Monday, September 24, 2012

Yellowstone Road Trip - Day 26

The old buzzards and Fannie Mae left Sonora, California on Highway 49/108 this morning at 7:59am on the last leg of their 26 Day Yellowstone Road Trip. No one was sad to be going home – just very glad that things went so well and that it has been such a wonderful adventure and so much fun. We'll be wound up and ready to go back to Sonora for Thanksgiving in a couple of month.

By 8:40 we were at the Oakdale Cheese Factory in Oakdale to get some quark for Linda and curds for John but they were not open yet so we will have to wait until we go through there on our Thanksgiving trip in November. We did find a Starbucks in Escalon that was open and were thus fueled up for the rest of today's trek.

Manteca = fat or lard
Escalon = rungs or steps
Milpitas = corn or maize
Thus endeth th Spanish lesson.

Speaking of that lesson, if you've ever read much about Bodie, CA, the ghost town, it wasn't much of a place in which to be situated. In one book, someone going to live there was said to have exclaimed, "Goodbye, God, I'm going to Bodie". But, the author also explained that the person may have been saying, "Good, by God, I'm going to Bodie"! Sooo, in John's twisted brain, one might also say, "Good Lard, I'm going to Manteca!" Or, would that be "Good, Lard, I'm going to Manteca!"

Since we expected the fridge at home to be pretty bare, we stopped at one of many inviting-looking fruit stands along the way to Manteca and got pluots, plums, peaches, nectarines and grapes (all were $1.00 a pound). We also got a few of their interesting-looking heirloom tomatoes since we don't know if there will be any ready in our garden at home. Two of the most unusual ones were zebras and tie dies. The tomatoes were $1.50 a pound.

We were on Highways 5, then 205, then 580, then 680 to San Jose. There was a lot of traffic as we approached the Bay Area but for a while we got to ride in an express lane since we had two people in our vehicle. And we were exempt from a toll charge of $5.50.  When we got on 101 to Morgan Hill at 10:02am, we took the Tennant Avenue exit. We had been looking forward to seeing what progress had been made to the Butterfield extension while we were gone. Sure enough, they are still hard at work on it and Watsonville Road at Monterey Highway is closed so we went to California Avenue, Water Street, Easy and finally home where we pulled in and took down the mileage reading so we would have the exact number of miles traveled (for those of you who enter our Mileage Madness contest). Sorry if this paragraph was boring to those of you not keeping up with the mileage. But you are welcome to take a wild guess. It is an interesting total and you just might come close enough to win one of the three great prizes.

"Home again, home again, jiggity jog". We arrived home by 11:30, did our unloading and had lunch with John's cousin Jerry, who has been housesitting. Unpacking will take a while but at least we did remember to take most of what we needed and we have a list made of additional items to include next time, such as binoculars, spotting scope, bird and plant ID books.

In the lost and found department, John lost his beloved teal blue water bottle. It was left on the Yellowstone tour bus and did not get turned in. It was the one he also used on his bicycle. Better replace it! Linda's thermal top was also left on the same bus but did get turned in. Linda got some buffalo earrings at Fort Caspar, wore them a lot and lost one of them two days ago.

And the tomato report is that we did not need to get tomatoes. The bushes are loaded, mostly with a variety of beautiful golden heirlooms that Linda got at a plant sale this spring outside BookSmart. Somewhere among all those vines is a plant label that we really want to take note of once it can be found. The largest one picked so far weighed in at two pounds! See today's photo gallery (by clicking here) for two of Linda's loveliest tomatoes. Our neighbor Pat did a super job of watering and the whole yard looks really nice. Thanks Pat! And thanks also to Josie and the Herreras and the Farnsworths for helping Jerry keep an eye on everything. We have wonderful neighbors!

Speaking of Jerry, he is hinting that he would like to stay around until after Taste of Morgan Hill this weekend, which is fine with us. It seems that he met a sweet lady at the Senior Center who has signed him up to help pour wine during our annual street fair.

Fannie Mae seems especially glad to be home and is delighting in attempting to terrorize the squirrels in the back yard.

Some trails are happy ones
Others are blue
It's the way you ride the trail that counts;
Here's a happy one for you.
HAPPY TRAILS to you,
Keep smilin' until then.
Who cares about the clouds when we're together?
Just sing a song and bring the sunny weather.
HAPPY TRAILS to you
'Til we meet again!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Yellowstone Road Trip - Day 25

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”  Robert Frost

Here we are on Day 25 or our 26 day road trip. This post needs to start off with a big “OOPS!” A day or so ago Linda referred to “the road less traveled” as being Carl Sandburg's words. Then today when the old buzzards were in an antique shop in downtown Sonora there was the whole quote but (oops) it had Robert Frost's name at the end. Linda has always gotten these two authors mixed up and they may not have even been friends. Sorry about that, Robert, and all you English majors. . .

Today was a very relaxing day. We had breakfast in the Gold Lodge dining area with two delightful British fellows from across the pond. They are railroad freaks (enthusiasts) and their wives did not care to come to The States just to stare at a bunch of old trains. One was a twin and entertained us with tales of when he and his brother were both English bobbies on the same force in a small town. They would position themselves at opposite ends of town and confuse the heck out of people.

We had intended to visit Columbia Historic State Park, a delightful historic mining town, but since we have been there so many times John offered to just spend the day in Sonora letting Linda chase her thrift/antique store habit. Fannie Mae made friends with some donkeys when she was on her morning walk.  They were perfectly happy to exchange sniffs with her. Though, it was rather difficult for Fannie to sniff their butts. A ladder was required.

The buzzards made the rounds of some downtown shops in Sonora, mostly antique stores, and found a few treasures. Does anyone remember those canvas water bags that people used to hang on the front their cars in the 40s and 50s? The water would slowly seep through the canvas and evaporate so that when you made a stop you always had some refreshing cool water to drink. No, we didn't buy it but, like lots of things in antique stores, it brought back some old family memories of road trips when the buzzards were just buzzard chicklets.

We ate lunch downtown at a 2-years-new Yo Good Yogurt. Unlike our local Fro-Yo store, they have a salad bar and a serve-yourself yogurt area. The cost is 45 cents per ounce for salad and fixins and 39 cents per ounce for yogurt. And they offer a 10% discount to seniors. Everything was very fresh and delicious. There were 8 flavors of yogurt. John got 3 or 4 and Linda tried a little of everything. Some unusual ones were cake mix, root beer and pomegranate. Others were vanilla, chocolate and raspberry and cheesecake. Yum! Anyone want to open one of these in Morgan Hill for the old buzzards? www.itsyogood.com

Thanks for the nice emails we have been receiving from many of you who have been in the “rumble seat” riding along with us on this road trip. We have even received emails from three much younger couples who tell us that we are an inspiration to them for when they get the chance to travel in their doddering years. It's never been our goal to be an inspiration but it's nice to hear, nevertheless. As of October 1, 2012 we will have been mostly retired for four years and we do love it. When home, we manage to stay just as busy as we want to be with kids, grand kids, volunteer activities for seniors, gardening, photography, book groups, friends, biking, reading, reality TV, unreality TV and then there's always planning our next Road Trip. . .

Dinner tonight was in downtown Sonora at The Diamondback Grill, rated on Trip Advisor as Sonora's number one eatery. We looked for them when we did our initial drive through and thought they were gone but they had just moved across the street to larger quarters since we were here last, six years ago. John got a bacon cheddar burger and a salad. Linda got smoked quail with fig chutney and mustard balsamic vinaigrette. John drank water and Linda drank an Arrogant Bastard ale. Both dinners were excellent. The old buzzards would recommend that you try The Diamondback Grill when you are in Sonora. It's not very expensive. John's burger and salad was $10.95 and Linda's smoked quail was just $9.95.

Only 16 photos in today's gallery. You can (hee-haw) view them by clicking here.

When we got back to the Gold Lodge we made our reservations to come here for four nights over Thanksgiving. Sonora will have the 38th Annual Music and Crafts Festival which is put on by Fire on the Mountain. Check out their website by clicking here. It is held across the street from our motel at the fairgrounds and there is also a downtown Christmas parade during the time we will be here.

Happy Trails!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Yellowstone Road Trip - Day 24

“Yosemite Valley, to me, is always a sunrise, a glitter of green and golden wonder in a vast edifice of stone and space.”
~Ansel Adams, photographer who rose to fame with his black and white photos of Yosemite.

“Yosemite's natural beauty can be found in things big and small, from towering granite cliffs and giant sequoias to diminutive wildflowers. Varied conditions in four geographic areas – HIGH SIERRA, GRANITE CLIFFS, SEQUOIA GROVES and VALLEY – make such diversity possible. Explore Yosemite's many facets, take in its many moods, and enjoy its views, sounds and smells. It is by far the grandest of all the special temples of Nature I was ever permitted to enter."
~John Muir, naturalist and early explorer in Yosemite

We had breakfast in the Virginia Creek Settlement restaurant before taking off for a drive through Yosemite National Park. Our lodging at Virginia Creek was 6 miles south of Bridgeport, California and we left at 8:18am on Highway 395 headed south. Right after Lee Vining, we turned west (right) onto Highway 120 which took us to the park and all the way through the park. Way before the Tioga Pass entrance there was a terrible traffic jam on our side of the road for about 30 minutes. But it seemed like a lifetime since we were moving about an inch every few seconds. We thought maybe rocks were being cleared off the road or that there was a wreck ahead. It turned out to be the one lane entry station. Aaaarrrrrggghh! We hadn't expected that kind of seemingly senseless delay. Then we realized that even though it is not their peak season, it is Saturday and almost the last weekend  that some parts of the park will be open until spring. Seems like they need to add a second entry station up at Tioga Pass. And make it an entry station for passes only. Heck, everybody has one.

Our route kept us on Highway 120 all through the park which is in the upper part of Yosemite where we had never been during our numerous other trips to the park. Since Morgan Hill is actually pretty close to Yosemite, how many times have you been before, you ask? Well, actually only one trip, which seems pretty amazing since we have lived in California 33 and one-half years. So, even though it is a wonderful scenic treasure, of which we are very proud, it seems that we enjoy going on the roads less traveled (a la Carl Sandburg) when possible. Yosemite is so popular it doesn't feel "user friendly" to John.

