Day 1 – August 30, 2008
Today is the first of our two long days on this trip. The second being our drive back to Denver at the end of our vacation. We are currently driving through Wyoming on our way to Custer, SD. The sun is setting and we still have 2 more hours to go! It is about 10pm eastern time (8 here) so we have been travelling about 17 hours and won’t be in bed anytime soon. It is never hard for Casey to sleep on planes, but I have never been able to get comfortable enough to get any really good sleep on a plane. Our flight to Europe last year was torture for me. Luckily I haven’t really had any sleep the last couple nights due to the stress of getting ready for this trip and my work moving so I did sleep a lot on our flights today. Our flights were pretty uneventful, but on our flight to Texas there was a young man behind us who was on his way to Los Angeles to propose to his girlfriend. He had a little silk terrier with him that was so cute and the same size as Moose! So that was pretty cool. From Dallas we flew to Denver. I remember the first time I flew to Denver with work several years ago. It is a strange place the first time you visit. At least it was for me. You know the city is a mile high and that is pretty high for those of us living in NC. In NC when we think about being at that high of an elevation you think mountains. Flying into Denver is a bit odd because all you see all around you in flat land. Lots of farm land. It is hard to believe you are so high up and yet everything is so incredibly flat. Once we landed we got our bags pretty quickly and were off to Thrifty to pick up the car. Ah, rental cars…. When we walked in the line was so long and really wasn’t moving at all. An hour later we were at the counter to pick up our car. I managed to secure a great rate on an economy car a few months ago. The guy offered us an upgrade from the Suzuki to a Sebring for $7 dollars a day and we took the deal. I am pretty glad we went with the bigger car. We have a lot of gear with us. I did manage to pack two weeks worth of stuff and camp gear into two bags. Our duffel is pretty big and I don’t know if we could have fit both bags in the trunk of the Suzuki. Of course the main reason was Casey wanted to have Sirius radio so he can listen to the news. So began our long drive to South Dakota.
If you think the drive to Wilmington is boring you haven’t seen anything. It is so incredibly flat, brown and straight here. No trees or grass like we have in NC. There are occasional interesting rock formations and every now and then you see trees near a stream or river, but for the most part it is dirt and so very flat. Not to mention that since we got out of the Denver area we have see a handful of cars. There isn’t anything out here! There have been lots of cows, trains full of coal that are 3 times longer than anything you see in Raleigh, and the occasional horse. In some ways the scenery isn’t that different than Tuscany was last year yet it had a beauty that you don’t see here. Maybe it is the lack of Cyprus trees or villas. We were in Tuscany when there wasn’t much growing so it was very brown, but here I think maybe nothing ever grows. There is so much land that doesn’t seem to really belong to anyone and doesn’t appear to be used for anything. I am assuming there isn’t enough water or topsoil, or maybe the climate isn’t conducive to farming anything! A year ago we were getting ready for Italy where we spent two weeks. This is a much more comfortable vacation. Everyone speaks English, we can read the road signs and there is lots of fast food. We aren’t dealing with the culture shock like we had in Italy. It is pretty nice actually. Casey is really excited that the car has satellite radio and we have a GPS that we borrowed from his cousin. He has about 6 more days to enjoy technology. Once we get to Yellowstone there is no more phone, tv, or Internet. Luckily he talked me into bringing my computer. I will be able to type and journal throughout the trip. Not to mention I printed out a bunch of papers for our trip like addresses and places I wanted to see that I left on the printer at home. Last night was a mad rush to pack and get everything ready. So I am very glad to have the computer with us today. Although I could have done without carrying it around on my back all day today. My new camera bag has a slot for the computer. I think that thing weighs around 25 pounds with all the gear it in.
Day Two – August 31, 2008
Our first day in South Dakota! After checking the weather about a million times I decided to go to Custer State Park, the Needles Highway and Mount Rushmore today. The weather was supposed to be 85, but it didn’t ever really feel that hot to me. There is a cold front about to come through and the temperature is going to drop a lot. We are also going to be getting some rain. As of this morning it looked like most of the rain would be on Monday night and Tuesday morning. We left the motel around 7:30 and started towards Custer State Park. We were told to be at the park around 8 for the best wildlife viewing. We came across some deer pretty quickly. We saw about 5 that were eating on the road. Next we saw bison. We could see several in the road ahead so we pulled off with a group of other people and took a few pictures. Casey was a bit worried about driving the car through them, but after watching a couple other people he got up the courage to drive through them. It was a bit unnerving, not because we were worried for our safety, but for the car that we didn’t get extra insurance on! We made it through without any problems and were moving long the wildlife loop at a nice pace until we came across a group of donkey that were completely blocking the road. They were so cute!! I really want to go back just to see them. They weren’t as willing to get out of our way as the bison. The donkeys refused to move until you were pretty much on top of them. They also would come up to the window for food, but we didn’t have anything to give them. Several of them were cuddling together and cleaning each other. I tried to get some pictures, but I switched to my zoom lens so I couldn’t take any close up shots and they were really close. I got out my old point and shoot and quickly remembered why I got a new camera. Once we made it through the loop we started towards Sylvan Lake which is where some of National Treasure 2 was filmed. I had read about a great hike when doing research for our trip called Harney Peak. We found the trail and decided to go up despite the fact that the sign said it was moderately strenuous