Things are strange right about now. We’ve come off the road and are back on MDI, long enough to put our house on the market. (Anyone want a house on the Maine Coast, right outside Acadia National Park? Anyone?)
We’ve had a great time this past year and are looking forward to more adventures to come! But it is time for a bit of retrospection and possibly introspection.
How to describe the year? We can put some numbers on it:
359 days, door to door
858 hours of driving
27,851 total miles driven (Kathe has well over 25,000 of our miles!)
20,070 miles with the trailer. It is hard to believe that we roamed over 7,000 miles without the trailer. That was all day trips!
2 wonderful grandchildren for 3 weeks
28 National Parks, Wildlife Refuges, Monuments, etc.
30,206 pictures (And you thought we had posted a lot of pics!)
But those don’t really give a flavor of what we have experienced. If you have been following the blog you’ve seen many of the things we’ve seen, but not felt the impact of the openness of the west, nor had the many conversations we’ve had along the way.
The people we have met have been uniformly friendly, helpful, and as willing to share their journey with us as we have with them. Need a tool? Sure! Just put it on the table when you’re done.
Occasionally we’ve run across people who try to get into politics, but it has been very rare. Mostly, conversations have been about travel, enjoying the outdoors, families, rigs, and life experiences.
This country is huge! Having lived our entire lives in the Northeast, we had never known anything but the relatively dense population there. Once across the Mississippi river, you start to be aware that you’re driving for many miles without seeing any structure or other evidence of people.
Our country is beautiful, and varied (witness the 30,206 pictures)! We kept commenting to each other about beautiful scene after beautiful scene as we drove along . We had to be careful not to stop too frequently for photography, or we would have never gotten to our next destination.
When we started, we wondered what it would be like, to be sharing a roughly 300+/- square foot “house” with basically two rooms. We’re happy to report that it hasn’t been a problem at all.
When we started, we said that we’d live full time in our RV for a year before deciding whether to sell our house on Mount Desert Island. The six-month mark came, and we started to make those plans. Now that we’re at the year point and back on the island, we know that it is still the right answer for us.
We’re rattling around in our “large” (compared to the trailer) house, wondering why we ever thought we need so much space—and stuff. As we get ready to sell our house we have to part with things from our past. Most of that seems to not be a problem, but other things, like about 50 years of pictures… well, that is a bit harder. And as most men who have made this transition will tell you… “My tools!” Yeah, I won’t have all my tools! Being brought up with the viewpoint that it was important to have the right tool for whatever it is you’re trying to do, it is really hard to get rid of my tools.
Hard to get rid of in another way is all of our ham radio equipment. There’s just not much of a market for it. While we (especially Kathe) will still be involved in ham radio on the road, it will be done in a different way. Small radios. Small antennas (a bit of an oxymoron, that). There is no room in our 36′ trailer for a ninety foot plus antenna tower, and antennas that measure over 40′ by 20′ on top of the tower. So a lot to get rid of.
We know that we’ll need to come off the road at some point, determined either by health (no news there!) or by a yearning to settle down. But right now, that seems like a long way off. We’ve absolutely loved our past year and are looking forward to continuing for the foreseeable future. We hope that you’ve enjoyed traveling along with us, and that you’ll continue to share our adventure.
We’re still the Lobsters, but, for a while at least, we’re no longer “on the loose.” So we’ll take a break from the blog and pick it up again when we’re back on the road—probably in early October.
When we started shopping seriously for an RV and a tow vehicle, we knew we wanted something that could accommodate a couple of our grandchildren traveling with us at a time. We chose an RV with a pull-out sofa bed AND a truck with a crew cab and plenty of legroom for growing kids. Even before purchasing Rhett (RV) and Scarlett (our ruby red F350), we started dreaming about when we might be able to have our two oldest grandsons join us for an extended vacation.
We began planning with Graham and Dean more than a year and a half ago and asked them what national parks they’d like to visit. We knew it would be summer of 2019 and by then they’d be 13-1/2 and 11. They first mentioned wanting to see Arches and Canyonland; we put our heads together and planned an amazing itinerary that would include all of the national parks in Utah as well as the North Rim of the Grand Canyon and maybe even the Petrified Forest NP.
At Christmastime, we enlisted the boys’ help to research each of the parks in Utah—what specific places/hikes within the parks would they like to try? We chose dates and we started making reservations at campgrounds along the way — people warned us over and over about how blistering hot it would be in the summer so we made sure that we’d have full hook-ups (and air conditioning) at every stop.
To say that these last three weeks have been everything we hoped for would be a tremendous understatement. Graham and Dean have been the most wonderful traveling companions—incredibly helpful, appreciative, curious, flexible, and hilarious! We have had such a fabulous time laughing and living together—we are REALLY going to miss them!
The most recent blog post (authored by Dean) covered our adventures through July 9th. After that, we spent time in Zion National Park, the north rim of the Grand Canyon, and the Petrified Forest NP (including the Painted Desert). The boys visited Walnut Canyon National Monument with Grandpa on the last day of our adventure.
Al was really excited that we’d be able to spend time at Zion; we had visited it VERY briefly 30 years ago (when our kids were 11 and 7) and Al had really looked forward to returning for a more complete visit.
In contrast to Bryce, Zion was incredibly warm. We topped out at 111 degrees! Our campground was about 14 miles from the entrance to the park. We were able to drive into the community of Springdale where we picked up a free shuttle into the park and transferred onto a free park shuttle. When there are shuttles running, no private cars are allowed into most areas of the park.
We got up early in the morning (before the heat of day) to hike the Riverside Walk up to the start of the Narrows. The shuttles were pretty busy(*) and we noticed many folks with special waterproof shoes and walking sticks. These items are available for rent for the brave souls who would actually walk up through the water-filled canyon–we talked to a couple of women who had walked in to where the water was up to their waist. One of them tripped and fell into the water (but luckily didn’t damage her expensive camera).
(*) Pro tip: The shuttles are very busy with 45 minute to one hour waits at the visitor center even as early as 7:00 AM. If you arrive at the park relatively early, drive up to the first stop, the Museum, and board the shuttle there. You’ll have to stand, but you can get on with no line! I don’t know when the museum parking fills, but there was lots of space there when we went by at a bit past 8:00.