Leaving Yosemite at the Big Oak Flat entrance, we stayed on Highway 120 until we got past Groveland and after winding around for a while and coming down, down, down in elevation we got onto Highway 49 at Moccasin and arrived in Sonora at 12:23. It's a drop in elevation from over 9,900 ft to about 2,000 ft from Tioga Pass to Sonora. That's about a mile-and-a-half. Our room was not ready yet at The Gold Lodge so we drove around town to see what had changed since we were last here six years ago. We saw a few new businesses and lots of our old favorites. John thinks it is finally safe to let Linda near an antique store since we are in the home stretch so the buzzards may go exploring tomorrow.

There are 26 pictures in today's photo gallery which you can view by clicking here.

Tonight we headed for one of our old favorites from other visits – The Pine Tree Restaurant. Linda had salad bar, green beans, grilled salmon and bread pudding. John had salad bar, meatloaf, mashed potatoes, green beans and tapioca pudding. We were forced to order dessert. It came with our senior meal. That's our story and we are stickin' to it. We had great service and really good food. This place has a great senior menu for breakfast, lunch and dinner and really seems to cater to the older folks. We appreciate that!

And so, it's time to turn on the smiley face nightlight, take Fannie out for a walk around the block and turn in for the night.

Happy trails!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Yellowstone Road Trip - Day 23

Our good friend, Ashleigh Brilliant, an extremely creative author of more than 10,000 Pot-Shots, has several that work well for our adventures. Here's one of them (#6941):


Last night the old buzzards took some sunset photos at the historic Tonopah Cemetery, and before leaving this morning Linda took a few more during the early hours. Departure from Tonopah was at 7:25am on Highway 6, headed west.  More straight roads and barren land but it does have a stark kind of beauty. Within an hour we were seeing Nevada's highest point which is Boundary Peak at 13,143 feet and soon crossed over the border into California. But, just before the border there were some really old deserted motels, service stations and restaurants so John had to shoot some photos of them. You know how he really likes old, delapidated things. We passed through the fruit inspection station with no problem, even though we are from California (land of fruits and nuts). We were all set to tell them about the 2 peaches and 2 bananas from Albertson's in Elko, but they just waved us through with “Have a good day, sir.”

 After a very few miles the scenery changed completely and we were in a forested area with rolling hills. Soon we were off Highway 6 at Benton and onto Benton Crossing Road, then Minnow Creek Road then on Highway 395 which took us to a helpful visitor center in the city of Mammoth Lakes. John found his foofy coffee fix in Mammoth Lakes at the Looney Bean Coffee Roasting Company. Fortified with caffeine, we soon found the Devil's Postpile exit off Highway 395. It is not a pleasant drive down into the Devil's Postpile. At least half of the 13 miles or so is one-lane narrow road with signs like..."Downhill traffic must yield to uphill traffic". For you mileage madness contestants it was 13 miles in and 13 miles out. The rest was on foot as we hiked 0.4 miles from the ranger station to where we could see the columnar basalt formations that make up Devil's Postpile. You can see them from both the bottom and the top in the photo gallery.

The postpile was formed from lava that erupted two miles upstream. As the lava cooled it contracted and cracked, forming the columns that were to become known as Devil's Postpile. The symmetrical vertical columns are different geometric shapes. Some are hexagonal, some pentagonal and some rectangular. These  formed because of ideal conditions: the lava cooled slowly and its mineral composition was consistent. Then many years later, a glacier flowed down and overrode the fractured mass of lava. The moving ice carved away one side of the postpile, exposing a sheer wall of columns 60 feet high. Some columns fell down later because of earthquakes and erosion and they are in pieces of the talus on the slope beneath the postpile. Fannie and Linda hiked to the top of the postpile where they saw a cross section of glacially polished columns that look like floor tiles. Some have grooves cut in them by rock-studded glacial ice.

The old buzzards had put Devil's Postpile on their bucket list a couple of years ago after seeing Huell Howser feature it on one of his California Gold TV shows. It is well worth the drive and there are lots of other interesting things in the area as well. You can view the National Park Service site for the Devil's Postpile by clicking here.

Our lodging was about 40 miles up Highway 395 just about 5 miles south of Bridgeport, CA. We are at Virginia Creek Settlement which is a restaurant – motel – campground. You'll enjoy their website by clicking here. Our room in the log cabinesque motel is very nice. It has at least 25 framed photos of cowboys from old TV shows and movies. There's an actual saddle and guitar mounted onto the walls. A lamp is carved out of log and is in the shape of a bear. It goes to a high ceiling in the center or there wouldn't be all this knotty pine wall space. It may sound hokey but it is really quite nice. We have an outside porch out back with a table and chairs and a beautiful view of (and the sound of water flowing from) Virginia Creek.

The campground consists of small basic buildings that have beds inside and various names of westerny things on the outside. There's even an Attornies' office called  "Dewey, Cheatum and Howe". Grills are provided outside for cooking and there's a campground restroom. It looks like a great place for a group campout or a family reunion. There is also a fish hatchery on site where they raise beautiful, healthy trout in a modified tomato bin using re-circulating well water. For more information visit the Bridgeport Fish Enhancement website by clicking here.  It would be a handy place to stay if you are going to Bodie, Yosemite, Mono Lake or Devil's Postpile.

We had dinner in the Virginia Creek Settlement Restaurant. John had the Brinn's Burger and Linda had eggplant parmesan. Both were excellent, as was the service. It was so nice to just be able to walk to dinner.

After dinner Linda took Fannie on a walk and got to feed the trout that are being raised for release into Bridgeport area waters.

And so ends another fulfilling day of travel. We saw new vistas and expanded our vision. And, as usually happens, we both took photos from totally different viewpoints. And, you can view those 66 photos in today's photo gallery by clicking here.

Happy trails!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Yellowstone Road Trip - Day 22

“'Can you tell me please, which way I ought to go from here?' asked Alice. 'That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,' said the cat.”  ~Lewis Carroll

The old buzzards and Fannie Mae slept in until 7:00 this morning, then decided to delay leaving to do some buzzard nest keeping since today's journey was not a long one. John processed photos and videos while Linda took Fannie for a walk and did a load of laundry and “defrosted” the ice chest. By 9:45 the crew was on I-80 headed west, using John's phone GPS (Margie) and Linda's atlas for navigation. When we got off I-80 there was a sign directing us to go either to Winnemucca or Eureka. We headed toward Eureka. At Carlin we headed south on Hwy 276 for a nanosecond then onto Hwy 278 for Eureka, Nevada.

The road followed along Pine Creek for a while. It had some water but the area looks pretty dry – mostly sagebrush and rabbit bush. We were on an open plains (Sulphur Springs Range) with mostly bare mountains on each side – interspersed with signs of volcanic activity. Once we reached Eureka we turned right (to the west) on Hwy 50 which took us to Hickison Petroglyph Recreation Area. Shortly after the turnoff it became a very rough gravel road. Having no idea how far to the Petroglyphs, we made a u-turn and got back onto Hwy 50, but only after Linda found a rock that needed relocating. Some turn offs are golden and some are gravel.

By this time we had been looking for any business still operating where we could get some soft drinks to go with our picnic lunch (leftovers from Pizza Barn). It is 99.44% wide open spaces out there and none of the 3 or 4 itty bitty towns we passed by even had a gas station. We finally found a small store at an RV park near Austin, Nevada. Linda almost took a photo of a dusty display of Fuji film. You just don't see much film for sale these days and it didn't look as if it would be flying off their shelves anytime this century.

Leaving the store we turned south onto Hwy 376. At the turn there was a sign that showed we were headed toward the loneliest golf course in America. How could anyone resist? The two old buzzards are no longer terrorizing others on the greens but still have lots of friends who are. So, they kept a lookout on that barren landscape for more signs to the golf course. The sign was definitely worn so they thought it might not still even be around ("loneliest" is usually a bad word for a business, except for a dating service). Finally they came upon a community, Hadley Subdivision, that is for employees of the Round Mountain Mining Company. A small two-foot sign said “Golf Course”, so Eureka, they had found it. There were actually several golfers on the course and it looked like a pretty well-tended course. Photos in today's photo gallery. We drove around the town – mostly small residences laid out in an odd grid of streets. There was also a nice looking community center, a park and a school. The whole area has a speed limit of 15 mph. Round Mountain is mined for gold as an open pit mining operation.

You mileage madness contestants can add about 5 miles for our loneliest golf course in America exploration. By the way, if you have not been keeping up with the mileage for the trip you can just enter by taking a wild guess if you don't want to wade through all the posts again. There are going to be first, second and third place prizes this time.

We were back onto for Hwy 376 for a short time and turned right (west) onto Hwy 6 and Hwy 96 for a six-mile drive to Tonapah to our lodging at the Clown Motel. We had seen it from the road when we stayed at the Tonopah Station Ramada Inn two years ago (on Fannie Mae's first Road Trip). We thought it looked interesting and since we would never consider staying at that Ramada again, we decided to try the Clown Motel. The photos in today's gallery will tell the tale of the lobby, the motel sign and the doors to the rooms. Our room is very nice. The clowns got it very clean. The only clown d├ęcor in our room were a couple of clown drawings, one is of Emmett Kelly and the other is a white-faced clown with a flowerpot hat.

When it was almost time for sunset, the old buzzards went next door to the cemetery to set up a camera on a tripod. Aren't all Clown Motels next door to a quite (and quiet) rustic cemetery? This is the first cemetery in Tonopah and was preserved by the Central Nevada Historical Society. Buried here are many of Tonopah's pioneer residents including the victims of the Tonopah-Belmont mine fire of February 23, 1911, as well as the victims of the 1902 Tonopah Plague. The names are mostly of men and their young ages are sobering. Look for our sunset pics in today's photo gallery which you can view by clicking here.

For dinner we returned to El Marques for Mexican Food. We had been here two years ago during another road trip (to Utah and the Grand Canyon). We both had beef tostados. John also had a chili rellano and rice and beans. Same song, second verse. The food was great but the service was not great. Would we eat there again? Probably. We love Mexican food and there aren't many other restaurant choices in Tonopah.

Hasta la vista!



Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Yellowstone Road Trip - Day 21

“Last night I walked to the river bank . . .the clouds reflected in the water were beautiful and the sagebrush on the plain was red with the sun. I cried and prayed to God while gazing at the setting sun” ~Louis Fiset, Minidoka Internee

“They've sunk in posts deep into the ground
They've strung out wires all the way around
With machine gun nests just over there
And sentries and soldiers everywhere."
From a poem entitled Damned Fences by Minidoka internee Jim Yoshihara

By 7:45 we were on the road again – headed southwest out of Arco, Idaho on Hwy 20/26/93 towards Elko, Nevada. Using John's phone GPS (Margie), since Wilma seems to be on strike, he located a Starbucks only 42 miles away in Hailey. But when Linda consulted her atlas it showed that it would be 44 miles out of the way. John didn't want to go that far so it has now been proven that he does have a Starbucks Limit.

We traveled through lots of farm and ranch areas – miles and miles of fields of alfalfa and sugar beets. We were looking to find some potatoes growing but only found one by the side of the road next to a sugar beet crop. They seem to have lots of irrigation water available from the Snake River Plain.

As we pulled into Shoshoni we found a cute drive-through coffee place and got welcomed into town by a nice mural on a downtown wall of an old building (see photo gallery). And, Linda got her non-fat decaf latter with one Splenda, while John got a medium non-fat mocha with half the chocolate and and extra espresso shot. Neither got whip cream.

South of Shoshone we took Hwy 25 east to go to the Minidoka Internment National Monument on Hunt Road . It is known as Idaho's largest ghost town – a 950-acre camp where ten thousand Americans of Japanese descent were held as prisoners during World War II from August 16,1942 to October 26, 1945. Most internees were US-born citizens loyal to the principles and values of this country. They were taken from their homes in California, Washington and Oregon and denied their civil, constitutional and human rights. They were no longer free. The main buildings standing are portions of the guard stations at the entry. Visitors can tour the grounds and see where the various other buildings were located. Barbed wire serves as a grim reminder that it was a prison. There is a large plaque honoring the more than 1000 young people, from the camp, who served in our military and the names of the 73 who died are also on a plaque. It says “For our tomorrow, they gave their today.” For more information on this shameful chapter in America's history just google Minidoka Internment or Minidoka Relocation Center at Hunt, Idaho. (For you mileage madness players, you should add about 18 to 20 miles to today's route for our trip to this national monument).

We were soon back onto Hwy 93 after briefly being on Highway 74 south. From Twin Falls we went 41 miles before getting to Nevada where the casinos sprout up right away at Jackpot, Nevada in the northeastern part of the state. We stopped at a convenience store for a rest stop and to get Diet Durpers to go with our picnic lunch. Their restrooms were in the attached casino but you had to make your way past a lot of slot machines to find them. Linda was going to put a quarter in one on the way out but the ones she saw all were $1.00. “Oh, well, I needed that quarter for road trip laundry anyway,” she consoled herself. John had the same thought only he was going to be a really big spender with his 5 quarters. But he discovered that none would take quarters. You had to have a cash ticket, or bills. Oh, well, they didn't need our paltry contribution anyway, and we came out ahead! And rested!

Just past Jackpot we found a pleasant picnic area by Salmon Creek and had our durpers, sandwiches and chips. John is getting to be quite an expert sandwich maker. He prepares the sandwiches while Linda takes Fannie for her early morning walk. Linda added some extra greenery to hers that she procured during her investigation of the sugar beet crop (to see what they were). John warned of agricultural pesticides, but she didn't care. Said they were delicious!

At Wells, Nevada we changed drivers and got off Hwy 93 and onto Interstate 80 to Elko. By 2:30 we arrived at our Motel 6. Our room wasn't ready yet so we went to an Albertson's for sandwich supplies and went by a park to let Fannie Mae walk a bit. Our M6 room was nice. Wifi worked great for uploading photo gallery, but was uncooperative when it came to uploading the videos.

Our dinner decision was easy – pizza – since we haven't had any since the last time we worked at Tuesday Night Bingo in Morgan Hill on August 14th. Hawaiian pizza from the concession stand has become our regular Tuesday dinner. Based on recommendations from some people at the park, we chose to go to Pizza Barn (a family-owned restaurant) rather than to Pizza Hut or Domino's. John got the Pizza Barn Special (5 cheeses, mushrooms, black olives, linguica, ground beef, sausage, red onions and green bell peppers and a Icky beer. The sign on the wall said, "Our beer isn't yucky, it's Icky!" 1200 calories for 2/3 of the 10" pizza and 150 calories for the beer. Linda got a veggie hot sack sandwich so that she wouldn't have leftovers and an award-winning Ruby Mountain local ale. Her hot pocket came with a package of Lay's potato chips so she asked if they had any other kinds of chips. They said “How about a small salad instead?” Perfect. Both old buzzards had leftovers so it may be Pizza Barn leftovers for lunch on the road tomorrow. Of course, there's always Wilma's microwave (the radiator)!

There are 44 photos in today's photo gallery and you can view every one of them by clicking here.

Thanks for all your positive comments. Glad you are enjoying being on our road trip with us. As we enter our last week we are making a list of things it would be nice to include on our packing list for our next adventure. Sorry it has been so hard for some of you to post comments. We will try to work on the settings before our next trip, or at least include some additional instructions in the Official Old Buzzards Road Trip Tutorial. We do appreciate and enjoy your comments.

Some Mileage Madness players go to extremes to calculate their estimate of our mileage. Don't let that discourage you from entering. Our suggestions is make a wild guess between 2,000 and 20,000. Heck, you could land right on it. You have until midnight Monday, September 30th to email your entry to mileagemadness@buzzardbiat.org.

Happy trails! We can hardly wait to see what awaits us at The Clown Motel tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Yellowstone Road Trip - Day 20

“What you see depends mainly on what you look for.”   ~Richard J. Vogl, biologist

We left the Pony Express Motel in West Yellowstone, Montana at 7:25 and by 7:44 we were in Idaho on Highway 20. Then after 16 miles we paused briefly to take a photo of one small town's claim to fame. It said “Welcome to City of Island Park, Idaho – the longest Main Street in America”. It is 35 miles long which seems a little strange since the population is only 287. But is is a very nice sign.

We tried to go to EBR-1 Atomic Museum, a historic landmark but they are closed from Labor Day to Memorial Day. It is just off Highway 20 between Idaho Falls and Arco.

Highway 20 took us all the way to Arco, Idaho whose claim to fame is that they are the first town in the USA to use nuclear power (1955).

We headed southwest from Arco to visit Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve which is about 18 miles away (and on Highway 20).

Geologist Harold Sterns described this area in 1923 as “The surface of the moon as seen through a telescope where the dark craters and the cold lava were nearly destitute of vegetation.” Its strangeness stirred local legends, wider public interest and then a feature story in National Geographic magazine. In 1924, responding to growing public concern, President Calvin Coolidge used the 1906 Antiquities Act to proclaim Craters of the Moon National Monument, preserving “a weird and scenic landscape, peculiar to itself.” It would be hard to get the total feel of Craters of the Moon except by being there but  we hope the video and 77 still photos depict a bit of it for you.

The craters on the Earth's moon are mostly a result of meteorite impacts. The craters of Craters of the Moon, however, are definitely of volcanic origin. The vast volumes of lava came not from one volcano but from a series of deep fissures that cross the Snake River Plain. The fissures are known as the Great Rift. The oldest began 15,000 years ago. The most recent eruption occurred 2,000 years ago, and geologists believe that more volcanic activity in the future is very likely. The only place in the United States mainland more like to have volcanic activity is Yellowstone.

And, yes, this would be a good place for astronauts to have trained before landing on the moon.  And they did! Wouldn't it have been fun to be around to see that and get some genuine photos of astronauts at Craters of the Moon?

We went on the North Crater Flow Trail and took still photos and video, Linda took photos at Devils Orchard Nature Trail. Then Linda went to Indian Cave which is one of many lava tubes in the area, three of which are open to hikers.  Lava rivers become lava tubes when the exterior of a flow cools allowing hot, fluid lava to continue to flow beneath the surface. Linda was surprised at how large Indian Tunnel was. The size was 30 feet high, 50 feet wide and 800 feet long. She was all by herself on the winding black half-mile path to the cave's entrance. It was a strange feeling to be in such a desolate area with no one else around. There was a group of people at the cave's entrance who were waiting for a ranger to guide them through but Linda forged on ahead into the cave by herself since John and Fannie were waiting in the parking lot. The cave's entrance was large and there was an opening to the outside along the way so it wasn't real dark but it was nice to have a flashlight to help with where to step on the uneven rocky pathway. It was immediately cooler in the cave and there was a musty smell of mildew. In the quiet semi-dark it was fun to hear the bats whizzing around and bleeping. Then a pair of hikers caught up with Linda on the trail and the bats were quiet again.

After Linda returned to John and Fannie Mae in the parking lot, we headed to Arco and checked into our lodging for the night – the DK Motel. Luckily DK is not a homonym. It does not mean "decay" motel. It is a very cute place with quite reasonable rates for a couple of old buzzards.

We had dinner at The Pickle Place. John had the large chef's salad and Linda had the small chef's salad. John also just had to try the fried pickles. After offering to share them with Linda he said “They're not bad.” And why, Linda wondered, would that ever be a good review? She tried a part of one so now she can mark that off her bucket list (once she puts it on there). John finished them off, but they have now been added and removed from his bucket list as well.

After dinner we picked up Fannie Mae and went back to Craters on the Moon to try to get some sunset shots using tripods. Not to bore you with our efforts, we only included one of them in today's photo gallery. It's pretty ethereal. The last photo in the gallery is a evening shot of the main drag in Arco. In the background is a large hill. You will likely notice white numbers on the side of the hill. Hence, it is called "Number Hill". Those numbers are put up every year by the graduating class of Arco High School. Oh, and the numbers go back to 1920. Yet, they put up two-digit numbers. Which begs the question, what happens when the class of 2020 graduates?

You can view today's photo gallery of 77 images by clicking here.

And so, another day sinks below the horizon as John processes photos and Linda recounts some of what we have done today. John was very excited that our wifi at the DK Motel was good enough to upload two videos, which he added to our blog posts for those days.

Which reminds us to go back to today's quotes. Both old buzzards enjoy looking for the unusual inside of the usual photo opportunities and are sure that you will agree that it is reflected in our photo galleries. The quote at the beginning of today's post also reminds Linda of her Grandmother Angie. When John and Linda were moving to California, she was warned about it by John's Aunt Helen who said “I don't think it's a good idea for you to move there. Those people, they're different.” When Linda told her Grandmother Angie about the conversation she said “Honey, there's nice people everywhere. If you look for the nice people, that's what you'll find!” She was so right and we have found lots of nice people on this road trip.

