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’.

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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.

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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.

Remembering the Road, day 8

Day 8

[Editor’s note from 2009: While some might think this blog is somehow spawned by or in reaction to Frank and Hank Mark America, let it be known that this was originally written in 2002, and the republishing began before the public was made aware of the HMS Beagle, 2009 Edition.]

Yellowstone’s lodges are all great places. Built with giant timbers, nearly all resemble log cabins, although very fancy ones. They sport giant fireplaces, and huge windows through which one can take in the splendor of the park. The food served in each is pretty good too, although I’m getting really tired of seeing steak on the menu.

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We visited more stinkpots today, and we’ve decided that we’ve seen and, more importantly, smelled enough of them. Yeah, they’re beautiful, but they make you want to hurl, and tossing my cookies isn’t what I planned to do on this vacation, so I think we’ve wrapped up our stinkpot visits.

So, instead of smelling sulfurous gasses emitted by the earth’s crust, we went horseback riding… only a minor improvement in the odor department. We took a short trail ride through some of the northwestern part of the park, where we saw more elk, and not a whole lot else. I, who was on “Rex,” was disappointed in the ride, as I was hoping to see more wildlife and learn a bit more about the area, but our “wranglers” spent most of the time loudly telling riddles such as, “What did the mother buffalo say to her son when he left for school? Bison. (Bye, son.)” HAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHA!!! Gosh, am I glad I drove 2,200 miles to hear that one!

I guess a hidden agenda of the “wranglers” was to be loud enough that no bear would come near us. That’s probably smart, since just before the ride I was flipping through “Bear Attacks Stories.” From one passage: “Paul was still in the tree when he called out to Michelle to tell her to unzip her zipper. ‘He’s already got it in his mouth,’ she shouted back. He next heard Michelle shout, ‘He’s got my arm off.’ Then she said, ‘Oh no, I’m dead!’ And that was the last thing Paul heard as the bear dragged her into the woods never to be seen again.” Hey, let’s hear another loud joke from the wranglers!

Cynthia, who rode “Jeff” and hadn’t ridden horses before, enjoyed the ride more than I. On a plus note, the ride did take us through back country and thus away from some of the road noise.

Interesting note: buffalo can run faster, jump higher, and are more agile than a horse. That, plus their horns, means it’s probably a good thing we didn’t come across any of them on our trail ride either.

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Back in the car we took in some more spectacular views, (waterfalls, open plains, plunging canyons, fly-fisherman-filled rivers winding through grassy meadows), and saw more animals. Eagle-eyes Cynnie, as she’s now known, spotted a grizzly bear meandering through a grassy hill. We quickly stopped, initiating our own bear-jam. The bear, some 250 yards away, looked at us for a moment before wandering back into the trees and out of sight. The digital camera we have could get only so-so pictures of it, but with the potent zoom film camera I borrowed from my parents, we should get good, closer shots.

Following the bear sighting, we drove past a bald eagle’s nest where two or three eaglets are being reared. Cynthia snapped three fine shots of the nest, where not a single eagle could be seen, much to our dismay.

In an area known for moose, we found none, but we did see (with the aid of another traveler), a beaver.

People and wildlife are funny. First, people tend to laugh at the bison and elk when they all of a sudden do something as a group, such as flee in the same direction. “Pack animals,” we say with a hint of condemnation. Who are we saying this to? Well, the fifty other people who have pulled over to the side of the road to see what you’re looking at. Pack animals indeed!

Then there’s this slightly hidden competition among visitors. “What have you seen?” is the second-most common question after, “where are you from?” Bears are definitely the stars, as are wolves. Bison and elk are low on the pecking order.

Upon first arriving in the park, the instinct is to pull over any time any wildlife comes in to view. “Ooooh look! Buffalo! Hey, there’s an elk! Wow!!” But after four days, it has to really be worth pulling over for. “Eh, that’s just elk. I mean, if it was a bear, I’d stop…” It’s a little sad, although we started doing the same thing.

The similar thing is happening with the landscapes. They’re still as beautiful as ever, but after a while, you get vista fatigue. Hey, another stunning waterfall! Look there, it’s another snow-capped mountain rising majestically through the clouds! Yeah great, I’m hungry… when’s dinner?

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More than anything though, I think it’s just a function of being tired. After some rest, I’ll be ready to see more buffalo and elk going over waterfalls, really.


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.

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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.

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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.

