Remembering the road, day 11

I’m not sure what’s worse, that I’m still milking a 7-year-old road trip for blog content, or that it’s taking me months to recount a trip that lasted just a few weeks. Well, look on the bright side, either way it gives you something to bitch about other than traffic and the weather.

So, without further ado, I present to an encore performance of “Remembering the Road, Day 11.”

Day 11

I was informed that elk horns are shed every year, so the elk horn arch probably wasn’t from hundreds of thousands of dead elk, but probably just horns they’ve shed. That sucks… it’s not nearly as dramatic that way.

I forgot to mention something about Yellowstone in my last update: guano. The place is filled with it. Right next to our cabin, bear guano. All around the hot springs and geysers, buffalo and elk guano. On the sidewalks, little dog guano (lots of people brought their little dogs for some reason… bear bait?). Yellowstone has to be one of the most fertile places on earth… there’s just that much guano.

There’s also still massive streaks of burned areas in Yellowstone, thanks to the giant forest fires of the last 14 years. It’s actually quite beautiful, some of the burned areas where the remnants of lodge pole pines stand tall and naked while small pine trees cluster beneath them. Areas that have yet to burn are filled with wooded debris and it’s clear that a fire will soon sweep through it.

Scorched earth

I also forgot to mention another near-death (or at least, near Deliverance) experience. While driving towards Utah, I got sleepy and pulled over at an entrance to a national forest trailhead. Cyn was enjoying some gummy bears and I put my seat down for a quick bit of sleep. Suddenly an older couple drives out of the forest at a rapid speed, followed closely by two trucks packed with guys who, well let’s just say they’ve never been worried about their SAT scores, and I don’t mean because they have excellent verbal and math skills.

“Josh,” Cynthia says. “I don’t like this. These guys are creeping me out.” Heavy music blares from their car; the only audible words from the “song” are “motherfucker,” “bitch,” and “boy” and there are plenty of them. Angry white-man music.

“Oh, it’ll be all right,” I assure her as the driver of one of them grins at us.


His buddy gets out of the truck and I put my seat up. “It’s fine, he’s just looking at his friends behind us. The buddy starts walking over and I start the car. Before he gets any closer, I let out the clutch and drive away… quickly.

Once Cynthia’s heart attack subsides (and I realize that we probably were in a bad situation), we slow down to 95 mph and continue on the way to Salt Lake City. My eyes are wide open now.

In truth, I’m already missing Yellowstone, but it’s behind us now. Today we drive from Salt Lake City on to Las Vegas… the city of sin… from one extreme (Yellowstone) to another (Salt Lake City) to another (Las Vegas).

Interesting note about Salt Lake City: I can’t find the great salt lake anywhere. I think I passed it on the way out of town, but it looked rather small, so I don’t think it was it. I kind of wanted to see if I floated in it, but seeing as I couldn’t even find it, that didn’t happen.

There are billboards all over the place around here, and they’re fairly inventive. One Ford truck ad had actual lights for headlights. Neat. Another, a boat ad, had a full-size motorboat through the billboard.

Others are interesting for other reasons. One billboard alerted passers-by that the UN is trying to take away our guns. Another very sad one featured a full-size picture of Elizabeth Smart, the young girl kidnapped at gunpoint… I guessed the UN missed one.

As we drove along, we realized that ever since entering Utah we have yet to see a cloud. Coincidence?

Mormon church

Utah’s scenery is pretty, where one is able to see the scenery past the billboards. Sadly, it’s very hazy here. Whether that’s natural or a function of manmade air pollution, I don’t know, but given one of the billboards featuring “10 acres of paved parking” for a couple of gas stations and fast food restaurants, I have my suspicions. While there, we saw several Corvairs on their way to Flagstaff, AZ, for a national Corvair convention.