We filled up fickle Wilma (her nav system is still on again/off again) for $3.959 so are ready to take off for Elko, Nevada bright and early tomorrow.

Happy trails!




Monday, September 17, 2012

Yellowstone Road Trip - Day 19

John Muir wrote the following about the Yellowstone River and its falls in 1898:
“For the first twenty miles its course is in a level, sunny valley lightly fringed with trees, through which it flows in silvery reaches stirred into spangles here and there by ducks and leaping trout, making no sound save a low whispering among the pebbles and the dipping willows and the sedges of its banks. Then suddenly, as if preparing for hard work, it rushes eagerly, impetuously forward rejoicing in its strength, breaks into foam-bloom, and goes thundering down into the Grand Canyon (that is, the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone) in two magnificent falls, one hundred and three hundred feet high.”

Since this was to be the Two Old Buzzard's last day in Yellowstone Park, John set the alarm to go off at 6:00am (in truth, he set it for 6:30am). “Be tough” he told Linda. Fannie Mae woke up at 5:50 so Linda went ahead and got up and took her outside for a walk. At 6:10 she noticed that John wasn't up yet (duh, because the alarm hadn't gone off!) so she woke him up and turned on the light. He was SO tough. He finally rolled out of bed at 6:20 (NOTE: That was before the alarm was set to go off). We had breakfast in our room and then Linda did laundry while John worked on photos and videos.

We hit the road into the west entrance of the park by 10:30 and had even more fun than the three of us expected. The day started out misty which was comfortable and added some foggy appearance to our earliest photos of the day (as if there aren't enough thermal features to have enough smoke-filled shots!). John photographed Mount Hanes with a large area of mist on its face. Oh, the temperature when we started was in the mid-30's.

As we followed along the Madison River there were some geese swimming upstream or rather they were sort of treading water and staying in the same place as they waited for insects to come downstream to their waiting bills. Very tenacious!

We rounded a curve and came upon a large meadow with a meandering river and the most bison we had seen in one place during our whole trip (or ever in our lives). There were well over one hundred. Soon two different pairs of bulls started fighting. Meanwhile, other bulls and the females and young calves were milling around grazing in and out of the water.

There were some drives off the main road that we were able to go on that buses and RVs aren't allowed to travel. But we are still glad that we went on the bus tours because we did get to see and learn a lot.

Right before we got to Norris Junction we stopped at the Terrace Spring Thermal Area. There is a nice boardwalk. You come to Terrace Spring on your left (actually a large hot lake) then on your right are several pools. The highest and coolest one is called Bath Spring.  On the night of the 1959 earthquake near Hebgen Lake, a couple was bathing in Bath Spring in the nude – until the earthquake resulted in the spring being drained completely! Orange and brown bacterial mats line the edges of the springs and their runoff channels. Wildflowers grow in the steamy places.

By 1:00 we had gone past Madison Junction, Norris Junction, Canyon Village (on the south loop) and reached the Mud Volcano and Sulphur Caldron. The fascinating and mysterious mud features of mudpots are some of the most acidic in the park. Not only are they hot (above 190 degrees) but they are as strong as battery acid. Stick your pinky in one of those and it's like heating the battery acid, the putting your finger in it. They make sounds like a pot of thick tomato sauce or stew simmering on a stove, only much louder.

Dragon's Mouth Spring is in the same area and has captured imaginations for centuries. There are deep rumbles coming from within a cavernous area and smoke belches out. It would make a great set as a part of a knights in armor movie. We took still photos and video there.

At Sulphur Cauldron we saw two hot lakes and one very deep steaming and bubbling round hole. Both sulphur and the microorganisms that live on sulphur contribute to the yellow-green color. At both the Mud Volcano and Sulphur Cauldron, the smell of sulphur is very intense. This part of the park is very close to the earth's molten rock. It lies as close as 2-3 miles beneath the surface.

In the back country, less than a mile from this spot, microbiologists have found a very hot poo with a diversity of life forms hitherto unimagined. Conducting studies in Yellowstone, scientists continue to learn about some of the oldest forms of life on earth. (See, Linda's affinity for poo shows itself once more).

It was past time for lunch but the smells at the Sulphur Cauldron and the Mud Volcano were not too appetizing, so we left and drove far enough towards Fishing Bridge to find a picnic area. There were beautiful pine trees and about 10 shaded picnic tables. We had the whole place to ourselves so it was a very relaxing lunch of turkey and ham sandwiches, fruit, chips and granola bars.

We then turned around, went along the same route and made it back to The Pony Express by 4:00. On our way back to the west entrance we actually saw a friend from Morgan Hill coming into the park. We didn't see her in time to honk or wave but it was just funny to see her arriving as we were leaving. We knew she was arriving today so we had been on the lookout for her vehicle. She is the founder and president of the Morgan Hill Photo Club (and a fellow adventurer on our road trips), so it will be fun to compare notes and photos of Yellowstone later. She is going to be here for a whole week. Happy shooting Susan!

Well, travelers, in today's photo gallery there are 91 photos awaiting you. The first three are quite interesting and point to a strange interest that Linda has for animal dung. We'll suggest you look at the first three images by clicking here. Then return here and listen to a very fitting R-rated song that goes so well with those three photos. You can listen to the song by clicking here. Then enjoy the rest of the photo gallery.

There is a three minute video that you might find interesting. It is below for your entertainment.



Our four and a half days in the park have been great. It is a trip we have been looking forward to for several months. John had never been to Yellowstone. Linda was here exactly 50 years ago with a youth choir. They stayed in Old Faithful Inn so she especially enjoyed roaming around inside that amazing place. She remembered the huge fireplace and the rest was so beautiful to see again – so much beautiful woodwork and gorgeous furnishings. The youth choir did a performance in the grand lobby and saw Old Faithful and a few nearby geysers but not much else. They were only there one night.

Yellowstone National Park is an amazing place and we would encourage you to put it on your bucket list if you have not already been to the park.

Back in West Yellowstone we worked on photos and on getting ready to head for Idaho tomorrow. We ate dinner at the Geyser Grill for the third time. It's a busy place and we ended up sharing a table with five other people (from Arizona, Colorado and Indiana). John had the special which was Montana meatloaf. Linda had red trout. Both were good and it was fun to compare notes about the park with fellow tourists from other areas.

We leave you tonight with the words to a song by Ray Doyle, 2007:

The Jewel
There's a place upon this good green earth
Like nowhere else you've ever seen,
Where misty mountains soar above, majestic and serene,
Clear and gentle waters flow, past grazing elk and buffalo
Like a picture from the past, inside a dream.

But sleeping restless deep below the summer sun and winter snow
There lies a secret waiting to be told,
And with a shudder and a rumble wakes,
As pulses race and timber shakes,
Like it did as mighty ages rolled . . .

Happy trails!

Oh, one more thing – Linda's favorite overheard family dialog after an eruption of Old Faithful (which only occur every 90 minutes):
“Where's Joyce?”
“Oh, I think she must still be in the gift shop.”

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Yellowstone Road Trip - Day 18

“These beautiful days must enrich all my life. They do not exist as mere pictures – maps hung upon the walls of memory – but they saturate themselves into every part of the body – and live always.”   ~John Muir

We do feel fortunate, indeed, to be able to spend several days in Yellowstone National Park. During a whole day of being saturated with its beauty, one can begin to feel a little overwhelmed with the sights as it all starts to run together in the old noggin. But then, there's another buffalo sighting and we are finding a place to pull over so we can hop out (as fast as old buzzards can hop, that is) to shoot some still photos and maybe some videos.

After our two days of being on bus tours the old buzzards and their Fannie took off in Wilma to hit some spots they had not yet visited in Yellowstone. Wilma's navigation system continues to be very fickle just like Maybellene in the old Chuck Berry song. However, John's phone (when we can get signal) will track our position (GPS) on a map. Works pretty well.

We entered at the west entrance to the park and visited parts of the south loop that we hadn't gotten to see on the tour yesterday. The bus tours have to pick places that buses are permitted to park and there are some roads that do not permit buses or RVs. Three great drives that we took off the regular roads were Riverside Drive, Fountain Flat Drive and Firehole Drive. We also stopped at Biscuit Basin and Black Sand Basin. For those of you playing Mileage Madness, we left West Yellowstone went to Madison, then to Old Faithful, then to West Thumb and halfway to Lake Village. This took us counterclockwise around the lower loop. Our return trip was exactly the reverse, but we didn't take any side roads on the return trip.

Animals that we got to photograph today were buffalo, elk and coyotes. John got some great action shots on video. Today he was using a real tripod instead of a monopod. And, other people attempting to take photos are sometimes as much fun to watch as the animals. It is truly a herd mentality. After a few cars stop and people are obviously taking photos, a multiplier effect kicks in fast. There are limits on how near you are supposed to the animals, but you see people inching closer and closer. And once someone takes several steps past the limit, there are others there right behind them. Sometimes at a big jam, a ranger will show up and start enforcing the limits. We learned from our tour guides that the sudden traffic slowdowns caused by people stopping for animal photos are called by the name of the animals plus the word jam. So far we have been in buffalo jams, a bear jam, elk jams and coyote jams. Another rule we like to see enforces is that if you pull over, you MUST be to the right of the white line at the edge of the road. Believe it or not, some people abandon their vehicles leaving them sitting and taking up a fourth or third of the lane. Ranger's will really get you for that.

Visited many, many thermal features today. Boiling pools with sulfur filledfumes coming off them are the norm. Lakes with bubbles coming up in one or two spots on a pool. In these areas, the earth's crust is much thinner so the molten magma core is closer to the surface. Remember, Yellowstone is in a caldera.

We ended up going a little more than halfway around the south loop today. After West Thumb we went about halfway to Lake Village before turning around and following our route of the morning back to our lodging at The Pony Express by about 5:00 pm.

It was an excellent day for photos and video. Today's photo gallery contains 174 images. That's a record for the two buzzards for any one day on any road trip....ever! Not saying that's a good thing....just a fact. Hope you aren't too disappointed with the couple of dozen shots of Wiley Coyote hunting for his lunch, probably in the form of a field mouse, or mole. You can almost tell what mode he's in by looking at his ears....forward (ready to pounce), back (on the scent). You'll for sure want to look at the video when we get it up and linked. John got a really good shot of Wiley pouncing on his prey. Anyway, to while away your time, you can view the photo gallery by clicking here.

