Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Scott & Sandy's Trip Out West!

Day 1: August 20, 2007

Scott and Libby were moving to Davis, California in August. Libby’s parents gave them an old Saab and they had to get it from Duluth to Davis. Libby was in the middle of a project at work so I got to go cross country with Scott. Here’s a picture of the car. Scott and Libby drove down to Minneapolis on Monday, August 20. They were to meet me at the airport, have lunch with me and then Libby would fly to DC and I would start heading cross country with Scott.

Thunderstorms in the Minneapolis area caused my plane to be late by a couple of hours. Libby did make it out just before I landed. So…. Scott and I got in the car and started driving. He had a round dining room table from Libby’s parents that he had stuffed in the back so we had packed light. I had brought along some toys…our new GPS system from Garmin and an XM radio that I had also just bought. The GPS was great and we learned to trust it. We were also able to listen to the Red Sox games on the XM radio.

We first headed towards Mitchell, SD. It took us all afternoon to get there. We saw lots of windmills in the fields on either side of Route 90. They were huge and we were both surprised that we had not heard of the wind farms before. We got to Mitchell with about 45 minutes of light left in the day and headed right for The Corn Palace. I should have taken a picture. The Corn Palace is a large civic center type arena that is decorated on the outside and inside with large murals, all made of corn cobs. It was really quite imaginative. They said that they usually change the murals every year but it had been a dry year so we were looking at last year's murals. Here is an image that you can check out on the web.

We only spent 30 minutes there and then headed to our camp site. Scott pitched the tent in the dark and we slept pretty well.

Day 2: August 21

The next morning we were up and ready to go by 8:30. We had a quick breakfast in town at a counter in a grocery store, bought some food and headed out to the Badlands. We arrived at the National Park in the early afternoon. I bought an annual National Park pass which is a great deal at only $80. It gets you and anyone else in your car into any national park for one year. We more than made up for it on the trip. The Badlands is such a stark change from the prairie of South Dakota. It’s…well…really bad land to travel across. I’ll post a couple of pictures. It is very beautiful and appears out of nowhere. It's all water and wind erosion. "This whole area is slowly moving to the Missouri" was a quote we read about The Badlands.

We went to the visitor’s center and planned a 4 mile hike. We drove out to the trailhead and were immediately approached by a 10 year old boy asking to use a cell phone to call for help. His older brother, 14 or so, had gone hiking in the hills near the trailhead and had not been seen or heard from in 45 minutes. The rest of his family was looking for him. Scott called the park rescue services and then started looking for the kid. After about 45 minutes he was found about a quarter mile away. He had gotten himself out on a ledge where he could not get back. It took the rescue service all afternoon to get him down. And Scott and I managed to get in the whole hike we had planned. This country is beautiful, colorful, and is such a stark change from the prairie.

No trip through South Dakota would be complete without a visit to Wall Drug. If you have ever traveled on Interstate 90 in that area you will have seen billboards galore for this unique place. My first recollection is of Wall Drug is seeing a billboards in Minnesota that said “Only 355 miles to Wall Drug.” There was a billboard every 5 to 10 miles all the way to the place. The town is called Wall and the most famous store in it is Wall Drugstore. It started out as a regular drug store but over the years expanded into a huge store with just about everything. Scott had heard of it before so we knew that a visit was a must. We had dinner there. Scott sat on the jackelope. And then we headed out to the Black Hills for an evening visit to Mount Rushmore.

Mount Rushmore was OK but frankly not as fun as many of the natural wonders around us. Scott and I arrived in the evening and hiked down to the base of the cliff. We decided not to stay for the night laser show and headed to a camp site nearby for our second night of tenting.