and was 6 miles roundtrip. Oh yeah, and it was an altitude increase of 1,000 feet. It wasn’t long into the trip that I think we both were thinking maybe this wasn’t the best idea, but we kept going. At one point you get far enough that you can’t turn back without seeing what is at the top. This is the point that the trail seems to go straight up for a long time. It felt like we were walking forever. I guess we aren’t in the best shape. Several “older” people passed us. Not just slowly walked past us, but sped past us! The trail didn’t really bother my legs, but the cardio combined with the thin air was really getting to me. I had to stop a few times to catch my breath and get a bit of water. Casey seemed to be doing a bit better which was making me a little mad since I actually work out every single day and he never works out! However by the end of the day I was doing great and Casey was limping, but more on that later. We finally made it to the top and it was definitely worth the hike. We were over 7,000 feet above sea level and the view was incredible. It was so windy up there and much cooler than where we started down at the lake. We spent some time walking carefully around the rock formations and Casey took some pictures. The walk down was much faster and easier, but there was one section where we had to go up again before going back down again. That stretch seemed extra long! We hopped in the car and made our way to Hill City for some lunch. The crowd at the lake had really grown since we arrived. Hill City was just about 5 miles down the road and we did a quick drive through town and ended up going to the Route 16 diner. It wasn’t anything spectacular, but it was pretty good and we were really tired by that time. Next we headed towards Mount Rushmore. The plan was to get there later in the day so we could see the monument lit up at night. We purchased the audio tour and made our way slowly around the park taking about a million pictures along the way. By the end of the day the winds were really picking up and the rain was moving in. I tried taking some super close ups of the faces, but I didn’t want to set the tripod up so the pictures are a bit blurry. After the tour we went to the museum and watched a video on the making of the monument. We also toured the small museum and then realized it was raining. We decided to wait 50 more minutes before leaving so we could see the lights on the presidents. We went down to the café and I got a drink. By this time Casey could barely walk. He apparently really hurt his calf muscles on our hike. We are planning to do a lot of hiking tomorrow so hopefully he will be able to walk by then. After a quick rest we went to see the lighting of the monument. I was hoping for a quick light it up event, but it was a 30 minute affair. It was a nice presentation, but by this time we were tired and Casey was in a lot of pain so we just wanted the thing to light up so we could see it and take a few pictures. I am really glad we decided to stay because seeing the monument lit at night was really amazing. It has a totally different look at night. We also got a few views of it on the way back to Custer.
Day 3 September 1, 2008
The weather changed on us again and this morning it looked like today would be a bit more rainy than tomorrow so we decided to go with the Wind Caves and Mammoth Site today. I am hoping to get to the Badlands on a day with decent weather. We got to sleep in a bit more today since we didn’t need to make the 2 hour drive to the Badlands. Our plan was to go to Mammoth first, but we got distracted driving through the Wind Cave National Park and ended up going to the caves first. We decided to take the Natural tour which had us enter the caves through a natural opening and journey down into the caves. The Wind Caves are the 4th longest cave system in the United States and they are still discovering new sections. They have found 100 miles of caves within 1 square mile. There are three levels and we were in the middle level on our tour. We learned all about the 16 year old that discovered the cave. He entered the cave through an extremely tiny hole in the ground and explored the caves with only a candle and some rope. On our tour the ranger turned the lights off and showed us how the caves looked with only a candle to light it. Scary. It is hard to imagine someone crawling around in there without knowing where he was going or what he was about to find! When we emerged from the caves we found blue skies! There was not a cloud in the sky. Where is all the rain? I was expecting rain which is why we went to the caves today! So we decided to continue with our plan and went to the Mammoth dig site which was also indoors. I really enjoyed seeing the mammoth bones and I really want to come back one day and dig up the bones. I am not sure if Casey enjoyed it quite as much as I did! After leaving Hot Springs we decided to drive through Wind Cave and Custer parks on our way to the Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway. We saw so much wildlife today! In the morning we saw a whole bunch of bison and saw tons more later in the day. We saw both babies and adults. They were in the fields, the woods and along the road. We also saw prairie dogs, rams, pronghorn deer, white tail deer and mule deer. I just love seeing all the wildlife and we spent lots of time pulled off on the side of the road taking pictures of them. We also saw some areas where there were forest fires and it was really cool to see the new growth. We drove by Rushmore again today and got a few pictures from different angles as if we needed more Rushmore pictures. By this point Casey was pretty tired of driving, but I was really enjoying my ride. When we got back to Custer we decided to grab some dinner. Finding a place to eat around here isn’t exactly an easy task. These towns are really small and there just isn’t much to eat. Plus today is a Holiday so a lot of places were closed which limited our options even more. We ended up a restaurant that was in front of us and open. I got spaghetti and it was great. Probably because I am so tired of eating chicken sandwiches and fries. When the waiter asked Casey what he wanted to drink he asked for sweet tea. The waiter then replied they had a raspberry tea. I had to remind him we are no longer in the south. After dinner I wanted to go to a place called the Purple Pie Place that I had read about online. We split a piece of Apple crisp with ice cream which was so yummy. I am looking forward to going back tomorrow. I think I will try a berry pie tomorrow.