Today's video includes bison (in the Madison River), bull elk entering the Madison River, elk cow grazing and our favorite, Wiley Coyote catching his lunch. Also lots of waterfalls, rivers, creeks and thermal features. This video runs about 9:49. The music is by one of John's favorite electric guitar virtuosos, Eric Johnson. The first track is titled Righteous and the second is Eric's well-know Cliffs of Dover.



Following the old adage that you should eat what you shoot, we decided to have buffalo chili for dinner.  We returned to the Geyser Grill where we ate last night. John had heard the fellow at the next table rave about the buffalo chili. We also had Moose Drool brown ale and shared a Caesar salad. Delicious!

And as the sun sunk speedily in the West, it was again time for the old buzzards to put their heads under their wings and bid the day adieu.

Happy trails!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Yellowstone Road Trip - Day 17

“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.”  ~Martin Buber

After yesterday's bus tour of the upper loop of Yellowstone National Park, we were looking forward to today's tour of the lower loop. We hope we mentioned how pleased we were with the Buffalo Bus Touring Company. The day started out with great weather. Our guide for the day, Matt, picked us up in a medium-sized yellow bus and after one more stop the bus was full. We got a seat nearer to the front than yesterday which made it easier to get off and on for all the many photo and rest stops.

While Matt was a laugh a minute, he was also very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the park. Matt's been doing tours for 10 years, but until the last two years, they have mostly been winter snowmobile and snowcoach tours. He promised to do his best to pull over for unscheduled photo opportunities of animal sightings whenever possible. Sometimes he just had to do what he called his cowboy move, that is, proceed in micro slow to give us a chance to take photos. "Micro slow" is just above the legal minimum speed limit so he doesn't get nailed by a park ranger.

Yellowstone was this country's first national park with good reason. It has so many unique features, that early on it was realized that it was well worth preserving. There are more geysers, hot springs, and other thermal features in Yellowstone Park than on the rest of the planet combined. There are pristine waters cascading in dazzling waterfalls, including one that is twice as high as Niagara Falls. Yesterday we saw the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone which is quite impressive and, like Arizona's Grand Canyon, it is hard to do it justice in photographs. There's Yellowstone Lake which is the largest lake above 7,000 feet in North or South America. The lake averages 100 feet in depth, and its deepest spot if something over 400 feet. It has the largest population of native cutthroat trout in North America. They are catch and release. At the lake is the Yellowstone Lake Lodge, a bright yellow building which is currently being repainted. We took advantage of the lodge's restroom facilities while we were there. All of the lodges in Yellowstone National Park are operated by the firm Xantrara. They operate the lodges in most of the National Parks, including Yosemite.

Then there's the variety animals. Today we saw more buffalo, more elk and another coyote. We had a very close and rare view of the Pine Martin which is a kind of weasel. It is really cute and supposedly very mean and viscious, being able to take down animals more than twice its size. It was up in a tree about 5 to 10 feet from where we were standing. This was the first Pine Martin our guide had ever seen in the 10 years he has been in the park. We saw a grizzly bear in a stream and were able to pull off and stay at a safe distance away while getting photographs and video. There are some rules in the park to protect visitors as well as the animals. You must remain at least 25 yards from a hooved animal and at least 100 yards from a bear. Not a bad idea keeping in mind that a buffalo can run 35mph. As our guide Matt said, when he goes hiking in the back country with his friend, he always carries a jar of jam. If a bear comes after them, his grand plan is to douse his friend with the jam, then saunter off. We remember that old saying about that situation...."I don't have to run faster than the bear, I just have to run faster than you!"

We overheard one of our tour bus companions comment on their $220 per night accomodations at the Best Western here in West Yellowstone. Now, our accomodations here at the Pony Express are not going to win any awards for being fancy or the most modern (seriously, we're talking knotty pine here), but they are clean and adequate for our needs (remember, we're only here in the evening to work on the travelogue and to sleep! Fannie Mae says the bed is plenty comfortable for her). And,it's only setting us back $79 per night!

All in all it was a very memorable day and we hope you enjoy the 86 images in today's photo gallery. You can view the photo gallery by clicking here.

John also shot video and you can check that out below.



Tomorrow we will be off on our own to explore some of the park that we want to explore further and some places that we have not been to yet.

We had dinner at the Geyser Grill. It's a small place on the outskirts of West Yellowstone but is rated very highly by locals and Tripadvisor. John had a club sandwich and Linda had trout. Both were very tasty and the service was quite good.

Happy trails!


Friday, September 14, 2012

Yellowstone Road Trip - Day 16

“There is a great moment, when you see, however distant – the goal of your wandering. The thing which has been living in your imagination suddenly becomes a part of the tangible world.”  ~Freda Stark

We went on a bus tour of the Upper Loop in Yellowstone National Park today with the Buffalo Bus Touring Company. It was nice to be able to just concentrate on the landscape features and the animals in the park. And it was very educational since Brad, our guide, was really knowledgeable (He's been a guide for 12 years).

The photos from today will be the main feature of today's blog since we had such a full day and the photos are the best way to show you some of the park's magnificent features and wildlife.

Our guide called it a two-dog day because we got to see a wolf and a coyote. If we had also seen a fox it would have been a three-dog day. It was a very large black wolf and so exciting to see since it is quite unusual to spot them. The coyote was in hunting mode which was quite fun to watch. He was really focused on his prey. Just like Fannie Mae when she's preparing to pounce on a toy.

There is just so much to see and many areas where we stopped were places at which you could spend hours and hours, especially if you went on some of the hikes further off the main roads. For example, Mammoth Hot Springs has what are called terraces. They are like living sculptures, shaped by the volume of water, the slope of the ground and objects in the water's path and colored by algae, bacteria and other micro-organisms. They change constantly, sometimes overnight, but the overall activity of the entire area and the volume of water discharge remain relatively constant. Because of wonderful boardwalk trails, extending onto several levels it is possible to view the structures from many angles. Underneath the ground in this area is a network of fractures and fissures that form the plumbing system that allows hot water from underground to reach the surface.

In 1988 more than 1/3 of the park burned so even though there has been lots of new growth there is still evidence of the fire because the burned trees standing and fallen have been left to naturally decay and put nutrients back into the soil – sort of like long-term composting! Many of the trees burned were lodgepole pines. The forests are naturally re-seeding themselves.

We got lots of history lessons about the ebbs and flows of various animal populations. For example, at one time the buffalo population was down to less than 100 so the park put them all in an enclosed area, brought in breeding stock to mix and revitalize the buffalo and was able to raise the population up to over 1000.

There are 114 images in today's photo gallery. Hope you enjoy them all. You can view the photo gallery by clicking here.

Here is some video that John shot during our tour of the Upper Loop.



Fannie Mae did great with Heather, her sitter. We were glad to get back to The Pony Express and get a good report on Fannie.

We went to dinner at a place one of our bus mates recommended – The Bar N Ranch. It is a lodge, ranch and restaurant on a 200 acre spread about 7 miles west of West Yellowstone, Montana. We both had buffalo and elk burgers. No wild taste at all. John couldn't tell it from beef.

Tomorrow we will go on a tour of the south loop of the park.
Nitey night – happy trails!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Yellowstone Road Trip - Day 15

“Traveling is like flirting with life. It's like saying, 'I would stay and love you, but I have to go; this is my station.'”   Lisa St. Aubin De Teran

We left Jackson, Wyoming much earlier than we expected this morning. The alarm was set to go off at 6:30 but Linda got up a few minutes before 6:00 and John was up shortly thereafter. We were headed north on Hwy 25 by 7:04 and  were soon on Hwy 189. We got to drive through Grand Teton National Park again since it was on our way and the road goes right into Yellowstone's south entrance. So we got to flirt with the Tetons again before moving on to Yellowstone. This morning, John hooked up the Hero2 video camera on the windshield and shot several minutes of video as we drove through the Tetons. The camera performed just fine, even though the outside temperature (where it was) got down to 25 degrees. He will post a video in this posting once he can get it uploaded to YouTube. It isn't going all that well here in West Yellowstone as far as wifi goes.

We were at Moose Junction by 7:33. Didn't get to see any live moose but we saw some buffalo along one of the main drags our first day through the Tetons. Other than that, our animal sightings were chipmunks and blackbirds. The visitor centers had some great displays. In one you could feel fur samples from about 12 kinds of animals found in the park. The bobcat was the softest of any and the buffalo was the most coarse. The furs were about 5 inches by 18 inches. Some had been rubbed so much that the fur was pretty bare in the center.

The John D. Rockefeller Memorial Parkway is a part of Grand Teton National Park and runs between it and Yellowstone National Park. An odd thing happened when we were almost to Yellowstone's south entrance. All at once Wilma's navigation system and our compass were gone. A message said “Disk Error See Dealer for Service”. The old buzzards were disappointed because, despite having a lot of maps, they have come to rely on Wilma's GPS and the compass as well. And the old buzzards were nowhere near a Honda dealer. But, we do have John's Droid2 phone and the Wilson Sleek range extender. So, we had 3G pretty much all the way and were able to use the phone's navigation app.

Soon we were in Yellowstone. And right away it seemed so very different than the Tetons - lots of pine trees, abundant water in creeks, rivers and lakes - less of the wide valleys and scrubby desert-like plants. Our route to our lodging in West Yellowstone, Montana took us past the Continental Divide twice and by Old Faithful. We stopped at Old Faithful, the most famous of all the park's geysers, even though we will be going there again Saturday on a bus tour. We took our Passport into the visitor center to get it stamped and to get a park pin for Linda. As we walked back out into the main lobby, a ranger announced that the "window for Old Faithful to erupt was in the next 20 minutes". So we figured we might as well stick around for that. It goes off every 90 minutes, give or take 30 minutes, and lasts from 5 to 10 minutes. What a thrill! It was a beautiful day and the white steam and hot water shooting up a hundred feet or so looked extremely dramatic against a very blue sky. We felt lucky to have timed our visit just right. There are several photos of the eruption in today's photo gallery.

Shortly thereafter we were on our way again, John noticed that the compass had shown up on Wilma's dashboard. Sure enough, Wilma's GPS seemed to be “healed”. But not for long. It was gone again in about 15 minutes. John had come up with two other systems (phone and tabled) to use so with them and all our maps we were fine. When Wilma's GPS and the phone and the tablet were working at the same time, we would get three voices (all female) telling us "...in a quarter mile make a right turn onto....". Pretty bizarre.

