Saturday, June 28, 2008

Summer Fayre

MaypoleSummer is a cumin in, laudly sing cucu. Dome Hill Yarns did a spinning demo today at a local church renfaire, which was a lot of fun. I didn't sell much yarn -- basically just enough to cover my booth fee -- but who cares? How often, after all, do I get a chance to sit and spin all day?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

From the "You're not gonna believe this" files

Pop the hoodWe haven't been driving the Jeep much this spring... Mike drives his truck & I'm mostly in the Yaris... so imagine Mike's surprise when he popped the hood on the Jeep to look at the engine and found this.
Baby birdsSome enterprising contortionist of a mama bird must have come up through the wheel well to build a nice, secluded nest. There's two baby birds in there!
Unfortunately, Mike fired up the engine before he realized that the nest was there. It didn't seem to harm the babies at all (the nest is well away from the moving parts), but we're afraid that the noise & smell & all that may have scared away the mama bird. Hopefully she'll come back soon.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Vacation '08, day 8

Heading home today... Mike's dad Norm will come with us to visit for a few weeks. We hook up with him bright and early, say our farewells to Ron, and head for the interstate. Hunter wants to ride with Grandpa, so I give him my cell phone so we'll have communication between the two cars. This turns out to be my best decision of the day, because Norm misses the turnoff for I-25 and gets hopelessly lost. We get clear of downtown and pull off I-70 near the airport to wait for them to catch up. However, after the third call from Hunter to say they are still lost, we turn around & head back to retrieve them. Norm is pretty frustrated by this point, since he's not familiar with the downtown tangle of Denver and has never really gotten familiar with his built-in navigation console doohickey. Once we find them, Mike takes the wheel of Norm's Jeep; I'm piloting the van. Norm seems to be happy to let someone else drive for a while, since he hardly ever sits in the passenger seat. We finally get out of Denver and begin the trek east on I-70. Unfortunately, it's well past 10:30 by this point which is going to make for a VERY long day.

Nothing eventful happens for the rest of the day, just drive, drive, stop at a rest stop, drive, drive, stop for gas & a meal, etc. It's tremendously windy across all of Kansas, which makes it just exhausting to fight the wheel, mile after mile. I'm overjoyed to hit the state line. Another hour or so puts us home and ready to fall into bed. This was a really good vacation, lots of memories and souvenirs, but we're all grateful to sleep in our own beds tonight.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Vacation '08, day 7

No travelling today, just visiting with Ron and Norm in the morning. The kids get antsy in the afternoon, so I leave Mike to talk with the guys and take us back to the hotel to swim. This turns out to be a mistake because we get seriously sunburned... I've forgotten that the air is a bit thinner in the Mile-High City. (sigh)

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Vacation '08, day 6

More cooperative elkToday we'll head south all day to get to Denver. We have a lovely breakfast at Grant Village, then head towards the south entrance of the park (which might be better called the south exit in our case.) The critters are up and about too; we see a lot of elk around the west side of the lake. They are all starting to shed their winter coats, so they look a bit mangy, but are lovely animals nonetheless. They SMELL, though. I could smell this one as soon as I rolled down the window to take the picture. Uff da.
Lewis FallsWe stop to admire the lovely falls at Lewis Lake. The water is still icy cold, of course; I can feel chill radiating off of the surface of the river when I look out over the bridge railing.
Welcome to Grand Teton Leaving Yellowstone to the south, of course, means entering the Grand Teton National Park just a few miles later.
A breathtaking viewWe have another forty-fifty miles of stunning views to endure. Mike and I marvel that such sights still exist in our crowded world. The kids, of course, pretend that they couldn't care less, but every once in a while I'll catch them saying, "Wow look at that" to each other. We keep our eyes peeled for a moose (the one large mammal we haven't spotted on this trip) but no such luck.
Cattle drive at the other end of the bridgeAfter we come down from the mountains, we start making our way southeast more or less diagonally across the state of Wyoming. This is open range, lots of cattle and horse ranches. We come up on a bridge where traffic is stopped -- we get stuck behind a big RV. On the other side of the bridge, there's half a dozen cowboys riding herd on around forty head of cattle, which are all milling about with obvious reluctance to have anything to do with the bridge.
Coming across the bridge...Eventually the cowboys get the herd organized and they begin to cross.
...right at US!It dawns on Mike & me at the exact same moment that they are headed STRAIGHT FOR US.
In the midst of itIn moments, we are surounded by the noisy, mooing things, who jostle the van in their relief to get off the bridge. I am grateful we aren't in the Yaris; some of these animals are bigger than that car is. Half of the cattle head to the right shoulder; half break to the left. It takes the cowboys another ten minutes or so to get the whole herd on the same side of the highway. Quite the adventure!
A long day's driving gets us to Denver in the late evening... we'll hook up with Mike's uncle Ron tomorrow for a visit. Good night!