Remembering the Road: Day 5

Day 5

Well, we ended up just staying at the house last night, skipping the tour and going to sleep early… just as well, the skies were cloudy so there wouldn’t have been much of a night sky to see. Besides, I wanted to get to Mt. Rushmore early in the morning to see it in dawn light. That meant getting up at about 4 a.m., something Cynthia was thrilled about. I think her exact words were “you’ve got to be fricking kidding me!” (Well, not quite “exact.”)

Of course, I was superserious, so we loaded the car and headed out. One great thing about being on rural roads at 5 a.m. is that you see plenty of wildlife. We caught up with antelope deer and a jackrabbit. Lots of cattle too, but I guess they aren’t really wildlife ¬†though I’ve heard of some people confusing them with bear.

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Beating all of the traffic, and nearly the sun, we arrived at Mt. Rushmore by 6 a.m. After running the tack-o-rama gauntlet of dinosaur parks, Flintstone cut-outs, and souvenir shops hawking Mt. Rushmore paperweights and oh so much more, we entered the National Monument grounds and found the whole thing to be much nicer than I ever would have guessed. I understand Indians don’t really like Mt. Rushmore’s existence… the faces of white men who pretty much further screwed the Indians carved into the mountains of the Black Hills, sacred to the tribe of this region. But, if you’re going to alienate an entire people, you might as well do it nicely, and Mt. Rushmore does it well… I was glad to see it. And as we drove around the monument, Cynthia smartly spotted a mountain goat ambling up the rocky ledges. Wanting to get a picture before it got away, I did what any man would do. I baaahed. Apparently I said something worthwhile because the mountain goat turned and posed for us before scampering away.

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Next up was Crazy Horse, the monument to the Indian chief being carved, or rather, exploded from, a mountain just a few miles down the road… it’s also impressive. In size and scope, this is fantastically larger than Mt. Rushmore. It’s already 50 years in the making and at least 50 more to go. Apparently there is some controversy over this monument as well, but the private family carving it goes out of their way to give the impression that the project has the full blessing of the Indians of the region, and seems to try to further Indian causes. I have no idea whether they do or not, but that’s the clear message being sent. In any event, the project is 50 times bigger than Mt. Rushmore and it too is awing.

Being 9 a.m., we decided to get breakfast and then hit the road to get a move on to Wyoming. Plans were to skim the top part of Nebraska, but I missed a turn… the first of several of the day… and entered Wyoming directly.

Now here’s something I love about these Western states. The rural speed limit is high… often 75, and plenty of people do better than that. That’s great for making good time. But here’s the thing, as soon as we near a town, the speed limit dips to 30 or 25 or even 15. And everyone follows it! I don’t know if cops are really picky about it or what, but it amazes me that folks who were a second a go driving 80-90 MPH are way down to 15 without batting a lash.

Meanwhile, I feel completely out of place here, as our vehicle seems to be the only one since Minnesota that isn’t towing something. Everyone else is towing a horse, a camper, another car, motorcycles, dirt bikes, etc. I feel like I’m wearing jeans at a formal event.

Anyway, we made really good time getting into Wyoming and before long we spotted the snow-capped Rockies ahead. What a site! especially since the much of the scenery of Wyoming ain’t exactly pretty, what with neverending cattle ranches and industries of various types.

So we entered the Rockies, needing to cross them to get to Yellowstone. I can’t overstate just how beautiful they are. The foothills are bounded by the Big Horn National Forest. We followed a couple of off-road trails into some of these hills where we took in amazing views, beautiful wildflowers, and even some wildlife, namely deer and people from Montana.

One friendly Montana couple we followed up a hill brought with them their two cats (one of them in heat… she took a real shine to me!), their dog, their black-and-white TV, and some marijuana. They kindly offered it all to us, but we politely declined, needing no more pets, electrical equipment, or hallucinations for this journey.

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As we crossed the mountains, we saw a moose and then some more deer. People from Montana proved to be more elusive, however, nearly as common were those who just can’t live without TV. Another set of campers had yet to make their fire or pitch any tents, but the satellite dish was already in position and pointing at the SE sky. Moose and bear have nothing on the Osbournes, although all could easily rip the head off a chicken. Then again, what the hell am I saying? I brought my laptop computer! Ugh.

Descending out of the mountain brought more beautiful scenery as well as bodily function noisemaking contests within the car. The judges are still out as to the victor… it might turn into an accumulative thing (the score, that is). I think it has to do with our beef and buffalo jerky consumption… a tasty treat that Cynthia is demanding with each pit stop. She says it tastes like some Australian sausage called kabana. It really tastes more like salty leather… and who can resist that?

Despite a wrong turn that cost us nearly 100 miles (and detected only when we started seeing Wall Drug signs again), and enabled us to see actual real tumbleweed, we made it to Cody, Wyoming, launching point for Yellowstone.