Day 3: August 22

We woke up early, grabbed some breakfast in town and headed off to the Crazy Horse sculpture. We arrived an hour before it was going to open but could see it just fine from the parking lot. Again we had places we wanted to get to so we headed off to Jewel Cave also in the Black Hills. We took a 2 1/2 hour tour that we really enjoyed. The guide said that this was the 2nd biggest known cave in the world behind Mammoth Cave. He also said that it only had one natural opening unlike Mammoth cave which has 27 openings. They feel that Jewel Cave is really the world's largest. They feel this way because they have been able to measure the cave "breathing." When the barometric pressure changes outside the cave air rushes in and out to equalize. They feel that there are hundreds of miles more to the cave that have not been discovered yet. They have teams that explore every summer and are mapping 3 to 4 miles each year. (At Mammoth Cave they say that THEY are the biggest and they are also mapping and discovering new parts.)

We left Jewel Cave and South Dakota to head up to Devils Tower in Wyoming. It was only about a 90 minute drive from the Black Hills. Devils Tower is truly impressive. You will remember it from the movie "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." We hiked around the tower and attended a ranger led talk about how it was formed and interesting stories about it. When people climb it they usually take 3 to 4 hours. (The record for going up is 18 minutes!) It is some serious rock climbing. There were three groups climbing the day we were there. The only way to get back down is to repel down the side. Here are two pictures of the fabulous wonder.

After leaving Devils Tower we headed West on Route 90. We decided to spend the night in Buffalo, WY in a hotel. It was raining and we just didn't fell like camping in the rain. We hunted around a bit and found this very nice place that had little cabins.

Day 4: August 23

We again grabbed a breakfast in town and started heading towards the Teton Mountains. We needed to leave the highway and head across the state. We climbed up around a mountain range about 45 minutes outside of the town before we stopped to look at a roadside history poster. When we went back to get in the car we discovered some coolant under the car. We looked and it was obvious that the car had leaked from the overflow container. We decided that we need to have someone look at it to make sure that there were no problems. We headed back into town and found a garage that would check us out. It turned out that there had been a little too much antifreeze in the car and when the engine worked hard to get us up the steep mountainside it purged the excess coolant. He said we'd be fine, took $10 from us and we were on our way. The car was perfect for the rest of the trip.

We headed back out on the road and drove through some beautiful mountains and valleys. We arrived in the town of Thermopile, WY around noon. As we drove in we saw written in white rocks on a hillside "Worlds Largest Hotspring" or something similar to that. We decided to eat lunch and investigate this hotspring. It turns out that the Indians in the area had declared this area a free neutral area. There were not hostilities in this hotspring. In a treaty the Indians insisted that it remain free to anyone at all times. The state has actually still followed through on that treaty. It is free and Scott and I took full advantage and had a great half hour in 106 degree water. Wyoming had just built a new bath house and we could have been indoors or outdoors. It was really nice! There are people in the area who come every day. We talked to one guy from Michigan who loved it there. He had retired a few years ago and had moved out to his version of "Paradise." Check it out here.

We got back in the car and headed on towards the Grand Teton National Park. (I forgot to mention that Scott had purchased the last Harry Potter book on tape. It was 17 CDs and 26 hours long. The narrator was awesome and we spent much of our driving time either listening to the book or listening to the Red Sox games.) We arrived in the park and decided to camp at the Gros Ventra camp site. We made sandwiches for dinner and then set up the tent. They had the fixings for s'mores but no fire. We had the fire and no fixings. We invited the Canadian family next to us over. After intense negotiations a treaty was signed and we celebrated with some wonderful s'mores. That night it got down to 37 degrees and boy, was I cold. I wasn't expecting that kind of cold weather in August.

Day 5: August 24

After breakfast we decided to take a hike up one of the trailheads. We chose the Holy Lake Trail which left from String Lake. It was an all day hike up near the peaks to a beautiful alpine lake. We added a little extra loop at the top so the total mileage for the day was about 14 miles. We ended up going up about 2600 feet in elevation. Below are several pictures of the view. It was a great day of hiking and I know that I slowed Scott down. It was really nice of him to let me set the pace. I was certainly tired at the end of the day. We ate at a restaurant in the park and then spent another night in the same campground. I was a little more prepared for the evening temperature that night and we both slept well. I'll also post a picture of the bison that blocked the road to the campsite. I took that picture from the driver's seat in the car. He was just walking past us.