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Vacation '08, day 5

CabinUp and about today! We are staying, as I mentioned earlier, in one of the little cabins behind the Lake hotel. There's a few dozen of them, all identical, and they are quite tiny... just a room that hold two double beds and a sliver of a bathroom in the back. No teevee, no phones. The kids find it difficult to believe that people used to live like this, but Mike & I are loving the quiet.
HotelThe hotel, painted the same shade of yellow, is a early-1900's beauty that has been restored to its former elegance. I can imagine carriages pulling up to the porte-cochère and discharging vacationers in Edwardian dress, or perhaps some interbellum swells conversing in the sunroom.
Snow in JuneWe get in the car and zip down to Fishing Bridge, the nearest store & gas station. The morning has been cold and gloomy, but now, actual SNOW begins to fall. Let me repeat: there is SNOW falling during our SUMMER VACATION. Fortunately, there's not much of it, and it's a wet, heavy snow that melts almost immediately. It's not sticking to the roads, so driving isn't affected much.
The yellow busToday we'll explore the Canyon area of the park. The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, north of the lake, is a river gorge carved by the Yellowstone River through some of the softer volcanic material in this region. We've signed up for one of the bus tours... they are conducted in vintage 1930's-era buses with rolltop canvas roofs that have been rebuilt and put back into service just in the past year or so. Our driver is J.D., a fellow who personifies the tour-guide requirements of being friendly, gregarious, and full of interesting stories. Since the distinctive buses are frequently the subject of photos, J.D. instructs us to smile & wave whenever we see someone snapping a picture. ("You'll end up in some other folk's vacation pictures that way!")
Dragon's MouthWe tour some of the thermal features in the Canyon. This is a cave-like geyser called the Dragon's Mouth. When it erupts, the hollow cave roars, and steam comes pouring out of the opening.
Mud volcanoPhew! This mud volcano stinks of sulfur.
Lower FallsThe snow has stopped, but it's still misty and drizzly. Regardless, the view of the Lower Falls is absolutely stunning. This is the famous falls painted by Thomas Moran, which (indirectly) led to the creation of the first National Park at Yellowstone. J.D. springs a pop quiz on Hunter: True or false, the Lower Falls is taller than the Statue of Liberty? (True. The falls are 308 feet high; Liberty on her pedestal stands 305 feet.)
Ali by lower fallsJust to prove we are actually there, and I didn't just get the previous image off a postcard rack, here's another shot of the falls with Ali in the foreground.
Mr. Bus DriverMike, of course, thinks the antique bus is the coolest. He talks J.D. into letting him sit in the driver's seat for a quick photo.
Bear in the valleyCritter count for today: The biggest traffic jam we see for the whole vacation is caused by a bear, of course. This is a mama grizzly and her cub. It's not a great photo -- they are about a quarter mile off, down in the valley, foraging for food, I guess. Swarms of people stop on the road to watch the creatures.
MarmotThis little guy is a yellow-bellied marmot, who is sitting on the rocks just above the Upper Falls lookout. He looks quite nonchalant about the score of people taking his picture.
Bald eagleDriving back towards the lake, I happen to look up one of the dozens of little creeks that flow into the river and see a bald eagle, flying along the waterway, headed straight for us. "Honey! Stop the car!" The eagle flies right over us, then turns to parallel the road for a little ways before perching in a riverside pine. What a majestic animal.
Mike & Hunter by lakeAcross from the hotel lies another breath-taking view of the lake. We walk around there a bit in the evening and have dinner at the lakeside grill. Another beautiful day; we'll be sad to leave Yellowstone tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Vacation '08, day 4