Day 4 September 3, 2008
Brr… A cold front came through last night and it is in the 30’s this morning. It isn’t usually this cold in South Dakota this time of year. Usually it is in the 80’s even 90’s, but it is only going to be in the 60’s today and pretty windy. We packed up the car and went to grab some breakfast at Baker’s bakery and café. Casey had a western omelet and I had eggs, bacon and hash browns. It was a really good breakfast. From there we started our drive to the Badlands. We stopped in Wall to check out the famous Wall Drug. We walked around the shops and took lots of silly pictures. We also grabbed a sandwich to eat later when we get to our next stop. The story of Wall Drug is an interesting one. You wonder how this drug store (which wasn’t always a huge as it is now) in a tiny little town in the middle of no where became a tourist attraction. Well, you can thank a woman for that one! The couple that bought the drug store was about to throw in the towel and move out of Wall. While trying to take a nap on a very hot day she couldn’t sleep due to the noise from highway 16A. She told her husband that they should give free ice cold water to those passing by the town on their way to Yellowstone and other tourist attractions. As soon as the signs were out the crowds started. People came to get some free ice cold water. Remember this was before air conditioning in cars and bottled water! It was a long hot drive across South Dakota. People would come for the water and then bought some ice cream or other things from the Drug Store. Now they get 20,000 visitors a day in the summer months. The store now takes up almost the whole side of the street in town. It was fun to see. We were now off to see the Badlands so we continued down I-90. Once we were in the park we stopped at the first pull off to eat our lunch. We also went on the Door, Window and Notch hikes which you could access from the pull off. The door and window hikes were pretty easy, covered walk ways. I was a bit worried about all the signs warning us of rattlesnakes, but luckily we didn’t see any! I had read the Notch hike was a bit more of an “adventure”. The notch isn’t a covered or guided hike, you have to follow the markers and I had read there was a ladder to climb at some point. After walking for awhile we came upon the ladder. It wasn’t exactly what I was thinking it would be. It looked steep, but not too steep that is until I started going up it! As it turned out the climb wasn’t took bad, but walking around on top of the hill was a bit more scary for me. We continued to follow the trial looking out for rattle snakes. I was hoping to not see one and Casey was looking for one. Men. We came to an area with a very narrow walkway and a sign that said stay right. We read it as stay right of the sign. Well, duh, if you go left you will fall down the hill! So we squeezed past the sign and carefully walked across the path holding on to the side. On the way pack we realized they wanted us to go up and over. Thankfully we didn’t fall off. Anyway, we continued a bit further and the end of the trail was worth the hike. We were pretty high up and had a view over the valley below. I wonder how the sites looked many years ago before all the pollution. There was some haze while we were there and I am assuming there is haze most days. Apparently it comes in from California, Arizona and the Midwest. Even with the haze it seems like you can see forever. Such a different site than anything we have in North Carolina. Thanks to the haze the pictures really don’t do the view justice. It is really something you have to see for yourself. We made the hike back to the car and the trip down the ladder was a bit more difficult than the hike up it. We made it back without getting hurt or running into any rattle snakes. We continued down the loop to the Visitor’s center with a couple stops at the outlooks along the way. At the visitor’s center we watched a very nice video on the Badlands and explored the exhibits. Then we continued along the loop stopping at every lookout to check out the view and take a few pictures. We stopped at the saddle pass trail and decided to give it a try. We probably should have just stayed in the car. The hike was almost straight up at points. To make it even harder the path was covered in loose gravel and I spent much of the time holding on to the ground with my hands so I didn’t fall. The trail was a 200 foot climb over a short distance and trust me it was much scarier than the pictures make it look. When we got to the top it wasn’t anything like the previous trail where we were at the top of a large hill looking over the valley below. This time at the top it was flat land as far as you can see. I believe it was the Wind River Valley. We climbed up a few other hills to check out other views of the area and then decided to make it down. Laugh if you want, but we both went down sections while squatting down and sliding. I don’t know how anyone could walk down without falling. When we got to the bottom and were sitting in the car an older man came up and asked if we had hiked the path. He had started on a different path that morning and when the trails came together he went the wrong way and ended up having to come down the saddle path trail. We was surprised that we were able to make it up and we all agreed coming down wasn’t too much fun either. From there we continued around the loop making several more stops at the various lookouts and decided on one to watch the sunset. We had a little over an hour so while we waited Casey worked on making a panoramic picture with Photoshop from some pictures he had taken earlier on the trip. I really wanted to get some pictures of the Badlands when the sun set so we set up to take a few pictures and then the sun managed to go behind the one cloud in the entire sky! The sun did peek out for a few minutes and we got a couple pictures and then decided to leave the park and make the 2 hour journey back to Custer. On the way back to the car we saw a bunny that let me get very close and take a few pictures of him! I think that made my whole day! On the drive home we got to listen to the Republican Convention on satellite radio which made the trip seem not as long.
Day 5 September 3, 2008
Another cold morning. Even colder than yesterday. I guess it is good for us to get used to it now since we will be sleeping in this cold in a couple days. Tonight is our last night in a nice comfy hotel with a bathroom and TV. Soon we will be in a tent in the cold! What was I thinking? We got up and stopped back at Baker’s for a cinnamon roll and went to the Crazy Horse Memorial. Once again we were one of the first visitors of the day. We watched a movie on the making of the sculpture which made you realize how much more impressive it is than it looks. From the road you don’t really get it. It is so much larger than Rushmore. In fact the head of Crazy Horse is the size of all 4 president heads at Rushmore. They work on the project in 50 year increments. The next 50 years they will be working on the horse’s head. I guess we will never see it completed! We enjoyed walking around looking at all the Indian artifacts. Thankfully we didn’t have to be outside too much since it was so cold and windy. About the time we were leaving the sun was coming out and it was warming up a bit more. We continue on our way out of South Dakota and stopped in Deadwood for lunch and site seeing. What a cool little town! After getting some lunch I wanted to check out the casinos. I thought Casey would be really excited about the Casinos, but he didn’t seem to care much. We went to the Lucky Nugget and Casey gave me a dollar to play the penny slots. I was up to about $1.50 and then I started to loose a bit. I decided to stop when I got to $2.00 and a couple pulls later I hit the jack pot! Well, not really, but I went up to over $4.00. So I played a bit more until I was at $4 and then I cashed out. I was pretty excited. Then I had to use my winnings to pay for parking. Our next stop was Devil’s Tower in Wyoming. When we were on Hwy 14 we came around a curve and were stopped by cattle herders. So cool. There were 4 people on horses and a little herding dog guiding some cattle to a new pasture. There were some storms coming through the area and it was really cool to see the weather changing and blowing across the prairie. It was pretty cloudy when we got to Devil’s Tower, but then it cleared up for awhile. We walked the trail around the tower and the sky was getting darker as we walked and you could hear thunder in the distance. The tower is really impressive up close. From the road it doesn’t look like much, but when you get there you realize how big it is and how unusual. We saw several people climbing the tower, but there was no way I could take a picture of them because they looked so tiny! After we finished the walk we went back to the car and left the park. It was after 4 and we still had a 4 hour drive to our destination! As we continued down Hwy 14 we could see a large storm off in the distance and I tried to get a few pictures of the lighting, but I wasn’t fast enough. We saw several deer along the road and luckily they seem to have a bit more respect for the cars than the ones back home. They don’t usually run out in the road, but stand by and watch us roll by. It is almost like they wait for traffic to clear before crossing. We drove through the Bighorn mountain range just a bit after dusk and the views were incredible. There was one I really wish I could have captured, but no picture would do it justice. As we came over a curve between two large and dramatic mountains you could see the valley below. The sky was pink from the setting sun and just over the mountain to the right was the crescent moon. That is a view it will be hard to top.
