Friday, July 31, 2009

Rounding the Bend, Heading for Home

After two months on the road, I took off my Tour Director hat this past week and just took it easy. We've not had a plan laid out and just did whatever popped up. The weather has been too cool so far to take the float trip we had in mind but we're holding out hope for tomorrow. Either way, we've enjoyed Island Park, Yellowstone and the surrounding area. I'll be wishing I had some of this cooler weather once we get into Utah. Here are a couple photos of sunsets out our window.

Yesterday we drove to St. Anthony, ID to see the sand dunes. When Rick entered the Day Use parking, his Hyundai was up to its axle in sand. Luckily some ATVers and a couple from the Bureau of Land Management came along and with all their help he was able to back it out onto the shoulder of the road. We were hoping you could rent dune buggies or at least be taken on a ride but you have to bring your own. We climbed a bit and took some pictures. There is a BLM campground there and we drove through. It was filled with "toy hauler" RVs. Some of the buggies were pretty snazzy. It sure looks like fun but must be fairly dangerous. There is a big sign about safety and the phone contact for the helicopter airlift. Enough said!

Today we drove to Harriman State Park. These 11,000 acres were first purchased by E. H. Harriman in 1902 while he owned the Union Pacific Railroad. There were five partners in all. After his death, his wife Mary took a great interest in this investment which became The Island Park Cattle Company. It has always been known as the Railroad Ranch. The Harrimans were the parents of Averell Harriman, governor of NY and ambassador to the Soviet Union. However, his brother Roland and wife Grace took the most interest and used it as an investment as well as a retreat for their family and friends.

Eventually all other investors were bought out and in the early 1980's, Idaho accepted the area from the Harriman family as the first state park in Idaho. The buildings of the Railroad Ranch are all still there and we were able to take a tour. It's a beautiful area with two sparkling lakes where Trumpeter swans winter each year. Its backdrop is the Grand Tetons and Henry's Fork of the Snake River runs through it. The herd of elk was released from the ranch in 1937 and today, 90% of all elk in the region can be traced back to the ranch elk. There is a film and many old photos of life on the ranch in the early 1900s. We took a walk down to the barns and Ted got to visit with some of the horses. It was a very interesting place.

On our way back north we stopped at Big Springs. Last time the Johnny Sack cabin was not open to the public. This year it is, but we were too late in the day. Johnny was a German immigrant, 4'11", who built a cabin and a waterwheel (to produce electricity for himself) on the shores of Big Springs. This is the clearest water I have ever seen including water from a tap. I took a picture of three trout last time that look suspended in air because the water was so clear. Today they were all hiding under the bridge.

We leave Sunday for Moab, UT; Cortez and Pagosa Springs, CO; Albuquerque and Alamogordo, NM. From there things get fuzzy because Ted needs to make a business trip to Denver. We also plan to end up in Burleson, TX around August 31 for the Texas Boomers Labor Day Rally which is near Dallas/Fort Worth and enables Ted to handle a work visit there before the holiday weekend starts.

When we're out like this for extended periods, I try to have a blueprint of where we want to go, what we want to see, who we want to see and events we need/want to attend. When you plug in those factors you can start building a trip. Distance and campgrounds come into play and your route develops. This way Ted knows where we are headed, the route he is taking, the miles he will be driving and have directions to the campground we have selected. He tells everyone I am his personal GPS as well as his spell checker. Two noble professions!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Outside of Yellowstone National Park

We didn’t have a very long drive from Ennis, MT to Island Park, ID. We have decided to stay here for just one week. We’ve been here before and have seen a lot of Yellowstone so we think we can see what else there is in that time. If Jay and Stella were along, we would have gone back to see things again; but they’re not, so we’ll just take in the things that are new to us.

Once we got settled we took a ride into Yellowstone Park. We got caught in a long traffic slowdown which we eventually learned was caused by five buffalo roaming along the roadway. There was a hill to the left and a river to the right so they just walked down the middle of the road. Eventually a Park Ranger came and did his best to herd them to one side using his cruiser so at least one lane of traffic could pass. Sometimes he was successful, other times one or more would wander the opposite way. They have the run of the park so you just have to be patient in these situations.

We stopped near Old Faithful for bottles of water and the restroom. The geyser was to go off within a half hour so we decided to stay and watch it though we saw it last time. All of a sudden the wind whipped up and it got very dark. We quickly changed our minds and headed for the car. We started back and were caught in a terrible storm and then it started hailing. By the time we got home, it had stopped. There has been crazy cool weather here this year.

