Thursday, May 31, 2012

Yellowstone: For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People

Yellowstone. It is all you imagine it to be. Picturesque snow-capped mountains, wide valleys teaming with wildlife, marvelous thermal features and an ecosystem more diverse than you have ever experienced. 

When Congress signed into existence the World’s First National Park in 1872, they changed the way unique lands are preserved for future generations to enjoy. In those days the park was home to only a few bison as they were nearly extinct and soon after wolves, considered a nuisance, were removed from the park ecosystem. Back then it took great lengths to even get to Yellowstone. It’s lodges and facilities something for the very rich.

Yellowstone has evolved. The park is still awe-inspiring. It will still  blow your mind as it did for those who came to see it back in the 19th century. After all, you are standing in the largest supervolcano on the continent. Today’s Yellowstone is home to 67 species of mammals, of which include bison, black bear, grizzly, pronghorn, elk, moose, Canadian lynx and grey wolf. Its nearly 3,500 square miles contain half of the world’s geothermal features and is home to the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, the largest remaining, nearly intact ecosystem in the earth’s northern temperate zone.

Every time we go (this is our 4th trip) we experience something new. This year it was the hair-raising cliff hugging road that extends from Canyon to Tower-Roosevelt and from there to Mammoth. This route took us over Dunraven Pass (8859ft), a section of road that is closed to traffic most of the year due to poor conditions. This was the first opportunity we had to take the scenic route and we jumped at the chance. The area promised a higher concentration of grizzly bears and mountain goats. The entire stretch of this 2 lane road teeters precariously along the edges of Observation and Prospect Peaks without the comfort of a guardrail of any kind. I found myself pressing my foot steadily on my imaginary break pedal while clutching white knuckled the center console and telling Paul in my most calm voice to slow down. A glance out the window provided a dizzying drop into the canyons and valleys below. One fowl move and we were toast. When we reached the point of no return, it started to snow. The hairs on my neck stood up as I pictured us with no snow tires slipping off into the abyss. Paul kept exclaiming that he couldn’t believe this road was even open to the public. I concur. We will not be traversing it again, which is a shame since it is the only in park route to the Lamar Valley, the parks greatest concentration of animals. Last year because of several avalanches Lamar Valley was the only part we were able to see and it was well worth it.

Yellowstone in May is unpredictable. Up until Monday it had been snowing heavily and the East Entrance, which we had intended to use, was closed due to poor conditions. Luckily, a little rain and some snowplowing allowed us to take this route through the Wapiti Valley on the Theodore Roosevelt Scenic Byway, which is considered the “50 most beautiful miles in America”. And it is.

We entered into a winter wonderland. At our first opportunity we stopped at lovely (and frozen) Sylvan Lake to play in the snow. We skipped the sled, snow pants and winter boots this year thinking that there wouldn’t be enough snow. Although we didn’t need the sled, we certainly missed the snow pants and boots. The snow was 3 feet deep and in many spots not packed enough to stand on. As we played we frequently found ourselves sinking up to our crotch in the wet white stuff. Fun while you’re playing, not so much when you have to get back in the car all cold and wet. It was the perfect kind of snow for making snowballs and snowmen. We made a nice 4 foot snowman with pinecone eyes, a stick smile and an actual carrot nose. Would you believe our luck when I opened a package of mini carrots to find a nice 4 inch one? Perfect for our snowman!

Not long after we started driving again we came across our first “Bear Jam”. If you have not had the pleasure of going to Yellowstone, you may not know what a Bear Jam is. There is only one way to get a traffic jam in the park. Well one main way anyway. And that is an animal crossing the road. This could easily be a moose jam or a bison jam…but this particular time it was a Bear Jam. A momma grizzly and her little cub were strolling down the middle of the road rather than trudge through the snowy drifts alongside. I can understand the desire to take the easy route, but the cars still needed to get through the pass and so the rangers nudged them back onto the side. We enjoyed watching them climb higher and higher through the snow and disappear into the trees. Every now and then they look annoyingly back at the group of gawkers who caused them to take the harder route.
The next stop on our list was Sydney’s request: Old Faithful. She had been watching Yellowstone Podcasts on my iPhone for months and wanted to give us a tour of the area. We arrived with an hour to spare before the next eruption, give or take 10 minutes. A stroll around the pools and geysers located around Geyser Hill took up the additional time. We saw steaming bright blue pools bubbling over, their cooling micro-organisms creating bright yellow and orange crusts at the edges. Small geysers spewing sulfur enriched water and large geyser cones quietly awaiting their turn to erupt. They were all interesting, but none was as impressive as Old Faithful. We made it back to the beginning of the boardwalk just in time to catch a spot on the edge of the massive crowd. And right on schedule, Old Faithful spouted fourth a gush of hot water into the air.