Day 6: August 25

We grabbed a quick breakfast of cereal, packed up the camping gear, and headed up the road to Yellowstone National Park. Another gorgeous day was awaiting us in this stunning park. If you have never been to Yellowstone you must schedule a trip soon.

We arrived at the Old Faithful Lodge just in time to see Old Faithful do her thing. It really is impressive. We had taken a family vacation in the summer of 1992 and had spent 4 days hiking and enjoying all that there is to see here. We only had one day and chose to spend it seeing the geysers and hot springs on the western side of the park. We hiked for several miles around the hot springs and geyser area of the lodge. Much of it was on raised boardwalk. I was still a sore puppy from the Grand Teton hike and Scott was very understanding. We headed up to Mammoth Springs in the northern part of the park. We ate lunch on the way and spent chunks of time at Mammoth and then Norris hot spring area. It is really unworldly there. I'll put some pictures so you can see how beautiful this park can be. There had been a devastating fire in 1988 that burned large chunks of the park. It has been 19 years since that fire and the park's trees are looking pretty good. We headed out the west entrance to the park and camped in a KOA camp ground. Scott cooked us a great meal and we had wonderful showers and other facilities. We both slept very well and it was a pretty mild night as far as the temperature.

Day 7: August 26

We woke up around 6:30 or so, had breakfast at the KOA breakfast area and headed south. We crossed the state border into Idaho and headed down toward "Crater of the Moon" park. We decided to visit there but a missed turn (we weren't using the GPS) forced us to go around this area. We did stop at a roadside visitor center where there was a self guided walk through this interesting landscape. The lava in this very large area of Idaho had oozed out of the ground forming this landscape that looks like the moon. Hence the name of the park. Check it on the web here. We headed west and south with the intent of hooking up with Interstate 80 in Nevada. These next two days we needed to put in some serious miles to get to Sacramento by the 28th. I was scheduled to fly out around noon that day.

We stopped for lunch in a small town called Twin Falls. We also met up with a mother and 20 something daughter at a roadside information spot. It was right on the Oregon Trail. We learned a lot about the trail and enjoyed our conversation with these Idaho natives. They tried to convince us to visit Boise area. We ended up getting all the way to Elko, Nevada. We found a hotel room after searching around for a bit. There isn't much in Elko but there are sure a lot of slot machines. I wonder how many slot machines there are in the entire state of Nevada. We did find a grocery store and bought enough food to keep us going until the trip ended in 2 days. (There were slot machines in the grocery store!) We also used the internet at a Starbucks which happened to be in a casino down the road from our hotel. We got caught up on our e-mail and enjoyed a bed as opposed to an air mattress.

Day 8: August 27

We woke up around 8:00 and headed west toward California. Nevada is a very big state with a lot of desert in it. The terrain did not change very much. Every once in a while there was a small valley that had a little river or stream running through it. A ranch or small town would pop up, things would be green and then 2 miles later we were back to sagebrush and rocks. It took all of the morning and part of the afternoon to get to the California border. We finished Harry Potter late that morning. We drove up to Donner Park where I had been earlier in the summer. We didn't have time to head down to Lake Tahoe but we did spend time hiking along the lake and learning about the Donner party in the visitor center. We left in the late afternoon and drove down to about 20 miles from Sacramento and found a campsite for our last night of camping. This place had a pool and hot tub. We spent some time in the hot tub and then went to bed. Here is a picture of the tent that we used on this trip. There was a full lunar eclipse in the middle of the night so both of us woke up periodically to watch the progress. There were no clouds and the air was very clear. We had a good view most of the night until a tree blocked to last bit.

Day 9: August 28 (The last day)

We decided not to eat and headed out towards the airport. We did run into some traffic but we had allowed some extra time so I got to the airport in plenty of time to catch my flight. I flew to Las Vegas and then on to Hartford with a stop in Chicago. Becky picked me up around 11:00 that night.

What a great experience this trip was. I got to spend 8 fabulous days with my Scott. He is such a great guy! I will alway treasure the memories of this trip. We are so lucky to have the children we have. They are both so wonderful and we are so proud of them. Here is a picture of all of us taken in June as well as their significant others, Michael and Libby.