Monday afternoon we rode down the Mesa Byway here in Idaho to the Upper and Lower Mesa Falls. They certainly don’t waste a lot of money on signs! But we found what we were looking for and it was definitely worth the ride. These falls thunder through a chasm carved by the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River. The whole Snake River pours over the crest and drops 114 feet to the canyon floor with an explosion of spray. The water is a constant 52 degrees and doesn’t freeze in winter. The spray creates it’s own mini-ecosystem on the opposite canyon wall. Instead of the lodgepole pines that cover the rest of the canyon, mossy green grass covers the spray area. A little way down the gorge the river makes a 90 degree turn and the water is perfectly calm.

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We stopped at a Frosty Top root beer place on the way home and had a root beer float. As soon as we got home it started raining very hard for a short time. It was really cool the whole day and we all wore jackets.

After dinner we went to Rick and Brenda’s motorhome to play Chicken Foot. The game room here closes at 7 p.m. and it was too cold to sit outside. When we came in around 11 p.m. it was already 66 inside our RV. We certainly needed the blankets.

In the morning it was 57 inside and I turned on the heat. It doesn’t take long to warm up and once the sun comes up it is pleasant outside. Today we did the lower circle of Yellowstone Park. The roads are laid out like two circles sitting one on top the other with a road at the bottom of the lower circle leading south right into Grand Teton National Park and on into Jackson, WY which we took last time we were here.

Right off the bat we were stopped in a traffic jam as people looked at the bald eagle despite the sign that says no stopping, parking or walking in that quarter mile. Finally a ranger came and sent everyone along. We did see the eagle on three separate occasions just driving by and he was magnificent. We had seen ospreys and their nest while at Mesa Falls. The birds are spectacular.

Then we hit another delay as people stopped to see the elk. Finally we got to a road we had to take that we knew had construction delays. In 14 miles we were stopped once for 15 minutes and another time for almost half an hour. But we bit the bullet and hung in there. We stopped at Canyon Village and had lunch. Then we continued down the east side of the bottom circle all the way around to the west side. There were loads of buffalo along the way and the road ran night alongside Yellowstone River until it emptied into Yellowstone Lake which is very large and deep. To the east was the Absaroka Mountain Range. The views were breathtaking. We stopped to see some of the thermal pools also.

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We eventually made our way home after seven hours in the park. We’ve done both circles completely now and been through Teton into Jackson so I think we won’t subject ourselves to the crowds anymore this trip.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

I Don't Understand This Custer Thing

Wednesday we left South Dakota after a 39 degree morning and stopped for two nights in Garryowen, MT. Garryowen is an old Irish tune that was the marching song of the 7th Calvary. The whole town is on the National Historical Registry. That day it was 102 there! Yikes, I wanted the cool temperatures of the higher elevation again. Ted was coming down with a cold and wasn't feeling too great so we made a stop at Wal-Mart for some medicine. He was feeling some better the next day.

We camped right next to the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument at 7th Ranch Campground and it had horses. Guess where my apples went that night?

The campground gave us a CD to use with the tour of the battlefield so we left early the next morning. First we watched a film and then set out with the CD directing our travels with info along the way. The battlefield is a large area of ravines and crevices along with small hills and valleys down to the river. The Indians knew the terrain and how to use it to their advantage and this played a big part in their victory. One Indian said "it was like a buffalo chase."

Now about George Armstrong Custer. I have learned he was last in his class at West Point, he was listed as AWOL at one point during the Civil War and at one time was court martialed and lost his rank for a year. Then he leads the worst defeat of U.S. troops in history ... and they make the guy out to be a hero. I don't get it.

Anyway ... there are markers scattered hither and yon where shallow graves have been uncovered. Some are bunched together and then you will see a solitary one in the distance. White markers are for the U.S. troops, brown ones are for the Indians though those have been placed much more recently. A beautiful farm is now in the valley along the Little Bighorn River. Only the markers acknowledge the terrible bloodshed that occurred here.

It was a resounding victory for the Indians but the beginning of the end of their way of life. The U.S. was going against the Laramie Treaty they had signed with the Indians by sending the 7th Calvary to round them up and force them on to reservations. Who can blame them for fighting back? The massacre at Wounded Knee, SD is thought to be retalitaion for what happened at Little Bighorn. Sort of the 7th Calvary's battle cry. However, Wounded Knee was a massacre not a battle.

There is a national cemetery here also but few of those buried had anything to do with the Little Bighorn battle.

We drove on to Hardin, MT to visit the Big Horn County Historical Museum. They had a picnic grove where we ate our lunch in the shade of some very big, old trees. They had such great buildings here that I never took any pictures. I was too busy reading about everything. They had the standard buildings but also had a cabin used until 1981, a slaughterhouse and meat market, the Camp Custer Motel (remember those small cabins on the sides of the roads way back when?), a farming corporation camp for the Campbell Farming Corporation that became the largest privately owned wheat farm. There was also a barn with a number of old vehicles, some restored, some not. There were two stagecoaches in amazing condition even though they have not been restored.

