Saturday, September 3, 2011

Montpelier, ID to Wells, Nevada

Upon leaving Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons, we were very disappointed to have not seen a moose, but we saw one today – in Utah, of all places.  It was neat and totally unexpected!

We drove along part of the Oregon Trail Scenic Byway on our way to the Golden Spike National Historic Site in Promontory, Utah.  We decided to stop there because Grant loves trains and the history around them.  We got there just in time for the reenactment of the Golden Spike ceremony which was to complete the joining of the railroad tracks from the Atlantic to the Pacific. 

The Jupiter locomotive was already in place.  We saw the 119 locomotive come up, then they re-enacted the ceremony.  This was an important event because once the trains could run all the way across the country, the cost to get across the country went from taking 6 months and about $1000 to taking about a week and only $70.  The original ceremony was delayed by 2 days, from May 8 1869 to May 10, because the president of one of the railroads was kidnapped by his workers after failing to pay them for 60 days.  We learned that there were actually four special ceremonial spikes (two gold, one silver, and one gold and silver) that were not actually hammered into the ties, but that the actual final spike driven in was a real spike.  They even reenacted the telegraph messages sent during the original ceremony.

The United States flag flying at the ceremony only had 20 stars, even though there were 37 states at the time.  This was because the only flag available was a flag left over from the civil war when the country was divided.  The trains almost looked like toys, they were so elaborately painted.  These highly ornamental and decorative features were typical of everything, including trains, during the Victorian era.  It was interesting to see the different styles of railroad ties and compare those from the east to those from the west placed by 2 different companies.

As we drove across the state of Utah, we traveled on Interstate 80, past the Great Salt Lake, then the salt flats, and then the Bonneville Speedway, where they test high speed vehicles.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Yellowstone to Grand Tetons to Montpelier, ID

When we got up this morning, it was 30 degrees outside and we noticed the water in the hose was frozen when we unhooked it from the trailer.  We left Yellowstone today to drive through Grand Tetons National Park.  The Grand Tetons, with their tall, craggy mountain tops, are a very different look from the Yellowstone Mountains.  We caught one last picture of a waterfall as we left Yellowstone!

It was interesting to learn how the Tetons came to be a national park.  The mountains were declared a National Park very early on, but the valley around them was getting very developed.  John D. Rockefeller visited the area in 1926 and was dismayed by this, so he bought up much of the valley at the base of the mountains with the goal of donating them to the park system.  He offered them to congress, but because of political fighting, the donation was not accepted until about 10 years later, after Rockefeller threatened to sell the area.  The President declared the valley a National Monument (Monuments only need the President’s decree, but National Parks need votes from Congress) because he wanted to protect the area, and Congress tried to stop that as well.  Eventually the donation was accepted and thankfully we have the Grand Tetons National Park with mountains and valleys.

We stopped to look into the Teton Lodge because we heard about the view of the Range from inside it.  Rockefeller had the Teton Lodge designed so that the windows in the main room would have the best  view of the Teton Range.  It is a breathtaking view.  While we were there, people from the Teton Wildlife Refuge brought some birds to talk about them.  They brought a rescued Red Tailed Hawk and a Great Horned Owl.  The Kestrel Falcon they also brought was one of the handler’s hawks (she is a registered falconry hunter).  The Red Tailed Hawk became a little nervous and tried to escape, while weighing only 3 ½ lbs, she managed to drag her very heavy platform about 5 feet.

We stopped by Jenny Lake in the Tetons with a beautiful view of the mountains across the lake and we visited Menor’s Ferry where they have a replica of the ferry used to transport people and their belonging across the Snake River.  People on foot received free passage, because Menor believed if they could not afford a horse, they would be unable to afford the fare and he wanted people to be able to cross and help settle the area.

As we left the park, we stopped at the Chapel of the Transfiguration.  It had a view of the range through its window to equal the view at the Teton Lodge.

We had to take another picture of the Antler arches in Jackson, WY as we drove through.  We got to our campground at a reasonable hour and had a campfire and S’mores for dessert, the first time we were able to stop for the day before 7pm in about 5 days.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Yellowstone – Geysers, Geysers, and more Geysers

After the waterfall and canyon views of yesterday, today was very different.   We spent the entire day visiting the Geysers and other geothermal activity in Yellowstone.  One docent told us the geothermal activity at Yellowstone alone is larger than the sum of all the geothermal activity in all the other places in the world, by a good margin.