Cody is a cowboy/tourist town. There’s a nightly rodeo, to which we have tickets later this week, but when I asked a local if it’s just for tourists, she smiled and said, “uh, yeah.” That said, I don’t think the tourists actually get to ride rodeo… we just watch. So, locals are still required. I wonder what would happen if middle-aged dads got to buck broncos? I’m guessing there would be a world-class spinal center around here. Maybe there already is…

We enjoyed a nice dinner at a local place that also seems to cater to both locals and tourists. They have a bar that is truly amazing. Apparently, Queen Victoria gave Buffalo Bill Cody (the namesake of this town) this “million-dollar” bar and it really is amazing; intricate wood carvings with brass buffalo heads and giant mirrors. The rest of the restaurant is Cody high fashion: 12 deer heads, 3 elk heads, a buffalo head, and antler chandelier, and a few other antlered specimen that I didn’t closely inspect.

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There were four older guys at the next table that looked just like Cody men. They had the Wranglers, the shot glasses, the loud voices and the weathered faces. But when one asked the other, “so, were you at IBM or AT&T?” I realized that Cody men must be much harder to pick out than I realized, not that I’m in the market for one, I just find it all very interesting.

By the way, we should receive some kind of commendation for the number of insects we’ve murdered. Our car has developed a loving patina of dust and insect body parts… it’s a rolling deathwagon as far as bugs are concerned. Bring them on!

It’s now 500 miles and 18 hours since my last sleep. Until the next update…

Josh and Cyn

Reliving America… 2000 Road Trip, Day 3

Day 3

Resuming the next morning, we headed to Madison for a late breakfast. We enjoyed briefly exploring Madison and taking in the “Cleveland Diner” tucked away under the shadow of the capital building.

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Back on the road, we bypassed the “Cheese, Gifts and Liquor” store, much to my regret. Wisconsin’s terrain was interesting… beautiful rolling hills of tilled crops, giving away towards the western edge to heavy pine timber. We pulled into a small town on the western edge and enjoyed some frozen custard (an 80-cent cone was more than enough for both of us). The cheese and meat store next to it was, however, closed.

Upon crossing the Mississippi River, we climbed into Minnesota and sped along mostly flat farmland. One interesting (to me) note about Minnesota is how few billboards there were. In fact, I’m not sure there were any. This really hit home upon entering South Dakota, where billboards are as common as cattle, or seem to be at any rate.

Minnesota flew past, thanks largely to a lack of traffic and a 70 MPH speed limit. This was even truer in South Dakota where the land is flat, the roads are straight, and the posted speed limit is 75. That does cause a problem for prairie dogs, though. As we sped along the highway, a prairie dog scampered across the road headed for my right front wheel. I swerved slightly and managed to somehow straddle the pup and somehow miss him. From my rear view mirror, I saw him finish his heart-stopping journey in the median strip.

I had really been looking forward to Tea Steak House in Tea, South Dakota, the only Roadfood destination in S.D. Sadly for us, being Sunday, it was closed. We settled for something we hoped to avoid… fast food in Souix Falls. However, it was, at least, only a regional chain: Taco John’s. Still, it was terrible.

Eastern South Dakota’s landscape is mostly flat with more farmland. Except, instead of corn, there is cattle. Cattle and billboards. The two most common billboards are for Wall Drug (I lost count after 50 of them) and Corn Palace… a building made from corn (more or less). More than 20 billboards tout this majestic palace, and it’s worth visiting. During the winter, Corn Palace is home the high school basketball team, graduation ceremonies, and other civic events. In the summer, it is filled with a gigantic gift shop.

At least 2,000 people visit Corn Palace each day, and since the town it is in as only 13,000 residents, each week more people file in to see this building than the number of people who live there.

DSCF0029Most astonishing of all, the teenagers who work there didn’t seem at all sullen about it. I was in awe.

I said Eastern S.D. is mostly flat, but every once in a while an amazing grassy gorge or outcropping of rocks upsets the smooth terrain. The effect is quite beautiful. I expect this to be more obvious when we reach the Badlands and Black Hills tomorrow. Equally mesmerizing are the weather patterns one can watch develop. A thunderstorm several miles to our north played out as the sun set. Lightning and rain showed themselves broadside without ever nearing us. It was beautiful. I secretly hoped a tornado would spin together so I could get a picture. I guess it’s just as well that didn’t happen.

Well, we’re in for another night.

Josh and Cynthia (mileage: 24,437)

Day 2
Day 1