The heat was getting to all of us and Ted especially so we came home about 2 p.m. We're laying low in this heat until the sun goes down and it cools off some. Tomorrow we head to Reed Pointe, MT for just an overnight.

We stopped at Wal-Mart in Billings to get groceries and more medicine for Ted who was still not up to snuff and then pulled into Reed Pointe about 3 p.m. I needed to mail some stuff and right there behind our RV was a post office. Serendipity! While Ted set up I walked over and took care of the mail. That evening there was a complete rainbow in the sky and Ted took this picture.

Saturday was a beautiful drive along the Boulder, Yellowstone and Madison Rivers into Ennis where we stayed for one night. The view of the mountains for 360 degrees is spectacular.

Ted and I drove to Virginia City without Rick and Brenda who were resting. It is a gold rush town that has frozen in time. The main street looked pretty much like it did in the 1800s except for the road which would have been dirt. We loved the arcade that had machines we haven't seen since our days in the '50s at Cincinnati's Coney Island. Do you remember the gypsy fortune teller in the movie Big with Tom Hanks? They had one of those there too. We then drove down the road to Nevada City. It wasn't nearly as interesting and seems to me that they are just trying to become a tourist spot based on their proximity to Virginia City. However, they did have a building filled with wonderful old organs from carousels. A huge one at the back came from Paris and was playing continuously. I could just visualize the horses going round and round. I'll publish a Virginia City post next time.

We drove back to the Lions Park in Ennis and sat on a glider watching kids fish in a pond. You have to be under 12 to fish here. All of a sudden the wind whipped up and we ran for the truck. By the time we got back to the campground it was pouring and we had to wait for a bit to get inside the RV.

We told Rick and Brenda how much we enjoyed Virginia City so they drove over before it got dark. We went into town and had dinner at a little cafe. Then we walked up and down the main thoroughfare. There are lots of galleries and realtors here.

This morning it is 63 inside the RV and after church we head to Island Park, ID and we'll be about 12 miles from the west entrance of Yellowstone. Since we've all been here before I haven't planned an agenda. We'll just play it by ear. Ted and I are looking at how we want to get home from here. We have lots of choices so we'll let you know when we know!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Hot Springs, SD

Monday we drove south to Hot Springs, SD. It turned out to be a town of much greater size than the others we have visited in this area. Our destination was the Mammoth Site, a 35 year old archeological dig that is the largest find of mammoth fossils in North America. But first we were greeted by this lovely waterfall that empties into a small meandering river in the center of town.

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As background on the Mammoth Site, around 27,000 years ago (give or take a century!), the limestone in this area became porous and collapsed pushing a thermal stream up creating a sinkhole of warm water. This warmth allowed vegetation to grow around the sinkhole all year long. For a period of 300-700 years (again, give or take a decade) mammoths came to this area and some ended up in the water and died from drowning, exhaustion, or starvation because the shale sides were very slippery and they could not get out. To date they have found the remains of approximately 58 Columbian and Wooly mammoths.

As time passed, the stream dried up and layers upon layers of dirt accumulated until a hill was formed. In 1974 a developer started to level this hill and the initial bones were found. He sold the property to the organization that runs the site for the amount he had paid for it and work has been ongoing since then.

They have constructed a building entirely around the dig area. Work is done by paleontologists for six weeks in the summer and this gives the archeologists enough to work with for identification, study and research for the remainder of the year.

They have a sense of humor in naming their finds. One skeleton complete except for its skull was named Marie Antoinette. When they later learned it was a male, the name was changed to Murray Antoinette. One skeleton was fused together completely and they realized they would never be able to take the bones apart individually. This fossil is named Napoleon (Bonaparte).

The lighting wasn't great for photography but I took a few anyway. I have to find out who is the Brand Manager for Tide at P&G and send the picture of the girl using the empty Tide bottle as a scoop for her sweepings. It was a very interesting afternoon.

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On the way home we drove through the Wind Cave National Park which was no more than a loop taking you to the Visitors Center to buy tickets for a cave tour. That led us right into Custer State Park where we saw another herd of buffalo. We stopped at the second highest lookout point to take a few pictures. We could see the Badlands in the distance which was about 100 miles. The valley below was very green and pretty too.

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Today is being spent getting ready to move on. I did laundry last night and today I have a turkey breast in the crockpot, I made a cherry pie with the last of the cherries. I also made a cranberry jello salad. There is a free concert in town tonight and if we're still up to it afterward, we'll drive to the Crazy Horse Memorial to see the laser light show.

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I never know how good my wifi is going to be so bear with me as we travel the next four days, northwest through the SE corner of Wyoming, then west before turning south to the west entrance of Yellowstone National Park.