We only went to up to the point where the trail moves into the riverbed. Maybe another time we’ll go up the river a bend or two but even going only this far the canyon shows many different faces.
Walking alongside the river was a great time to learn about fast shutter speed photography, to stop the motion of the water!
The land is home for the wildlife; we are just visitors.
The valley section containing the canyon and Narrows is in the west side of the park. Our second day in the park, the boys and Al went to the east side, where the geography is very different.
Al: To go between east and west one must go through a long, narrow, twisty tunnel. Our dually pickup Scarlet was too large to go through with traffic flowing both directions, so we had to wait for westbound traffic to be shut down so that we (and many others) could go east. The Ranger’s last words to us before we entered: “Drive in the middle.” Talk about “it goes without saying!”
We saw so many large vehicles waiting in line both directions that I think it likely the tunnel never sees two-way traffic during the summer. But even so, we couldn’t take Rhett through if we wanted to (we didn’t), because it is too tall!
The geography in the east side of the park is very different. It is pretty much wide open, with sloping sandstone hills showing very distinct layers. Graham, Dean, and I had a great time scrambling on the rocks in a few places. We would have done more, but the heat limited our willingness to be out of the truck’s air conditioning for a longer time!
There are still peaks on the east side, but overall the area is much more open.
From Zion, we went to the north rim of Grand Canyon National Park. We camped in Jacob Lake about 42 miles north of the park–it was the closest campground with electric hookups (air conditioning is essential to us in Arizona in the summer). A sign near our campground at the start of AZ-67 said “This road is not plowed in the winter and not patrolled at night.” It quickly became apparent why. This is basically a very long driveway to the North Rim; there is virtually nothing for the whole distance.
Nothing, that is, but some cattle and bison, and one gas station selling gas and diesel at obscene prices. A monopoly!
Brother Graham framing up a picture of the canyon…
We’ll let the grandeur of the canyon speak for itself, as words can’t improve on it.
Unbelievably, after visiting the Grand Canyon it was time for the last National Park of our time together. But first, a quick stop after driving to our next campground.
It is not often that you get to be next to a (dead? dormant?) volcano. Sunset Crater Volcano erupted about 900 years ago, so it is relatively new, geologically speaking. The cone is still covered with lava “pebbles.” (Sorry for not knowing the right term; somebody please fill me in.) Nature hasn’t taken the ground back with vegetation. Also, there are huge chunks of lava jumbled about. It is really quite interesting to walk through.
For many years hiking was allowed on the cone. This resulted in paths that were waist deep through the lava pebbles. Restoration efforts were made by shoveling many tons of pebbles back into the tracks. The scars from this are still slightly visible, but we didn’t get any good pictures of that.
The National Monument was created in response to a movie company wanting to dynamite the cone to create a landslide for a scene! The locals said heck no, and pushed for the creation of the Monument. Phew!
There are secondary outlets from the volcano, and their mounds are called “spatter cones.” They are very fragile, and many of them are no longer complete.
Nature is trying to re-vegetate the land, but it is slow going.
Sunset Crater Volcano was named because later eruptions expelled a reddish, instead of black, rock, covering the rim and lower slopes with red. This reminded some of a sunset. Or so the story goes!
The calling card of Petrified Forest NP is of course the abundance of petrified wood—huge logs of rock. But it offers so much more: the remains of an ancestral Puebloan village, petroglyphs, the Painted Desert, and more.
Petrified wood is formed as mineral laden water migrates into the cellular structure of the wood. Different materials such as iron oxide cause different colors. It is beautiful!
You can still see the tree’s structure preserved in the rock. The park said that there are some logs here where you can count the rings, but we didn’t find them.
All of those pictures were taken walking through a one mile loop behind the visitors’ center. Then we drove through the park stopping at several of the view points.
This was a short stop very near where we were camping, on the morning of our last day together.
Despite heavy looting in the late 1800s and early 1900s, many cliff dwellings still remain in this canyon.
The “Island Trail” is a loop trail. When we were here several years ago in a February, the trail was only passable part way because of ice. This year the trail is only passable part way due to trail maintenance. Fortunately, it closed the other half, so across two trips Al was able to see the whole trail.
The side that is now open has much more extensive dwellings right along the trail. Some can be entered, some are posted to keep out
We have such easy lives. Imagine that you had to carry your food, and water up or down a cliff every day—several hundred feet of nearly sheer rock face, either way. How did they get Amazon deliveries? Oh… Wait.
Then we spent the rest of our last day together getting ready for the trip home and playing games. Then Al had to say “goodbye,” and drive us to the airport. It was a great visit with Graham and Dean, everything we’d hoped for and so much more!
On the Fourth of July, we didn’t really do that much. Well, we did go see the new Spider-man movie. (Far From Home) We figured out through “loads of researching” about Moab where the fireworks would be. (In a central area with no trees) We drove up to a organizer/helper person to find where the best spot would be. He told us to “Keep driving up this road, then turn left at ‘Potato Salad Hill'” We told him thanks, then burst out laughing. Potato Salad Hill? But alas, it was a real thing! We found a spot part way up the hill, and set up shop. We set up Grandma’s little Canon G12 that I was using, and Grandpa’s big Canon on tripods. We had the location of the fireworks completely wrong! We thought they were to be to our right, but they ended up on our left! Even though there were high fire precautions, we still saw at least 5. Thankfully, they all got extinguished before they were too big.
On the fifth, Grandma’s shoulder hurt too badly to join us, so we 3 boys went down to the Needles District of Canyonlands NP. On the way to the Needles District, we pulled over to see “Newspaper Rock,” a site of many petroglyphs.
We started at the ‘Cave Spring’ trail, a .6 mile loop going up 2 ladders and going under some mushroom rocks. The mushroom rocks provided some shade from the hot sun.
The ladders were a disappointment. We were expecting some big log ladders. The ‘big’ ladders turned out to be two seven or eight rung ladders.
We did another hike at Pothole Point. It’s a really cool hike, getting its name from the indentations in the rock. After the summer monsoons, the potholes fill up with life. They contain microscopic bacteria that can hibernate during the dry season, then pipe up with life after the monsoons.