Day 6 September 4, 2008
Today we got up and went the Dinosaur Center of Wyoming. We took the tour up to the dig site and explored the museum full of fossils and dinosaur bones. It was cold again and it is only going to be colder in Yellowstone! During the drive to the dig site we learned a bit about the land and how the hills were formed. It amazes me that in all this land they are able to find the areas most likely to find fossilized bones. The site we went to has been a working site for over 12 years and there is still a lot to dig. They believe it was a feeding ground for some meat eater that I can’t remember the name of who ate some plant eaters that I can’t remember. There were bones everywhere! I could see the bones, but they also showed us some foot prints that were frozen in time and I don’t think I would have been able to pick those out. Near the site we visited there were several other sites being worked and in the 4 acres around the site there are over 60 dig sites most of which are still underground where they continue to be preserved. After leaving the museum we started our drive to Cody and the weather could be a bit better. So far we have had really good weather other than the cold front that dropped the temperature 20 degrees in a day. Now that we are going to Yellowstone it looks like the weather is going to be pretty cloudy and rainy. Oh, and really cold. They had snow there last night. On the way to Cody I was feeling a bit icky. I assume from the drop in temperature. When we got into Cody we stopped for lunch at Peter’s Café where Casey got a sandwich and I had a wonderful bowl of chicken and dumpling soup. We stopped at Wal-Mart to pick up a couple more supplies before heading to Yellowstone. On the way to Yellowstone from Cody there were all these little log houses. They looked little next to the enormous mountains, but I am sure they were pretty big houses! They all looked like Lincoln Log houses! Some even had green roofs. Finally we were at the entrance to Yellowstone. We didn’t make any stops along the way to Canyon where we were camping. It was amazing to see all the burned trees here. More than you can imagine. After passing by the forest fire area we came to the Yellowstone Lake area. Yellowstone Lake is huge and today looked very cold! We didn’t stop. There were some more bison. They seem to be everywhere. There were a lot of people looking at something far off in the woods, but we couldn’t figure out what and we didn’t stop. Finally we reached the Canyon camp site and Casey set up our tent while I organized the car and put all bear items in the trunk. I am a bit worried about the bears! After getting everything set up (by the way it was freezing and my fingers were numb!) we walked down to the Canyon Village for dinner. We walked around the shops and explored the various restaurants. We settled on the dining room since the cafeteria was closed for the season. Casey had the soup and salad bar and I had the Black Bean Tostadas, both of which were pretty good. It feels a little like being on a cruise except without the ship and it is really cold. We are now sitting in the car getting ready to listen to John McCain give his acceptance speech. Plus it is nice and warm in the car. I am assuming as soon as it is dark we will scurry to the tent and jump in the bags for some warmth! We got some free fire wood from a couple that was leaving Yellowstone on their way to Seattle. I think tomorrow we will make a fire. I don’t know what we will do though! I do miss being able to check the weather. I am dying to know what the weather will be tomorrow!
Day 7 September 5, 2008
Cold. Really cold. Last night was our first camping experience of the trip. We had decided to camp to save money, but by the time I had bought a new sleeping bag, 2 sleeping pads and pillow we might was well have gotten hotels! Well, not really. The places here in Yellowstone are about 150-200 a night and camping is only 15 so I think we still come out ahead after camping 6 nights. I had a lot of confidence in my new sleep system as I like to call it. A 3 season sleeping bag (rated 15 degrees) and nice cushy sleeping pad. Plus a pillow. I knew it would be cold, but coming from lows of 50 this hurts. It was about 25 last night. Colder than it gets most nights in the winter in NC. We sat in the car for at least 2 hours listening to the McCain speech and keeping warm. When we got out it hurt. So very cold and the tent was just as bad. My sleep system was freezing! I had on my wool socks, and a long sleeve shirt. Casey told me less clothes was better so my body heat would warm the bag. It wasn’t too bad at first. I had to zip the bag all around my head which took some getting used to! It felt like a coffin at first, but then it wasn’t so bad. The cold air on my forehead hurt so bad so I had to pull my knit cap down some. I tossed and turned a bit trying to get comfy and getting used to the small area I had to work with. Casey was asleep immediately of course. Within ten minutes he was snoring. So now I was cold, uncomfortable and he was snoring. No way I was going to get to sleep so I broke out the ear plugs. I could still hear the snoring. After a few minutes I figured out a way to reach one arm out of the hole in the bag to give him a good smack. He stopped snoring and I fell asleep pretty warm actually. Then I woke up freezing. I put on some fleece pants and managed to fall back to sleep. Then I woke up again. My feet were so freaking cold and the bag felt as cold as it did when I got in it earlier. I tried to move some to generate some body heat. I curled up in a little ball and fell asleep for a few minutes. Then awake again. My feet felt like two ice blocks and my legs were so cold. My torso, arms, hands and head were nice and warm, but the whole bottom of the bag was cold. I tried to curl my feet up under me so I could warm them some and got a little more sleep. I woke up again having to pee, thirsty and colder than I have been in years. I prayed it was time to get up and I could hear car doors in the distance so it had to be at least 6. I checked my watch and it was 6:15. I had enough. Casey was awake too and getting a bit chilly, but not cold like I was! I had to get up and get in the car. It took awhile to warm up my poor little feet. We started our drive to the Lamar Valley in hopes of seeing some wildlife. Watching the sunrise over the park was incredible. I was really glad we were staying in the park, but maybe the expensive lodges would have been better. It is an adventure to say the least. We continued through the northeast area of Yellowstone and did see a moose thanks to some people on the road that had already found it for us. Otherwise we could have driven right by him. He was down a little embankment. I got a few pictures and then we continued our journey. I was a bit disappointed with the Lamar Valley since we didn’t see any animals other than bison. So far we have seen more animals in South Dakota! We left the park to drive the Beartooth Highway. There was some construction in Cooke City, but not too bad. It wasn’t too long before we started to see the snow capped mountains. We tried to take a few pictures, but it was pretty cloudy and hazy so I don’t hold much hope for the pictures. We decided to hike a bit, but we walked about 50 feet and it was way too cold. At this point we were even higher up so it was really cold and there was snow on the ground so our hike came to a quick end. We drove back to Yellowstone enjoying the views. The mountains in this area looked so much like what I saw in Alaska and Casey has never seen mountains like this before. I really enjoyed looking at the mountains and picking out the glacier valleys. When we got back into Yellowstone we stopped off at Tower Falls to visit the shop, grab some ice creams and hike to the falls. I got a few pictures of the falls and then we decided to walk