Thursday, July 19, 2007

Yellowstone National Park

We spent Monday-Thursday morning in Yellowstone. Weather was great, sunny and 80 during the day and 45 at night with no mosquitoes. It is an amazing park and lives up to the hype in many ways. The wildlife, scenery, and geology (the valley is actually a dormant volcano caldera 50 miles across) are all top notch. The only negative things that we can say about the park are that you have to pay for showers in most of the campgrounds ($3.25) and the traffic… my god, the traffic. There are “wildlife jams” in several areas that always form in the afternoon similar to any town rush hour. We are talking bumper-to-bumper backups that stretch for a couple of miles. The reason isn’t really the volume of cars, it is the ridiculous amount of buffalo, coyotes, wolves, bears, elk, moose, and deer in the park and the people stopping in the middle of the road to take pictures. Sara and I had patience for it at first because when we first saw buffalo in Custer State Park, we stopped in the road and took pictures too, but these folk are ridiculous… they probably have never seen anything more than a squirrel on their patio, so the site of 1000 buffalo on the side of the road is rather intoxicating and not good for traffic flow.

Traffic issues aside the wildlife is great, we have seen all of the above and then some. We saw Old Faithful (giant geyser shooting water 100 feet up) and the hot springs, all cool but not stellar in our book. We did a 2 hour guided horse back ride yesterday which was dusty, but worth it. We rode up some steep grades, down through the forests, around some cliffs and finished through a large valley (we felt like we were in a Western movie). A highlight of the ride, was the large black bear that we saw 20 yards off the path in the woods tearing into a carcass. No one saw it until it was too late so we were right up on him without much warning. He looked up and watched us in between mouthfuls, but didn’t seem to be interested in messing with 20 horses.

On Wednesday we did an 11 mile hike to Observation Peak (about 9500 feet). This was a major backcountry hike, deep into bear territory. I didn’t think we would see one, but sure enough about 25 minutes in, a black bear crossed in front of us at about 200 yards and then disappeared up a hill. Hiking in bear country brings mixed feelings for us. On one-hand it is exhilarating because you could take one turn around tree or come over a slope and be faced with a 1500 pound man-eater grizzly with or a smaller but still nasty black bear, but on the other also kind of annoying at the same time. In order to reduce the chances of a bad encounter you need to call out something or make noise through out the entire hike in order to not startle the bears if you happen to come upon one. If they know you are coming they will either run away or be less likely to take defensive measures (not good). Our noises consisted of me shouting “hey bear”, clanging my trekking poles and Sara singing the entire Beastie Boys album, “License To Ill” from start to finish. The hike was worth it, but strenuous…about 11 miles roundtrip and a quick 3000 foot ascent over some rocky terrain with bear tracks next to ours the entire time… a little freaky.

In summary Yellowstone was great… highly recommended, but watch out for the wildlife jams.

Cody, Wyoming

Home of the world famous Cody Rodeo, 7 days a week. No, we didn’t go. Actually, we really wanted to but it was blowing rain sideways so we opted for a hotel instead of camping. We got beers and buffalo burgers at "The Irma". The Irma was Buffalo Bill’s hotel that he built as a stepping stone for rich folk coming out to see Yellowstone in the late 1800s. Pretty cool old place and nice little town. We also washed the car for the first time… wow 2500+ miles of bug encrusted dirt is tough to get off… (Gary, you would have been proud of our wash job at the local Flagship). Since we were staying in a motor lodge type place (clean and nice despite the image evoked), it gave us a chance to take everything out of the car, and reset. After living out of the back of your car for a few weeks, even the most well designed system tends to need a reset every now and then. (we also had to dry out the carpet in the back a bit because we had a small water spill). We got up early and headed to Yellowstone in Northwest Wyoming.

A wise wife once said...

“No cross country-trip is complete without a speeding ticket.” I (Chris) would like to send a big shout out to the Deputy Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane from Wapiti County. I got pulled over in the middle of nowhere… let me repeat… nowhere, for doing 81 in a 65. Compared to Georgia or D.C. area tickets, this one was a bargain I thought… $88 and I didn’t even have to pay on the spot. He gave me a pre-addressed envelope to mail my check… Wyoming people are nice. He spared me the “do you know the speed-limit?” bit, I spared him the “my cruise-control must be broken” bit and we were on our way.

For all you cat lovers out there, Fresh-step cat liter is made 10 miles from where I got my ticket... from the looks of the ground and surrounding areas, I think they scoop it up and put it in the bag directly from the ground outside the factory… the sun bakes the ground to a crisp there and it looks like cat liter… the town looks like a giant litter box.

Wyoming - gap in updates

Sorry summeroff2007 readers for the large gap in posts, but there is absolutely no wi-fi or broadband cell service in most of Wyoming or Yellowstone National Park… business idea anyone? We just found some in Jackson, Wyoming so read on.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Custer State Park, Custer SD

Sadly, since we are on our trip we had to miss a wedding this weekend for two good friends of ours, Ben Custer and Shannon Byrne. As luck would have it however, we spent the entire weekend in Custer, South Dakota so we were sort of there in spirit.

Custer State Park should be a national park, it is amazing. The infrastructure and facilities are great and the sites to see are even better. We saw Mount Rushmore, a classic tourist attraction and while the sculpture of the faces in the rock is impressive, we found much more delight from the natural scenery in the park. On Saturday we drove a winding road up to about 6000 feet and spent the morning hiking through granite gorges, hardwood forests and a beautiful alpine lake called Sylvan Lake. That evening we went on the park’s nature drive (40 mile loop) and visited with about 300 of the park’s 1500 free-roaming Buffalo in the southern grassland portion. Once there were millions roaming the plains and then by the turn of the century we had killed all but 500 of them on the entire continent. What a perfect example of how efficient and extremely destructive/wasteful of our resources that we Americans can be.

We came over a hill and there was a herd of about 300 standing around the road. We rolled up and took about 50 pictures. They burped and moo’ed and ran around and did buffalo things… it will end up being a highlight of the trip for both of us.

This morning we got up and did a run around another lake that our campsite was by. When people tell you it is harder to workout or run/hike at altitude, believe them. Sara and I ran for about 30 minutes over some winding medium hills and were exhausted… it feels like you are pulling a bag of bricks.

Off to Yellowstone in Wyoming this week. We stopped in at Flying J truck stop to update this… the only internet within two hundred miles, but they do have a Starbucks in Gillette WY, so it is on the map by most people’s standards.

The Badlands – Western SD

We made it to our first “real” national park today, the Badlands. The weather has been relatively nice over the past few days, mostly in the mid to high 80’s, but it was HOT in the Badlands.

The landscape began to change as we got closer to the park, and the rock structures of the Badlands were a stark contrast to the miles and miles of open farmland we had spent the past day in.

We had planned on camping in the park that night, but as we drove through and took in the sights, while it was beautiful, we weren’t intrigued by any of the short hikes available in the park. So we did the RV tour, parked at the overlooks, took some pictures, marveled at how soft the stone seemed as we crawled out on some ledges to get a better view, and laughed at the people in the campground with no trees for shelter or shade in the 90-degree heat. After that, we continued our trip west for the night to Custer State Park