and the residual bacteria fan out in brown and gold hues, then the deposits dry to a snowy white.
The overall formation is enormous, and the boardwalks that carry you to different vantage points include enough steps to rival an Aztec pyramid. The climb to the top was murderous, but like anything demanding high effort, the reward at the top was rich indeed. This the spectacle of nature that reminds us how small we truly are; with all of man’s technical achievements, he still cannot hope to rival the Power that wrought such an amazing, multi-faceted wonder as our Mother Earth.
I have stood on the pinnacle of a mighty mountain and marveled at the astounding work of The Master’s hand, and His artistic skill is what we try in vain to reproduce.
Tomorrow we return to Yellowstone for Old Faithful, other geyser areas as well as The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, and to take part in a tradition started in the park. It seems that sometime in the 50′s, a group of tourists were stranded in Yellowstone at the Old Faithful Inn by a freak snowstorm. In light of their situation, the travelers and inn workers decided to celebrate Christmas in August, so they decorated a tree and fixed dinner with all the trimmings. August 25th each year brings Christmas in Yellowstone, so maybe we’ll get to see Santa in some shorts and sneakers.
Livingston, Montana – 2628 miles
PHOTO BREAK! Some of the water features that we saw…
We are now officially one week into our vacation, and it has been filled with incredible sights and fascinating information. I find it a bit ironic that school field trips are designed to do the same thing, and here I am spending hard earned money to do it myself. I guess if you wait long enough everything comes full circle.
Today was our second day in Yellowstone, and it was amazing from start to finish. We did notice one constant all day long, both in ourselves and many around us. If you asked a question on Family Feud, "What is the single word used most often in Yellowstone National Park?"
Survey says, "WOW!"
With all of the descriptors and adjectives available in the English language, and all of the superlatives that you can possibly think of, the first word that continues to fly out of your mouth repeatedly is "WOW!" It’s a reflex action, and Yellowstone is rich with wonders to widen your eyes and make your jaw hang open.
We re-entered the park through the north gate where the Roosevelt Arch stands. Dedicated at the opening of the park, it bears the inscription, "For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People." Those were wise words indeed, and they are as large and enduring as the massive stone arch they reside upon. Yellowstone is more than just another National Park, it is treasure chest of nature’s most precious gems, and it should be preserved for the generations to come.
The north western section of the Grand Loop is a drive that carries you on a visual tour-de-force. As you climb through the mountains, you are greeted by rock formations unlike any other in the Park. While Badlands was smooth by comparison to the spires of the Needles Highway, here segmented stones seem to have burst through the ground like enormous, jagged claws. The Grand Loop winds in between these imposing columns until it reaches Terrace Mountain, where a viaduct bridge has been constructed that carries you around a sheer rock face hundreds of feet tall. The view over the steep drop-off can raise your pucker factor exponentially.
This section of the park was also victim to the great fires, and the trees that have fallen dead litter the mountainsides. However, the remaining charred trees that still stand are budding with new green limbs, and they tower like protective parents over the thousands of young new trees that now cover the forest floor. A moving showcase of the renewing power of nature.
The road continues its ascent until it reaches a high plateau, which is covered in rich green and yellow prairie grass as well as plentiful sagebrush. Both Elk and Bison are abundant here, and seem completely unaffected by the presence of people and cars. This area of the park displays a unique relationship; lush and teaming with life of many varieties, it rests atop some of the more deadly natural forces known to man. This region of the park is the Caldera, which is basically the interior rim of a collapsed volcano. Hot springs and thermal basins reside hand in hand with the green landscape, and the rivers that the springs empty into are crystal clear, but the thermal pools themselves are a vivid rainbow of colors.
We learned that the color is actually like a natural thermometer, with the turquoise and deep blue areas showing the highest temperatures and deep holes where the hot spring finds it way to the surface. The residual deposits of limestone and calcite run from red to yellow to green, with red being the hottest at around 140F and then cooling down from there with each color change. While the geysers and thermal pools are a feast for the eyes, the sulfur content in the steam vapor make the area reek of rotten eggs. WOW!