There are only 21 photos in today's gallery and you can view them by clicking here.

Below is a short video of our drive through the Grand Teton NP as we were going from Jackson, WY to West Yellowstone, MT. The drive through the Tetons was shot entirely with our Hero2 camera suctioned to the windshield. It performed very well in 25 degree weather.



After a few more curves in the road, we were entering Montana and soon were at the west Yellowstone entrance. The cute little town of West Yellowstone is in Montana. We found our lodging – The Pony Express, got unloaded and found a grocery store to get some lunch fixings for the next few days.

Fannie Mae had a visitor after our return. Her dog sitter during the day for the next two days, while we are on bus tours, came by for a greet and sniff. They got along fine. Heather is a very sweet lady and an animal lover since childhood. She is the Assistant General Manager of the company that owns several lodging properties (including the Pony Express), a tour company and a snow mobile tour company.

We had soup and salad bar at the Timberline Restaurant in downtown West Yellowstone, Montana. Then we found a grocery and got a block of ice for our “refrigerator”. Now it's time to get down to business and study our Yellowstone book and maps so we are ready for tomorrow. We will be going on the north loop.

Happy trails!


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Yellowstone Road Trip - Day 14 - Grand Teton NP

“There are no foothills to the Tetons. They rise suddenly in rugged majesty from the rock strewn plain . . . the soft light floods the great expanse of the valley, the winding silvery river and the resplendent deeply carved mountain walls.”  ~Lieutenant Gustavus Cheny Doane, Leader of a small exploring party, 1876

“The Tetons have loomed up grandly against the sky. From this point it is perhaps the finest pictorial range in the United States or even North America.”  ~Thomas Moran, while painting the Tetons from the Idaho side, 1879

“Some day I hope to learn more about the sun and the stars, at that time we shall all meet up there, but for the present I prefer to have the boundaries shown by our familiar rivers and mountains.”  ~Washakie, 1876

The old buzzards and their Fannie Mae are roosting for their second night at the Jackson, Wyoming, Motel 6. They took a day trip (after breakfast in their room) to the Grand Teton National Park. There were reports of from 5 to 6 fires in the area but none were supposed to be of any concern to Park visitors. According to the park ranger at the visitor center, only one was in the park and it was surrounded by a boulder field. From what we understand, boulders don't burn.

We headed north out of Jackson into the park at Moose Junction. We drove up Teton Park Drive as far as Oxbow Bend, turned east to Moran Junction and headed back to Jackson. For you mileage madness players, we stayed on Teton Park Drive except for a scenic loop around Jenny Lake and a drive up to Signal Mountain which was around three miles in and three miles to come back down.

If you go to Yellowstone you should also plan to have at least one day to spend in the Tetons. They are truly majestic and are located just south of Yellowstone.  In fact, the northern border of the Grand Teton NP touches the southern border of Yellowstone NP. Linda kept finding herself humming America the Beautiful as we would round a corner and come upon still another spectacular view. The original 1920 Grand Teton National Park protected only the Teton Range and six piedmont lakes. To preserve valley lands not included in the first legislation, Jackson Hole National Monument was established in 1943 (a stellar year). In 1950 President Harry Truman signed a bill uniting the 1929 park with the 1943 monument thereby enlarging the park to its present size of 310,000 acres.

The largest of the mountains in the Teton Range is aptly named Grand Teton. It towers to 13,770 ft. North of Grand Teton is Mount Moran which reaches 12,605 ft. Mount Moran is named after the painter, Thomas Moran, who is quoted above.

The day was a little hazy which you will likely notice in today's photo gallery. John said it reminded him of the Great Smokey Mountains. Despite that, we think this is the ideal time to come to this park. It was crowded compared to other parks we have been to on this trip but, by all reports, it is a real zoo (of people) in the summertime.

At the southern end of the park is a rustic Episcopal chapel that was built in the summer of 1925. It was built for travelers and is constructed of lodgepole pine, with pews of quaking aspen, both cut in the valley. Above the altar is a plate glass reredos window framing the Grand Tetons. What a wonderful view to have, even during the dullest of homilies! It has other beautiful windows as well, some of them are stained glass. The land for the church was donated by Miss Maude Noble who owned the property during the 1920s. At that time there were dude ranches all around the area and the dudes and dudettes wanted a closer place to worship than having to drive all the way into Jackson. Regular services are still held and the doors are open around the clock during the tourist season.

There are many lakes in the park, the most popular being Jenny Lake. It was named after the Native American wife of an early explorer. She was helpful to the pioneers and when she died (at a young age) the lake was named after her. The lakes were formed by natural dams that were result of the movements of glaciers and the rocks they displaced.

On the trail to Jenny Lake, Linda came upon a group being guided by a park ranger. She paused to hear him explain what a debt of gratitude we owe to John Rockefeller who bought up thousands of acres of land in this area for the purpose of it being preserved forever. This was during a period when cheap and tacky lodges had sprung up all around the area. They would burn down because of fire problems and spring right back up. Rockefeller did the purchases quietly (through his Snake River Land Company) and paid fair market value so everybody was happy. He also bought up lots of ranch land from downhearted ranchers who were tired of the risks and hardships of ranching, especially after cattle ranching reached an economic low in 1925. Eventually, Rockefeller purchased 32,000 acres of land. Then, once he made his offer to give the land away, it took the U.S. Government three years to decide whether to accept it or not. Duh! Even then it took politicians a long time to agree on anything.

Have you ever seen a house with so much dirt on the roof that there were plants growing on it? We stopped at the Cunningham Cabin turnoff where this land was homesteaded as the Bar Flying U Ranch by J. Pierce and Margaret Cunningham in the 1880s. This cabin is all that remains of the ranch but it is in remarkable condition. It is “dogtrot” style, common in eastern states. It consists of two small cabins joined with an open, covered breezeway. The floors are made of dirt that was wetted with water, compacted and swept. The roof has sod on it – how very green, then and now! The Cunninghams could surely win some kind of eco-friendly award in almost any state today. Well, maybe not California, we don't have any money!

The buzzards learned that what they had been calling split-rail fences are more properly known as buck-and-rail fences. They were an innovation of the first pioneer ranchers. This fencing system is named for the X-shaped braces or cross bucks used to support the horizontal rails. The fences are self-supporting and used where rails were easily obtained. Snow anchors the fence rather than toppling them and the buck-and-rail fences are easily repaired. With the invention of barbed wire after 1900, post-and-wire became commonly used for ranchers who could afford it. Later, with dude and dudette ranching and tourism, there was a resurgence in the use of the rustic buck-and-rail fences.

You really get your money's worth today with 85 images in the photo gallery. You can view them by clicking here.

We took Hwy 390 back to Jackson and stopped at an Albertsons to get late lunch fixings for ham sandwiches, along with grapes and bananas.

Dinner was at a unique bar joint named The Bird. John had been searching for a place to eat and was, frankly, more impressed by the wording on their menu than anything else. There was much humor in what was written. You gotta love a place that has the temerity to put a sign up over their bar that reads "F*** Off, WE'RE CLOSED!" You might enjoy reading their menu (a pdf file) which you can get by clicking here. John had a burger called "The Jefferson". It was a 1/4 pounder with bacon and blue cheese. Linda had the "Bushy Beaver" a veggie burger, "The best homemade veggie burger that your hippie tongue will ever taste". Both buzzards had a glass of Spaten Optimator, a really yummy dark beer. Oh, and their special homemade ice cream today was Maple Bourbon. You had to be 21 to order it. Linda and John split a dish and it was marvelous.

Rest well. Short drive tomorrow, but lots to see on the way. Don't know how good or reliable our wifi will be in West Yellowstone, but we'll let you know when we do!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Yellowstone Road Trip - Day 13

“The question is not what you look at, but what you see.”  ~Henry David Thoreau

Departed Casper, Wyoming at 8:37 after a Brightside Breakfast (John was wrong, it is NOT a Sunnyside Breakfast!) at LaQuinta. We shared a table with a nice fellow, also named John, from Cheyenne who had been displaced from his room near the Casper Mountain fire that we told you about yesterday. He is a salesman of equipment to the oil industry and explained some of the advances in that field to us. His company just completed a record setting slant hole well of more than 19,000 feet.

Breakfast for Wilma was purchased at Common Cents for $3.599 a gallon. We headed west on Hwy 20/26 and soon came to Powder River, population 51. It has seen better days. We stopped to take a photo of the Tumble Inn sign and building, the Supply Wagon sign and building and a boarded up motel with a reserved parking sign. Then back on the road again. John started making up a song about Powder River to the tune of Willie Nelson's Whiskey River. Remember, our Road Trip rules do not allow radio or TV and Linda couldn't hit him too hard because he was driving. Actually, she didn't hit him at all. But it was funny later when he couldn't get the tune out of his head for the rest of the day.

A few more miles down the road we stopped at Hell's Half Acre. This is a natural geologic feature known to cowboys as the “devil's kitchen” but today known as Hell's Half Acre. It consists of a 160 to 200-foot deep depression that formed as a result of erosion and downcutting by a small intermittent stream that is a tributary of the South Fork of the Powder River, which lies two miles to the southeast. Parts of it were formed 50 million years ago when a tropical climate prevailed in this area and palm trees flourished, There are red and yellow banks which are the remnants of soils that formed in a tropical environment. It looked quite forbidding and viewers are discouraged from going past the boundaries by a tall chain link fence topped by barbed wire. You can find more information on Hell's Half Acre by clicking here.

One of the towns we went through was Wind River, Wyoming. Then, we kept crossing the Wind River, over and over and over again. It twisted and turned so many times to cross the highway. Perhaps the "i" in Wind is a long "i".

At Shoshoni, population 689, we noticed the Shoshoni Senior's Center on the main drag. It was a very nice building and there was a van parked outside with signage indicating it was for senior transportation. We stopped to ask how the  van parked outside was funded. The old buzzards live in a town of almost 40,000 and its senior center has a great need for transportation of seniors but no funding for a van. We found that it was funded through a federal grant that is administered through the state department of transportation. Other notes: they serve lunch to around 26 seniors a day (a very large percentage of the town's population) and the lunch price is $4.00. At home, our Centennial Recreation Senior Center serves between 85 and 105 per day at $3.00. There are some photos of the Shoshoni Senior Center and their van in today's photo gallery.