Continental DivideWe get up kind of late (a noisy thunderstorm last night kept us awake) with the intention of exploring the Geyser Basin today. This means a drive from the east side of the mountains (where we are staying next to the lake) over to the west side of the park. We actually cross the Continental Divide twice as the spine of the continent meanders back and forth in a not-very-straight line. As you can see, there's still quite a bit of snow on the ground at this elevation. (A ranger told us yesterday that a late-spring snowstorm dumped almost six feet on the park only a couple of weeks ago.)
Kepler CascadesOn the west side of the pass, there's a pretty cascade with a perfect photo deck. It's called Kepler Cascades. The massive fires of 1988 are still evident almost everywhere one looks in Yellowstone, but the new trees are growing quite happily and everything looks green and pretty.
Beehive geyserWe get down to the Geyser Basin with about thirty minutes before Old Faithful is due to erupt. The rangers post the "next show time" on a big white board on the door of the visitor's center. We start browsing around the visitor's center for a couple of minutes, but just then, Beehive Geyser (a large but less-predictable geyser) starts to erupt. The ranger announces the eruption to the room, which empties. Beehive typically erupts for only five minutes or so, so we didn't have time to get any closer than this, but we admire the impressive "jet" caused by the nozzle of built-up mineral residue.
Old Faithful We settle down to finish reading the visitor's handout and wait for Old Faithful to do its thing. It's the geyser nearest to the visitor's center, with a big viewing deck with benches in a big semi-circle around it. It goes off right on the dot -- no plus-or-minus ten minutes for us. It's an awe-inspiring sight, the hot steam and water shooting a hundred feet into the air. (Another one of those things that just isn't the same when you see it on teevee.) It's mid-morning, ten-fifty-something, but there's not very many people here yet... the benches are two-thirds empty.
Geyser HillOf course, everyone has seen pictures and film of Old Faithful, but one thing I had never realized is quite how many thermal features surround it. The hill just behind O.F. is lousy with geysers and hot springs. We take the boardwalk (which makes a little half-mile or so loop) across the river, up and around. Standing on top of Geyser Hill, looking around, you're pretty much going to see something steaming or erupting or doing something interesting. In addition to the big geysers, there's a bunch of smaller geysers that only erupt to a height of about six feet, but they obligingly do so every ten or fifteen minutes. The smell of sulphur is everywhere.
Walking towards SawmillCastle Geyser, one of the big ones, has been erupting for twenty or so minutes (upstaging Old Faithful) but we take our time with the walk. We see smaller geysers Anemone and Sawmill do their thing. All the geysers have names, some quite fanciful.
Sawmill GeyserSawmill, in particular, erupts with a pulsing jet that makes a "BRR-brr" noise which sounds to me like a crosscut saw. I wonder if that's the origin of the name, or if I am the one being fanciful.
Firehole RiverWe could keep on the trail for another half-mile or so on the long loop, but we choose to cross back over the river (which is aptly named Firehole) because we're starting to get hungry. Castle Geyser, on the hill behind us, has finished erupting and is now in the noisy-steam phase, which the guidebook tells us will last thirty minutes or so. We have lunch (some really good cheeseburgers) at the soda fountain and buy some sweatshirts at the gift shop. Then, after lunch, we must walk back to the parking lot by the visitor's center, which takes us right by Old Faithful's viewing area again. This time the benches are PACKED, and tour buses are pulling up and discharging passengers in a hurry. It must be about to erupt again. Sure enough, as we get about halfway round, Old Faithful begins to erupt, and we stop to admire the awesome sight for the second time. We have great timing!
SapphireWe spend the afternoon exploring some of the other geyser basins. Biscuit Basin has a pretty little boardwalk that takes us around several very active features... Jewel Geyser erupts three times while we are there. There's an absolutely stunning hot spring called Sapphire Pool, which is an incredible shade of blue. The clear blue pools are the hottest; this one must be just a hair off of boiling. (Other pools have interesting greens and oranges and yellows, which is caused by minerals reacting with microorganisms and stuff like that, but the microorganisms tend to get killed off in the hotter pools.) The picture won't do it justice, I am sure, but I snap away anyhow. The area's funny name comes from the flat, round rock formations that used to be seen around this pool... sadly, they collapsed in an earthquake in 1959, so there's no longer any biscuits in Biscuit Basin.
Bison grazingCritter count for the day: We saw a big herd of bison grazing right smack by the road near the geysers. I rolled down the window to take this one... it was closer than I would have been willing to get on foot.
Big ravenMike and I are both in awe of the size of the ravens here. They are bold as brass, too, and quite talkative.
ChipmunkThis chipmunk was quite willing to ignore us as long as we stayed on the path.
Still snugglingAfter all that walking, we are happy to come back to the cabin for a quiet evening.

