Why o Why Wyoming?

After the stunning day at Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons, we continued the magic, as we pressed east into Wyoming’s Bighorn National Forest. The land was every bit as diverse as the website says:

wildwest trip 321 wildwest trip 323 wildwest trip 335

wildwest trip 337 wildwest trip 356 wildwest trip 371

Then we also saw this interesting pyramid-looking rock called Copman’s Tomb:

wildwest trip 347

No wonder the guy wanted to be buried there–it stands out for miles!

Lost in the center of the forest is a little interpretive place for Shell Falls.  This is a beautiful area where erosion has carved away the top layers of rock, and we found that many of the rocks we saw were 300 million years old–and older! Deep in the middle is a waterfall that seemed to bring the temperature down several degrees as we stood high above the rushing water.

Shell Falls

Shell Falls

The children had fun running all along the fenced overlooks after so long in the car:

That's them...WAYYYY over there.

That's them...WAYYYY over there.

And the big ones, not so much running:

Look! It's not corn!

Look! It's not corn!

Wyoming was not what I expected at all:  some forest, some desert, some mountains, some grassy river areas, Devil’s Tower, Old Faithful….all beautiful.

We finished up this day by swinging into South Dakota to visit the presidents at Mount Rushmore. I was so proud to hear Little Miss and Ditto Boy rattle off the names of the presidents carved in the granite. Did I hear someone say it was an educational trip? Perish the thought!

Letting go

Today I had a plan. We were going to get up, get to point A, continue to point B, and be ready for several other events at yet a third location.

But I’ve taken on two other adults for this trip, and I’ve decided I must let go of my Nazi tactics gentle plans. As a result we got a trip through the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone I’d never have anticipated. Letting go is a good thing.

First we went up through Jackson Hole, a very pretty little town:

outside Jackson Hole

outside Jackson Hole

The Tetons are often featured in travel layouts and tv, and the mountain range is striking.

picturesque Tetons

picturesque Tetons

We stopped in the park for a picnic lunch, then all the kids took a walk down to the Snake River.

picnic!

picnic!

Yummy mangoes!

Yummy mangoes!

We spent the rest of the day drooling over the beautiful scenery as we moved from Teton to Yellowstone, where we arrived just in time for:

Old Faithful

Old Faithful

Fantastic. And all because I let things happen as they would.  Lovely traveling companions, lovely surroundings–it’s been a great day.

I have to admit, there was one sad moment when we left Yellowstone through the east entrance and saw so much damage from fires of years past.

Only half of these trees are alive..whether from fire or insect damage. A good wind will blow them down and devastate whole mountainsides.

Only half of these trees are alive..whether from fire or insect damage. A good wind will blow them down and devastate whole mountainsides.

Wildlife conservation

Our California mini-visit was so special I’ll be adding a page above, probably after we get home later this week. But this couple of days has been on environmental education, as we’ve come to the Lake Tahoe/Reno area to see B.

We finally get a tour of the camp where Sierra Nevada Journeys provides its excellent programming, and the area is breathtaking:

above the camp

above the camp

We took the tour and learned about how hundreds of California and Nevada children each year experience the learning that will take them into the next century. It’s clear B is heart and soul attached to this program:

B takes us on the grand tour

B takes us on the grand tour

And her boss and co-workers make it clear they agree. It is wonderful to see her so well- appreciated…

We also see the Biggest Little City in the World:

The new arch into the city

The new arch into the city

We have several delicious meals and then all too soon it’s time to head east again! B and her friend C have agreed to drive with us, for which I am more grateful that I can express. I’m all about being independent, but it takes a lot out of you to travel as a single mom!

We came across the Great Salt Flats:

The salt flat drying area

The salt flat drying area

And in Salt Lake City, the Mormon Temple the day before the city is to be invaded by the General Assembly of Unitarian Universalists…

The Mormon Temple, Salt Lake City

The Mormon Temple, Salt Lake City

Finally, we went to ground for the night but not before one last moment of drama, as B managed to avoid hitting a full grown moose in the middle of I-15. It was a thing of beauty. And so is she.