One geyser basin we visited displayed colors so bright that the run-off looked like spilled mustard being washed away with gallons of Mountain Dew. Excelsior Geyser creates a waterfall that empties into the Firehole River, and the brown and yellow deposits on the rocks glow through the spray like paint. WOW!
I also discovered how you can spend days taking in the sights here, it isn’t the driving, even though attractions can be as much as twenty miles apart. The real time killer is the hiking you must do from the parking lots to the sights themselves, which average a half mile each. I saw so many people with flip flops on and I couldn’t help but wonder how many sore feet and blisters would be nursed the next day.
Christmas in August at the Old Faithful Inn was a sight to behold. The Inn itself is a magnificent structure, with a main foyer that rivals almost any grand ballroom. The rustic timber construction is elegant as selected curved tree branches were used for the gusset supports, and the cathedral ceiling lends a reverent aura to everything inside. Three balcony levels overlook the main foyer and they are lined with inviting wooden benches and chairs. On top of all of this grandeur and beauty, add a Christmas tree, a man playing carols on the piano on the mezzanine, children singing along from the balcony, the staff in Santa hats, fresh baked cookies being served to all who walk in, and Santa himself posing for pictures with guests. The whole feeling was festive and wonderful, and it drew you in with child-like wonder.
We grabbed a bite of lunch and made ourselves comfy on the oversized benches that are situated on the second floor sundeck. This ample area provides a first rate view of Old Faithful, and we enjoyed our food, relaxed, and watched the legendary geyser blast water and steam 300 feet in the air in another showcase of natural beauty and power.
The southern section of the Grand Loop was the last part of our day, and it didn’t fail to deliver on the word of the day. WOW!
Both West Thumb and Yellowstone Lake stretch out next to the loop road in an expanse of glittering, crystal blue radiance. Many were stopping for pictures as the sun began to set behind the towering evergreens, casting their shadows and making the glowing rays of sunlight dance on the water beyond. It was another picture of stunning beauty, but not the last of the day.
The south rim road of Yellowstone’s Grand Canyon culminates at an overlook called "Artist’s Point," and it is a well deserved title. The view down the steep canyon walls leads the eye to the Yellowstone River below, and the Lower Falls at the far end. The fading sunlight gave its glow to the yellow and red colored rock face, and the end result was breathtaking. (Whisper, wow!) Trish set up her tripod and 500mm lens, and I’m sure the result of her work will be equally beautiful.
Our day finished with a glorious full moon as we made our way across the Norris highway, which is a cut-thru road at the park’s mid-point. Here I discovered another new truth; Bison are horrible drivers and give no heed to road signs. As we motored along heading for our hotel, traffic slowed to a near crawl, not for Bison crossing the road, but for one who seemed quite happy heading due west in the eastbound lane. I’m sure the next driver going in that direction was in for quite a surprise. It was a perfect punctuation point for a day filled incredible sights, and a solid reminder that Yellowstone belongs to the wilderness, and it never fails to deliver sights that make you say, WOW!
Tomorrow we head south to the Grand Tetons and on to Salt Lake City.
Soaring, on the wings of a Chrysler!
West Yellowstone, Montana – 2839 miles
PHOTO BREAK! Hot Water…Yellowstone on Display
Today was a travel day as we said goodbye to Yellowstone National Park. We left our hotel in West Yellowstone, Montana and had breakfast at a local place called the Montana Outpost. This was hands down the best breakfast we’ve had so far on the trip. Everything was prepared fresh, right down to the squeezed orange juice, and it was a wonderful way to start a long day.
We took a stroll through the shops on the main street, and like many of these small towns we have visited, everything has a frontier feel; wide streets where you pull your car in at an angle, almost as if there were a hitching post, covered sidewalks, and shop keepers who leave their doors wide open and never hound you when you walk in.