We lunched on the road after stopping at a gas station in Kinnear. John had a diet Coke and a package of cashews. Linda had a ruby red grapefruit drink and her Raw Bits Twang Twang (she forgot to take them with her to the Brightside Breakfast room this morning).

John spotted an interesting old steel bridge that was across the Bull River so we stopped to photo it and the rushingi river. Both old buzzards seem to be attracted to old things which is a good thing, considering their advancing years. He also spotted an old, abandoned hunting club building with deer and elk antlers attacched to the gables.

After getting some glimpses of the Teton Mountains we arrived in Jackson at around 3:45.  We will visit Grand Teton National Park tomorrow.

Dinner was at El Abuelito's (The Grandfather). John asked Linda if she was in the mood for Mexican food. She said “Sure, I haven't had any since last night!” And, he had The Mexi Burger! Tonight, Linda had a bean & avocado tostada. John had Carne Asada with rice, beans, guacamole and two homemade flour tortillas. Both of the old buzzards enjoyed their roadkill!

Even though there were no planned adventures, there are 42 photos in today's gallery and you can view them by clicking here. That's the joy of having a relatively short drive. You can stop anytime you see something that catches your fancy.

Rastros felices Senoras y Senoritas y Senors.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Yellowstone Road Trip - Day 12

“Morning pleasant. We went out to the hills. The wind soon commenced blowing a perfect gale. Sand blew with such violence as to be painful even to our hands. We were almost blinded.”  ~Celinda E. Hines  Day 5 on the California Trail

“I have just washed the dust out of my eyes so that I can see to get supper.”  Amelia Knight, 1853  Day 22 on the Oregon Trail

Day 12 on the Old Buzzard and Fannie Mae Trail  The old buzzard entourage left their Motel 6 room in Gillette, Wyoming at 8:03. All were very pleased with the clean and pleasant accommodations. And a first for the buzzards at a Motel 6 – the room even had a fridge and microwave. Wahoo! Since our last experience with a Motel 6 wifi wasn't so great, John decided to see how good the signal was before paying their $2.95 plus tax charge. The signal was excellent! So, John saunters back up to the front desk and tells our friendly clerk, Jonae, he wants to pay for wifi and get the login. She said, "Since I didn't ask if you wanted wifi when you checked in, it's free". Now we know how to handle wifi at Motel 6.

We took Hwy 59 south after gassing up for $3.659 at the Flying J (a new one to us). At 17 miles south of Gillette we stopped to take photos of a snow fence. Linda thought John was teasing yesterday when he told her that's what the open slanted pieces of wood were for. Wikipedia has a very good explanation of how they work if you didn't know either. To get a better photo vantage point, Linda took down the rancher's barb wire gate, ignored the No Trespassing sign on the gate post and went right in. John was listening for gun shots. Fortunately, he didn't hear any. The gate latch is a pretty clever device and there's a photo of it in today's gallery.

In the same area there were oil wells in operation and we soon saw a train hauling lots of cars heaped with coal. We have seen wind turbines off and on. Energy is Wyoming's largest industry and the state is the top exporter of energy to the rest of the country.

At Douglas we turned onto Interstate 25 but first John decided to get out of his Starbucks comfort zone and have a Hava Java. Wilma said “Destination ahead . . . on the right” then “Destination” but there was only a pipe plant and various other non-coffee businesses. So he searched for the Golden Arches and had a McCoffee. Seems like some McDonald's just aren't with the up-scale coffees, so he had to settle for a senior coffee at $0.41, including tax.

When we got on 25 headed west we were on the lookout for a turnoff for Ayres (StWW) Natural Bridge Park. It is a park operated by Converse County. The turnoff was just a few miles out of Douglas. Linda's maiden name is Ayers, so STWW stands for "Spelled the Wrong Way". It was soon green, green, green after the turnoff with cattle grazing and lush fields aplenty. We reached the Ayres (StWW) park after about 6 miles. It was lush and well-maintained but not at all pet friendly. If it was spelled Ayers it would have probably been more pet friendly. So our visit was fairly short, just long enough to photo the Ayres (StWW) Natural Bridge and for Linda to relocate (that's what her friend Pat calls it) an Ayres (StWW) rock. John calls it "pilfering". The Ayres (StWW) Bridge is 20 feet high and has a 40-foot span at the base.

Soon after we got back onto 20 (header for Casper, Wyoming) we could see smoke from a fire going at Casper Mountain. You will see some photos of the sky in today's photo gallery. The fire started around 4:00pm yesterday and the origin is still unknown. It has burned more than 6,000 acres, including two structures and, as of this afternoon, was 0% contained. Fortunately, we had some rain later in the afternoon.

When we got to Casper our LaQuinta room was not ready so we went to a park and had a picnic lunch out of our snack bin. When Linda wandered off to check out the river (i.e. take a leak) she disturbed a deer who came out to stare at her and then loped away across the open, grassy park. John looked up just in time to see the deer run across the park and thought, what's a deer doing here?

The Fort Caspar Museum was just down the street so we went there next. Haven't figured out yet why the Fort is spelled Caspar and the town is spelled Casper. Didn't notice to ask while we were there. UPDATE: John found that it was due to a typographical error when the name of the town was registered. It should have been named "Caspar". Took a printer to figure that one out! Fannie Mae was permitted onto the grounds to explore the fort with us (after we paid the appropriate admission fees) and it was quite interesting.

Native Americans, mountain men, fur traders, emigrants and the U.S. Army all visited or lived in the Casper area during the mid-1800s. The North Platte River valley was the pathway for the Oregon/California/Mormon Pioneer and Pony Express Trails across the plains. In 1847 Brigham Young led the Mormons from Winter Quarters in present day Nebraska to their new home in the Great Salt Lake Valley. You can see some photos from Fort Caspar in today's photo gallery.

After our tour of Fort Caspar we returned to La Quinta and since our room was still not ready we headed out for another museum, this one dedicated to the various trails that came through the Casper area in the mid 1800s. John had been told that it was at the top of a hill and he spotted a building with a red roof so he let Linda out at a path leading towards it and parked to wait for her. As she got closer and closer to the building it seemed that they were not having a very busy day. Then she noticed the words Box Office across the end nearest her. The Box Office was closed but she found two workers who explained that it was an event center and that the museum was on the opposite side of the road from where the path started. So she trekked back to where the path started, went across the street and made her way to the museum. There were some interesting engraved rocks along the entrance with quotes from various people who had journied on the various trails across the Caspar area during the mid-1800s. When she got to the door it was locked because the museum is not open on Mondays. Oh, well, maybe some other time. There was a nice statue of two pony express riders that was out in the open.

Finally our room at LaQuinta was ready so we moved in and set up camp – John began downloading photos while Linda went to do laundry and dangle her feet in the indoor pool next door to the laundry.

Today's photo gallery has 74 images. You can view the gallery by clicking here.

Below is a 6 minute video of Ayres Natural Bridge, a shot of the Casper Mountain fire and some clips of Fort Caspar.



We had dinner at the Wonder Bar in downtown Caspar. Linda had the salad bar, a bowl of green chili, homemade tato chips and a glass of Merlot. John had The Mexi Burger (normally, open-faced, but he had no bun at all). The Mexi Burger is a burger covered with green or red chili (John had green), jalapenos, cheese and onions. He also had a dinner salad. Oh, and The Mexi Burgers also came with homemade tater chips. (Not tato!)

Everything was excellent, especially the chips and green chili and it was a really cute place with lots of historical photos and decorations.
Happy trails!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Yellowstone Road Trip - Day 11

“A dark mist lay over the Black Hills, and the land was like iron. At the top of the ridge I caught sight of Devil's Tower upthrust against the gray sky as if in the birth of time the core of the earth had broken through its crust and the motion of the world was begun. There are things in nature that engender an awful quiet in the heart of man; Devil's Tower is one of them.” 
~N. Scott Momaday

The two old buzzards and their Fannie Mae headed out from Rapid City, South Dakota headed for Gillette, Wyoming (and points in between) at 8:23 after a Sunshine/Sunrise La Quinta Breakfast.  Gas was procured for $3.699 and at the same place Linda got ice and got her photo taken on some old guy's lap. She took a photo of the Mobil attendant because she had such an interesting name tag. She was a native American and she made her name tag (including the Mobile logo) out of beads. Sounds like a loyal long-term employee.

Leaving Rapid City we passed by a very cute mini-golf place with a pirate theme. There was a gas/convenience store chain we had never seen – Common Sense. Not so common in California, sad to say.

Since our route took us by Sturgis we decided to stop off and get some espresso and take a look at the self-proclaimed largest biker bar anywhere – Full Throttle Saloon – as seen on reality TV. When Wilma said “destination” for the Bookery and Espresso Bar we only saw a "for lease" sign. There must not have been enough demand for books and coffee in Sturgis. Now if it had been touting Beer and Bikes they would have probably had a hit.

Linda spotted a business named "Flowers by Rose" and wanted to photograph the cute house and the unique sign carved into a dead tree. The other unusual thing about the florist was that it seemed to be a gardening type person instead of just a business that imports flowers and makes arrangements. Linda liked that. There were lots of hanging baskets and flowers growing in the yard.

After taking detour we ended up outside of town at the Full Throttle Saloon. We didn't see Michael Ballard (owner). Probably on vacation after the rally. Obviously the bartender could tell we weren't bikers there to drink so she didn't even bother to say "hello" and just let us take all the photos we wanted. And, after all,  she was busy texting and smoking. So, including the famous Full Throttle donkey enjoying his oats in the bar, there were two asses in there.

Next we headed to Deadwood, South Dakota, a national historical monument town. It was very cute and touristy. There's a mix of casinos, hotels, bars, restaurants, souvenir shops, bling bling. The downtown is historical looking with its brick streets (just like Plainview, Texas where Linda grew up). Willie Nelson and Rory Hoffman are performing at the Mountain Grand Hotel. There is a Deadwood trolley and bus tours. We didn't stop to take pictures, buy John did hook up the Hero2 video camera to the windshield and we did a drive-by. We'll add that video to this posting soon and let you know when it's here.

After Deadwood, John finally found a Starbucks at a Safeway in Spearfish, SD. Then it was only nine miles until we got to the Wyoming border. We stayed on Interstate 90 until it was time to exit for Devil's Tower, America's first National Monument (1906). John bet Linda a dollar that it would be seven miles after they turned off the main road on the way to it. His theory is that all National Monuments are seven miles off of a main road. Sure enough he was right. Maybe Wilma slipped him the answer. (Note to John: Don't teach Linda to calculate remaining mileage on Wilma's GPS system. It will cost you money.)