On the sixth, we set course for Torrey, UT for Capitol Reef NP. We had gotten a recommendation for Goblin Valley SP. Goblins are small (ish) stone spires that you can climb on. This was the stop I was most excited about. (Thanks Jay Darrin!) It was AWESOME! Graham and I played Hide & Seek among the spires. Grandpa got a $5 permit to fly Butterfly (the drone) around the park, getting some great video.
On the seventh, we went to Capitol Reef NP. We tried to go to the visitor’s center, but the parking lot was so small, it was filled up even though there were only about 15 cars there. So we went on, hoping to come back later. We saw some old farm equipment, including a prehistoric can of WD-40! Not really, but it was pretty old. I guess the old saying’s true! “All you need in life is a can of WD-40 and a roll of duct tape. If something doesn’t move and it should, use WD-40. If some moves and it shouldn’t, use the duct tape.” We didn’t see any duct tape though.
At an orchard and one room schoolhouse, we did see an elk. It crossed the road, and two others joined it. We went back to the visitor’s center and (finally!) got a spot. The orientation film was in a cool little theater. We had Aunt Lee’s Chicken for dinner. (Yum!)
On the eighth, as we drove into Bryce Canyon City, almost all the stuff was Ruby’s this, Ruby’s that. (General store, Inn, RV Park, etc.) We found out that Ruby’s real name was Rubin Syrett. Ebeneezer Bryce found the canyon after losing a cow in it. Ebeneezer set up his home at the rim of a canyon full of hoodoos. (Tall spires of rock.) The canyon was named after him. Many people lived near him and his family, but didn’t know that a beautiful canyon was a few miles from their house. Ruby Syrett was one of them. Legend has it that one day, a stranger came knocking on Ruby’s door, asking if he had seen “Bryce’s Canyon.” Ruby said no, so the stranger took him to see it. Ruby was amazed. In 1919, Ruby and his wife, Minnie, set up a tent to host visitors to the canyon. This business grew and grew, until it is what it is now. Ruby’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren still run all the businesses today! (Sorry for the story time!) On the second night, we went to “Ebeneezer’s Barn And Grill,” a live country music show with a buffet. The music was really good, but obnoxiously loud. We snuck out after a couple songs.
On the ninth, Grandma’s shoulder hurt too much to join us again. So we three boys headed out to do the Navajo Loop trail. The trail went down, into the hoodoos, providing some great sights! The first part was “Wall Street,” a small canyon with three or four really tall Douglas Firs.
We then went up to Sunrise Point, after hiking about two and a half miles. We went back to the camper, exhausted. A good lunch of I-can’t-remember-what juiced us back up though. We went on a short hike called Mossy Cave. It led to a (Duh!) mossy cave. The info sign said that the icicles that form there over the winter can sometimes last until June!
We went back to the first bridge and found a path down to the waterfall at the stream. Grandpa taught us how to “Stop the water” so you can see each individual droplet of water.
That night, there was an astronomy talk at one of the lodges, and after, there was a telescope demo at the visitor’s center. The ‘Dark Ranger’ who was presenting was really funny. The four telescopes showed: a single point of light that is actually two separate stars, the remains of a ring nebula after it exploded, the moon, and Jupiter with its four biggest moons.
Hello! My name is Graham and my brother and I recently flew into Salt Lake City from Rochester via Chicago to start our adventure in Utah. After our flight from Chicago to SLC was delayed two hours, we finally arrived back at the camper with our grandparents.
One of the necessities of the camper was that there was room for grandkids to accompany on trips. As the backseat riders in Scarlet, the truck, Dean and I have only been here since Thursday the 27th. We started planning this trip over a year ago, and it is finally happening.
On our first day here we stayed in a KOA in Salt Lake City, only 10 minutes from the airport. We departed the next morning, heading for Price. In Price we discovered that there was more than we had expected there. Price had only been a short stop on the way to Moab. There we found a cool mining museum, where we met a woman who had just come back from our home, Corning! We found a lot of cool artifacts there, and an old caboose and tie-layer.
The next day we went to the Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry, where over 15,000 bones have been found. The majority of the bones were found in a 60×40 foot area. 70% of the bones were Allosaurus. We then went to Buckhorn Wash, a really nice drive through a long canyon. We stopped at two pictograph and petroglyph panels along the way. Pictographs are painted, petroglyphs are carved or chipped into the stone. We then went to the Wedge Overlook, fittingly deemed the ‘Mini Grand Canyon’.
We departed Price and went to Moab, home of two National Parks, Arches and Canyonlands. We headed to Susie’s Branding Iron for lunch, had delicious food, and headed off to our first day at Arches. We stopped about every two minutes to take pictures, which got old towards the end. At the end, as the boys went to investigate the Windows, Grandma went to find parking. She went to the lower loop and discovered an amazing double arch! I went climbing up under the arch and found a gap under a big rock and found a cool thing to crawl through. We went back to the camper and played a fun game, The Mind.
The next day, we started off to Dead Horse Point State Park, a park near the top of Canyonlands. The reason it has such an odd name is because the cowboys corralled the horses to the point of the park where they picked the best ones to sell and left the rest trapped at the end. The horses died of thirst, while looking out 2000 feet above the Colorado River. The view there is spectacular and we got some great photos. We also saw a potash evaporation facility and a nice guy told us what it was for. The way to get potash is to drill down to it and put water in the hole, then take the potash water and put it in these large pools to evaporate, leaving only the potash. Potash is mainly used for fertilizer.
We then went for “fro yo” and went to a dinosaur amusement park , where there are giant dinosaurs that I had fun photographing. There was also a series of rooms that had a 3D aquarium. The 8th room was a shark attack, and the floor moved when the shark hit the ‘window’ or screen. We then went to get my FAVORITE food, sushi! We ordered a ‘Boat 2’ not knowing it was served on an actual boat! I also tried Octopus for the first time, and I liked it! We went back to the camper and played some of The Mind.
The next day, we woke up super early and left for Arches, so we could do a hike while it was still relatively cool. We set out with the goal to see Landscape Arch, the widest arch in the world, 305 feet. We also saw two smaller arches, Tunnel and Pinetree. We got to the big arch, and me being me, I wanted to climb up the thin, steep, and possibly dangerous next part of the trail. I made it up pretty quickly, and went back down.