We saw our first geysers of the day up close at West Thumb Geyser Basin.  We particularly wanted to see the Fishing Cone Geyser.  Apparently there used to be an activity at Yellowstone called “Hook and Cook”.  Visitors would catch fish from the Lake and then cook them in a geyser that was right there on the shoreline.  There was an old picture of someone in a cook’s hat and apron standing on the edge of a geyser with a fishing pole, so he could dip the fish in the geyser immediately after he caught it.  The water in the deepest point of a geyser pool can exceed 199 degrees Fahrenheit!  Sandy loves the blue of the pools at the geysers – this is where the water is the hottest.  At this same location, we saw a bunch of geese in and around one of the pools.  One of them was even drinking from it.  Many animals frequent the geyser areas in the winter.  We saw lots of animal prints in the very soft ground around many of the geysers.  Also, the lake freezes over in the winter, but because there are hot springs in the lake, there are holes in the ice.  In the winter, otters jump in and out of the holes, catching fish from hole to hole.

On our way to Old Faithful, the most well-known geyser of the park, we stopped at the beautiful Kepler Cascades.  It was so pretty – we were very glad we stopped.  Old Faithful was scheduled to erupt shortly after we got there, so we sat and waited for it.  Grant took more than 50 pictures of it!  Then, we toured the other geysers around Old Faithful.  We got to several of them within minutes of their only eruption of the day.  A couple of them regularly reach heights taller than Old Faithful’s 106 – 184 feet.  However, Old Faithful is still the most predictable and frequent of the big geysers in Yellowstone.  We got to Grand Geyser just as it was starting to erupt.  It erupted steadily for more than 12 minutes and can sometimes   reach 200 feet.  There seemed to be almost one large and 2 little geysers erupting as part of Grand.  After Grand, we raced to Daisy because it was predicted to erupt in the next half hour.  It erupted right on time.  The Grotto Geyser, which only averages a height of 15 feet, was probably our favorite for shape.  It was interesting even when it was not erupting.  When it erupts, the eruption lasts for 1 ½ to 15 hours!!!  While Janine was still taking pictures at Grotto, everyone else noticed that the little Sawmill Geyser was erupting.  When she got there, she probably took 20 pictures, trying to catch the eruption on film – the geyser had decided to be camera-shy!  On our way back, we noticed two tall geysers erupting at the same time, Old Faithful and Beehive Geyser, which erupts only once or twice daily to about 150 to 200 feet.  It looked like Beehive was taller than Old Faithful.

Next we went to Old Faithful Inn.  This is one of Sandy’s favorite Inns.  We watched Old Faithful erupt while sitting on the upper deck.  Then, we were just in time to take a tour of the Inn.  Most of the early visitors to the park were very wealthy people.  They paid about $40 for a 5 day all inclusive tour of the park.  This was at a time when $2.50 was an average day’s wage.  They would travel by train to the northern, most accessible entrance of the park, then ride a stage all around the park.  When they would get to the Old Faithful area, they could only stay there about half a day because there was no lodging available in the area.  They complained about that, so the railroad (who arranged the tours) arranged to have an Inn built in the area.  The architect designed the Inn to look as much as possible like it grew there.  Much of the exposed wood inside and out was lodgepole pine cut about 5 miles from where the Inn was built.   There is even what looks like a treehouse way up in the top – they call it the crow’s nest.  We all loved the use of tree limbs in their natural form all over the inside and outside of the inn.  The architect came back in later years, even, and designed 2 additions to expand the lodging capabilities of the inn.  You can stay in one of the original 90 room, for about $96 per night.  The price is that low because the rooms do not have bathrooms in them.

When we left the Old Faithful area, it was very late, so we raced to see a couple more geyser areas before it got dark and also found another beautiful waterfall in the park.  Today was again a very long day, but we pushed to see everything we could because it was our last day in Yellowstone.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Yellowstone – Canyon, Waterfalls, Mammoth and Critters

It was a gorgeous day for everything we did today.  First thing we did this morning was take a narrated boat ride on Yellowstone Lake.  Among the many things we saw on the lake, there was, surprisingly, the wreck of a boat – the E.C. Waters.   Even in the beginning of the park’s history (1880s), there were concessionaires running tours in the park, but they often had VERY different ideas about what should be an attraction in the park.  E.C. Waters did boat tours (reasonable) and wanted to put what amounted to a theme park on one of the islands in Yellowstone Lake, including a zoo and Indian village (with Indians living there).  The park eventually kicked him out, but his boat stayed on the Lake.  One day it burned down (arson) and they left the wreck on the lake.  The arsonists had to pay a $400 fine for a $60,000 boat.

In addition to the beautiful scenery, we saw many animals today : 2 Bald Eagles, several Bison, a flock of Canadian Geese and Merganzer Ducks (one on each side of the road in a pond that crossed under the road), elk, and a mule deer.  We saw 2 of the 6 known osprey nests in the park.  They even still had chicks in them.  They were on top of very tall spires in the canyon which was very very windy.  A park ranger told us that the reason the nests don’t blow away is that they usually weigh about 500 pounds.  An eagle’s nest can weigh up to 1000 pounds!!!  We even saw a coyote catching his meal.  He was standing over a hole in the ground and while we were watching, he pounced straight up in the air, all four feet off the ground, and came up with something in his mouth. 