What we both felt about Devil's Tower is that it is the most interesting of all the sights we have seen so far on this road trip. We are big fans of Close Encounters of the Third Kind and had always wanted to see Devil's Tower. After all, it must mean something. Neither one of us was at all disappointed. We took lots of photos because it is possible to shoot it from almost every direction. There is a wonderful 1.3 mile trail that goes around the entire tower. We won't put all the photos into the gallery but will try to give you a nice, large taste what you can see there. The weather was ideal for photos and hiking and climbing. There must have been between 10 and 20 climbers clinging onto various parts of the tower today. The climbers look really tiny from the trail but you can make one or two out in the photos.

After leaving Devil's Tower, lunch was bananas and sunshine bars in the car.  At Moorcroft, as we drove down the main drag there were prominent signs directing visitors to the West Texas Trail Museum. Linda grew up in West Texas so we just had to check it out. And, the old buzzards met at Texas Tech in West Texas. Sadly, the museum is closed on Sundays but we took a couple of photos and learned  that Moorcroft got its start for being where the West Texas Trail crosses the highway. Herds of Texas longhorn cattle were pushed through the area in the late 1800s giving homesteaders a reason to settle in Moorcroft.

We made it to our Motel 6 room in Gillette, Wyoming by 3:30 pm., unpacked and relaxed for a while before attempting to go to dinner at The Golden Corral. Seems the Golden Corral is still a buffet....if you want to go to a sushi buffet. Not our cup of tea. So, we went to a Village Inn (a chain in this area). Linda had a very nice chef salad with salsa as dressing. John had a chopped stead with mushrooms, broccoli and sliced tomatoes. One piece of Texas Toast. And, drumroll, a piece of Caramel Pecan Chocolate Silk pie. Admittedly, it was a small piece, but deeeeelicious.

As you might expect, today's photo gallery has loads of pictures of Devil's Tower National Monument, along with some photos we took on a brief visit to Full Throttle Saloon in Sturgis. You can view the 81 image photo gallery by clicking here.

Below is a 6 minute video of downtown Deadwood, SD and some video of Devil's Tower, Wyoming.



So, for now, happy trails and sleep well tonight under the clear Wyoming sky.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Yellowstone Road Trip - Day 10

“Adventure is a path. Real adventure forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world - the world the way it is, not the way you imagine it. Your body will collide with the earth and you will bear witness. In this way you will be compelled to grapple with the limitless kindness and bottomless cruelty of humankind and perhaps realize that you yourself are capable of both. This will change you. Nothing will ever again be black-and-white.”   ~Mark Jenkins

After our breakfast at America's Best Value Inn in Wall, South Dakota, we were on the road again at 7:50. We gassed up for $3.799 a gallon and headed south on Highway 240 then on Hwy 44 on the scenic route through Badlands National Park. As we approached the park entrance a yellow sign warned us to be cautious of the prairie dogs because they have the plague. They are cute but we were certainly convinced to avoid a firsthand encounter. You'll notice that the park entrance sign has bright, shiny things on top. Those are sharp little metal needles to keep the birds from landing on the top of the sign and pooping on it.

As we got into the park it reminded us of parts of the Painted Desert in Arizona but the colors were more muted – less reds and more grays. The layers were still very distinct, however. At one point where there was a castle-like formation atop one group, Linda counted at least 47 shades of gray with interspersed layers of the same pink over and over. The area was formed from deposition at the bottom of a sea during millions of years, subsequent erosion and some volcanic activity thrown in for good measure. Where there are colors it represents that there were living creatures and plants at one time. We soon came to areas with yellows, also greens. The greens seemed to be from vegetation. In one area there were green flat places among the formations, not valleys but on a level as high as many of the uneven surfaces. Look for them in the photo gallery.

For a ten minute video trip through the Badlands National Park, including some prairie dog footage and a big horn sheep, just view the video below. We really like the music we picked for this video. The first selection is "A Ride Through the Black Hills" by David Anthony. How appropriate is that? The second is "Cloudland" by Patrick O'Hearn. Hope you like them as well.



The Badlands were named from a Lakota name meaning bad lands (mako sica). Early French fur trappers called the area “les mauvaises terres a traverser” which also means bad lands. With rattlesnakes, rocky soil, great winds (Linda had to hold onto her hat) and uneven questionable water supplies, it is easy to see why Indians called them bad. They do have an appealing beauty but not the kind that would have made it easy to put food on the table for the Indians. The peaks, gullies, buttes and wide prairies of the Badlands were challenging to cross until the nice paved roads of today's National Park.

We thoroughly enjoyed the visitor center and our scenic drive through the park. There are many vistas where it is easy to pull over and enjoy the formations. Around one bend we came to a beautiful lake called Horsethief Lake. It was created in the 1930s as a Civilian Conservation Core (CCC) project when a dam was built on Pine Creek. The CCC was a work relief program created by Franklin Roosevelt. It sent young, unemployed men to work on conservation projects. For their hard work, they received $1.00 a day.

After leaving this very interesting park we were still on Hwy 44 until we got onto Hwy 16 west and headed for the Crazy Horse Memorial. It is the world's largest emerging mountain sculpture (641 feet long and 563 feet high). Summer of 2012 was focused on developing Crazy Horse's outstretched hand that rests in the horse's mane along the skyline. The rough shaping of the colossal horse's head is nearing completion. The Crazy Horse Memorial is now in its 65th year. It honors the leader of the Battle of Little Bighorn. It's near the geographic center of the U.S. and is considered sacred by many tribes of native Americans. If it took 65 years to get it finished this much, these two old buzzards won't get to see the finished product. Lots of informative photos included in today's gallery.

We left Crazy Horse and headed on Highway 16 to go the 17 miles to Mount Rushmore. That's where reality collided with fact. When John first spotted the Mount Rushmore carving and pointed it out to Linda she was surprised at its size. In photos and in her imagination she had always expected it to seem larger than it looked just then. Another fact that soon collided with both of the buzzards was the realization that there was no way to get to the park's entrance and the visitor center but through a gate leading to a parking area, run by a concessioner, that cost $11 (not a part of admission to the park). Oh, well, the buzzards coughed it up. There are also severe limitations on dogs on the paths and byways so John and Fannie stayed in Wilma while Linda went into the Visitor Center to get the Buzzard's passport stamped and get a park pin. There is a display of flags from every state on the walkway towards the viewing area. Even though Linda has seen many photos of workers standing next to George's nostrils, the carving somehow still didn't seem as large as she had expected it to appear. Thankfully you have all also seen hundreds of photos of Mount Rushmore and won't be disappointed that FDR is just a bit in the shadows in the photos Linda made. On a scale of 1 to 10, Mt. Rushmore rates about a 2 as being a "citizen friendly" national park. $11 to park, in John's mind, is absurd. He strongly recommends most any other of our national parks as being less crowded and more accessible.  Heck, we've all seen Mt. Rushmore images a zillion times. Guess what....they are pretty accurate!

So the buzzards can mark Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse off their bucket list. But first John will have to put them on his. All in all, Linda was more excited about both of the carvings than John. She has dreamed of seeing Mount Rushmore since she was a child. Maybe that's why she expected it to seem larger than it looked to her today. She was not at all disappointed with Crazy Horse. She knew it was unfinished and the visitor center has great displays showing what will be carved where and a scaled-down replica of the finished carving. AND she got to pick out a sparkly granite rock that is part of the material blasted away during the ongoing project. OK, she actually got two rocks, since John had stayed in Wilma with Fannie while she went to the visitor center and she just knew he would want a rock too. (John comment: "Yeah, dude, Crazy Horse rocks!")

It was interesting to observe the many touristy businesses that have been developed in the area around these two attractions, and the signs they've come up with to attract paying customers. There is a reptile garden, Old McDonald's Farm (a petting zoo), Putz 'n Glow (black light miniature golf), Sitting Bull Crystal Caverns, Bear Country USA. And two different Mystery Spots. There has been no sign of vineyards, but yet we saw at least three wineries seemingly aimed at tourists: Prairie Berry Winery has Red Ass wine (made from rhubarb), Naked Winery has Buck Naked wine and there is a Stone Face Winery.
Today's photo gallery has 49 images, mostly of the Badlands National Park, but some of the Crazy Horse Memorial and Mt. Rushmore. We will add a video to this post at a future date and let you know. We shot some video in the Badlands and just have to process it and put it together. To view the photo gallery, click here.

We checked into our room at LaQuinta in Rapid City, South Dakota at 3:30 and spent some time pulling photos and video off the cameras and listening to the wild children next door run back and forth screaming up and down the hall. Fannie Mae is not a fan and neither are we. Our hope is that they will calm down and sleep tonight so we can as well. We called the motel desk before leaving for dinner and now that we are back the noise is mostly confined to their room. Well, actually they are fairly confined but their noise travels through the wall quite readily. We notified the desk again, and at 9:30pm it's a bit quiter.

We had a nice dinner at a local restaurant, the Millstone. We both had their soup and salad bar, which included desserts as well.

We then went to a Wall*Mart so John could get a jacket for our visit to Yellowstone. Linda is in highlighter heaven because she got a new set to use on the atlas where she charts our road trip progress.

Referencing today's quote we are glad to report that neither of us has collided with the earth and are mostly experiencing kindness from others and are enjoying offering kindness to others as well. This can have amusing results. At a convenience store Linda was in line for the women's restroom when a mom with a diaper and a baby got behind her. Both the men's and the women's restrooms became available at the same time so Linda just told the mom she could use the women's and Linda would use the men's. When Linda came out of the men's there were 2 guys in line and no line for the women's. Some explanation seemed necessary but since she couldn't think of one, Linda just ducked her head and headed for the exit. She thought of one today. She could have said “Howdy guys, I'm in drag and they told me not to use the women's room”. Oh, well, next time. Then today was true karma. John went in to get a soft drink (called pop around here) and use the facility at a convenience store. He was gone for the longest time. While she was waiting Linda saw lots of motorcycle guys hanging around. Then when it was her turn to go inside she had to laugh at the long line of guys for the men's room and NO line at all for the women's. Yea, karma! There is no black and white! Sometimes there can actually be a line at the men's room and no line for the women's room.

Happy trails!