down towards the river below. Usually you can walk down to the lower falls area, but there was some construction on the trail so we couldn’t go all the way down to the falls. The walk down wasn’t too bad, but coming back up was not easy. I do not do well with walking up hills or steps. I like to think it is the thin air up here, but it is probably that I am out of shape. We saw some foot warmers in the shop, but I didn’t get them thinking I would look around at the other shops to see what they had so we continued back towards Canyon Village. We went to the visitor’s center which was really nice. We watched one of the two movies and learned about the volcano we are camping on. It is an active volcano and the largest active volcano in the world. Luckily we appear to have a few thousand years before another eruption. We also grabbed some lunch at the grill which is set up like a 50’s style restaurant. I checked the shop, but no feet warmers….. So we continued on to the mud volcano and sulpher caldron areas, or as Casey calls them the smelly areas. We walked around both and took the small hikes through the area. We even caught up to the ranger at one point and listened in a bit about the geothermal properties of the area. I really enjoyed all the caldrons and mud volcanoes. Since we were pretty close to Fishing Bridge we decided stop in the store and check it out. No foot warmers either. Now I am wishing I had purchased the ones a Tower. So back to Canyon for laundry and showers. This is my first camping shower, but since you have to pay to use them I was hoping they were pretty clean and private. The ones at Jordan Lake scared me a lot. The shower wasn’t bad at all and I felt a lot better after I had a shower. We went over to the restaurant for dinner and couldn’t get a table until after 9. We both had the soup and salad bar and then into the cold. Tonight I will be wearing about 4 socks with an extra pair just in case. Casey says I am going to wake up with my feet sweating, here’s hoping. I just hope I can sleep a bit better than last night. We were thinking of having a fire tonight, but since we got back to the campsite so late we will have to wait another night.
Day 8 September 6, 2008
Last night I decided to try wearing 3 pairs of socks at night to see if I was a bit warmer than the night before when I almost froze to death. I actually woke up in the middle of the night really hot! I was so hot I had to take off a pair of socks and only had 2 pairs on, but eventually I put the third back just on my toes. I slept really well and Casey had to wake me up this morning at 7:30 when he was ready to get up. I could have slept a lot longer, but we got up and took down the tent. We went straight to Norris campsite to try to get an available site. We ended up with a pretty nice one. I wanted one on the edge of the woods near the meadow area so we could be closer to the wildlife. There are several lots higher in the woods that wouldn’t have as much noise or activity, but I was pretty excited to be on the edge of the grounds. We did see a bison roaming near our tent on the way out! We were heading back to Canyon to get some more cash and check the weather at the visitor’s center when we saw a few people pulling off the road. Immediately I saw something out in the field that looked like a wolf. Eventually we got out of the car and sure enough it was a gray wolf and near her was a black wolf that was collared. One of the cars that pulled out was a local man and his family who were talking about which pack they belonged to and where they were currently being seen. One woman said that a few days ago a pack took down an elk at our campgrounds and everyone got to watch the pack feed on the elk. They also told us about a pack recently that went into another pack and killed the alpha male and female. I set up the tripod to get a few pictures which wasn’t easy because the wolves stayed really far from us. The black wolf didn’t stay around long, but the gray wolf laid in the field and watched us. She also howled a lot which was awesome. The woman was saying how rare it is to see them so close and to hear them howling. She also said they have been hanging out in the area and the campers in our campsite can hear them howling at night. After our pit stop to photograph the wolf we got some cash and checked the weather. Looks like we have a couple more days of clouds and cold weather before the sun comes in on Monday and the temps go up a bit. I would really like to be able to see the stars. After leaving Canyon village we met up with a ranger led tour around the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. It was a 2 hour walk which was very informative and the trail was pretty steep. The canyon was formed in only two months after a natural damn broke. After we were done with the hike was went to Artist Point to view the falls and then went back to Canyon village to grab some lunch in the dining room. Then it was back for more looks at the waterfall at the grand canyon. First we went to the upper falls and stood on top of the waterfall. From that angle it really didn’t look like it was that high or powerful. Sure it was loud and fast, but we figured it must have been a different waterfall than the one we had seen earlier. After looking in my guidebook I decided to hike Uncle Tom’s Trail which goes almost to the bottom of the falls. When we started on the trail we came across 3 deer including a younger deer grazing by the bathrooms. The deer here aren’t scared at all of people and allow people to walk right up next to them. The trail was very steep and 328 steps down. Going down wasn’t a problem, but going up all those steps was no easy task. You could also feel the steps moving a bit from the force of the waterfall. Like every other hike we have taken it was worth the walk. Sure enough it was the same waterfall and it was hard to believe how different the falls look from above and below. We got a few pictures and sat on the bench for a few minutes before hiking back up. Now it was onto the lake area. Lake Yellowstone is the largest high elevation lake in the world. We were considering either going on the boat tour or going on another hike. We went with the hike. This was the third of the day and it was another hard one. It was an 800 foot climb through bear country and I was pretty nervous about the bears. Casey kept trying to scare me and it usually worked. Getting to the top of this one wasn’t easy for either of us. By this time we had walked a lot and none of today’s hikes had been easy, all up hill. Finally after what seemed like forever we were at the top and again it was worth the walk. We had a panoramic view of the lake including the Lake Hotel and surrounding snow capped mountains. We stayed for awhile enjoying the view before heading back down. Going down is so much easier except of course in those really steep areas with loose gravel. Right at the end of the trail we came across about 7 mule deer grazing alongside the road. We were able to get close enough to them to take some pictures. I didn’t have my zoom lens but was still able to get some very close shots of them. We watched them for a long time as they continued to graze and walk across the street. After the walk we pretty much had all we could take and decided to to to the Lake village area and grab some lunch. We ended up at the general store where Casey got a burger and I got some soup and a root beer float. On our way back to the campsite the sky was gorgeous from the sunset. Right before we got to our turn at Canyon we saw a group of cars pulled off and a ranger getting out of her truck. Off in the field was an elk. The elk are very dangerous especially this time of year when they are mating. The rangers come out to keep everyone safe. We could see him grazing, but it was too dark to get any pictures. I think we will see some tomorrow when we go to Mammoth.