We dipped into Arizona briefly en route to Nevada and passed through the most amazing rock formations ­ basically a small canyon. It was hauntingly beautiful, and once again, nearly our final resting place as double-length gasoline tanker trucks flew through there at 15-20 mph faster than the posted speed limit. Keep in mind, this steep road was winding around deep cliffs and giant boulders. It was not an especially relaxing look at the scenery. Luckily Arizona put a ban on billboards through this region, so we could take in the views without being alerted to the nearest quarter pounder with cheese. Sadly, there was still a lot of litter along the road.


It was also our first introduction to heat here. When we’d see a particularly stunning site, I’d roll down the window to take a picture. In the 10 seconds our window was open, every molecule of air-conditioned comfort escaped and was replaced by 107° hot hot hotness. Lovely.

That’s what made it all the more stunning to see speedwalkers racing along the highway. Are these people insane? First, it’s a bagillion degrees outside, second they are speedwalking on black pavement, and third, they are doing it against 85 mph traffic, including two double-length gasoline tanker trunks cruising at almost 100 mph. I think the heat affects the brain.

Speaking of affecting the brain, I used to feel badly for the southwest in terms of their water problems. This area just doesn’t have enough water to meet the demand for it. But when I saw lush, green golf courses nestled in the red dirt desert, I lost all sympathy. Hmm, should I drink the water, or try to grow grass with it…

Nevertheless, we finally made it to Nevada, where less than a tenth of the mile into the state there was a casino. An hour later, we pulled into Vegas, as declared by the billboards promoting the world’s largest adult bookstore. Entering Vegas, one of the more interesting signs we’ve seen (on par with one in Yellowstone that said it was illegal to feed or molest wildlife) said it was illegal to pick up hitchhikers, as there was a prison across the road. “Hey stranger, where you going in that striped, numbered number with the leg irons? Costume party?”

As we put the Swingers soundtrack on the CD player, we drove down the strip to the tunes of Franky and friends. On the northern edge of town are the older casinos. Since our A/C was pulling in outside air, and since the casinos where pumping out their stale casino air, our car quickly filled with the sultry odor of a smoky casino. A few miles later we reached the newer casinos, which are monuments to man’s ability to create anything as tacky as the mind can imagine. It’s great in an insane sort of way. Pretty much anything goes here.

Actually, it’s an odd assortment of you can’t do anything wrong, and don’t do anything wrong. On the placemats of the all-you-can eat Luxor Hotel buffet (where many young children are dining with their parents) is an ad for the topless show at midnight. Oooh lala! But then everywhere you look (escalators, monorails, elevators, pools, hallways, casinos) are semi-hidden cameras. It’s all about doling out vices in controlled (and for-profit) fashion. That’s nothing new, but it’s interesting to see.

Vegas, baby!

Anyway, here in Vegas Cyn and I met up with one of my brothers and his family and one of my cousins and his family. We had a good time checking out the strip, saw one of the water shows at the Bellagio, and due to the difficulty of getting three cabs to take us back to our hotel, we piled into a stretch limo to give all 11 of us a ride back up the strip… the kids loved it, and so did I. At one point, I put up the “privacy” glass between the driver and us. As soon as it rose, the driver put it back down again and disabled my switch. D’oh!

After the kids went to bed, the adults hit the casino where I won $11 dollars in slots only to lose $11 in slots. Why oh why couldn’t I have quit when I was ahead? Over the next few hours I managed to lose another $30 and that’s more than enough. Time for bed.

If you’re gambling, you get free drinks from cocktail waitresses who are almost partly dressed. They wear skimpy outfits that are reminiscent of swimsuits with small blazers. They look like they have a constant wedgie, and I can’t believe that’s comfortable.

Remembering the Road, Day 9

Sorry for the delay in posts… even if these are old. Anyway, back to the past:

Day 9

The weather in Yellowstone is amazing. One moment it’s cold, foggy, and rainy. Then it’s hot, sunny, and dry. Five minutes later, it’s cold and windy. Plus, because the park is so big and the elevation changes are so dramatic, the weather differs greatly from spot to spot. It makes packing for a day’s outing that much tougher.