We came back to Rhett having agreed to do some Ham Radio work. We have been working to get our licenses for a few months. Grandpa and Dean walked down the road a ways while Grandma and I stayed in the camper and Dean and I used their call signs to communicate. It was pretty fun and we learned a lot doing it. We finished off our day by watching Captain Marvel, and Grandma made some delicious bread pudding.
The next day, we left to our first day at Canyonlands’ Island in the Sky district. We drove out to some cool viewpoints went on two short hikes, the first of which was a short and easy hike to Mesa Arch. The second hike was a bit more uphill, but was a nice hike to the first overlook for Upheaval Dome. Our personal opinion is that it was formed by a meteorite strike, while the other possibility of its formation is a salt dome. We hiked back down and returned to the RV to plan for the next few days.
Finally, we left the camper at about 9:00 to do some star photography at Panorama Point in Arches. We got some cool photos, and towards the end we got the whole viewpoint to ourselves! The people that were already there were mostly there for sunset. We headed back to the camper at about 11 pm.
The first week was really fun, and I look forward to seeing the other state and national parks in Utah.
Arrive by 2:00 (or at least early enough to set up by late afternoon),
Stay at least two nights.
We’re retired, no need to push for long driving days. So when we plan our travels, one of the tasks is “Where to stop?” When we have a longish drive between two major stops, we have to break up the drive across multiple days. So we look on the map at “around” 200 miles, and see what looks promising.
When you notice the name, “Flaming Gorge,” the decision is pretty much made! We’re really glad that we saw that. And also that we decided on three nights!
Flaming Gorge was named by John Wesley Powell in 1869 during his exploration of the west. The name stuck. When you see the reds of the surrounding cliffs, you can see why. Flaming Gorge is one of five distinct gorges/canyons in this stretch of the Green River. This pic is actually just before Flaming Gorge, in Red Canyon.
The gorge area is only about 30 miles from our campground, but it is thirty miles of twisting mountain road. I didn’t realize how strong my fear of edges was until I tried to drive on these. Fortunately, Kathe’s shoulder has now healed enough that she was able to resume her driving duties! Phew…
Geology is big here; there are signs along the roadside giving the current rock formation / era, and sayings like, “Dinosaurs roamed here,” or “Ancient seabed, shells and sand dunes.” Because of the erosion over the millennia, we travel backward and forward through the history of the earth as we drive up and down (or actually, down and up) the hillsides.
Parts of these gorges have been flooded to create the ninety-one mile long Flaming Gorge Reservoir by damming the Green River, the Colorado’s biggest tributary. We were able to take a tour of the 502′ high Flaming Gorge Dam, going down into the turbine room, and out at the downstream base. Thank goodness for elevators!
The dam has of course changed the ecology of the river. Some fish previously in the river are gone. But the Green River downstream of the dam is now apparently a world-class trout fishery. There were lots of very large trout swimming in the eddies of the generating plant outlets, but fishing is not allowed in the immediate downstream area.
As is frequently the case, the top of the dam is a roadway, usually a two direction road except when something like this is trying to cross!
About an hour and a half away from our campground (again over the mountains) lay Dinosaur National Monument. What kid (of any age) can resist dinosaurs? Sure! Let’s go.
Dinosaur NM is quite large, but its gem is just inside the western (nearest to us!) entrance. The “Quarry Exhibit Hall” is an enclosed cliff face of what was originally the river bed of an ancient river. Approximately 1,500 bones are visible here, from ten different species of dinosaurs. The site is estimated to have been formed about 149 million years ago. It was discovered in 1909 by Earl Douglass of the Carnegie Museum when he found eight tail vertebrae of an Apatosaurus (how can they tell???). Many of the fossils discovered here were shipped to museums around the world, but many remain.
Naturally enough, the cliff face and the fossilized bones are pretty uniform in color. This makes discerning the bones somewhat difficult, especially in pictures.
To make it easier to see the bones, I have enhanced the contrast and used edge sharpening in the remainder of these pictures. I should note that the National Park Service does the same thing on its website. (To a greater degree, in my opinion!)
One of the things that makes this site so different is not just the density of preserved bones (which of course are now fossilized, i.e., they are rock, not bone), but also the number of bones that are still articulated—attached to the bones next to them. It is very rare to find skulls still articulated to the cervical vertebrae.
Many species died here. In this picture are large bones from two different species. Across the top is an Apatosaurus scapula. Below it, going from lower left toward the upper right is a Diplodocus scapula. And from lower right toward upper left is an Apatosaurus femur.
Apparently, mostly complete skeletons are exceedingly rare. The NPS publication describing this part of the wall says, “Articulated Skeleton: Paleontologist’s Dream.” This picture is of a nearly complete Camarasaurus. I couldn’t see all of what they were describing, but then, I’m not a paleontologist!
And if I could be permitted a slight aside here, whatever happened to the dinosaur names that I learned as a kid? My grandkids (and this exhibit) and I speak a completely different “language” of dino names! I want my T-Rex back!
Aside to the aside: I really put that in for a bit of humor, but decided to do a little web searching and came across this. Apparently, Apatosaurus and Brontosaurus (Thunder Lizard) were initially thought to be different species, but soon thereafter they were “determined” to be the same, with the animal identified as Apatosaurus being simply a juvenile Brontosaurus. Since the name Apotosaurus was published first, the name Brontosaurus was dropped from the formal nomenclature in the early 20th century, but not from many museum exhibits, nor from popular use. But wait! There’s more! In 2015, a new study “determined” that they are indeed separate species, and that there may be a third closely related species. So I guess I get my Brontosaurus back.
Whatever their names, some of the beasts were BIG! This is a Camarasaurus femur.
Notice that parts of that femur are dark and shiny. That is from the oil on many people’s hands. Most of the gallery is under a “don’t touch” policy, but in some places the kids (again, of all ages!) are invited to touch.
As part of the preservation efforts here, the wall is being monitored for seismic activity. There are strain gauges across many of the cracks, and there are other detectors at several places. I was not able to find a ranger who could identify what those were for.