Day 9 September 7, 2008
Either I am getting used to the cold or it is getting warmer here! Since the ranger station said it was 25 last night I must be getting used to the cold weather. Last night I wasn’t cold at all. I did have to pee pretty bad this morning and I am too scared to go alone so Casey had to get up too. He wasn’t too happy about it. We got up and started towards the Norris Geyser Basin. We were one of the first people there and it was nice and cold. It was also really cloudy which is the way it has been for days here. The sun pokes out a bit in the middle of the day, but it is still mostly cloudy. We walked around all the trails at Norris and went to the small museum to learn more about the thermal features. From Norris we continued up to Mammoth hot springs. Before getting to Mammoth we stopped off at the upper terraces and walked the trail. At this point the wind was really picking up and it was so cold. We drove down to Mammoth village and ate lunch at the grill. There were tons of signs warning of the dangers of approaching elk and elk poop was everywhere, but we didn’t see any elk! We went to the visitors center and watched a movie about elk attacking people and went to the ranger program about the features of Yellowstone. We talked to the ranger some before the program started about the elk and found out there was a big group of them not far from us. So after the program we went to get the zoom lens and walked around to find the elk. We ended up watching them for a long time and talked to a couple of the rangers about the elk and the south. One of the rangers was from South Carolina so Casey talked to him about sweet teat and BoJangles. The female elk spend most of the year in the Mammoth area and the men are out playing in the woods. Around September the males turn on each other and begin to move down the mountain to the Mammoth area to herd the women and knock up as many as they can. They take turns stealing each other’s herd and fighting each other for a couple months before they go back to being friends again. We saw several female elk and a couple babies including one that was really little and probably won’t make it through the winter. After watching the elk for an hour or so we moved on to explore the lower terrain. We walked several trails and the wind was brutal. We had planned to ride horses at Mammoth, but the wind and cold changed our mind. Riding a horse for an hour in that cold wasn’t sounding too much fun and we retreated back to the car and made our way south. We stopped off at several waterfalls, geysers and other thermal features on our way to Old Faithful for dinner. Casey was pretty tired so we didn’t do too much more exploring. We went to the Old Faithful Inn, but there was no parking because old faithful was about to go off so we went down to the Old Faithful Snow Lodge for dinner. They had a beautiful lobby and cafeteria area with views of Old Faithful. We grabbed some pasta for dinner and managed to miss the eruption by a minute!! Oh well, we will be at the Inn tomorrow so we will see it then. We decided to head back to the campsite early today. We made it back and enjoyed a wonderful sunset over the valley. The sky was finally clear and we could see stars! The moon was also very bright even though it is only a half moon right now. I tried to take some pictures, but I don’t know how to work my camera that well yet and none of them turned out. Plus there were some very high clouds across the moon which made the picture blur with the slow shutter speeds. We made a little fire tonight and Casey went off to give an extra piece of wood to some other campers. He was gone an hour. I managed to kill the fire in 15 minutes and was freezing. I think it is going to be a cold night.