At this point it was getting pretty late, so we hit the road again and took that crazy path through Dunraven Pass. I still think it was completely insane and it was my idea. I had no idea what we were getting into. I only wish I had some pictures to show you how alarming it was! We made it to Mammoth with no time to spare. We HAD to get back on the interstate and fast. So we crossed into Montana with an ETA at the hotel of 9:30pm. The kids were so awesome. No complaints, or crying as we trudged 5 more hours!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Wyoming: Like No Place On Earth

Ah-mazzzing. That's my one word to describe Wyoming. Although I know that doesn't accurately illustrate what makes it one of my favorite places. It's just hard to sum it up.

Wyoming is a feeling. As we drive across the wide open grasslands edged by snow-topped mountains, sage dotted hills, into deep canyons, alongside clear streams and dashing pronghorn antelopes I can feel joy welling up inside me. I vividly imagine pioneers heading west across the plains and their spirit enters me. I feel the freedom of the space on the earth here and into the sky. It is the most ecologically diverse and freeing place I've ever been. And if you haven't has the pleasure, add Wyoming to your bucket list.

This morning we slept in a bit and after a nice breakfast at the hotel we hit the road. Driving in Wyoming is like playing a video game. The roads are open and you can see for miles. It is a pleasure to be at the wheel! We saw 100's of pronghorn antelopes on the roadside grazing on the sagebrush. It should have come as no surprise since WY is home to 2/3 of the worlds population of pronghorn.
About 40 miles outside Casper we stopped at Hell's Half Acre. This place is eerie! But worth a lookie-loo. I read that they filmed 1997's Starship Troopers there. It definitely seems out of this world!

We arrived in Cody in the late afternoon. Plenty of time to wander around Old Trail Town. An old city created from old cabins from around the area. It's the perfect stop for a family of history buffs.
We got the best news tonight, the East Entrance to Yellowstone is OPEN! Because of all the snow they had this weekend, we were concerned it would be closed. And it was for a few days, but this afternoon it was reopened. We are all very excited for tomorrow.

Happy Trails!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Amarillo to Cheyenne

Wow! What a great day! Another 600 miles behind us on our drive from Amarillo, Texas to Cheyenne, Wyoming. We made quite a few stops today, but they were all worth the time. In Colorado Springs we stopped at Seven Falls to check out the falls, canyon and hike around. It was very cool! Well, worth the trip. First we took the elevator up 140 feet to The Nest for the best view of the falls. We could have hiked up to the platform, but walking from the car up to the falls was more exerting than we had planned because of the altitude. Forgot about that factor! We still made the big climb up to the top of the falls. Juliane and I made it half way up, but her fear of heights prevented us from making the second near vertical staircase. Sydney bravely hiked the rest of the way with Paul. I have to admit that the trek down was a bit nerve wracking. I was worried about the kids falling. It was a LOOOONG way down to the bottom.
We couldn't have timed our trip to Seven Falls better. There was a Native Indian dance performance. Juliane was asked up on stage to dance. She loved every second. Sydney could have gone too, but she wouldn't dare.
After hiking around the falls we hit the road for Denver. I was very excited to see my friend Liv and finally meet her son, Jesy. We met 17 years ago in Costa Rica. She was my first room mate and during the years I lived there we were inseparable. When I married Paul, Livie was my Maid of Honour. So, when she moved to Denver last month, you can imagine my excitement. It was perfect timing for us to meet up. At 5 o'clock our families met at Chili's in the 16th Street Mall shopping district in downtown Denver. It was like we were never apart all these years!
We had another successful day in the car. The kids were excellent. Sydney is such a funny child. She keeps us laughing all day. We had to chuckle at this converstation earlier:
Sydney: Mom, maybe I should get a job doing an MRI when I grow up.
Me: Umm. An MRI? Really? (look at Paul with raised eyebrows)
Sydney: Yeah, an MRI. What do they have to do exactly?
Paul: Do you know what an MRI is?
Juliane: Mom, what's an MRI?
Sydney: I know, its a CATSCA-AN! (major southern accent here)
Paul and I: widen our eyes
Me: How do you know that?
Sydney: From Melmin the giraffe!
All: errupt in laughter.
Tomorrow, we thankfully have a shorter drive, so we are all going to sleep in until 6am!
Sweet Dreams!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