Ali thinks it is funny that her parents still get huggy-kissy sometimes... I haven't the foggiest idea why ;-)

Monday, June 02, 2008

Vacation '08, day 3

Chief Crazy HorseLeaving Hill City in the morning, we face a route choice: take the southern loop by the Crazy Horse monument, or take the north loop by Devil's Tower. We choose the former, and get a really good view of the monument from the road (although we don't do the full tour due to time constraints.) Crazy Horse's face is complete, and the horse's head is being roughed out. We definitely want to come back & see it in a decade or so when it's more complete! We get a few brief glimpses of Devil's Tower on the horizon, but no more than that.
Back seat snoozeAfter that it's just a long drive across Wyoming.
Into the hillsEventually we leave the plains and start climbing up into the hills. What a view we see from the turnouts!
Welcome to YellowstoneYellowstone, as everyone probably knows by now, is a caldera volcano that sits at about 8000 feet. (Thus, all the well-known thermal activity.) The drive approaching the east gate is incredibly beautiful... lodgepole pines crowding along rugged hills, picturesque creeks winding through the valleys.
Wolf!One of the major thrills of Yellowstone is wildlife-spotting. Our big score today is a wolf, loping through a meadow near the lake. He causes a big old traffic tie-up, too, before he disappears into the timber. (Wolves and bears are good for the biggest traffic jams.)
Uncooperative elk is looking the wrong wayWe also see a young male elk just off Fishing Bridge, horns just starting to bud. (We saw a flock of bighorn sheep, too, and a couple of magnificent bison just outside the park, but didn't get pictures. I quickly learn that it's advisable for the shotgun passenger to ride with the camera in her lap, because you just don't know what you'll see around the next turn.)
It's dark by the time we get checked into the cabin; we don't have much energy for more than a cup-o-noodles dinner and we're ready to fall into bed. Tomorrow we'll explore.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Vacation '08, day 2

We get up early to start across the state towards Hill City, our day's destination. It's a fairly short driving day, so we plan to spend lunchtime at Wall Drug, that shrine of the American Roadtrip. All morning long we see the signs along I-90 announcing the wonders of the Mecca of the Badlands: "See the T-Rex!" "5¢ Coffee!" "As seen on Good Morning America!" "Free Ice Water!" The signs have all the charm of the old Burma-Shave placards, and it becomes a game to be the first to spot them as we travel through an otherwise (mostly) featureless landscape. The kids shout from the back seat, "I see one!" with increasing frequency as we get closer and closer.
Giddyup jackalopeWall Drug doesn't disappoint us, except for the mediocre dry-as-sawdust burgers in the cafe. Everything else about the store is larger than life and over the top. There's a huge fiberglass jackalope in the back courtyard (it appeared on Boo's blog when she went through Wall a few years back.) Hunter complains that it's too babyish, but poses anyway.
Headbanger bearWe wander around, shop and look at all the stuff that crams the aisles and hallways of the store, which has grown to encompass a whole city block.
Isn't she lovely?Mike has a new girlfriend...
The happy does Hunter!
Annie get yer gunWe pose with Annie Oakley and get ice cream in the old soda fountain.
See the T-RexThe T-Rex mentioned on the billboards is an animatronic creation that comes to roaring, flashing life every quarter-hour. It makes a lot of noise as it threatens to break out of its "enclosure" before it goes back to sleep for the next fourteen minutes.
Honest AbeAfter the weirdness of Wall, we keep heading west towards Mt. Rushmore. We stop at the Rushmore Borglum Museum, which has a whole lot of interesting exhibits and information about Rushmore's sculptor, Gutzon Borglum. The kids pose with a replica of Borglum's "Seated Lincoln" outside the museum.
The Avenue of FlagsThen, having visited the museum to get some context, we head up the mountain to see the momument itself.
Founding FathersIt's one of those things that you've seen a million times in pictures or on TV or whatever, but it's a completely different experience to be there looking up at the carvings.
Mr. CoolWe take the obligatory photos of the faces on the mountain before heading off to check into our hotel for the night. Later, after dinner and a little goofing around in the pool, we drive back up the mountain to see the nightly lighting ceremony. The ranger makes a little speech about the National Anthem, then there's a short film about the four presidents on the mountain, and then they light the faces with massive floodlights while stirring patriotic music plays. Despite the slightly creepy jingoistic overtones, I get choked up.
So ends our second day. Tomorrow we've got a long drive... all the way to Yellowstone, where we'll stay put for a few days. Good night!