Day 10 September 8, 2008
Oh dear god is it cold here. The car says it is 17 degrees. I didn’t get much sleep last night since my feet were once again turned into blocks of ice. They were cold when I went to sleep and never did warm up even though I had on 4 pairs of socks. Even Casey was cold and we both woke up several times. I can’t complain too much though because one of the times I woke up I could hear the wolves howling which was so incredibly cool. I heard them on two separate occasions. The last time I heard them they went back and forth several times. One seemed much closer than the other. Even though I was freezing it was worth it to hear them and to see all the stars. After warming up in the car for awhile we packed up the tent and sleeping bags and started off towards the Old Faithful area. We stopped at a couple water falls and decided to hike to the Lone Star geyser. It was a 2.6 mile walk to the geyser that erupts every 3 hours. We got there about an hour after its last eruption and decided to hang out and wait since we had made the journey. There was no way to know when it would erupt until you got there and read the journal. They rely on people to note the times of eruptions. As we sat and waited several more people become hiking through and since it was getting a bit closer to the time of eruption many decided to wait. We talked to a retired couple that comes to Yellowstone every year and said the geyser was worth waiting on. We also talked to a couple bikers who had driven from Massachusetts to bike around the park. They were also camping and agreed last night was pretty cold. There was also a couple there from Los Angeles who was telling us about their camper. They converted a step up van into a camper that has fridge, microwave, queen bed and shower! We actually talked to them a lot and found out the guy was from Italy. He has been travelling for the last two years. His girlfriend just joined him this year. She quit her job and they drive around the country. I guess he must have some money. They started their trip in June. First they went to Alaska, then Canada and now are exploring the northwest. They are leaving next week to go back to Los Angles for a couple weeks before heading to Mexico, then drive to Florida and fly to Italy to travel around Europe for awhile. Yep, I am very jealous. They are living my dream. I am trying to convince Casey we should sell everything, get an RV and drive, but he isn’t too excited about it. After watching the eruption and talking to our new friends we made the long walk back to the car. By this time we were pretty hungry so we went to Grant Village to get some lunch. My guide book said the Lake House has pizza and pasta so we went there, but they had the same stuff as all the other restaurants so we had another sandwich. I am dying for Italian food. We walked around the Grant visitor’s center and learned more about the 1988 fire. Next we drove up to West Thumb and walked around the geyser basin. The lake was gorgeous, so blue and you could see the snow capped mountains in the background. There is still a haze (thanks California) so it is hard to see mountains in the pictures. We were both getting pretty tired so we decided to drive to Old Faithful. I wanted to view the eruption from observation point so we made the 1 mile hike up 200 feet and got a lot of pictures from above. We also walked through some of the upper geyser basin around Old Faithful. We checked into our room at the inn and Casey was disappointed there was no TV, but I have told him this about 100 times. The room was really nice, but we didn’t stay long. We were pretty hungry and the dining room at Old Faithful required reservations which we didn’t have so we walked to the Snow Lodge, but the Cafeteria was closed! So Casey got a sandwich and cinnamon roll and I got a bagel and cookie from the bakery. We sat in the lobby of the lodge and watched Old Faithful erupt as the sun was setting. Then it was off to bed.
Day 11 September 9, 2008
Well we forgot to turn the heat on in the room last night so even though we weren’t camping we were still cold! Although, 65 is way better than 20! It was nice to get up and not be freezing. We slept in a bit since we were really tired from yesterday. We wanted to see the eruption at 8:15 so we went out to Old Faithful, but it was a bit early and we didn’t really have time to set up the tripod so we only got one picture. We went back to Old Faithful to have breakfast in the dining room. We both got the buffet which was expensive, but really good. Then we went back out to set up the tripod for another picture of us in front on Old Faithful. This time it was late so we sat around and waited awhile. As the geyser was going off the camera wasn’t working with the remote so I had to run and fix it. We still got a few pictures. I really wanted to go see Morning Glory Pond which was really far away and the last item on the path. I think it was about 1.6 miles there and 1.6 miles back to the parking area. I really didn’t think I would make it back. All the walking is starting to get to me! After we made it back to the car we started the journey to the Grand Teton. We hit a bit of traffic on the way so it took longer than we were expecting. When we finally saw the mountains off in the distance we were both in awe. They are so impressive. The valley around the mountains actually sank down making the mountains even more impressive. The valley goes right up to the mountains which isn’t something you see very often. Even as close to the range as we were there was a haze that made it not as beautiful as it could be. We stopped at Colter Bay to get our campsite and then started driving down to Jenny Lake. We made a few stops at the lookout points and then took the boat over to the other side of Jenny Lake to hike to Inspiration Point and Hidden Falls. The hike was a mile, but it was pretty steep at points. After over a week of hiking we are both starting to feel the burn. The view at the top was a view of Jenny Lake and the valley below. The walk down was much easier and after leaving Jenny Lake we went up to Signal Mountain sumit. I was hoping for a view of the Tetons, but it was another view of the valley and mountains in the distance. I am not sure of the range. We then went to the Chuck Wagon at Colter Bay for dinner and back to the car to keep warm before dinner. Tomorrow is white water rafting and I am still a bit nervous!
Day 12 September 10, 2008
We got up this morning around 7 to head down to Jackson for our rafting trip. We weren’t sure how long it would take so we wanted to give ourselves enough time. Plus we had to pack up the campsite. We got to Jackson around 8:30 and tried to find a place to eat breakfast, but by the time we figured out where to go it was 9:00. We had to be at the raft place by 9:30 so I wanted to skip breakfast, but Casey wanted to eat so we waited in line and didn’t get seated until 9:15. After waiting awhile for our waiter we decided there wasn’t enough time to get food and still get to the raft place so we left. We checked in at Dave Hansen’s Rafting and waited as they prepared the bus. It was about a 25 minute bus ride to the place we got in the water. We got some instructions on our life jackets and then got on the boats. There were two rafts each with 6 people. Luckily we got on the raft with 4 other people close to our age. The other raft had the “older” crowd. On our boat were two girls from Tennessee and a couple from Alabama. We haven’t run into too many southerners on our trip so it was cool having a whole boat full of them. The couple from Alabama are doctors, well surgical residents. One of the girls is a meteorologist and the other a nurse. The first part of our trip was a scenic trip and it was a gentle 8 miles down the Snake River. We ate are lunch that was provided and got to see several bald eagle. It rained on us a few times a long the way and I didn’t have any type of hood so I was already getting wet, not that it really mattered since we were about to get soaked. We reached our half way point and hopped out to get ready for the rapids. Casey and I both put on the slash suits provided. It was pretty chilly out, but after spending 5 days in Yellowstone it didn’t feel cold to me at all. Not nearly as cold as camping. We got our paddles and loaded up on the raft. Casey and the other guy on our trip were in the front, I was in the middle. I was a bit nervous about having to sit on the edge of the raft, but once I was sitting there it wasn’t so bad. Our guide gave us instructions on how to paddle and we practiced for a bit. The first few rapids weren’t bad. Since I wasn’t in the front I couldn’t really see what was coming at me, but I got splashed a lot! I was really soaked. We went through several rapids and even got to see a mountain goat climbing up a cliff. A very steep cliff. We stopped to watch him for a bit. Our guide was a lot of fun and did some surfing and other tricks with the raft. The white water section went by really quickly and I had a blast. I am ready to go again. I would have never thought I would enjoy it so much, but I really did. At the end of our trip we got back in the car to head towards the Grand Tetons and our hotel for the night the Jackson Lake Lodge. I was hoping to get some pictures on the way back, but the rains had moved in and you couldn’t even see the mountains so we went straight to the hotel to grab a hot shower and head to dinner.