We found that out firsthand today as we set out for a hike near the east entrance of the park, on the way back to Cody, Wyoming, where we would finally use our rodeo tickets. As we wound our way through the mountains, I spotted a giant bird with a white tail fly overhead. It was a bald eagle and we tracked it as it perched itself high on a pine tree overlooking a lake. We pulled over and tried to get some photos of it, but even with a powerful zoom lens, it was tough to see more than a white top, black middle and white bottom.

Luckily, an engaged couple driving from San Francisco to their wedding in Halifax, Nova Scotia, had a more powerful lens fitting our camera body, so we used that and got slightly better shots. Their binoculars provided us with even better views.

We were thrilled to see the eagle, especially after failing to spot one in the nest the night before. But, we had a hike to do, so we pushed on. Naturally, there are no trails near the east entrance, something we didn’t realize until we exited the park without spying a trailhead. However, Yellowstone is virtually surrounded by national forest and there are trails there.

By that time, though, we were hungry, so it was on to Wapiti for lunch at the Wapiti Lodge, a Roadfood establishment. Like virtually every other restaurant in this part of the world, we dined under the gaze of several furry heads… two elk, two pronghorn, and a deer, and it was good eatin’.


Lunch was actually a family affair. Mom was our server, dad was the cook, their 11-year-old (or so) son washed dishes, their 5-year-old (or so) provided entertainment, mostly in the form of calling out for mom. I think there was another son there too, but I’m not sure.

Cynthia was pleased to see Rocky Mountain Oysters on the menu, and was even more pleased when I told her they were sheep testicles. She had the chicken salad, one of only two non-beef items on the menu.

After wrapping up lunch, we double-backed into the national forest and found a trail that promised an invigorating hike. Then rain fell. Then hail fell. Then it started to lightning and thunder. Ok, forget the hike. Time to go to Cody.

We drove down the road yet again en route to Cody where we planned to visit the five museums of the Buffalo Bill Cody cultural center. We made a few calls to check on our animals when we realized that I had left my backpack filled with cameras and Cyn’s purse at the restaurant. So we turned around again and drove back to Wapiti. By this time it was sunny again, but getting late. The bag (and contents) were still there, so we picked it all up, turned around AGAIN and drove back to Cody. I was ready to set myself on fire.

We got to Cody and popped into Wal-Mart to pick up a few essentials, like drinks, chips, and other travelfood. This being one of the few restrooms in Wyoming Cynthia hadn’t visited, we made sure to cross that off her list too.

Then it was to the five museums of the Buffalo Bill Cody cultural center. At this point in the trip, we are beginning to realize how much this whole thing is costing us, so when we found out that the museum would cost us $30, we decided to browse the gift shop instead, just to see what it had to offer.

Oh, and did it have a lot! There was a bowie knife for $2,250! What a bargain! You could also find plenty of bronze statues of cowboys, indians, cowboys killing indians, wild animals, cowboys and indians killing wild animals, and country music CDs. There was other stuff too, but who cares when the museum sells weapons?

As for the galleries, from what I could see without paying, it looked like a few had some nice stuff, including a gun collection.

Speaking of guns, once we left the five museums of the Buffalo Bill Cody cultural center, we walked across the street to the Cody high school where there was a Winchester Gun Show! Haven’t these people heard of Columbine?

Of course, we tried to get in (only $5 a head, according to the gatekeeper I didn’t ask what he meant by that), but it had ended for the day. So instead we played minigolf for $6 total. I won by three strokes thanks to an early disaster hole by Cyn.

After that, we checked out a few tourist trap stores (all of which sold antique and novelty guns… I love this place!… and cowboy hats) and had a quick meal before going to the rodeo. Now, I had never been to a rodeo before, never thought about going to a rodeo, and never cared about rodeos. Nobody who lives in Cody goes to the rodeo (according to locals), and I loved it. The rodeo consisted of cowboys riding bucking broncos bareback, lassoing calves, riding steers, and “humorous” interludes via the rodeo clown. One of those interludes consisted of the clown headbutting a horned billygoat… the clown was wearing a helmet, though, making it slightly less impressive.