Dinosaur National Monument is big; we only dipped our toes into the water, so to speak. We did go another mile or so in to “Swelter Shelter,” to see some 1,000 year-old pictographs and petroglyphs, created by the Fremont people. I learned the difference here; the terms are not synonyms. A pictograph is created by staining the surface of the stone, usually with red ocher (ochre if you’re a Brit). A petroglyph is formed by chipping or etching the stone. Both are present at this site, but most are petroglyphs.
Unfortunately, there were also etchings that were less than 1,000 years old. Why do people feel the need to carve their initials into irreplaceable sites like this?
For an “in between” stop in our adventure, this one had some pretty great stuff! Our countries are so full of fascinating nature, history, and people. We keep marveling!
We are about to join with our two oldest grandkids for several weeks, so get ready for some guest bloggers!
“All animals in Yellowstone National Park are wild and dangerous!”
“All wildlife is dangerous! Remain at least 25 yards from any animal. Remain at least 100 yards away from bison and bear.”
“Yellowstone is a Dangerous Place”
These and similar signs are all over Yellowstone. We need to be wary of all the animals!
We did see quite an array of wildlife in the park, in
addition to the chipmunk. We saw bison,
including some close enough to get good pictures of (but far enough to still be
safe). We also saw deer, elk, and an osprey.
No bear (of which I’m very glad), and no moose (of which there are very
few remaining in the park).
There are many dangerous things in the park, as in most of the National Parks. Their wildness is what calls many of us to go to them; it is what makes these places special. Being attacked by wild animals, driving off the edge of a narrow mountain road, or falling into a pool of boiling water are some of the things that can befall a careless or inattentive visitor.
We got a late start on our first day in the park, so we decided to just do the north part of the park (we were staying outside the north entrance). We’d go down the western side through Mammoth Hot Springs, to Norris, across to Canyon, up through Tower, and then back to Mammoth. Here’s a picture of the Yellowstone river near Tower.
We had visited Yellowstone eleven years ago after a service trip to Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota with our church. We were in a small rental car and enjoyed driving in the park. The roads on the east side of the park are quite mountainous, twisty and narrow—a challenge! Fun!
Driving them in a crew cab long bed dually pickup truck (basically, the biggest F350 that Ford makes) is an entirely different experience from driving them in a compact! White knuckle time. Through a good portion of the park, there were no guardrails. And it was hundreds and hundreds of feet to the ground below. We decided to not go to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and the Lamar Valley because they would have required retracing some of that route. But those were the only places we had wanted to visit that we missed. If we go back in the future, we may rent a compact car to make touring the park less terrifying!
The geysers and geothermal pools are, of course, Yellowstone’s calling card. The density of these features is unique in the world. They are unquestionably beautiful and awe inspiring, but you need to be careful. There are boardwalks in many of the dense areas of springs, pools, and geysers, and there are frequent signs warning people to stay on the boardwalks. The “ground” they traverse is often simply a thin coating over a hot spring, most of which will be fatal if a person becomes immersed.
On our previous visit, I watched two men ahead of me on a boardwalk. They came to one of the “Danger! Hot water. Stay on the boardwalk” signs, and one handed the other his camera, stepped off the boardwalk (right next to the sign), and had his friend take a picture of him and the sign. As a former boss of mine was fond of saying, “You can’t fix stupid.” But Darwin clearly missed an opportunity here.
This time, we saw many unattended small children on the boardwalks, some standing on the edge of the boardwalks (there are often no railings), or kneeling at the edge leaning over—presumably, “to get a better view.” As parents, it was very tough to see these situations.
But… these pools and springs are unquestionably beautiful!
The colors of the pools are caused by thermophyllic bacteria, also referred to as “extremophiles.” Different types of bacteria have different colors and live in different water temperature ranges: blue indicates the hottest temperatures, then yellow, then red.
I didn’t get a good picture of it, but the steam drifting above the Grand Prismatic Spring was tinged with the reds and blues of the water.
Quick: what was the Roman Coliseum built out of? Travertine. Didn’t know that myself until a few hours ago. Travertine is a type of rock made by the evaporation of mineral laden water. And it is all over Yellowstone, particularly in the Mammoth Hot Springs and Norris Basin areas.
Over time, the travertine will envelop anything it encounters.
The pools and springs sometimes warn of their danger by
Others are quiet and appear inviting!
Geysers are the other thermal features most people associate with Yellowstone. Some are grand, but erupt unpredictably; others are small and erupt frequently. A few are large and predictable. Eruptions can last for a short time, releasing all their pressure quickly, or they can last for hours. We saw quite a few of the small geysers,
And what visit to Yellowstone National Park is complete without watching Old Faithful erupt?
We had the great pleasure of meeting a member of the Mount Desert Island Search and Rescue team who is now a law enforcement ranger at the Old Faithful District. We hadn’t seen each other since last July, and it was very good to see him again!
We finished our trip by hiking to the Morning Glory Pool. When we visited eleven years ago, it was about six weeks earlier in the year than we were here this time. On our previous visit, the Morning Glory area was closed due to grizzly bear activity in the area, feeding on several bison which had not survived the winter.
Morning Glory has a reputation of being one of the prettiest pools in the park and I was really looking forward to finally getting to see it this time. It was pretty, but I was somewhat disappointed.
It is widely reported that Morning Glory has been damaged by visitors throwing coins and trash into it, and the colors are reportedly not as striking as before; some articles refer to the name “Faded Glory,” The park is making efforts to try to repair the damage, but it is unknown whether it will ever be completely restored.
It was a real treat to be able to explore and enjoy Yellowstone again—it’s a real gem and should be on everyone’s bucket list.
Once we decided (months ago now) to give up our ‘sticks and bricks’ home in Maine and continue our nomadic life as full-time RVers, we needed to choose a state to ‘hang our hat.’
Well, we’ve done it. We’re South Dakotans. In March, we registered our truck and trailer in South Dakota; the registration fees there are much lower than in Maine. All that South Dakota requires for registration is a South Dakota mailing address, and since it is quite possible that the trailer and truck will never be in Maine again, there was no point in leaving them registered there. We were able to do the registrations entirely through the mail, which resulted in the following conversation being held several times with campground “neighbors.”