To Stop or Not To Stop That is the Question

To stop or not to stop that is the question.

When you know you have to cover 500 or 600 miles in a day,
you become a slave to the clock. We constantly are watching the GPS forour
estimated arrival time and gauge every stop to pee, eat or play by whether we
have enough time. Thankfully on the way to Canada time is our friend. As we
move further and further west we gain hours by the time change. Today is one of
those magical days where we have extra time. Already in the schedule we have
planned to stop at Seven Falls in Colorado Springs and in Denver for dinner
with friends.

On route between Texas and New Mexico we saw an Ornate Box
Turtle crossing the road while we were cruising along at 75MPH. Paul exclaimed,
“did you see that box turtle!” as he started to slow down. I could tell he was
considering turning around. But that would be against our main road trip rule:
NEVER BACKTRACK. So after much humming and hawing we continued on. This time
everyone was on red alert. Before too long we came across another. And perhaps
I should have started this blog with a note on how much we love turtles. We
have our little Shelly a red-eared slider at home that we found as a hatchling
by our lake. We have always wanted a box-turtle and have been looking for
several years to find one.

And so Paul slammed on the breaks and backed up (not
actually backtracking since we didn’t turn around). When we got to the turtle,
several cars were coming so he couldn’t get out to pick up the little guy. We
sat through 2 cars and a semi-truck straddle him as he skittered around the
highway in their tailwind. And the whole car breathed a collective sigh when he
survived unscathed. Having backed up to “save” him from oncoming cars only to
watch him get squashed would have been too much to bear.

He is not shy and quite friendly. We all wish we could just
take him with us, but he wouldn’t make the border crossing to Canada. I am sure
it would be quite illegal to try to smuggle a wild turtle across an
international border! Anyway, we couldn’t just part ways quickly, so it came
with us in the car between rest stops. He road with us in style in the clear
plastic bottom of a lunchable sandwich box. The girls have decided to call him
Mr. T and when we let him go at the rest stop they fed him some carrots.

Playing with the turtle is one of those stops that will be a
take-with-you-forever memory.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Houston to Amarillo, TX

We made it! Our 600 mile Houston to Amarillo leg was a great success. For the very first time we made it through the Day One without insane weather issues. Our first year there were tornadoes just outside Dallas...which should probably have been our warning not to go through Dallas (the traffic can be horrendous in the morning). Our second year the tornadoes were a little further north in Oklahoma and Kansas.
The endless plains and big blue sky accompanied us through most of the drive. Sage brush dotted hills scarred by last years drought fires, a grim reminder of those long dry smoky days in 2011. The landscape is still crudely chopped by dry red-clay river beds which tell a fortune best left unsaid. I am reminded every year when we make the Houston to Amarillo haul that Texas is truly flat. I know my fellow Texans are loudly protesting, "What about the hill country? or Big Bend?" "There are hills in Texas! It ain't completely flat!" As a mountain girl, I am telling you...Texas is pretty darn flat. And there is nothing wrong with that because as you all know, Texas is a beautiful state. I love Texas! But after 12 hours, it does indeed get old.

The girls were great. I believe they have truly become accustomed to our annual voyage. They had fun entertaining themselves with new coloring books, movies and family sing-a-longs to old Glen Campbell songs (video to come!).