Our route south took us back through part of Yellowstone’s Grand Loop, which doubles as US 89. This takes you out of Yellowstone and directly into Grand Teton National Park.
After exploring the vast size of Yellowstone for two days, Grand Teton is small by comparison, but what it may lack in size it makes up for with grandeur and serene beauty.
The Teton mountain range towers over both Jackson and Jenny Lake, and the combination of pale blue skies, snow capped peaks, and shimmering, deep blue waters makes for a glorious vista to behold. Teton Park Road winds along the shoreline of both lakes, and is easily one of the most scenic drives I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing. The drive through Badlands was amazing in a stark and barren aspect, but Grand Teton was like driving into a vivid landscape painting, and no photograph will ever be able to do it justice. Although I’m sure Trish will deliver a noble effort.
Jackson Hole, Wyoming is a small town that marks the southern end of the park, and I think you could call it “The Antler Art Capital of the World.” Antler arches welcome you into town, and adorn each corner of the downtown park area. This is obviously a place trying to preserve a frontier kind of feel, but has become so upscale with outlet stores and other toney specialty shops that the effect is artificial. We walked for bit and had ice cream, but we were soon on our way once again.
US89 took us southwest through the Wyoming mountains, and the route was dotted with small towns all along the way. Many of these communities were as small as 200 residents, and it makes one wonder how they make a living in such an incredibly rural location. Horse and cattle ranches were numerous along the way, but I never would have thought so many people still make a living that way. I guess its just one more showcase of how diverse this country truly is, and despite our advances in so many fields, some things have changed very little.
One other thing that has stood out ever since we reached South Dakota, and that is the prominence of the Iron Horse. I have taken notice of the wide diversity of people that have become part of the motorcycling phenomenon, and they are as varied as America herself. After visiting the places we have this past week, I can more fully appreciate the allure this area of the country has for this pastime. The wide open spaces, temperate summer climate and magnificent scenery make Northwest America a motorcycle haven. Being a “biker” has taken on a whole new image, and if sitting astride the Iron Horse is the modern homage to the cowboys who once roamed this vast countryside, then I bid them Godspeed, and a safe trip always.
We didn’t make it all the way to Salt Lake tonight, as the route through the mountains got very tiring after dark. The GPS found us hotel in Logan, Utah, and the sight of the lighted domes of the Logan LDS Temple let us know we had reached our rest for the night.
In the morning we set out for downtown Salt Lake, Temple Square, the Salt Lake Public Library, “This is the Place” Monument at Heritage Park, and the Bonneville Salt Flats.
Logan, Utah – 3160 miles
PHOTO BREAK! The Salt Flats
Sometimes when you soar, you go where the wind carries you, and that might not always fit your plans. Such was the case today as we headed out of Logan, Utah ready for a full day.
Trish got her coffee and I found a spray car wash to give Ms Ladyhawke her de-bugging, and we hit the highway. Our initial plan had been to visit downtown Salt Lake first, meet up with Ed (a member of the Sebring message board) and then head for the Salt Flats for a possible sunset photo shoot. A quick check of the weather report changed all that, calling for possible thunderstorms and rain in the afternoon, so we bumped Bonneville to the top of the list.
The Salt Flats are just under a two hour drive west from Salt Lake City, and the trip is a surreal experience. For those of you familiar with I-95 between Richmond and Washington D.C, you know what a harrowing trek that two hour drive can be.
Try to imagine that same distance with only two gentle curves, a small mountain rise to go over, and about 90 miles of dead level road stretching all the way to the horizon. On top of all this, the speed limit is posted at 75mph, but most easily cruise at 80mph. Given these conditions, and the lack of anything flying close by for reference, 80mph actually begins to feel slow.