“Where are you from in South Dakota?”
“Never been there!” (OK, Not quite true… but it is a good line. We had been there for a week eleven years ago, on Pine Ridge Reservation.)
But now we have. In order to establish our domicile in South Dakota, we have now obtained our SD drivers’ licenses, and registered to vote.
South Dakota has laws that are written specifically to attract full-time RVers, as do Florida and Texas. To gain resident status—to be able to get a driver’s license and register to vote—you merely have to have proof of spending one night in the state every five years. The reason we chose to cease having Maine as our domicile is because SD has no state income tax, and as noted above, much lower vehicle registration costs. Now we just have to make sure that we don’t stay in any one state for six months or more in any year, or that state could claim us.
“Honey, why did we plan so much time in South Dakota? There isn’t much to do here…”
Everyone has seen Mount Rushmore, if not in person, then in pictures. So is there anything new to say about it?
It is BIG. Pictures can’t capture the scope of the sculpture. No, not even the ones that we’re including here. The entryway into the park is aligned closely to the direction of Washington’s gaze. But I didn’t realize until we wandered a bit that there are other viewing sites that let you look directly at the other presidents as well. We didn’t find the one to look directly at Lincoln, but we did for Jefferson and Teddy Roosevelt.
There is a “sculptor’s studio,” where they have maintained one of Gutzon Borglum’s scaled down sculptures created in preparation for the real one on the mountain. This study is at a scale of one inch to one foot. The studio allowed us our favorite picture of this visit.
As we continued to explore the Black Hills of South Dakota, we knew we wanted to stop here. The amazing thing about the Crazy Horse memorial is that it is a work in progress—indeed, it was 1948 when artist Korczak Ziolkowski began to carve this incredibly huge work. The sculpture depicts the Oglala Lakota warrior, Chief Crazy Horse astride his horse and pointing into the distance.
It is HUGE! Larger than Mount Rushmore, the carving, when finished, will be 563 feet tall and 641 feet long. Look carefully.
You can actually spot some heavy equipment up at the top (on top of the arm)–we can’t imagine doing that kind of work, can you?
Ziolkowski’s wife and and seven of their children continue to direct the project since his death in the early 80’s. Technology has changed a bit; the use of laser measuring tools and explosives is now in place.
What is particularly impressive about this project is that a lot more is happening at the site than just the sculpture — a new on-site university, an incredible museum, speakers, special programs, and conferences. Everything is supported by private donation and run by a non-profit group. In fact, the US federal government offered to donate 10 million dollars and it was declined. There was concern that the federal government would take over control of (and change) the project.
Al first learned about this park from a friend on the MDI Search and Rescue team who used to be a ranger there. Wind Cave was designated as a NP in 1903 and was actually the first cave anywhere in the world to be so protected. It is the sixth largest and most dense cave system in the world. To date, 149 miles of passageways have been explored and surveyed—all within ONE square mile. However, they only represent 5% of the total cave system. YIKES!
There are three major levels. We took a tour in middle level.
Frostwork, popcorn (which reminded us of our ceilings in our old home in NH), and boxwork are the three formations found here. In fact, Wind Cave is thought to be the home for 95% of the world’s boxwork.
To form boxwork, the limestone from which the cave is carved fractures twice. The first fractures are filled with water bearing the mineral calcite, which forms a latticework of stone much more erosion resistant than limestone. Later (much later), the limestone is fractured again, this time admitting flowing water. Over millions of years, limestone is eroded away to create the cave, but the stronger calcite remains to create the striking boxwork.
Wind Cave is a sacred place for the Lakota People. Their emergence story originates here; they believe the cave is where they left the subterranean world to live on the surface. The NPS has a writeup on their website.
The only known natural entrance to the cave is a small opening (maybe a five year old could squeeze through). The ranger explained that when there is a difference in barometric pressure inside and outside the cave, a wind will blow; sometimes the air is rushing into the cave, sometimes out. She demonstrated with a ribbon.
The native peoples had names for it. The early European trappers and explorers had names for it in their languages. Nobody wanted to travel through it. Today, we call it “the Badlands.”
We also call it beautiful! The rawness of nature here is inspiring.
Even in this hostile environment, mother nature surprises us.
We chose to take a trail that was partly on the floor, and partly on a ridge. There was a log and wire ladder to get to the ridge that took some doing—mental and physical.
Unfortunately, we think that this ladder is what injured Kathe’s shoulder, requiring her to be seen by a doc, and wear a sling for about a week.
We also saw some careless parenting up on the ridge.
We are about 50 feet off the floor. The wall below the path is sheer. The boy in the white shirt is off the path, standing on a sloping surface covered with loose material. A few seconds after this picture was taken he fell; fortunately he only only slid part way toward the edge. It was absolutely terrifying to watch; we felt completely helpless. A disaster was very narrowly averted. I was getting ready to rush back down to the floor to see whether there would be anything I could do for him.
A few miles northwest from where most of the pictures above were taken, the terrain is quite different, with smoother features and a fascinating coloring.
There was so much to see in the Badlands. As always, click on any Badlands picture in the gallery below to see them all as a slideshow.
As we noted above, pictures cannot truly represent what we’re seeing. We wish you could be with us to share the real experience, but for now these pics will have to do. We really enjoyed taking this first exploration of our new state. We’ll be back!
Traveling full-time in an RV can make it challenging to keep in touch with friends. Thank goodness for the internet — email, Facetime, Facebook, Messenger, and this blog have helped to bridge the gap.
Traveling in an RV can also make it possible to reacquaint ourselves with friends from 50 years ago (Barbie and Jeff in D.C.!), to visit with Maine snowbirds in their away-from-Maine homes, and to make and foster NEW friendships along the way.