We made it the whole way without any tears or too many are-we-there-yet's. We stopped in Wichita Falls for a picnic lunch.

Right off the interstate there is a nice park, Lucy Park where the real falls is located. The break offered the girls some time to stretch their legs and for all of us to just get out of the car for a bit. We ate in the shade of a large Cypress tree grove. It was deceptively cool out of the sun and so after we finished we decided to take a little walk to see the falls. Once we entered the sunshine we were overwhelmed by the heat and humidity. It was just TOO hot! So we escaped back to the comfort of the AC in our car with dreams of playing in the hotel pool.
Amarillo was a welcome sight when we pulled into the city limits. We rushed to our room, jumped into swimsuits, grabbed towels and dashed down to the pool. Although it was almost 100 degrees, the pool felt like we were embarking on a polar bear swim in January. BURR! The girls were out of luck to get mom into the water. I did put my feet in, but even that was a stretch. Later they admitted that it was icy and didn't lay the guilt on too thick. Tomorrow I will have to make up for it!
This year we are adding online tracking if you are wondering our whereabouts. You can click on the InstaMapper map below to follow our progress. We considered a live webcam in the car, but I ran out of time to plan it properly.
I plan to add pictures in the morning. For some reason the hotel wifi signal strength is not strong enough to upload pics. It is driving me crazy, because I have some great ones.
Happy Trails!
GPS tracking powered by

Friday, May 25, 2012

3rd Annual Cross-Country Road Trip!

Yes. We are at it again. Another cross country road trip! You might be thinking, "Are you nuts?" after last years insane weather and youngest daughters protests. And we would reply, "Ummm...yes." And we are still excited for the adventure! Like childbirth, after a year has passed we remember the great memories, the take-with-you-forever experiences. The unfortunate stuff (tornados, avalanches and crabby kids) becomes either forgotten or another one of those tall-tales you tell your friends and family during the holidays.

This year, we have decided to make some changes. From experience we have decided to avoid tornado alley during its peak season. So no Oklahoma or Kansas for us this year. Usually we are thrilled to be finally exiting the great State of Texas. It is such a huge state that it takes endless (and sadly rather boring) hours to get out of it in any direction. The kids think this is a grand problem to have as we will be able to swim outside in the balmy heat when we arrive in Amarillo tomorrow night. Outdoors in the heat is considered much better than in a freezing indoor pool where the prospect of Mommy actually getting in the pool is rather slim.

This year we will be hitting 7 States in 5 days: Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho and Washington State. And so the itinerary looks like this for the next 5 days:

Day One: Houston - Amarillo, Texas /  600 miles  / 12 hours with stops

  •                via Dallas/Fort Worth and Lunch in Witchita Falls

Day Two: Amarillo, Texas - Cheyenne, Wyoming  /  533 miles / 12 hours with stops

  •                  via Raton, New Mexico then up I 25 through Colorado. Visit to Seven Falls just outside Colorado Springs and then dinner in Denver with my VERY close friend Livie from Costa Rica!! Can't wait!!
Day Three: Cheyenne - Cody, Wyoming  /  392 miles  /  7 hours with stops

  •                  via Douglas, Wyoming for a visit to the great Jackalope and then a stop in Casper, WY for our LAST Starbucks before Missoula, MT. How will we ever survive you ask??? We still don't know!
Day Four: Cody, Wyoming - Missoula, Montana  /  500 miles  /  12 hours with hikes and stops

Day Five: Missoula, Montana to Abbotsford, BC CANADA!!  /  588 miles  /  12 hours with stops

  •                via Idaho and Washington State. Day Five is our last day on the road. We drive through some beautiful mountains down into the farmland of Idaho and Washington. Finishing with a winding climb through the Cascade Mountains. We will pull into Seattle, as is our tradition, for some tasty grub and a visit to the Fish Market on the waterfront. Maybe even stick some gum on the famous Gum Wall.
Oooooh I cannot wait! Sydney was so excited she could hardly fall asleep. I am so happy we can make this awesome memory for the girls. The car is packed, the kids entertainment center is loaded (pictures to come). Well, I promised myself I would get to bed before 9 and its past already...

Nighty Night!