Obviously this is quite a problem for this desolate length of asphalt as there are many signs reminding drivers to stop and rest before fatigue sets in. The frequent tire marks that lead off the highway and plunge through the thin salt crust and into the soft mud below are evidence this problem occurs too often.
About forty miles before you reach the exit for Bonneville State Park, (which is also the Bonneville Speedway) only the mountains far in the distance can be seen in either direction, aside from that, only the brown and white layers of salt dominate the entire landscape. This geological anomaly is so vast that you can see the curvature of the Earth with the naked eye.
The road that leads into the park itself is clearly marked “No state maintenance,” and after about two miles the paved surface dead ends, and the only sight before you is the salt surface. The Bonneville Speedway itself is actually seven miles further out onto the salt, but because of the aforementioned curve of the Earth, the track is not visible from the end of the paved road.
I had initially considered taking the car out on the Salt Flats for a quick run and some photos, but after reading how terribly corrosive the raw salt is to anything metal unless it is quickly washed away, I chose not to subject Ms. Ladyhawke to that kind of abuse. I don’t know how these guys who race out there deal with the corrosion unless replacing belly pans and suspension parts is simply considered the cost of the sport. Then again, the long standing adage of racing has always been, "You gotta pay to play."
The weather smiled on us long enough to take some photos, but only just. I had no more looked at the review screen on Trish’s camera before the rain drops began to fall, and I quickly raised the convertible top before things got worse.
On the way back we hooked up with my friend Ed, and we cruised down to Murray, just south of Salt Lake City and had dinner at Olive Garden. There we chattered and laughed away the rest of the afternoon, so any other items pretty much fell off the list.
It all turned out to be for the best since the company was as good as it gets, and the windy thunderstorms set in to wash away any further ideas. We took advantage of the change of plan and checked into a hotel early, which hadn’t happened so far on this trip.
Trish and I relaxed and enjoyed the hot tub, and now here we sit across the table from each other, laptops open as I write and she uploads some of the multitude of pictures she has shot so far. I must sympathize with Trish as she steadily tries to process photos and get them posted, while each day the shutter of her camera clicks away until another memory card is filled. Her website, “The View from the Passenger Window” has more than earned its billing on this trip as she has shot more than 1200 photos. So for those who are patiently waiting to view her work, I beg for your patience since she is faced with a monumental task, albeit one she enjoys immensely.
Tomorrow we hope for better weather so we can walk some of the downtown areas of Salt Lake City. She has located a quilt store or two, so we have strong motivation to get an early start on the day. By tomorrow night we hope to be en-route to Colorado and Rocky Mountain National Park before setting our sights on St. Louis for the Gateway Arch.
The experiences of the trip so far have been nothing short of amazing, but now that we have made the turn eastward, we begin to feel the pull of heading home. There are still sights left to see and wonders to behold, but each one brings us a step closer to familiar ground. Ms. Ladyhawke knows the way, and I’ll hold her reigns across the high mountains and green valleys until she rests in our driveway once more.
Until we land tomorrow.
Salt Lake City, Utah – 3536 miles
Today got off to trying start, but turned out extremely well overall. We got out of the hotel early and headed into downtown Salt Lake, but we were forced to detour due to road construction, then new building construction, then roads blocked off for protest at the Utah Capitol building just a few blocks from the LDS Temple Square, which was our first destination.
Once we finally secured parking, a walk of a few blocks got us to the entrance gate and inside Temple Square. The wall around the complex serves to cut out the traffic noise, and it’s easy to forget you are downtown in a major city. If you didn’t know it was summer, you might easily think it was early spring as colorful flowers and lush green trees adorn the plentiful garden areas inside the square.
The missionaries there greet you with a smile and usually ask where you are visiting from, and they are more than willing to answer any questions you may have, but since I’ve long been a member of the LDS Church, I didn’t have much to ask.