California, here I come!

The last push west brought some interesting scenery and some personal revelations. I’d particularly wanted to make some time to travel US 50, the Nevada portion dubbed by Life magazine, “The Loneliest Road in America.”  They’re not kidding. More on this in a subsequent post.

Part of a story I wrote a few years ago is set on this road, as a group of survivors travel to St. Louis from the West Coast. I wanted to update my words to correspond with the current reality. The trip down memory lane with that group of characters was like visiting family members.

There was Austin, Nevada, where my characters crash a drug store:

downtown Austin

downtown Austin

Who knew the air was so thin at 8,200 feet? I was glad to head down as soon as possible.

US 50 is indeed lonely. We might go for five or more miles without seeing a soul. But finally we all stopped together when some trucker apparently decided to make a U-turn on the two-lane highway with its steep drop-offs. So the truck is completely across the road, and all the other truckers on this side and that side all get out of their trucks and mosey down the road to take a gander. How many of you ladies reading this haven’t seen something like this?

Yup, Ferd, it's a truck in the ditch, all right...

Yup, Ferd, it's a truck in the ditch, all right...

After about a half hour, some trucker got the bright idea to pull him out. Hurrah. Life was safe to travel again. And we’d met a whole passel of trucker folk we’d never have had the chance to meet.

The landscape there is what’s called high desert– scrubby bits of green dotting a tan/brown mountainside.

high desert

high desert

Miles and miles of this replaced the beautiful green, snow covered mountains of the northern states. Maybe it’s a landscape that has to grow on you; B certainly has become attached to it in the Sierra Nevadas. I’ll pass.

We passed by the otherwordly Craters of the Moon crossed over into California, made one mini-wrong turn and ended up taking a rollercoaster ride road down the west side of Lake Tahoe on Route 89 that was white-knuckled as well as beautiful, what I could see while driving with great concentration. By the time we arrived in Placerville, the children were pleased to get out of the van and play at the motel.

free at last!

free at last!

Then we met up with my best friend Kellie for a few days of investigation of the local area, including a visit to the sequoias at Calaveras Big Trees, which I’ll include on a separate page above, as we have great pictures.

Other agenda items include a visit to Tofanelli’s, and panning for gold at Coloma Valley. I don’t suppose we’ll get rich…but you never know!

From vacation to relocation?

I could live in Missoula again.

Almost.

The city is now sufficiently cosmopolitan to meet my needs:  there’s a Wal-Mart and a Target. But I do prefer the north side to the south side. The storefronts and intimate settings suit me better than the big strip centers.

I think it would take me a long time to get used to the influx of casinos. some 36 in the extended area. Some of them are even attached to gas stations.  So how does that work?  Stop to fill the tank, get some milk and play $10 of slots?

The scenery is beautiful.

Mountains all around

Mountains all around

The population is diverse–from international students, to Native Americans, to many other cultures represented. The hippie movement is alive and well there. There is a strong interest in the environmental issues I also find important.

Just one hitch in the plan to pack it all up and move: the weather.

As one Montanan explained to me, they have four seasons: a brief before-winter, winter, a brief after-winter, and road construction  season.

There are serious winters there. It snows many years from Labor Day till Memorial Day– and sometimes after!

I mean there are exits all along Interstate 90 where the state can order you off the road depending on the weather. And it’s apparently not a suggestion; they have railroad-type barricades to make sure forward progress can’t be made.

What happens to the more determined? If they pass the gate, does an enormous wintry Balrog come out from under the next underpass, bellowing “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!” One can only imagine.

So we might visit again someday, but as for permanent residents?  N ever again.  Beauty of the surroundings can only keep you so warm.

Mysterious

Mysterious

Montana musings

Although we’d originally intended to hit Missoula Sunday night, after all the fun and frivolity (shame on us!)of yesterday it didn’t happen.  So we limped into Billings about midnight and took up the road again on Monday.