We left a little early in order to get back to our cabin, basically a two-hour drive away. By the time we reached the mountains, it was raining again, dark, cold, and foggy. These mountain roads are narrow and one edge is about a foot from a cliff that drops hundreds of feet. Now that’s adventure!

Along the way back to the cabin, Cynthia spotted another coyote, and so I could get a look, I started backing up. In retrospect, that probably wasn’t a good idea even though I didn’t run over the coyote.

Road Trip remembered: Day 6

Day 6

First, a correction from an earlier update. Not all vehicles are towing something. Many have things tied to their roofs (bikes, canoes, suitcases, chairs). We have neither something to tow or something to attach to our roof. I feel very unprepared.

There are also a lot of RVs and buses made to be RVs. One such vehicle I saw today actually had a chandelier hanging inside. If I ever own a vehicle with it’s own chandelier, please slap me.

I especially love the RVs that have bikes strapped to the front bumper. It’s like a threat: hey, don’t mess with me! I’ll run you right down like I did this bicyclist! I almost expect to see a chalk outline across the windshield.


Last night we ended up skipping the rodeo, opting to sleep instead. Hopefully we’ll find time to go before we steam out of town, but given the distances between things, we might just have to forgo it.

Cynthia woke up with a bit of a cold, which we think it probably partly due to elevation sickness. We’re sitting at about 7,000 feet above sea level, which means a walk up a little hill gets me breathing hard. It’s a little aggravating, and even worse when some schmoe jogs past me. I feel like shouting, “hey, I’m not really that out of shape,” but I don’t have enough air to say anything. Argh…

The wind has been mighty stiff the past couple of days. Driving into Cody it was all I could do to keep the car from being blown off the road. Today is much the same, although a bit calmer. The problem is, the view on the drive from Cody to Yellowstone is so spectacular with white-water rapids coursing through high canyon walls, it’s hard to stay focused on driving, and that’s even worse with the wind. Plus, I can’t help myself but to scan the landscape for bear, deer, elk, moose, etc. It’s a recipe for driving into a canyon wall while shouting, “hey look at the moo…”

Before reaching Yellowstone is another national forest where Bear Alert stations offer tips on how to avoid a bear attack, and what to do in the event you meet a bear without the proper introductions. The pamphlets offers such sage advise as “bear’s don’t like to be surprised.” The funny thing about this is that this piece of wisdom is part of the pamphlet for hunters. Now, I’m no bear, but wouldn’t getting shot count as just the kind of surprise bear’s don’t like?

We finally make it into the park and began another series of “look at that!” exclamations as we rounded the many mountainous curves, each giving us another spectacular view. Because the roads are so curvy and there is so much to see, it takes forever to get from place to place within Yellowstone. While we crossed the entire state of Wyoming in just a few hours, it can take that long to get from one part of Yellowstone to another, and as big as this park is, it’s not as big as all of Wyoming.

After an hour or two, we reached our small cabin on Lake Yellowstone, a massive fresh water lake 7,000 feet high in the mountains. Immediately, we set off exploring. One of our first stops was series of thermal pools. Since we’re sitting on what is still considered a thermally active volcano, magma just a couple miles beneath our feet boils water, which percolates to the surface. Brightly colored hot-water-loving bacteria lives in these pools and geysers, creating beautiful, although incredibly sulfurous, tourist attractions. Cynthia calls them stinkpots.

One of these pools actually sits in Yellowstone lake. Apparently fisherman of old used to catch fish near the pool, and then swing their rods around and dip the fish in the boiling water, cooking it on the line.

DSCF0004 (1)

After that, we checked out a beautiful canyon and waterfall, requiring a short hike that felt like a long hike, thanks to the paltry amount of oxygen in the air. Then it was dinner back at a lodge (where you can order such appetizing beers as “Moose Drool”) and a little drive around the park too seek out bear. None could be found.