We strolled around the dome-shaped Tabernacle, and walked around inside as well. The acoustics of this structure are so good you could almost hear a whisper from across the room. The seats for the famed Mormon Tabernacle Choir surround the massive pipe organ, whose tubes rise like stately columns and dwarf the keyboard below. I’ve heard recordings of this organ and choir many times, but to hear it in person, in this beautiful building could only be considered phenomenal.
We continued our tour with the gardens and reflecting pool outside of the Salt Lake Temple. This beautifully ornate building is easily the most recognizable icon of the LDS Church, and while it doesn’t compare in sheer size to the Washington DC Temple just outside of the beltway, it is no less reverent in appearance. Behind the reflecting pool is series of waterfall fountains surrounded by flower gardens, and the sights and sounds of these features deliver a soothing effect.
To top things off, a bride and groom were having their pictures taken on the Temple steps while their families looked on. The entire image was moving, as you saw the joy on these young faces, and you could only hope they would hold onto this moment forever.
A kind older gentleman suggested we take the elevator to the top of the Church office building on the opposite end of the Square. On the 26th floor, there is an observation deck that overlooks the entire valley and the view was magnificent. The Wasatch Mountains rise majestically to the east, and the city reaches out into the valley below for miles. The image of the Temple below next to the glimmering silver dome of the Tabernacle was a testament to the tremendous effort that went into constructing these two historical and central parts of Mormon history.
From Temple Square we moved on to the Salt Lake Public Library. If Temple Square was a reverent experience, then the Library was a contemporary version of inspiration. The building is an incredibly modern structure of glass and steel, but it is both useful and striking to behold. I could only wish a public library back home was as inviting and compelling in its design. The multi-floored atrium overlooks the foyer below and walkways along the curved façade support quiet reading areas as well as desks with internet access. The roof offers an outdoor garden area, and an adjacent park spans out in front of the building. This work of architectural art is one that should be complimented by being imitated in other cities.
Reality set in shortly afterward as we sought out a coin laundry to reboot our clothing supply. Limited trunk space aboard Ms Ladyhawke required that we stick to one duffle bag each, so we took an hour, grabbed some lunch, and got everything clean once again.
Trish took in a couple of quilt stores and got her fabric fix, and we set our sights on “This is the Place” Heritage Park. This area is home to many statues and monuments dedicated to the Mormon pioneers, and those who were instrumental in helping them reach the Salt Lake Valley. To stand and read the plaques while you attempt to soak in the stories of the hardships these people faced can be overwhelming. Yet you have to admire the intense fortitude, faith and determination it must have taken to make the trek of over 1300 miles and forge a new community out of the wilderness.
I still have a hard time coping with the concept of these intrepid souls who made the arduous journey with handcarts. With everything they owned loaded into a two-wheeled wagon, with load space smaller than the six foot bed of a pickup truck, they took hold of a wooden crossbar and assumed the role of the ox or mule.
When I think of the time, fuel and food we have consumed on our vacation so far versus the distance we have covered, I am awed and humbled by those who struck out on such a trip without the benefit of roads or support. I still stand amazed at how many completed the journey, and how quickly we forget how tough life truly could be.
Other monuments to the Mormon Battalion, The Pony Express, and the Shoshone Chief Wasatch, who befriended Brigham Young and helped the pioneers settle the valley and grow crops, are all present and carry inspiring stories of frontier life.
I have gained a whole new perspective on this vacation of the vast and rugged land that still exists today in this country, as well as a new respect for the Native Americans who lived in this demanding environment before we ever arrived. It took great effort and cooperation to forge this nation as it is today, and the spirit of those who poured their hearts and lives into it should not be forgotten.
Our track eastward has landed us in Rawlins, Wyoming, and tomorrow we head out for Colorado and Rocky Mountain National Park. The far reaching splendor of this country has been amazing to watch roll by, and I feel all the richer for the experience.
Time to fly!
Rawlins, Wyoming – 3856 miles
PHOTO BREAK! Salt Lake City
To see all the photos, go to this link.