Little Miss oohed and aahed about the Rocky Mountains, as did we all.  Surrounded by one of the most beautiful landscapes in the country, we hauled butt across the state.  DAMN it’s a wide state. Seriously.

We caught up with the relative with whom the Captain is visiting this summer in Kalispell, and sent him off for a summer mountain adventure. He acted like we were dropping him at a sitter’s for 10 minutes and hardly noticed we left the park where we all met. So I hope he has fun, and the break does us all good. Respite is essential to keeping sane folks– as I’ve said before, one of the kindest things people can do is offer to keep the children for some brief time, to allow the parents time to regroup.

Boy, is that neck of the woods beautiful.

Beautiful Flathead Lake--largest fresh water lake in US

Beautiful Flathead Lake--largest fresh water lake in US

We made it into Missoula just before dark and found my ex-sister-in-laws house. With her seven dogs.  Yes. Seven. Housedogs. Wow. But the dachshunds are very well trained, and it’s going well.  The irony is, of course, that I haven’t spoken to my ex in years–but his sister and I get along just fine and have very similar opinions on families, politics, natural living and so on.

The other reason I’m excited to be here is that my latest fiction work is set in Missoula and the mountain north of here, so it gives me the chance to gather relevant details.  I sipped iced chocolate hazelnut coffee in Butterfly Herb Co., the very shop where my heroine is a barista. Very inspirational.

We checked out several locations around town, and I realized I’m going to have to change the place where I put my heroine’s apartment. The  building where we used to live isn’t there any more! So I’m scoping out some local Realtors, asking where someone of her means might be able to rent, likely by the University somewhere.

We also went to a delightful kids’ space called Caras Park, where they have a carousel and a playground that Ditto Boy and Little Miss found wonderful. For 50 cents, they got five minutes of a very speedy spin–Little Miss must have been in heaven. They went five times!

taking a spin

taking a spin

where's that Ben Hur guy...? Driver?

where's that Ben Hur guy...? Driver?

After the whirlwind tour of the city, we ate a late lunch at a fabulous barbecue place and retreated to the SIL’s house for the night.  Early dinner, early bed I think, and then we head south to catch up with my best friend in Cali and then B in the Sierra Nevadas! Job well done so far.

Onward and…onward

People who have traveled with me know I can be a travel Nazi very efficient guide. We get where we need to be. Even if everyone hates me by the time we’re there.

After we logged 1400 miles in two days, however, I decided the kids needed a break. We took a swim after breakfast instead of packing the car. Then we started on Rapid City, South Dakota tourist crap. (YAY!)

First the boys had picked out the Dinosaur Park. This attraction sits on the top of a hill in Rapid City, and the only cost for entrance is the climb up the hill–89 steps. The kids, of course, sprinted upward and I came more sedately. Sure enough, there are giant dinosaurs, and you can climb all over them.

Picturegroup 2 006

After that excitement, we took the road south to Mount Rushmore. Yes, Virginia, one must have educational content, dang it. But the troops were duly impressed and didn’t even have the discussion, as K did when we did the trip 10 years ago, about whether you could in fact see up George Washington’s nose for boogers.

Picturegroup 2 011

Then we went west for our last tourist attraction of the day, Devil’s Tower in Wyoming. The rangers were very good with the children, and helped them become Junior Rangers.  Ranger Scott was not so impressed when I asked what time the aliens would be there that night. Killjoy.

Picturegroup 2 025

We got a little sidetracked on the way out of the park, and ended up on a back road off to the east.  About 20 miles up the road we got caught in a microburst and the oddest thing happened around the wind and hail–a full-arc rainbow preceded us by about a quarter of a mile for 15 minutes. It was incredible! One of those blessing in disguise moments.

Lastly, the knock-your-socks-off, jaw-dropping beauty of the Rocky Mountains. Count this as your next thousand words:

Magnificent mountains

Magnificent mountains

And on we go.