A dear friend who splits her time between Maine and Idaho caught up with me on Facebook and asked if we could get together when we came through her area. Jean suggested that we meet in the beautiful city of Couer d’Alene to have lunch and then take a boat ride on the lake. She brought along her daughter, one of her sons, and her granddaughter (all of whom I’d heard so much about). We had a ball! This part of the country is simply magnificent — we managed a short hike before lunch and even biked 10 miles on the famed Couer d’Alene Bike Trail after dinner. So good to see you, Jean! See you in Maine this summer. 🙂
While on the Arizona desert, we made friends with several couples. Lydia (a fellow Quartzsite Quilter) and Tom spend their non-desert time in their home in Helena, Montana. They were kind enough to invite to “mooch-camp” in their yard (we hooked up to their water but used our solar power) and it was terrific! We got to know them so much better—they were amazingly generous and couldn’t wait to share their beautiful part of the Big Sky world with us!
Tom took Al on an 80+ mile ride up into the mountains on his flashy new Razr (4-wheeler). What a ball they had! Even though it was early May, there was still plenty of snow up in them thar hills and that determined the length of their ride. I’m quite sure that Al and Tom will find plenty of places to explore this winter when Lydia and I are at quilting club.
(Al) We rode up to the continental divide. Beside the amazing views, it is quite something to realize that all the rain falling on one side goes to the Pacific, and on the other side it flows to the Caribbean and Atlantic.
Lydia and I had quite an adventure ourselves! Lydia couldn’t wait to show me several of her favorite quilt shops. Even though Helena is the state capital, it’s not a terribly large city. It supports a number of successful quilt shops which I found amazing.
As we drive/ride outside of the Northeast, we are struck by the speed limits. 80 mph is the posted limit in so many places! It’s not at all unusual to be able to see 40 or 50 miles ahead—little dots in front of the huge mountains turn out to be farms. Traveling 80+ miles to go out for dinner isn’t a big deal to those in Big Sky territory. Think about it: in the same time it would take us to drive back and forth between Bass Harbor and Bar Harbor, we could be nearly 80 miles away. But we don’t. When we’re pulling Rhett, we don’t go faster than 60.
We learned that the Missouri River headwaters are in Montana! The river actually begins at the confluence of the Madison, Jefferson, and Gallatin Rivers near Three Forks, Montana. We followed miles and miles of the Missouri and it was breathtaking: huge, still a bit brown with snowmelt and erosion, and marked with a number of beautiful falls where water flow is managed and electric power is generated.
Just past Great Falls, we stopped at the very impressive Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center. We spent a thorough two hours learning so much more about the incredible adventurers who answered President Jefferson’s charge to check out what the U.S. had just “purchased” or was it “acquired”? This was one of many, many times on this trip where we were reminded of the very complicated relationship between the Native Americans and the white man. It took us right back to our church’s mission trip to the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota some twelve years ago. It still hurts.
Tom and Lydia showed us a terrific time and we’re already talking about the next time. They say we’ve barely scratched the surface!
We are LOVING the West—South Dakota and Yellowstone NP blog entries will come in short succession here. We’re trying to catch up at a time when the driving distances can be long and we’re spending most of our time away from our computers enjoying all that’s here to see and explore.
We started out by camping in Sol Duc (Sole Duck), deep in Olympic National Park. The campground was run by the concessionaire, and was part of the Sol Duc Resort. We sort of lucked into this one via Sir Google; there are actually two campgrounds in Sol Duc that take RVs. The other one was heavily wooded and we would probably not have been successful getting Scarlet and Rhett in there. The one we had was small (about 15 sites), but wide open. The site was nestled in a grove of birch trees.
It was also a short walk to one of Sol Duc’s main attractions: thermal springs! We spent quite a bit of time soaking… The spring water is 150°, and is mixed with the river water to the desired temp for each of three pools. The hot one was hot enough that even I couldn’t stay in it for more than about 10 minutes—and I love hot baths! Just like in the Three Bears, the middle one (temperature) was just right.
Ummm. Sorry. No pictures; we were too busy relaxing!
You may have heard that the Pacific Northwest (PNW) gets a LOT of rain. There are several rainforests within the park. We were not in one, but looking around at the trees it sure looked like it. The older trees were covered in moss!
There are several trails leading out of the Sol Duc campgrounds; we encountered some deer browsing just off one of the trails.
We followed one of the trails out to the Sol Duc waterfall.
On the way back home (yes, the trailer really is “home”) we found another waterfall, albeit not quite as large.
Sol Duc is completely surrounded by mountains. Nice scenery! Lousy connectivity! For the first time ever, we had to send a text message out through the Garmin Inreach satellite communicator that we carry for back country emergencies. (It wasn’t an emergency…)
Sol Duc is southwest of Port Angeles, which seems to be the major town on the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the northern boundary of the Olympic Peninsula. Crescent Beach is a little west of Port Angeles, but is on the shore of the Strait.
Being here made us appreciate Oregon’s beach access law. Directly across the road from the campground was “their” beach, but “don’t go past the rainbow pole! That’s not our beach and you’ll be trespassing.”
About 1/2 way toward the trees in the distance, the beach belongs to someone else, and campers can’t go there. Sigh.
Nevertheless, it was a beautiful setting and we enjoyed strolling on the sand.
Kathe normally beachcombs for sea glass, but we haven’t been successful finding any in the PNW. Here she was looking for…
We had a visitor.
But what are all those dark spots on the beach? Something is living in the sand (clams?). It leaves two kinds of markings.
Please leave a comment if you know what animal is creating these tracks and the… what shall I call them?
Sometimes I wonder about the people who lay out campgrounds. Who would think that putting the sewer connection at the highest point in the site would be a good idea? Remember: it flows downhill!
Crescent Beach isn’t part of Olympic National Park, but we went back into the park to visit Hurricane Ridge on the recommendation of a friend who is a former park ranger there. So, so, so glad!
Also we were so glad that we didn’t have our trailer hooked up to our truck for this one! The road up the ridge is steep and twisty. But the views are worth it. Down at sea level the skies were gray and cloudy, so we almost didn’t go. (Note to self as a future reminder… Always go!) Up top? Take a look!
Despite the name, the weather was quite mild with calm winds. We enjoyed our hike to the end of the currently open trail. The remaining trail to the peak of Hurricane Hill was still closed due to snow.
And there was still lots of snow on the ridge. Some people like to fight with Darwin’s attempts to clean the gene pool. The pictures below are at the top of a very steep slope down into the valley.