Day 13 September 11, 2008
Apparently predicting the weather here is even harder here than at home. As of last night at 9:00 it was going to rain all day today, but when we woke up the sun was coming up and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. So we went up to the Pioneer Grill at the lodge to grab some breakfast. The view from the lobby was amazing. The clouds were really low around the mountains. Note to self from now on always have the camera with me! We ate breakfast and walked back to the room to grab the camera. By the time we got back to the lobby the clouds had risen a lot and were in the middle of the mountains instead of along the bottom. I took a few pictures anyway. As we were outside someone came over and said there were some moose in the grass below. Note to self always bring the zoom lens. I sent Casey off grab the zoom lens while I took some pictures of the mountains. When he got back I took a few of the moose. It was a little family. A male, female and a young one. We watched them for awhile and then went back to the room to pack up for the day. When we got back to the room a pine cone fell down from the tree near our door. Then another and another. We looked up and saw a squirrel up at the top of the tree pull off the cones that smelled good to him and throw them down the tree to eat later. We both really got a kick out of watching him. We went to the Signal Mountain campgrounds and set up our new home for the night. Since it was looking like the weather was going to be the complete opposite that we thought I started looking for a good day hike. We went and grabbed a sandwich and some chips at the convenience store and set off for two ocean lake hike. There are a lot of hikes in the area, but most of them are back country trails that are long and most are steep climbs. Since we weren’t up for a 20 mile hike uphill we picked the two ocean lake trail. There was a section where the trail split off and went up to grand view. We decided to take the 1.5 mile detour (one way). The first part wasn’t too bad, but then it went straight up! It was a pretty steep climb, but we made it up. It is amazing how much harder a 1.5 mile walk is when it is up hill. When we got to the top we ate lunch and took a few pictures before heading back down. At this point we had walked 3.5 miles around the lake and 1.5 up the big hill. Now it was back down the 1.5 mile hill and another 3.5 miles around the other side of the lake. The hike was nice, but it wasn’t a very wide path and got a bit steep at times. I did enjoy the first half of the hike more than the second half. The second half was more in the woods and the first was closer to the lake and went through several valleys. We didn’t see any bear or wildlife other than squirrel. On the last part of the hike we came up on a couple from Baltimore that we started talking to. The woman had a McGladrey bag and Casey asked if she worked there and then starting talking to her. Like most people here they were just starting their vacation. We gave them a few hints on Yellowstone and chatted with them the rest of the way back to the car. It took us about 4-5 hours to do all our walking. We drove back to Signal Mountain and sat down at the marina watching the boats. Well, mostly watching the people that worked at the marina move the boats around. Even though it was pretty early I was hungry since we didn’t have much for lunch so we went to the Signal Mountain Lodge for dinner. After dinner we drove over to the Oxbow Bend lookout for the ranger lead wildlife watch in the area. We saw moose, elk and some birds in the distance. We also got a few pictures of a male mule deer. After sitting for awhile hoping for a bear we decided to head back to the Jackson Lake Lodge. We listened to several people talking and it seems like we keep missing the bear. There have been some around lately, but we seem to miss them by a few days. We went back to the lodge to use the Internet and get a sundae for me. Tomorrow we make our journey back home.
Day 14 September 12, 2008
Last night of camping was about like the rest. First I was hot, then cold, then hot again and then I had to pee. So we got up around 7 and packed up the campsite. We left the park and went to take a few pictures of the Tetons at sunrise, but it was pretty hazy again. After taking a few pictures we started our long journey to Denver. The drive time was about the same as a day of work, about 8.5 hours. We hit a lot of road construction right after leaving the park area, but after that it wasn’t too bad. The scenery was better than our drive to South Dakota. The landscape changed a lot and parts reminded us of the Badlands. There weren’t many towns on the way. We went through one that looked like a dead town. The population was so small it wasn’t listed on the sign coming into town. I saw one mobile home that looked like someone might be living in it and the rest of the building looked like they have been empty for years. We went through several towns of around 300 people. I am not sure what these people do for a living. There is so much land out here. We saw lots of cows and lots of rolling hills. The day wasn’t too bad for me, better than a day at work. Casey was pretty bored and tired of driving by the time we got to Denver. We arrived in Denver right at rush hour on a Friday! We made it to the hotel without too many problems thanks to the GPS. We have managed to get 3 chips in the windshield this week. One is pretty bad…. We called AMEX and if the rental car company charges us for the damage they will reimburse us. When we got to the hotel I had to repack everything. I had to repack things a few times to get it all packed up. The Internet here at the hotel doesn’t work on my laptop so we can’t get online. I was hoping to check email tonight and check again on the flight times tomorrow.
Day 15 September 13, 2008
Our flight wasn’t scheduled to leave until 1:00 so we had a nice slow start to the day. It took my many attempts last night to pack I finally got everything stuffed back into our two bags. Our duffle bag weighed in at 49 pounds, we were allowed 50. When we got to the airport we found out our flight to Chicago had been cancelled and they were taking us to Dallas and then to Raleigh. We were a bit worried since hurricane Ike was hitting Texas at that time, but it was in Houston. The woman behind the counter told us the weather in Chicago was much worse than Dallas. We made both flights without any problems. I did manage to sleep on the first one, but I couldn’t sleep at all on the flight into Raleigh. We got in around 8:30 at night and mom and dad picked us up at the airport. Back home… at least I have one more day before going back to work!