After our boat ride, we had lunch and ice cream at the oldest general store in the park.  Then, we headed toward the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, one of Sandy’s absolute favorite spots.  The first stop was to get a close up view of Lower Yellowstone Falls.  We went down Uncle Tom’s trail.  Uncle Tom was another of the park’s early entrepreneurial trail guides.  He “developed” the first version of this trail – people went down it on ropes and ladders.  The 300 stairs down 500 feet that we did was easy compared to that trip.  We saw a rainbow at the falls and absolutely phenomenal views of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.  Then we walked several more overlooks to see the canyon and both the upper and lower falls.  By the end of all these up and down stairs walks, we were beat and it was late in the day.

So, next we drove the rest of the way around the upper loop of the park, taking pictures and doing short walks, until it got too dark to see anything.  We saw a lot of elk (like we get deer in Twain Harte) – all over the lawns in Fort Yellowstone near Mammoth at the northern end of the park.  Then, we went to Mammoth Hot Springs to see some of the Hot Springs there.  We didn’t get back to the campground til after 8:30 and we took over 600 pictures, though we have edited them down to less than 300 – that’s a good thing, right?!?!?!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Custer, SD to Yellowstone National Park, WY

Today we drove all the way across Wyoming to Yellowstone National Park, from Custer through Deadwood and Lead in South Dakota, to Cody, WY then on to Yellowstone.  We plan to stay there for 3 nights.  We left the campground at about 6:30 am and did not get to Yellowstone til about 7:30 at night. 

Most of the route we drove was in an area Buffalo Bill Cody loved.  The route from Cody, WY to the East entrance of Yellowstone was a favorite of his.  At one end is the town, Cody, that he helped build and at the other end is his hunting lodge, just inside Yellowstone National Park’s East entrance.  He managed a traveling show for 30 years with the goal of promoting the beauty of the landscape of the west, touring all over the United States and spending 10 years touring in Europe.  So, today was a day in the history of Buffalo Bill Cody and the land he loved. 

We stopped to look at the Buffalo Bill Dam, just outside of Cody.  When they started the town of Cody, Buffalo Bill thought it would be a good idea to create a dam in the area for irrigation, so they started the dam in 1906.  For the time, it was a magnificent feat.  By the time it was completed in 1910, they lost 7 men and 3 construction companies went bankrupt.  They had to cut out a road to get supplies to the area for the dam.  They did that with just pickaxes and black powder!!!

Just 10 minutes into Yellowstone, we saw a grizzly bear crossing the road.  That was a great end to a very long day and a great start to our visit to Yellowstone.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Fairmont, MN to Custer, SD

We started driving on I-90 this morning and stayed there almost all day.   We saw many more of the Sears barns as we were going down the road today, but couldn’t stop for more pictures.  Yesterday we saw oceans of wheat.  Today, it was oceans of Sunflowers showing off their bright yellow petals.  We drove through the outskirts of Badlands National Park in the rain.  It was still very pretty and we took several nice pictures of the rock formations.

After driving almost all the way across South Dakota, we stayed in Custer, near the Crazy Horse Memorial.  We only wanted to stop at Crazy Horse to see how it had changed since the last time we were here, but stayed a lot longer than planned and learned a lot more about the memorial than on our last visit. 

In 1947, the Lakota Indians asked Korczak Ziolkowski, a Polish American who was a sculptor and an assistant to the Mt. Rushmore builder, to create a memorial to one of their Indian heroes, Crazy Horse.  They stipulated that the memorial needed to be in the Black Hills, because that is where Crazy Horse’s people lived and died.  Korczak agreed, created a detailed scale model of Crazy Horse on a horse, and started the carving out of a mountain that happens to be about 20 minutes from Mt. Rushmore.  The whole hill will eventually be carved out for 360 degrees to match the model, unlike Mt. Rushmore which is the fronts of the heads.  In our last picture, the white lines on the mountain are the ear and eye of the horse.   The whole of Mt. Rushmore would  fit in the head of Crazy Horse.  The memorial is to be the focus of a very large Indian cultural knowledge and training center, including a school and hospital.

For the first years of the project, Korczak climbed 714 steps multiple times a day carrying his tools to work on the carving.  For a long time he was the only person working on it, so when the compressor at the bottom stopped, he had to go all the way back down the steps to start it back up – one day he was up and down 9 times.  Korczak blasted out the hole in the mountain which is the start of the area under the arm.  That hole is 10 stories high!!! 

All sides of the face were completed in 1998, 16 years after Korczak died in 1982.  When he died, he left many detailed notes and drawings with the dimensions of the carving.   His wife and many of his 10 children now oversee the carving of the statue.  It is entirely funded by donations and admission to the memorial.  Korczak twice turned down 10 million dollar grants from the federal government because he felt the government would not complete the memorial.  Instead he wanted the funding to come from people who also shared the dream.