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.

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