They are doing a lot of work on the trail up to Hurricane Mountain. It seems like they are widening it, and are using a lot of large rocks along the up-slope edge of the trail. I was quite surprised to see what appear to be ferns on this rock. I don’t know whether they are fossilized in the rocks, or somehow imprinted on the rock after it was split. I suspect the latter, but…
Unexpectedly, Fort Worden turned out to be the highlight of our time on the peninsula. Located on the northeast corner of the peninsula, with the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the north and west, and Puget Sound to the east and south, it was the main one of three forts that guarded Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, and Seattle. The driving force for the creation of the fort was the shipyard, not the city! Fort Worden was built between 1898 and 1917 in the second wave of the Endicott Board forts; the first wave (of which Fort Stevens was part) was built before the establishment of the shipyard when defense of the Sound was not deemed critical. The fort was activated with the arrival of the first troops in 1902, and served in both World Wars I and II. The gun emplacements were never used; the guns were removed in WWI, for use in Europe. The primary use for the fort after that was training.
Reduce, reuse, recycle! Fort Worden is a poster child for reuse. Decommissioned by the Army in 1953, it was purchased by the State of Washington in 1957 to become “Fort Worden Juvenile Diagnostic and Treatment Center,” for troubled youth. This center closed in 1971, and in 1973, Washington re-created it as the current state park. For a more detailed history of this fascinating fort, read Fort Worden: Rebirth Through Decay, by Peter St. George.
What makes Fort Worden special, compared, for instance, to Fort Stevens, is that a large number of its original buildings are intact. Most other forts of this era have had their (mostly wooden) structures torn down leaving only the foundations.
A Public Development Authority (PDA) was created by the city of PortTownsend, WA, to
The state still owns the property; the PDA has a 99 year lease on the buildings. The PDA is renovating the existing buildings to enable other uses. The base hospital is now a remote campus for Goddard College. Local businesses at the fort include two publishing / printing companies, a yoga studio, a massage therapist, the Port Townsend School of the Arts, and Centrum Arts Foundation. There are concert series, with some of the larger concerts held in the WWI-era balloon hangar!
The officers’ and NCOs’ residences and a dormitory are being refurbished and furnished with antique period furniture. These are available for rental, from 30 beds down to three or four. Apparently many family reunions and some weddings book there. We were taken on a tour by one of the PDA board members! We were so gobsmacked by what we were walking through that we forgot to take any pictures. (Us? Forget pictures???) But you can see some of the refurbished officer’s houses and other residences on the PDA’s website. (You can also reserve time in them on those pages, if you will be in the PNW.)
Finally, not all of the buildings remain. There are foundations here too, all that is left of some of the quarters. The PDA is in the process of building new structures there, within the original building footprints.
The state park also includes the remains of the gun emplacements, in pretty much the same state as those we found in Fort Stevens. However, we found some types that we didn’t see in Oregon.
The fort was constructed by the Army Corps of Engineers. Being engineers, they were very detailed. Being the Army, meticulous records were kept. Here are some pictures of the plan for the three inch anti-aircraft gun mounts pictured above.
North 317.39 feet, East 231.25 feet. But from where? The entire fort was laid out from a single benchmark, which still exists.
The trees have grown in the many years since the fort was active, but in some places you can still see what the soldiers would have seen.
In other areas, you can’t.
We’re now over 20,000 miles into our adventure, and are still having a great time.
A long-planned highlight of our spring was our visit to Beth and Jon’s family in Vancouver, BC. Planned in two parts, it exceeded our already high expectations. We had a wonderful time!
The first part of our visit was a weekend joint camping trip to Alice Lake Provincial Park. We arranged for two adjacent campsites so that we would all be together. An idea that we haven’t seen in US parks is to have a subset of campsites set up as pairs, and reservable only as a pair. It makes family camp outs much easier to arrange.
Our plan was that Kasper and Nyssa sleep with us in the RV, and Jon and Beth would be in their tent. They had primarily camped in the summer before; we all found out that late April was not quite the same. EVERYONE ended up sleeping in the camper, to stay warm!
After our stay at Alice Lake, we all went back to Vancouver; we stayed at the only campground actually in Vancouver proper, just north of the wonderful Stanley Park, and about 20 minutes from Beth and Jon’s apartment via Vancouver’s excellent public transportation system. (We were not about to try to drive our truck, Scarlett, in Vancouver!)
Note to selves: Do NOT put your transit card, loose, in the same pocket with your phone in a sticky Otter case. We each lost a card when we pulled our phone out.
One of the things that we missed living on the coast of Maine was a variety of cuisines, particularly Asian. Vancouver has plenty! We had Japanese (Sushi) (twice!), Afghani, and several others. Unfortunately, we ran out of nights before we could make a dent in the variety.
Kasper and Nyssa spent two more nights with us while in Vancouver. For those who don’t already know it, one of a grandparent’s most important duties is spoiling the grandkids. We take our duties seriously! What better way to do it than by having chocolate ice cream for breakfast!
Kasper and Grandpa also shared some good time together, working on K’s first book of logic puzzles, e.g., “Rita married Joe, but not on Wednesday. Carla was married on Sunday on the village green. Who did Tess marry?” The major learning from this was that Grandpa needs to (re-)start doing these as well! I loved these as a kid, but I’ve lost the knack. We also worked on ways to present data… How to graph seven different aspects of each of 12 chapters in Roald Dahl’s “Danny the Champion of the World.”
We visited Science World, a must-stop on each of our visits. Their current featured exhibit is a hall of mirrors… No, you can’t just walk straight ahead in the picture below!
And Kasper got to be part of the presentation team in a chemistry demonstration!
Vancouver also has many playgrounds scattered around the city…
Kasper had a birthday very near our visit, and Grandma had a VERY special birthday present ready for him. A handmade robot quilt!
One of the (many) highlights of our visit was being able to attend Beth’s concert. Celebrating the director’s twenty years with the choir, it was titled simply, “Donna’s Favorites.”
In a surprise ending, a sextet from the choir gave the premiere performance of a commission using Emily Dickinson’s poem, “It’s All I Have to Bring Today” as the text. Set to music by Donna’s favorite composer, Larry Nickel, it is dedicated to Donna Brown.
Our visit ended all too soon; it was time to head to Washington’s Olympic Peninsula.